Persistence of This One

A couple weeks ago, Andrew, a blogger compatriot at Systemic Babble, responded to a problem I was having with single-player games. Namely, I was not playing them because of their lack of persistence. It was an off-handed comment to emphasize my uninformed thoughts about the Vindictus beta, where I thought that the beta characters would be wiped on a live launch.

There are two points I want to discuss. The first is in response to Andrew’s last paragraph:

On the surface it’s tempting to say, like Ravious does,  that this online gaming is more meaningful than single player gaming, but it isn’t.  The persistence in an MMO is exactly as ethereal as that found in more traditional single player or online games:  your contribution only lasts so long as your interest in the title holds.

At the outset, I want to clarify that I did not say online gaming is more meaningful than single-player gaming. It is for me, sure, but there are plenty of activities that others do that are meaningless for me and vice versa. It’s not up to me or anybody to tell you what should be meaningful in your luxury gaming time.

The second point was from one of the comments where Derrick writes in part:

At least in the single player game, the world can react entirely to your actions within it. There are (well, can be) real consequences for the choices you make. A single action can completely change the world! In some cases, I can buy a sequel to the game (lets call it an expansion pack with standalone options!) and continue the story, with every last change my character made still there. Dead characters and foes are still dead. Rivalries still exist.

In an MMO, your actions have no affect whatsoever. None. There’s nothing to show players where my hunter first slew Ragnaros – hell, if you go there today, he’s still hanging around (despite the fact that my extremely frustrated hunter killed him and his lackies over, and over, and over again). My Druid? Years of play, been all over the world, done all sorts of things. Zero persistence. She may as well have never been there. There’s not even the illusion of persistence.

To reiterate, Andrew says that persistence is only relevant as long as I care about it for either an MMO or single-player game. Derrick says single-player games are more persistent because he is the master of his own single-player world whereas the normal MMO has to reset to allow others to ride the theme park rides thereby making his actions irrelevant to the MMO world.

Already we are tumbling over a word. Persistence of action. Solipsist persistence of character. Meaningful persistence of effect. And, Tesh also comments on persistence of relationship. It’s clear that even persistence of different things are more meaningful to some than others.

For me, it is that multiplayer online games – especially ones with some semblance of persistence in virtually any form –  have more feeling of what it means to be human than single-player games. In real life if I go to the store and buy some ground bison the effect of my actions provide untold ripples. I bought bison, which affects the rancher and store. I stood in line, which affects the cashier and people behind me. I used my car and gas. And, the list goes on ad infinitum where my action will eventually ripple out to that butterfly’s wings in China.

I feel the same in a multiplayer online game. A headshot on a medic healing a heavy. Ripples. Buying a boss drop at the auction house. Ripples. Randomly joining a dungeon group. Ripples. I just don’t feel the same importance, as false or egotistical as it may be, in single-player games.

Derrick is right. The amount of control in single-player games is nearly unlimited. I am the king. I can be the god with a -devmode and a few cheats. The world responds to my actions as if I were the sun and moon. And, that does not feel real. It feels like a fiction. Like a story where the ending won’t really change anyway. When I walk away from a single-player game I feel nothing more persistent than when I did watching a movie or reading a book.

Of course, like the old internet adage, your mileage may vary. To some of you the ripples of which I speak are meaningless. To some there are no real relationships to be found across games. To some of you all this pontification over games is about as important as buying dish soap. For me, the sum of all the ripples in multiplayer online games is greater than the parts.

we are coterminous

18 thoughts on “Persistence of This One”

  1. Is it really the realism of the “ripple”? Or is the fact that you are making this ripple with others? I think the MMO aspect is something that can’t be ignored especially once you’ve established a base or group of people you enjoy playing with. When I try to play Sims, I always get to a point after a couple of days where I wonder what is going on in LotRO or I wonder if an officer is online in EQ2 for a guild I want to join. It’s the experiences you can’t have alone that keep me coming back.

  2. Well I think the ripple is affecting others. So there is no difference. There is no “ripple” in a self-contained single-player game IMHO.

    1. I would argue that there are a tonne of ripples in single player games. This is particularly true with some of the modern RPGs that attempt to be more like simulations of life that center around a story. Dragon Age is a decent example of this, or Mass Effect, or Fallout.

      Now all of these “ripples” affect only one human’s experience in the end, and I’m not sure if that is vital to your own definition of the phenomenon.

      1. I would argue that in a self-contained single-player game (or string of them like Mass Effect), choosing whether someone lives or dies is not much different than choosing whether to shoot with a shotgun or sniper rifle… it still stays within the confines of your own experience.

        Of course other people see it differently. The choose-your-own-adventure style of game like Mass Effect does have that real life simulation of a ripple.

    2. I think that depends on the game. I played Black and White and small things that I thought were inconsequential would shift my good/evil factor.

      I quit raiding in WoW after many annoyances and yet my guild downed the LK anyway. I don’t see how I made a difference if they did it without me.

  3. I think its worth noting that the Ragnoras example listed here doesn’t Have to be that way. One could make an online game where killing a boss mob like that really does end him. Make the fight a server-wide event, perhaps even charge for it if you’re concerned about the effort going into creating a guy that will no longer be around.

    Really you could get both ripples and visible responses to actions.

