Sunday, March 3, 2019


Before reading this post, just want to say that after a conversation between regular reader Ozymandias and myself, I think we've come up with a mechanic for the idea that Pandred proposes, that started this post.  So I want to say, I apologize for writing this post.

Life is weird.

"When you're older you don't have this terrible desire to be the master of it, to own it, to know everything about the subject. And you know you're never going to catch up with people who've been into this for 25 years. Whereas when you're in your 20s, it's a very important thing to a man ~ the cultural choices he makes, so he'll certainly discover the movies of Martin Scorsese and watch all of them and tell you what the best one is. Then I'm really into the Smiths now so I'll listen to all their albums and this is the best one, right? Yeah. And that's just really really interesting for a man that's in his 20s. But when you're in your 40s and you hear a man in his 20s going, 'No, this is the best album or this is the best film,' it sounds exactly like 6-year-old going, 'No, a stegosaurus is the best dinosaur.' I didn't think there could be a best, not the Tyrannosaurus Rex? 'No, its back is unprotected from attack.' "
~ Dara Ó Briain

I've never heard it put better.

Some years ago, when I spent a lot of time with people in their 20s while I was in my mid-30s, I would get trapped in what I called "list conversations."  A subject would come up, say War Movies, and for twenty minutes the conversation would consist of nothing more than people describing in a few sentences their favorite war movies.  "I like this one, it has that guy," "Yeah, that one's all right, but have you see blank, it's way better," "Sure, but it's not as good as ..." and so on.

People would sort of make an artistic argument, like this one was directed by Scorsese who is a way better director so the film is obviously way better, regardless of story or sense or purpose for being.  Or they'd make a visceral one, like that the film meant more to them because their dad was in such-and-such a war and it always brought it home to them, etcetera.  But the arguments were weak and it was always subjective anyway; some people don't like any war movie, some people like ALL of them.

Thing is, the same arguments could be applied to anything: where's the best place to go on vacation in Europe?  What's the best fishing in Western Canada?  What's the most durable spark plug?  Men ~ and this conversation was always men ~ can sit around and compare absolutely anything, and will, if there's the least whiff of a pissing contest.  It's part of why we mansplain.  We grew up in a male culture where older men 'splained everything down to where flowers grow in the wild and why they are the color they are, why the blue of the sky is a different blue in different seasons of the year and why anything isn't really what you think it is, it's actually "this."  We have this drummed into our heads by fathers, uncles, older brothers, cousins and male teachers long before we've reached the age of 9, making it impossible for us to see conversation as something other than explaining what the shit shit is.

However, while men are often great 'splainers, they are often terrible, terrible suggesters.  A suggester is someone who "suggests" a solution to a problem.  Watching the Mentzer thing last week, I decided to go investigate this Jessica Price person a little more, as I had no idea who she was, not really.  I'd read the thing about Mentzer arguing about a woman on a bus, but that's all.

BUT ... I'm not going to talk about Price or Mentzer today.  Instead, I'm going to talk about an answer to Price on her twitter in July 2018 that ~ inexplicably for me ~ has become an iconic moment in Twitter History.  Here's the comment, from a suggester named Deroir, written in three tweets:
"Really interesting thread to read! However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story's narrative design; (1 of 3)
"When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players' experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)
"Then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)"

Let's ignore the content he's talking about; it's video games and I don't care.  He said it, Price flipped it off and the thread freaked out on her.  Let's ignore all that too.  I'd like to pretend someone made this comment to me, on my blog, about something I was doing.

I can see a lot of people looking at this and thinking, "Wow, that would be great!  I'd like to see that."  But deeper down, what I see is an impossible amount of work.  Derior is basically saying, "Could you please take the entire human experience, put it into a nutshell and then program it?"  Derior is not explaining how this could be done.  He's not offering to help.  He's showing no actual comprehension of the depth of impossible development this would require.  He doesn't need to.  Derior is an "idea man."

Idea men are the worst.  Not because ideas aren't wonderful and we don't need them, but because most times idea men fail to recognize that the idea they have isn't "new."  Get rid of the constraints of narrative design?  Yeah.  Thought of that about a day after we started building narrative designs.  Welcome to the party.  It's impossible, however, so we don't waste time with it.

When it comes to ideas, the mansplainer evaporates.  We are in blue skies.  Why don't you do this thing with the thing that will make it better?  Hey, there's this sort of thing in this other game that sort of fits into this game if you look at it sideways, can't we somehow fit this together and make this work? 

Sure. Explain how.

Pandred did this to me late last night (sorry Pandred), and for about half an hour before falling asleep I was thinking of ways I might fit the Sims mechanic into D&D; after all, I'm fitting the Wooden Ships & Iron Men mechanic into the game and it's working fine ... so I can do anything right?

Um, no.  We need numbers; and those numbers have to measure things; and the measurement has to augment or limit something that logically applies to the subject on the table, "... incentivising more immersive actions such as dressing oneself to suit the situation or cleaning/grooming ..."  Without those things, the idea has value only in that it is true.  No doubt, IF there really was a way to make players care about the look of their clothes and their hygeine, they WOULD be more invested.

Thing is, much of the effect of those things ~ how we appear, how we smell, how actually attractive we are ~ is wrapped up in the subjective way that we're viewed by, well, everyone.  If you stink all the time, you will eventually notice you always sit alone on the bus, you're always overlooked for benefits and promotions, people always ignore you and you are always on the bottom side of life.  There's no number for that.  People smell you and move away.

