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FF Sparks (Casual)

Us versus Them

So, I've been watching the WORA board lately, as noted in an earlier post. Whenever a game goes down abruptly, it seems to attain a 'carrion' status from what I've seen, and the game I was on that just went down recently is one I had a lot of fun on while it was around; whatever else should be said about it, I don't intend to let the game's memory be trod upon. I had fun while it lasted and am thankful to the staff for providing a place to experience that, and I met a number of now-valued friends there...so I will always have a place in my heart for it.

Now, luckily, the game in question has not been bad-mouthed (at least on that forum) since closing, thus I have not had to step in and bop people over the head with things (and likely get flambe'd myself along the way). But in reading posts thee, I've realized something. I've known it for a while, and I've said it before - heck, I even wrote two articles (here and here) more or less on related topics almost a year ago. Not my best writing by any means, but it got my thoughts down at the time.

I guess for the longest time, I couldn't see the point of the sort of discussion that goes on over at WORA sometimes; bashing a /person/ for decisions you don't like on their game really doesn't seem constructive. Sure, venting is great...but really, all this sort of stuff gets down to 'he said, she said' and seems really infantile. But finally, it's struck me...the mentality of most MU*ers is not that they want to help tell a story.

Some MU*ers are perfectly willing to play side characters and be the 'color' of the world; I like to think with my first character on the recently-deceased game, I added a little bit of color. He was never a major player in anything, but he was around and causing mischief and stirring up RP. I always had a blast just making minor trouble as him.

But a lot of MU*ers don't want to help tell /a/ story. Only being able to see things from their character's standpoint, they want to tell /their/ story. Their story has to have them as the star, and others as supporting cast or at most, co-stars. This is why many MU*ers have a 'me-me-me' attitude, I have come to think. Yet I also find myself thinking...it's not /entirely/ their fault. If I was reading a book or watching a movie and all of the plot happened somewhere off-screen and I only saw little bits and pieces, I'd probably think it was a lousy story. In some ways, that's what happens with 'supporting cast'; they only see what spills over onto them, and don't see the full story. That doesn't excuse the me-me-me attitude, but perhaps it at least takes a step towards explaining it...

The me-me-me attitude is also what ends up killing game balance in some settings. Lacking insight into the Greater Story, people want to make their own story with themselves as the heroes...so they set themselves up in opposition to whatever villainous force is out there. This leads to the 'gang up on the bad-guys' mentality; the bad guys are there to be opposed, right? Of course, with EVERYONE opposing them, the bad guys burn out pretty darn quickly...

The question I find myself asking then is...what could be done to alleviate this? It's not a problem so much on smaller games where a single plot arc can really focus on everyone. For larger games, I know I personally don't mind staying on the sidelines and being background color to add some depth to the world, as long as I see logs and RP to know what the main storyline /is/. I'm an actress, but I'm also a reader first and foremost; I don't care if I star in the story as long as I get to READ the story.

But I know a lot of people don't want logs published (the paranoia about 'OOC information being used ICly'), or are guarded of their 'private RP'. I'd argue that the concept of 'private RP' on a public game is part of the problem; a scene in private is not a bad thing now and then, but a plotline in private is likely going to spell the downfall of a server; at one point on a game, various people including myself dug our own little playpen to run an experimental RP plot. We wanted to get darker and more serious than most people on the game were willing to be...unfortunately, we turned into a clique that became hugely resented...largely because those who got ahold of the logs were jealous. It was, overall, very unfortunate and while I'm proud of the RP logs we amassed and the story we told, I'm not really proud of how we largely killed off the game doing that. We created a story being told off-screen that other players were only peripherally part of, at best (and after a while not even that); the me-me-me attitude was in full effect, and lacking any way to even squeeze into the storyline and try to be a hero, they went to other games.

I guess I wonder if there's a middle ground; a way to keep players happy and feeling like they're informed on the story, without having players feeling like their privacy is violated by having the story they're part of told to everyone.

Aah, the philosophical moods of 2:50am... I think I'll sleep now. :)

Comments

All good thoughts, IMO. I'm fond of bit parts myself. They're less work OOC, and there's more chance of character happiness IC. Not, of course, that Jorge was a happy character.

I think that a small, invite-only game is the best way to do cooperative storytelling. Large games are too difficult to coordinate, open games have too much chance of drawing in players uninterested in the communal goals.

