MMORPG designer Raph Koster has a fun piece out today, ostensibly about what he’s dubbing “consent systems” in multiplayer games that include roleplaying — the rules that govern free-form roleplaying, like who gets to do what to other characters and whether consent is necessary. As most roleplayers surely know, it’s generally considered inappropriate to act something out on another character without consent. You can shoot a gun at someone, but it’s up to that someone to decide whether she’s been shot or dodges out of the way. You open your arms to try to hug someone, but you never treat the response to your action as a foregone conclusion — you wait for the recipient to acknowledge and respond. You attempt, but you never assume success.
The part that’s of interest to MMORPG players specifically is where Koster talks about formal emote systems in MMOs and how they can break that roleplayer’s consent code. For example, he criticizes World of Warcraft’s MUD-inspired emote list, which include things like massaging someone’s shoulders and slapping another player — none of which leaves open a response from the recipient.
Why does World of Warcraft go that route, eschewing the lessons learned from MUDs and MUSHes? Part of it’s down to improved graphics, specifically the desire to animate emotes.
“When we moved to graphical worlds, some of this became obligatory if we wanted to display it using character animations. A canned ‘hug’ emote will result in someone just sticking their arms out and waving them about; unless the target is within range and positioned correctly, the animation will be to empty air. And if someone isn’t also reading the chat box, it will be nonsensical. You can either choose to simply not animate all of these powerful social tools… or you can solve the problem.”
Star Wars Galaxies, Koster notes, was a bit of a hybrid: It “still used the MUD-style impositional emotes, but tied as much as graphical support in as [it] could.”
“We detected words embedded in your chat in order to affect body and facial animations,” he explains. “We attempted to set avatar eye line based on who was speaking most recently.”
The whole piece is worth a look for roleplay fans or just anybody who’s frustrated with modern MMOs’ lack of support for roleplay tools.