Now, if we created a charisma spray ~ a variant mixture of dung and pheromones ~ that you doused yourself in according to your charisma at the start of each game session, that MIGHT get across some of your player character's actual charisma.  What a great idea!  But I know nothing about creating perfumes, sprays or pheromones, so perhaps it really wasn't very useful.

I question the good sense in writing this post, however.  I don't want to discourage readers from writing comments or even giving their ideas.  I do want readers to admit that "I have no idea how this would be done" or "Please, I'm not saying you need to do this to make it relevant to me."  Pandred was defending the book, Goods & Gear.  And though I trashed the book yesterday, I then spent two hours grabbing screen shots of material I intend to exploit eventually.  I mean two write a fairly positive second half to that review today or tomorrow.

All I'm saying is that while we're making arguments for what we'd like, I'd like us to make efforts to work on our own ideas and develop them before dumping them on someone else's doorstep.  If Pandred wants to come back today with some sketches about how his Sims/D&D hybrid might work, I'd be very excited and might spend some time establishing the idea as a project.

Thing is, the idea he suggests isn't new.  You can go back as far as the early Dragon and find "dressing up and cleaning thyself" attempted as a mechanic ... and dozens of times since by different systems.  We know it's an issue worth pursuing; but it isn't going to work with the cheesy +/- charisma mechanic that Kenzer suggests.  Fuck, they really got off the couch to design that one.

We need real metrics, complex ones, D&D combat system complex, if we're going to represent the way humans interact with humans about how they dress, look, smell, talk, ask for things and so on.  We've sooooo established that it won't be a set of +/- modifiers on a d20 check.  We're humans.  We're complex.  We're nutjobs.  If we're going to represent ourselves, we need systems that at least try to approach what we are.

Again, my apologies Pandred.  I really want you to keep commenting and coming up with ideas.  I want everyone to do so.  Please, however, mansplain it to me.  Don't just suggest it.

Here's more Dara O'Briain:


Rosenritter said...

Your main point of not suggesting ideas without having a method of implementation to back it up, is one I find myself fully in agreement with. However, as someone who is fully aware of the context of your example, I feel that it's impossible to divorce it from the context.

Price made her initial comment in the context of GW2, where the game explicitly marketed itself on the idea that it was going to create a living story, where your choices mattered, and you would have a true role-playing experience. It explicitly took shots at the rest of the industry, saying it would do what no other MMORPG would do before. If you went only on these dev blog posts, you could either optimistically see it coming, or take a more cynical stance that it was over-ambitious and doomed to fail.

The problem is that, contrary to those dev posts, and contrary to Price's claims, these things do have a precedent. There were more sand-box styled MMOs that allowed role-playing. Even vanilla WoW did at least something in this realm. Most of the issues the GW2 devs - many of whom never played the original! - were ones that hadn't existed in the previous game. Games like Eve managed to live off of stories fueled solely by players; Ultima and other older MMOs were serviced by constant dev involvement. Outside of MMOs, other games have managed to give "choice" to your actions, even if only in dialogue.

The truth of the matter, albeit a simplified one, is that Price complained that it was impossible to do something that was very much possible. People weren't upset at her because she was a woman, or a liberal. People were upset because she was ignoring 20 years of history to focus on a singular, very narrow conception of what you can do with a story. If you want a comparison to the table-top, compare the majority of 5E or modern modules to classic ones. Players are willing to put up with badly written stories because the game itself is what matters (the original GW, for example, had a story campaign that existed solely as a tutorial for PvP, the main selling point of the game - and one which it did exceptionally well). But when you market yourself on your story, then you need to be willing to accept criticism. Considering the "average gamer" doesn't read much, that's not even a high standard.

Besides that, it's also worth noting the selected discussion is from Twitter, which is notorious for encouraging quips and shot responses over elaboration. Better examples would be from forums, where actual discussion could take place.

So with as much respect as I have for the main point, I can't support stripping away the context in discussing this sort of thing. Ignoring the details is exactly what makes it hard to provide implementation for an idea: Ideas can be nebulously molded to anything, but implementation needs specific data.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I didn't defend Price. I don't think you've convinced me of anything except that people continue to feel that "let the buyer beware" is an unfair, unreasonable and indecent principal that they feel they shouldn't have to live by.

I don't care what anyone was "promised." It's called marketing.

I don't care that the final product did not live up to the expectation. Or that Price was the vocal point of the marketing that promised it would.

People got taken. Happens every day. I didn't get taken. As far as I can see, no laws were broken. I hope the company goes out of business ~ though it won't, because the next time it makes a promise, gamers will run in and buy the product months before it is released because gamers are ...

Everything else sounds like a 6 y.o. crying about how Jimmy spit in his ice cream cone.

Pandred said...

I hesitated to type the first two comments that kicked this off precisely because I was certain they weren't good enough. Vindicated there.

I've got a soft spot for Hackmaster and its creators as "close, but not quite" content that pushed me on.

So apology accepted and all, but not really needed.

Alexis Smolensk said...

But wanted from my end, Pandred. I never apologize unless I want to, because it fits my sense of honor as a gentleman.

One way or the other, you got us started talking; and I was troubled by my writing of this post all day, feeling I ought to leave it up yet wanting to take it down.

Sometimes these posts ride the edge of nonsense.