On truly large games, on the other hand, a single plotline is so impossible that everyone being the center of their own story becomes possible. Just as my life will never be written in history books, my characters may not have any impact on world-wide events, but that doesn't diminish the interest their stories hold for me. Whether my bard finds his True Love or my cleric heals her patient is important to them (and to me), but does not tip the balance of Good versus Evil. And frankly, I enjoy that. There's much less pressure when you're not the White Knight.:-)
*bah, I bumped 'post comment' before I was done last time*

Actually, this is true. Firan is so large that there's no hope for any one character or set of characters to be the hero of a single storyline, and as a result we have dozens of plots running at any given moment. (Players often start them, and wizzes step in to help spur them along.) But Firan's also a monumental amount of effort to keep running; there's a /reason/ we have about twelve wizzes. And we have the advantage that they're based on a fantasy series where the headwizardess is the author, so if someone disputes a characterization ('no, I'm sure feature character X would do this!') we do have someone who can give final, authoritative verdict. ;)

However, that's not a system which works for most places; I've seen very few games as large and active as Firan without the wizzes burning out en masse. (I'm not sure if that just means that the Firan wizstaff are insane, or if it's a testament to how they work together as a team, or a credit to Steph and Adam's staff-selection and management skills, or just that they're all total addicts to Steph's storyline. Probably the last one.) So the 'big enough for everyone to play their own plot' rarely happens...especially in anything other than an original themed game. In any other setting - World of Darkness, Pern, comic-books, Harry Potter, whatever - if someone is unhappy with the game they can simply go make their own take on it. Original-themed games, you can't just take the setting; the staff came up with the setting and they're unlikely to sit by idly while you snorf it up for your own game. This encourages the playerbase for that setting to stay on one game instead of splintering into 'a mush of my own' sandboxes. I don't doubt that there are at /least/ as many active comic-book MU* players out there as there are active players on Firan, probably more...but you'll never find a comic-book themed game as active as Firan because there are just so many of them that the playerbase gets diluted.

Of course, private invite-only games seem to have a stigma to them; it's 'too elitist' and you still get the me-me-me mentality. "I want into your clubhouse, this isn't fair, I want good RP too!" Sooner or later, hearing things like that will wear on a person and they'll either close down the group or lose interest or start inviting more people in, until it becomes the size of a small game. I've had some of my best RP ever in really small and private groups where we all work together to tell a single story, and that seems to be the inevitable end.

Ah, well. C'est la MUSH, I suppose. :)
Heh. I was thinking of a Pern when I wrote about large games. PernMUSH itself is, IME, so large and of such long standing, that there's no possibility of a single storyline. Yes, over the past eleven years, lots of people have left in a huff because they didn't like some aspect of the way the game was run, or the worldview, or whatever, but the game is still going strong, and there are few worldwide plots, except perhaps, the imminent end of the Pass. Smaller, personal storylines abound, however.

Tell me more about Firan, though. It sounds fascinating.
Firan's pretty unique...we're the most legendarily code-heavy MUSH/MUX out there, but I've come to find that the code doesn't /detract/ from RP. I didn't have to use a lot of the code if I don't want to, but the fact that it /is/ there does spur RP. (For example, people gradually get dirty as time goes on. There is a public bathhouse in the center of the city; you walk into the bathhouse and bathe to get clean. Nice! It spurs people into going there to get clean and often makes them bump into other people and starts scenes. There is a working economy, which actually makes people more inclined to deal with crafter-characters; if you want new clothes or a special outfit, you actually go to a clothier who can make those outfits for you.) Firan also has pregenerated characters, instead of 'make your own'; each character comes with relationships to other characters (so you come off the roster and have people to play with), and a thematically-appropriate background and secrets and often a potential place in one of the myriad plots laid out... but also the freedom to grow a character over time, and certainly to bring them into other plots. It is, however, a nonconsent game; if someone uses the combat code and kills you, then you die (unless one of the gods of the pantheon has a really good IC reason to revive you). Considering there is a war between the Firans and the Shamibelians, and once an IC year they travel to the front during the summer (one of the only times the terrain is suitable for war) to fight...and fighting in the war means you quite possibly /could/ die...it lends a lot of realism and depth to the game. Players really /feel/ when a loved one goes off to war, for example.

Player actions can also affect the world as a whole. Player actions not all that long ago actually shattered the Firan Republic for a while, with one entire clan banished from the shared capital until they were willing to play fair. Wizzes look for stuff like this and will run with it to create plots, even game-wide plots.

It's definitely not for everyone; it's VERY different than any other MUSH I've played on. Any other game at ALL, really. Some people hate it, some people become deeply addicted to the story and the way everything ties together to make a coherent, functional world that spurs people to interact. I figure, to each their own; enough of the latter exist to give a very lively world. I've seen 140 people on at once in evenings, and easily 320 characters on over the course of a day. Even at this ungodly hour, there are 34 connected characters right now. :)

Disclaimer: I /hated/ the idea of a heavily-coded game and pregenerated characters when I started on Firan. After a few months, I was more circumspect. Now, after more than two years of RP on Firan later, I really really respect the system. I became a wiz on Firan (I can be found there as 'Jeanne' in my wiz-identity) over a year ago, and I've really enjoyed getting to help enrich the world and the systems... until HPM, Firan was the only place I played for quite a while. Ginny/Gwerith's player from HPM was another Firanite, and brought a number of us (including me) to HPM to play.

Whew, long rambly post at way-too-early.
It sounds like a wonderful game if a player has a lot of time to devote, but less suitable for the occasional hour or two of RP.

Chiming in...

