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On The Virtual Precipice of Design Concepts

This blog will discuss design concepts (or game mechanics) that have yet to be implemented effectively or at all in mmorpgs. I'm not a developer, but I am a long time gamer, and especially online gamer (since 1996).

Author: Antioche

Episode One: The World We Live In

Posted by Antioche Saturday February 28 2009 at 12:34PM
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Many people make the assumption, and rightly so, that people play video games in order to escape the realities of our real lives. Gamers want to be heroes and villains, to fight for honor and revenge and love, to take what they please or die trying, to shape the virtual worlds they inhabit in ways they could NEVER hope to shape the real world they live in. Of course in real life I am but a lowly student, with piles of debt, a part-time job, and a gaming monkey on my back. Yet I am increasingly finding it more difficult to justify spending my time and money on these games which offer so a poor experience. I often feel as I enter many of these virtual worlds that I would have a better time awkwardly pretending to cast lightning bolts on very-uncomfortable pedestrians in downtown Grand Rapids. Why is this? Why have we all settled for a "safe is best" approach to the virtual worlds we choose to inhabit? Do we really want our virtual lives to be as banal as our real ones? Is a casual style of play synonymous with desiring the safe mediocrity of existence in my virtual life as in my real one? Much to our shame I believe this is the case. Now I would urge my fellow gamers to push themselves out of the comfort zones they have created and demand that the next generation of mmorpgs, virtual worlds, entrust their virtual inhabitants with the duty of becoming so much more than they could ever hope to be in their real lives, whether for good or ill.

So what does this mean practically? What needs to change? Is this just a lame argument for perma-death, or other hardcore game mechanics? Certainly not! And while the danger of such a repercussion drastically changes a person's choices in a virtual world, it is not a prerequisite for an experience that surpasses what we have currently settled for. Let us instead look to more subtle concepts within the realms of our collective experiences. I would consider the fantasy/sci-fi novel to be a great inspiration to anyone seeking to craft vast worlds never before explored. But first, we shall begin with the world we live in.

Consider for a moment the country you were born in. You have no doubt studied its history. You are aware of the way people live, the cultures that shape the city you live in or near. These cultures affect art, architecture, food, and religious practices. There are the political groups, and the systems of government that help to maintain order, or control the lives of the people. There are religious sects, movements, and orders. There are educational institutions, and the philosophies that they are based on. There  is the private sphere of businesses. There are powerful people in all of these spheres, leaders of commerce, politics, religion, and education. They have followers, and they have opponents. All of this is part of the world you live in, whether you pay attention to it or not. And all of it affects your life in ways you may not even realize. So what's the big deal?

The big deal is that the connections we have to these systems and people are what influence our lives. As we participate more in any one of these areas of our societies we develop relationships with others who are also involved in that societal sphere. These relationships are important because they are not closed entities. No man is an island.

The concept of weak and strong ties in social networking is applicable. Imagine person 'A' is involved in law enforcement and religion. 'A' has several strong ties within both the religion and government spheres. Let's say that those strong ties are with persons 'G1', 'G2', and 'R'.  Person 'R' also has strong ties, but predominantly in the religion sphere. Now 'R' strong ties are weak ties to 'A'. And this would also be true of 'G1' and 'G2', but perhaps each has a more diverse group of strong ties. And of course this goes out and out, like a giant net. Plus add familial ties into the equation. It becomes complex quickly. Yet this is a very real part of life, that has not been effectively made use of in a virtual world.

How might this concept be used in virtual worlds? I'll save that for my next blog. writes:
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