Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Into the Woods

My little brother's kids are playing these games where you roll dice and pit siege engines and knights against monsters on a plastic battlefield arranged on a tabletop.

Miniature War Games, in other words.

Which is the primordial Chainmail pool that Dungeons & Dragons evolved from, much like Drama evolved from simple displays of Ceremonial Combat in the world of Theatre.

Story and roleplaying and all that are beyond them, still, at the age of six and seven, y'know, they don't have enough experience with the world to draw it all together into any kind of complicated picture let alone some kind of epic storyline jam-packed with twists and turns against tradition and subtle insights into the human condition and subtexts and commentary and situations that inspire us to muse over the nature of our own existence and good and evil and converse with each other and all that awesome sorta stuff yet.

But they're on their way, really.

The only reason I ever figured out how to play Dungeons & Dragons was that one of the kids that I played with had this totally kickass bohemian father who was into that Miniature War Games stuff, y'know, the guy had a "study" that was cram-packed with shelf after shelf of historical battle figurines all painted and whatever, and he taught his kid to play D&D, and his kid turned around taught all us dumb hillbillies how to do it.

Coming from a creative and superstitious culture of the swamplands, my own personal mythology made it easy for me to concoct all sorts of stories about evil wizards and black magic out of thin air and on-the-fly, and so I ended up being the Dungeonmaster pretty much all the time, except when one of the two other kids that could do it felt like giving me a break.

And so I sorta skipped the whole War Game bit, and went straight to the Storytelling thingie.

But I read tons of stuff by Gary Gygax and all them, folks who had way more experience than me with all the pitfalls of cooperative storytelling and collaborative art, fields that are still pretty much completely unexplored, except by the original pioneers who established forts out there in the wilderness, and documented and detailed all the different sorts of animals they found out there in the audience, and how to deal with 'em heh.

Fascinating stuff, really, no matter what field of art you deal with, its a layer of interaction that goes far beyond all the junk they teach you about in school, y'know.

That, and the way that the original Dungeons & Dragons junk was written with all sorts of arcane and obscure references and diction, which led to me having some kinda monstrous genius level vocabulary and knowledge of history by the time I reached the age of the thirteen (that I never used afterwards heh), is what I credit Gary Gygax with, doing for me personally.

I'm still a dumb hillbilly, but I'm much more interesting (or at least far more complicated heh) than the average dumb hillbilly ahaha.

And I can spin a mean yarn when we all get wasted around the fire and in the mood for that kinda thing.

Anyways, the world of MMO junk, to me, is in the infant Chainmail slash Ceremonial Combat stage of things.

That's okay, y'know, 'cause things never really leave that stage, not entirely, they just sorta orbit it and take brief jaunts into other areas, unless the game masters and the audience and the game mechanics can handle going somewhere else on a more permanent basis.

I mean, when yer all a bunch of six and seven year old kids, mebbe you can't go anywhere else, and you just gotta live in the dice-rolling monster-mashing loot-the-monster world and take what you can get, I ain't gonna lay no complicated existential mindtrip on you if you ain't never had a girlfriend or seen any signs of injustice in the world or anything, y'know, we can just have fun with all the pretty colors and the scary monsters and gory-awesome special effects and simple good-versus-evil rescue-the-princess find-the-treasure stuff heh.

But that really is the most simple and fundamental layer of the thing we're all doing, y'know.

And it don't really take a genius or anything to get us out of that rut, and ride us down the road to other places, either.

Its all been done before in other mediums.

And sometimes its even been half-done in this MMO medium we got, but it always seems like all the guys who lead us down the road a bit almost always turn around and take us back to the same old camp before we really get anywhere interesting.

And the thing that really burns me up is that their excuses for turning around are so goddam lame, man.

Junk like "oh that would only work on a small population server."


Well hey man, I've never seen ANYTHING work on a high population server, that's why high population servers are broken up into a million small population "areas" and "instances" run by separate servers ahaha.

And you almost had us all the way there!

We could've established a fort out there and defended it and colonized that new terrain!

We just needed to know that that's what we needed to do before we set out in into the woods in the first place.

And no matter what we do, there will always be a place for the six and seven year old dice rolling monster-list mashing kids, man, 'cause that's the bones and muscles of the beast we're all riding on, in more ways than one, and that simple structure will always be there to fall back on no matter what kinda mysterious and fearsome woods you ride the thing into.

But I think that mysterious and fearsome woods is exactly where we need to go.

And I ain't the only one.

I mention "colonization" a lot in passing, but that's what folks are really doing when they come to your game server, and start gathering materials and crafting and occupying homes and making friends and helping their friends with whatever advantages they've managed to wrestle from the mathematical wilderness of your game.

There's a lot more we could do with that, a lot farther we could go interacting with that kinda thing, and supporting all that kinda stuff and making it easier and more entertaining for everybody to do.

Well, once we get past this Chainmail Bit, where everybody thinks what really matters is what kinda intellectual property you got to make different flavored copies of the same old sterile War Game Figurine dollhouse clothes out of, over and over and over again.

And its not simple, its complicated, but there's all sorts of interesting shit to think about, and talk about, down that road.

Like the way I never roleplay anymore now that I'm almost always on Voicecom, talking about something on TV insteada whatever the hell is going on in the mindless whack-a-mole game I'm playing heh.

And that the really great times are when Ex-b's Wizard figures out the goddam riddle and opens the Magic Door without any of us having to look anything up on a spoiler site.

Because he's actually playing a role, there, man, even if he ain't talking in a funny voice.

But it seems like nobody is talking about that kinda junk.

And those things aren't immutable laws of nature or the end of a conversation, those are only the beginnings.

Seems like they're going everywhichway except for that way, for some reason that is totally unfathomable to me, since I ain't really talking about anything new, and its the stuff all our heroes always talked about.

For some reason, the guys like Koster and McQuaid, that really have taken us down that road some, don't seem to realize the things they've done that actually mattered, y'know, I don't think I've ever heard anybody talk about all the cinematic and awesome shit that McQuaid did in EQ1, or his awesome player pathing things, besides me, and Koster seems lost in a quagmire of contemplation as to the point of his crafting junk and housing stuff and usage-based-skill-system-more-the-merrier-grouping and how all that junk relates to colonization and how he could do all that and allow people to take ownership of stuff and have it act as a guide that strengthens the immersiveness and entertainment value of the worlds he makes instead of weakening it.

With Koster, at least, it seems like he's afraid to do anything that he'd be held responsible for, as far as being a story-teller, y'know, he's always trying to hide his artistic voice and lay all that kinda stuff on his players, insteada guiding them along, as a good Dungeon Master would, y'know, its a delicate balance of not rail-roading them and not offering any entertainment or guidance or Quality Control at all, heh, but there is a balance there that you gotta strike.

Meanwhile McQuaid always seemed to be the opposite of that, heavy on story, y'know, like WoW is, but he beat us to death with the Cult Building Treadmills.

Maybe they're listening to the six and seven year olds, just because there's more of them than anybody else, but that seems so useless to me, since there ain't a lot a lot of room for improvement on that roll-the-dice loot-the-monster layer, y'know?

That shit is time tested and Mother Approved heh.

And babies aren't born thinking that the Original Carnival of Souls is a good movie ahaha.

Ah well, y'know, I'm just swinging wild and hoping to hit a nerve before I completely freeze up turn into a mummy and miss out on all the cool shit of the future when folks finally start figuring everything out.

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