Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster on gaming’s social design problems masquerading as technical challenges


In case you hadn’t noticed, Playable Worlds’ Raph Koster is basically handing out a free 101 course in how video games work in his string of essays and blogs on virtual worlds, though we’re sure it works just as well as a promotional preamble to the MMORPG sandbox and metaverse his new studio is building. Last week, Koster tackled how objects in games work, which isn’t necessarily how gamers might think they work, all of which has an effect on what is possible in a multi-sharded universe of games with any kind of shared functionality and code. This week, he’s continuing his object discussion by focusing on how modern game structures allow designers to separate objects from scripted behaviors, dependencies, stats, and even things like procs, not all of which transmits easily between gameworlds if their frameworks aren’t planned around it.

“There are no standards right now for ‘what things can do’ in a virtual world, and we shouldn’t want them,” Koster says. “The act of setting the standard is also setting the limit, which would curb creativity enormously. There’s far too much possibility to be explored still.” And while loading common scripts from a shared database on the web could work, that comes with its own problems: “Ironically for fans of decentralization, though, the literal decentralizing of the script locations results instead in centralizing the point of failure. If that script has a bug, everyone’s eating stops working.”

“What used to be a technical problem then becomes a people problem,” he concludes. “This is why carrying object functionality around between worlds is above all a thorny social problem, and item portability in the way that most people dream of it is far more likely to be limited to appearances for a long while. The exception would be cases where there is central control over, or at least strong agreement on, the game design across multiple worlds.”

Again, it’s pretty granular, but if you aren’t already a developer or engineer or even a modder, it might be useful to learn these basics.

Further reading:

More coverage of Koster's writing and games
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