There Must Be Blood

I am one of 35 people in the world who liked the original ending of Evangelion. I think it takes the internal perspective on the external events shown in the (first hour of the) re-done version. One notable bit in those episodes is that Shinji is given infinite potential, a blank slate. And he rejects it. He needs a line, ground to walk upon, something to give him bearings. Alone in the void, he has nothing meaningful to do.

Many people reject Second Life because there is nothing to do. Wait, that can’t be right, you can do whatever you want, from swordfighting to interior design. There is just no reason to unless you already want to. Second Life does not have quests or monsters or levels to push you in some direction. You make of your universe what you will, in interaction with others doing the same. That is a lot of responsibility to bear, especially if you are looking for simple fun. (Also, the interface kind of sucks.)

A recent book I read was on the problem of evil. A partial answer I recall from a college text was the need for an “Irenaean environment”: without danger, we would not grow. One similar atheistic perspective holds that a being with no threats to itself has no reason to do anything. If there is no goal to potentially fail in your sandbox game, how long until people get bored and wander off?

So we start with a line. You are level one, and you have an experience point bar. Fill that bar and you reach two. You have a direction, and a goal at the end. We even have some new lines for you to follow at the end of that one. Small risks of failure along the way hide the fact that you cannot lose at World of Warcraft. There are things that want to eat you, and people with exclamation points asking if you would kindly do things. Far from a blank slate of imagination, you now have a clear, channeled path.

But I guess you can win now.

: Zubon

9 thoughts on “There Must Be Blood”

  1. Really, the argument that people ‘need’ evil only covers half of the problem of the existence of evil. You also need to account for why the distribution is uneven and show it is not excessive.

  2. I would argue that a direction is not necessary.

    I’m reminded of Dwarf Fortress. It’s a sandbox cross between a city-builder and The Sims, done with ASCII graphics, and many challenges. So much so that one of the mottos of the game is that there is no way to win, only many ways to lose, and it’s fun. It took me half a dozen games before I was able to survive even the very first stage of the game.

    In a sandbox, where initiative is weak, a pressing need for survival is the most effective provision of direction. The problem with World of Warcraft is the inability to lose. The problem with MMOs, as they stand today, is that things go from good to bad in seconds, so a grand loss is inexcusable.

  3. The first challenge of Dwarf Fortress is the interface, which is considerably harder than even Nethack.

  4. “The problem with World of Warcraft is the inability to lose.”

    A friend at work was lamenting how hard it was to level her Night Elf Hunter. According to her, she kept dying, and was rapidly losing faith in her ability to play the game.

    Luckily, as she was on my server, I was able to group with her and give her some basic pointers (“send pet to attack BEFORE you shoot” and “no, you can’t solo instances”). Of course, she’s a 55+ yr old lady, and this is her first experience with video gaming (much less online games).

    Lately, she has been having a blast, and even recounted to me how she soloed 2 mobs at once (woot). That is growth.

    Warcraft’s much-vaunted ease is really subjective. To people who laughed at 4-hour corpse recoveries, WoW is gaming on rails. But as sub numbers grow, it’s much harder to pinpoint the modal demographic, and thus harder to determine what, in the aggregate, is “difficult”.

    Given the right gamer, I think WoW offers opportunities for growth through overcoming obstacles. Just not to every gamer.

  5. It doesn;t even cover the first half of it, alex. There’s still the question as to why humans can’t be engineered in such a way as to not require evil as a motivating factor.

  6. This topic is part and parcel of the ideas I’m currently struggling with in tabletop RPG designs. If players are given a higher degree of authorship than they typically possess in “traditional” games, they are theoretically able to increase their overall enjoyment by introducing elements they want in the game. However, by giving them this power, you risk shattering their illusion of “game”. If you are given power to say “I win”, why would you rather say “I am challenged and may lose”?

    In Second Life, if you choose to engage in sword fights, you agree to use the standard swords supplied. If you like, you can make a sword which knocks your opponent backwards as you parry, or a sword that screams “YOU LOSE!!” every time you swing it, but that defeats the purpose of sword fighting in the first place. SL has pockets of mini-games with well-defined rules for participation. Within these pockets, you can engage in gameplay. The mini-games have no impact on the meta-game of SL, unless you define the meta-game in SL as “get rich” and the mini-game in question impact your available funds.

    SL has no explicit winning conditions, which is compounded by the lack of boundaries and restrictions placed on the player. WoW, on the other hand, presents an explicit driving force of “Evil” as embodied in creatures you must kill (presumably for survival and justice, but in actuality this is just an excuse to increase personal power – chilling, when you think about it). In Dwarf Fortress, the danger is real – if you don’t do anything to improve your dwarves’ situation, they will starve or get killed by raiding goblins.

    But saying there’s “nothing to do” in SL is like saying there’s “nothing to do” in Australia. The catch is that for SL “players” need to turn their power into a recognizable “game” by artificially imposing direction and restrictions onto themselves. To enjoy playing the game, you have to be able to ignore the fact that winning or losing really doesn’t impact your overall life and still play to win. Just like in Australia.

  7. Kinda like how they made the first version of The Matrix. It was a perfect world with no wars, illness, or danger and humans rejected it.

    If there’s no conflict…entire crops will be lost. :)

  8. Nic, I think I know where you’re coming from, but I’d love to hear more expanded commentary on the role of “context” in another comment or full-fledged post.

    In particular, I’m not sure if you mean that context is required for a *game* or for a *virtual world*. I’d be interested to hear your views.

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