Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wrath of the Gods

There's a delusion among game designers that they can ignore the gods.

Take, for example, EQ, a game that had a strong mythology, with all sorts of gods, but you didn't ever have to do anything to keep them happy, or to avoid their wrath, because they weren't sentient, artificially or otherwise, and they didn't care what you did, and your actions didn't matter to them, 'cause they weren't programmed to be conscious of anything.

But there were beings who wielded god-like powers in that game.

Beings with human personalities and human frailties, classic mythological qualities like jealousy and pride.

Beings who granted blessings and curses and favored certain folks over others.

They were the game designers.

And their blessings were buffs, and their curses were nerfs, and they heard the prayers of their priests on the forums in certain temples dedicated to their spheres of influence, and they could even ban the mortals that they didn't like from existence.

So they didn't really get away from the god thing at all.

They just dragged it out of the game.

And the out-of-game gods didn't have to adhere to any of the codes of conduct that a god of a certain force in the game's mythological universe would have had to adhere to, to avoid stepping out of its jurisdiction and stepping on another god's toes.

In the complex polytheistic systems of mythology, gods aren't free to do anything they like without repercussions from the other gods.

And they definitely weren't allowed to mess with the followers of any of the other mythological gods without any way for the mythological gods to retaliate for their impudence.

That would be a declaration of war.

In the olden times, regular mortal folks put a lot of effort into keeping the gods happy, asking for favors and forgiveness for every little thing, or at least keeping the gods off their backs.

'Cause it was dangerous to have the eyes of the gods on you.

'Cause the gods were fickle, human-like characters.

And let's say you were a handsome and charming bloke, and a goddess fell in love with you.

Say goodbye to all your days of flirting with beautiful maidens, unless you wanted to end up feeling the wrath of a jealous and prideful goddess scorned heh.

Or even worse, let's say you were a handsome and charming bloke that had two competing goddesses fall in love with you.

There's just no way to play that hand of cards without losing an eye and getting turned into a monster or fed to a goddess's dog or something eventually.

See, it really is better to be an ugly bastard that nobody notices, most times ahaha.

And its just as bad with the male gods, and their pride and all that.

Its dangerous to have the attention of the gods upon you.

But at the same time, its fun, you're a Thief in the Temple of the Old Ones, y'know?

And it definitely makes you think about how all the things you do might matter.

Sorta like the way everybody acted funny when they thought Raph had put some secret system into SWG that watched everything you did, something that could eventually turn you into a Jedi, 'member that?

I think its hilarious, all the metrics systems you guys have got that make you look like a bunch of creepy snoops, and yet you didn't do one that would work out to be fun for the players ahaha.

You could do that better, if there actually was such a system, something that granted blessings and curses and tracked how much each of the gods were pissed off at you.

'Cause gods don't always like it when some other god grants a mortal a blessing, y'know?

As the mortal, you might end up in the middle of an immortal shitstorm just because some god who liked you was trying to do something nice for you, something you didn't even ask for, and a bunch of other gods, who also liked you, and did plenty of nice things for you without you asking, didn't like that the first god was doing stuff to make you like him or her more.

Trust me, I'm not just making this shit up, I've seen it all happen, Dundee probably knows what I'm talking about, if he can switch to see things from my point of view, I think this is actually the subject that Dundee first started talking to Raph about, if I remember right, how to administrate the game without monkeying it up or something, right?

And its definitely the reason I quit playing his UO emu.

And heck, one of my buddies is married to a GM from our server in EQ, so its not Dundee's thingie was the only time I ever got mixed up in all that shit ahaha.

Anyways, 'member when I said you should all play the gods of the game?

That wasn't just some ego-stroking thingie, I mean, it was partly that, just to sugar-up my point a bit, but it was also to force you into defining yourselves as gods, not just for the added color and depth, which woulda been cool, but so that there would be some way for folks to regulate themselves and stuff, some kinda structural hierarchy with boundaries and relationships established that were entertaining and rewarding (and more lighthearted and less serious, certainly) to everybody involved.

Something that the players (including the gods themselves) could use to make the gods behave in a more predictable way.

Like we all sorta know how a goddess of nature should act, or a god of the hunt, both the players that gotta deal with that being, and the player playing that being.

And mortals need to be able to predict what is gonna happen with the gods in order to feel safe about their investments in a game, y'know?

And as charming and everything as I am, as a guy that's pretty much guaranteed to win each and every personality contest, which is what every free-for-all without any established rules boils down to, I'm willing to forfeit all of that, just to make sure that the guy with no personality gets to have the same kinda fun I do, 'cause that's just how great and magnanimous of a guy I am ahaha.

Anyways having the gods be played by people is actually pretty fun, if you like a combination of survival horror and philosophical poker and people person skills, its the high-end version of having all the gods be part of some kinda automated system that just simulates human jealousy and pride.

And the good human qualities, too, don't get me wrong, there's sympathy and compassion and all that sorta stuff, and human-like gods can even be heroic and break the rules of the gods to help you.

And regardless of how its done, whether its automated or not, it actually makes everything you do as a player matter a little more (maybe too much ahaha), and it also takes several steps towards mechanically rewarding roleplaying, y'know, rewarding and punishing you for doing things that make sense to the lore and mythology of a game.

Well, as long as its contained within the game.

What I'm saying is that it could be something that really adds a lot of cool stuff to a game.

And I'm also saying that you don't get rid of it by ignoring it, you just drag all that gameplay out of the game, and put it on the forums and all this other machinery around a game, and you make your game designers the gods.

Which is why the game designers like it so much, I guess.

And that's not such a bad thing, really, 'cause I have a feeling that that might be one of the biggest motivations for all these supervillan game designers to make games, when you look at the shit they do heh.

Its unfortunate that they don't seem to have much of an appreciation for the 3d artists and sound guys and stuff that actually created all the forests and monsters and shit that they wield mechanical power over though, y'know, those spirits that actually decorated the Elven Woods with flowers and made the streams ripple in the moonlight all that.

But that's just more of that human pride and jealousy stuff I guess heh.

"My game design here is what breathes life into all these lifeless 3d objects, I add depth and shading to give the image more definition, only then does the drawing truly take shape!" ahaha.

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