Death Penalties Musings Responses

Today I’m trying something different.  My goal is to show a statement or comment that somehow “feels” off and I will try to put into words the reasons why.  I think it’ll be interesting to see what develops.

The following comes from the comments at Damion Schubert’s Zen of Design blog.

Death penalties should be variable… not unpredictably variable, but a sliding scale. The hardest content should have the best rewards AND the biggest penalty. It would be wildly unpopular, but I’d love to see a game try it…

This kind of mechanic strikes me as a contrived risk-reward tradeoff typical of a game.  I presume our overall goal is an MMO virtual world.  It would be fine in a relatively single player game like Diablo, or even Neverwinter Nights, but for an MMO virtual world I think it’d be a violation.  Here we have to step back a bit, so it may seem we’re headed off in some random direction, but it’ll tie back in….

We live in Real Life.  A game in relation to real life is something we all understand- contrived rules under which we choose to make decisions.  An MMO game is, well, a game- from our point of view it has rules meant to present us tough, dramatic tradeoff decisions.  An MMO virtual world, on the other hand, really is an extension of real life.  It has contrived rules, yes, but those rules address the logistics of interfacing with that virtual world, moreso than rules that define how we are to “play” in the world.

Take designing a loadout setup as something to demonstrate the differences between the MMO game and the MMO virtual world.  In the MMO game you deal with static items with certain tradeoffs for certain performance.  If an item doesn’t fit, your only choice is to train up your character to have the ability to use it.  In the MMO virtual world if an item doesn’t fit then you have recourse to mechanics to adapt that item to be able to fit- think research, modifications, or having someone craft a slightly less powerful (and less energy-intensive) version of it.

Interestingly, the MMO game is in reverse in regards to how we inherently view and interact with the world: if we want to use some object as a tool, we must adapt ourselves in some way.  In real life, it’s quite the other way around (for the most part).  If we see something we want to exert our will upon, but we don’t immediately have the ability to work with it in the way we want to, then we try to adapt that thing to make it into something we can work with.  Hegel outlines this in his Philosophy of Right, incidentally.

The point is that one’s will sees everything but itself as a potential tool.  And it’s natural tendency in cases where the tool is not usable as such is to try to figure out how the tool can be modified so that it can be used.  It’s not to figure out how it can change itself so that it is then capable of using the tool.  To have one’s will be frustrated by the will of another when the object of one’s will has no ill effect on any other will- in the MMO case by the will of the designer- is “wrong”, incidentally, as Hegel’s theorizing defines it.  Ever wondered why so many people find Monopoly immensely exasperating?  This is why.  The only reason you didn’t build houses last turn was because for some inexplicable reason if you want to build houses you must build them on all three properties at the same time.  And now all your competitors have landed in succession on all three of your properties.  In real life you would have been able to make something work at the time.  There were no rules that categorically prevented you from building some sort of structure on at least one of your properties.  Well, to me that’s frustrating, amongst other things in the wonderful world of Monopoly.

Back to the issue at hand: the best loot comes from hardest MOBs which have the nastiest death penalties.  So you’re telling me Stephen Hawking is worthless when it comes to obtaining the best items?  It’s a great mechanic if you’re playing largely single-player games like Diablo or Neverwinter Nights.  It’s a “game mechanic”, emphasis on the word “game”.  As a “virtual world” mechanic it will be a source of exasperation.

So I’m going to guess that to make this post any longer will result in something far too long, so I’ll end it here.