Instrumentalism, Continued

by Darius Kazemi on April 6, 2005

in Uncategorized

First off, I think that Darren offered up a nice defense of what his actual position concerning The Sims is. He brings up the idea of The Sims as sort of a pointer or gateway to richer gameplay styles, I think kind of going in the direction of Craig‘s idea of player-content orientation. Though I think that Darren has the single-player and not the multiplayer experience in mind. I’m waiting to see Darren post something more substantial about The Sims 2 on his blog–I know for a fact that he’s been working it over in his mind for months now.

Solipsistnation mentioned something really interesting about multiple win conditions, particularly win conditions that involve a “don’t violate your ethics” clause. I think that for a lot of live action (or even tabletop) roleplayers, this is a solved problem. We have a GM who can think critically about ethical situations, who can improvise challenges to the player’s ethics, and who can understand something about who the player is in real life and incorporate that into the game choices.

I also love his point about “real multiplayer.” The implication being that we have fake multiplayer right now, because we really can’t share the spotlight yet: everyone has to be the hero. He said that nobody wants to be fodder–the brilliant thing about most LARPs is that nobody has to be fodder. In some LARPs the concept of fodder doesn’t exist, yet the concept of a main character doesn’t exist, either. Everyone is important, but everyone realizes they’re not the center of the universe. Again, this because the games are run by human minds capable of critical thought ; a computer cannot do this.

A few questions come out of this:

1) Do most players see themselves as the hero in multiplayer video games? If this is the case, then why?

My quick response is that this may have to do with the way the game is visually and conceptually framed for player. If you’re the all-important “user,” with a UI centered about you, of course you are the hero! What if we included interactions in multiplayer games that forced existential confrontation between the players, sort of the equivalent of looking a man in the eye before you shoot him? Craig has written some excellent stuff about player vision; I’m wondering if he’s considered the effect of player vision on player ontology. If I’m not mistaken, Merleau-Ponty has done some work in the vision/ontology area, although well before video games existed.

2) Do we need to solve the “strong AI” problem in order to get noninstrumentalist games? People can do it, but computers can’t. The first instinct is to make computers as good at critical thinking as people. I’m not really interested in questions of whether or not we can do this. Let’s assume we can. The real question is, will this help our games get any better? Do we need to? Or should we focus more on multiplayer LARPs?


Craig Perko April 6, 2005 at 3:22 pm

Nothin’ like getting feedback, I suppose. Let me give my thoughts on this matter, too. It’s fun and cheap.

Your question: “Do players think of themselves as the hero in…”

Answer: No, they never saw themselves as heroes in first-player games. They see themselves as GODS. Games aren’t about BEING THE HERO. They’re about MANIPULATING THE WORLD, sometimes through an avatar. Being a hero is sometimes there simultaneously, if you have a strictly limited avatar, but a game still isn’t about being the hero – that’s just icing.

In a MP game, the problem is that the players still want to be the prime manipulator. They want to be King God – or, at least, on even footing with King God.

In a LARP, this is dealt with not by making all characters equal, but by making all characters want different limited things from the world. If they want different things, their manipulations will only tangentally reflect on each other. Except, of course, for their allies and enemies, who aren’t just people doing the same thing – they actually are people trying to accomplish the same kind of thing, with or against you.

In other words, in a LARP you don’t get the Great Disinterested Mob of Players. At least, not in a well-designed LARP. You get a mass of players who are competing for limited resources, and some want certain resources, and others want others… but NOBODY is just working in parallel for the same unlimited resources. Everybody means something, everybody has a clear field of influence, and nobody should feel ‘weak’ or ‘inessential’.

Grrr. Why am I having such a hard time writing this crap this week? I hope I’ve been clear.

Your second question I have hopefully made my opinion clear on already: a carefully designed game can run on its own. Hell, remember METEOR!? Not exactly the best LARP on the block, but it required only minimal supervision outside of combat resolution. All the ‘thought’, if you can call it that, went into the design.

Darren Torpey April 6, 2005 at 3:30 pm

Just to fire off the first thing that comes to mind in regards to point #1:

I’m thinking of Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s multiplayer here. I always played that game as a medic. The medic’s job, for those of you who have never played that game, is to go around healing players AND (more importantly) resurrecting recently fallen players from death to effectively reduce their respawn time and allow them to avoid having to get back to where they died again.

In my mind, I was the hero. Mine was a story of a brave (not to mention deadly — I killed more Nazis with my shotgun than many of my Allied, non-medic peers!) young medic who would follow his brothers into any firefight, desperately hoping to make it to the next point of cover and dashing out in front of enemy fire to resurrect a fallen friend.
However, in the other players’ minds, I was just a part of their story, in which they were the protagonist. Their story was of a young (or aged) soldier who fearlessly… blah, blah, blah… and who often came near to death but was resurrected by a brave, nearby medic.

My point here is that in some multiplayer games it seems there CAN be multiple heros simply because there are multiple stories being told. More to the point, those stories can actually work together in synergy.
Any good MMORPG designer, of course, knows this, and the designers of such systems no doubt ponder how to encourage and nurture this type of player and PC interaction.

BTW, I imagine all this holds in the free, standalone sequel, Enemy Territory, as well. You can get that game for free at

Bradley Momberger April 6, 2005 at 6:47 pm

The medic in Enemy Territory carries a machine gun instead of a shotgun, but yeah, the net effect is the same. Last time I played, I had a successful campaign as a medic even though I had a period of 10 deaths without a kill. (and a 6/30 K/D overall)

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