  4. Nice response, and sorry if I misrepresented your views in the quoted paragraph. I’ll give it an edit, and refer to this article in the edit note.

    I think you do a good job at illustrating the different types of persistence in games, and I completely agree that different players will gravitate towards different types as a matter of taste. In this respect it’s like discussing a term like “hardcore”, I guess. ;)

  5. That’s funny, because what turned me off of EVE was how meaningless the ripples were. If you get killed, or kill someone, it doesn’t matter. The universe just swallows up the individual actions except for a very few.

    The cynic in me thinks that it’s just the length that matters, and that players just crave repetitive mechanical actions over story, meaning, and content.

    1. “The universe just swallows up the individual actions except for a very few.”

      Isn’t that true in real life as well? It’s the classic atheist dilemma: if this is all there is, then you don’t matter. At all. You just are, for a just little while.

      I’m prompted to ask a different question: What matters more – your experience of the story, or the change it makes in the world? I loved the Guild Wars story (especially Prophecies). Yes, it’s the same story retold over and over, but is the conclusion important or the journey?

      Because in a single player game, the conclusion is actually a null event – when the game ends, the world ceases to exist. Any “future” is purely a narrative device consented to by the player.

  6. In the end, once a game is of sufficient complexity, it will always allow the player(s) actions to have ripples. Bigger, smaller, it doesn’t matter; they will be there.

    There are games in which ripples only affect one player, and then games in which players create ripples for one another (on purpose or not). The latter is the essence of everything “multiplayer” and -NOT- “being able to create ripples at the same time with others, at the same place with others”. That is just incidental.

    This is something that every soloer intuitively understands very well and why we largely like to play MMOs and other online fauna mostly by ourselves: that we like to create ripples, and like to feel the ripples of others – just not at the same time with others, and at the same place with others.

  7. There are no real ripples in a single player game.

    Its like old philosophical question. “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    In a single player game there is no one to hear your ripples.

    1. But if I never see the ripples that I cause in a vast MMO, then how is it any better?

      For me, as a player it’s actually way worse. I’d rather see my large but localized ripples over small unnoticeable ripples any day of the week.

    2. What if I solo an MMO, never group with anyone, never PvP, and never join a guild/kin/etc? There is still nobody there to “hear” my ripples.

      1. Melissa’s comment here and Andrew’s above it are the key points for me. MMO’s are presenting only the illusion of “ripples”. My actions in an RPG have no real impact, even within the confines of the world. The “ripples” end with other people’s awareness/memories of my actions.

        In real life, it is not necessary for others to “hear” your actions – they persist regardless. If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is aware of it, it still meaningfully affects the world and can have untold future consequences. In most MMO’s, the only “ripples” my actions can exist only so long as others remember them.

        I look back to those Rag fights, back in the day. I was in a huge guild – 40 man raids after all – but… I struggle to remember the names of 5 people in it. 5. I can’t even remember the guild name.

        So, even within the group, the ripples are of limited effect, and limited persistence. Outside of it, they fade into nothing remarkably quickly.

        There’s no butterfly effect. This reliance on people’s attention to carry the ripple outwards destroys them too quickly.

        Now, in my single player game, my actions ripple out in the same way they do in an MMO, as there ARE other people to “hear the tree fall”. Because I talk to others about how the game went. I’ll discuss the game with friends, we’ll share what paths we took, what strategies we used, and employ that in future playthroughs. Thus, we’re getting the same ripple effect there that you speak of in an MMO. It’s small, and largely unnoticeable outside of my circle of friends, but there. But at least the single player game offers me larger, noticeable, persistent ripples as well.

  8. There’s also the matter of what exactly are we considering to be “ripples”, how big or important these things have to be to become “ripples” and so on.

    I don’t think ripples in MMOs are confined to what other players notice about your actions or even if they can be traced back to you; I don’t think a ripple is a function of the observer in this case. Examples of this abound, it just depends on how small you’re willing to filter your actions in the game world: Every time you add or take something from the game economy, that’s a ripple. Every time you mine a resource, that’s a ripple (soon to be negated by respawning, but a ripple nonetheless). Every time you kill a mob, even for the most mundane of KTR quests, that’s a ripple touching those who come behind you on the same quest; it’s minimal, but you -are- changing their conditions.

    And sometimes it doesn’t even have to be anything that you -do-. You can create ripples simply by having an avatar in the world that can be viewed by others. Simply by virtue of your character existing. How many times have we seeing someone standing there, with nice or unusual wearables and we inspected? That guy just created a tiny ripple of information sent to us and he could’ve been afk for that matter.

    Those are things you don’t find in the single player worlds. Those worlds have their own ripples, and they’re all eventually reflected back to you. SP worlds don’t have a distributed network of players generating tiny (or huge, who knows) ripples all over the game world, 24/7, for other players to pick up. Maybe 99% of those ripples dissipate and don’t affect anyone, but entire experiences can be built on the 1% that remains.

    1. Couldn’t you simulate that cause and effect with simulationist elements in a single player game, though? Mock up an economy, throw in some random events, and you’re pretty much there as far as ripples go. The game world that only reflects your actions can be an echo chamber, but games don’t need to be designed that way, and can often go off and do their own thing while you’re busy.

      All that’s left after that is direct interaction with other players.

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