It really all depends on the character you take. Conveniently enough, there are different levels of character, I, II or III, which range from OMG, so-and-so isn't logged in and the entire story has ground to a halt until she arrives, all the way to the background cast who will only matter to a couple of family members if s/he is not logged in every single night.

Of course, the game is addicting enough that it's difficult to .not. spend tons of time on it, IMO.

Picking up on the original post... I consider myself to be the center of my universe. This is entirely different than being the center of the universe. I am the most important person in my life (or at least I work on trying to remember to be), but I also expect that everyone else is the most important person in their own lives. I think the same holds true on a M*. I expect to be very involved with and focused on my own plots, but I don't expect anyone else to make me the center of their attention - I think the problem comes in when people don't understand that second part. Realistically, most of the people I know who M*, like most of the people I know who are in the SCA, have been socially outcast at some point in their lives. I suspect that the people who have the most problem with this whole mememememe! complex are the same people who are using their characters to compensate for some lacking in their RL existance. I like to think I'm supplimenting, rather than compensating... maybe I'm fooling myself. ;P

I've been reflecting on the no-consent thing recently. I have a character now, Pia, which I played once before, a little over a year ago. I dropped her then because I was so incredibly frustrated with the game that I was spending large chunks of time in tears, and had posted reminders to myself all over the place that "It's only a game." Long story short, I found myself in a situation which could have been very fun from an angsty RP perspective, but which had gotten all messed up because various characters were not taken off the roster, and we needed them to continue to plot. It was a big, nasty, ugly mess, and to make matters worse, I'd been IC grounded and restricted to the house between sunset and sunrise - this was a major issue because my main online hours were IC'ly (you guessed it) between sunset and sunrise. I got so frustrated, I dropped the character. Again, long story short, I have the same character again, and recently was poisoned (a coded occurance). My character nearly died, and actually was dead for a short period of time before things were slightly reversed and she was just comatose for a while. Strangely enough, I was okay with that, and would have been okay with it had she died, although not exactly happy. I think the difference is that this time, it's all been IC, and had Pia died, it would have been a perfectly natural thing to have happen. The last fiasco was complex IC, but more affected by OOC nonsense than anything else.

I'm very tired, and I think I'm babbling. I apologize if that is the case...
Speaking as a Firan wiz myself, I'd have to go with 'insane' as far as our motivations :) Or, speaking more seriously, a genuine desire to enrich and further an already rich world.
I've always thought that one of the strengths of Firan was its ability to have layers upon layers, like an onion. I played a level II in one of the outer layers quite happily, satisfied with her angst level, before taking a feature, discovering there was a whole section of the MU* plots that was like a foreign world to me. On the flipside, I've noticed certain segments of the playerbase, with the closer 'in' they get, to what people believe is the heart of the storyline, they become more and more disatisified with having to play in 'less important' plots. OTOH, there are those of us who like taking a 'less important' character. I played briefly on HPM, although I regret my duties on Firan kept me from being there regularly, I loved the idea of being a 'nobody' on a MU* with good RP. No pressure, no responsibilities!
However, the problem is that there are people who don't like being a 'nobody.' From my experiences at Firan, most people do seem happy in whatever niche they've carved out for themselves. Because there are plenty of niches to go around. For my part, I tend to feel like I'm playing a character part (as opposed to a 'hero') even when I'm in a three person tabletop, so...
Firan's very unique, to go back to the post I was actually replying to. I, too, was opposed to that of that much code, and now I'm used to it. It frequently astounds me that Firan works. But it does, and there's nowhere quite like it out there. It seems to become more than a game. The game world just sucks people right in. It's a lifestyle.
I loved the idea of being a 'nobody' on a MU* with good RP. No pressure, no responsibilities!

Me, too!

Firan sounds lovely. Not that I need another series of books to read, but seattlesparks mentioned that it's based on a fantasy series...
*grin* Yes, except for one little problem...

Only the Firan players have yet read the books which the game is based on. They're winding their way through the publishing chain, but the players got to proofread and give comments.

Steph started writing the story (based on the tabletop gaming world she and Adam invented and had people play in, and even based on the events of that campaign) at around the same time that the game was started (set initially fifteen years after the events of the books, so that some characters from them are around but a lot of us are the children of those characters).

It was really neat, in some ways. I got to see chapters about my primary character's grandfather (and my mother when she was a teen!) while proofreading, and it gave me this neat fuzzy sense of 'my character has a cool family and history!' I know a lot of other players had similar reactions, recognizing characters they knew, as children, or recognizing places they'd been or events that had influenced their own character... ;)
However, once the books find a publisher BUY THEM BUY THEM BUY THEM BUY THEM!
*cough* Was that subtle enough? Just doing my part for Steph here. I've read most of the book through at least three revisions and it's gotten better everytime. It's going to be very good.
I had much the same experience with the book as well. My feature character is related closely to one of the characters...and it was really neat to see that my character acts a little like her book relation!
I'll expect to see an announcement in this space when the first one is published.:-)