Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Fourth Question

It began with the realization that Giles Coren is Victoria Coren's brother.  I had never put that together.  For those who don't know (I didn't, 45 days ago), Giles Coren is an English columnist and restaurant critic for The Times in London.  He has a remarkably dry sense of humor (like his sister) and is possessed with that peculiar British talent that retains its superiority while indulging in self-abuse.

Investigation into this strange new person uncovered his association with Gordon Ramsay, which is okay because Coren bitch-slaps Ramsay unhesitatingly.  Yay.  This then led to the series that Coren did with Sue Perkins (that some may recognize from Q.I.) in which the two of them go back in time to sample the food and living habits of various historical periods (The Supersizers Eat... 2007-08).

Well, that was interesting and I considered posting it here on the blog and talking about food before realizing that probably no one would care to read my opinions on the subject.  So I dropped the idea and moved on.

My partner, however, having cut her teeth on this historical reality show jazz, continued on while I sat in my room playing Patrician III, writing my book and occasionally bothering to work on D&D.

This has not been time wasted.

So following Coren she found Back in Time for Dinner (2015) and then Electric Dreams (2009).  These are not my thing, but at least - since both are BBC productions - the various characters more or less speak and act towards one another like human beings.  Unfortunately, they ran out rather quickly.  Still hungry, however, my partner was bound to find across Frontier House (2002), which was positively wretched but not nearly as bad as Texas Ranch House (2006), which I can only describe as execrable.  My partner, bless her, has far more tolerance for this sort of shit than I do.  I had to fight back with BBC's Tudor Monastery Farm (2013), in which at living in the past is at least done by educated historians and not slack-jawed, infantile, passive-aggressive dicks.

Tudor Monastery, best of the lot.  A shot from the center of a
Hall House, in which the fire was built in the house center
without a chimney.

Now, I realize most of this is old and I don't expect anyone to get excited that I've linked the above - but it is all there on youtube.  I haven't had "television service" since 2004 because it became practical to simply watch everything on the internet, even before youtube was launched.  So I don't see advertisements for TV shows (along with commercials, political ads, news stories, flood warnings or threats to launch a nuclear strike) unless I go looking for these things.  This makes for an extraordinarily pleasant existence.  Therefore, until recently I hadn't become aware of these shows and would not have watched them except that I love HER, very, very much.

It is impossible not to notice, however, that these shows tap the same buttons that D&D and other role-playing games tap . . . in some ways, much better than RPGs because the cows, the fences, the building of fires with flint and so on are obviously much more 'hands on' than talking about these things around a table.  On the other hand, these things also suck at RPGs in that they are bound to universally fail because no one's allowed to truly feel more than, well, ashamed or humilated by having a camera in their face while forced to deal with others prancing and dancing their fucking self-righteousness because they have a camera in their face.

Yesterday, I asked a question.  I'll reword it 'slightly' to fit the context of the above:

Is it possible to create a visual, audio and moderately sensory habitat or setting in which players of an RPG world could dispense with a DM and pursue a different sort of social contract through the use of an electronic medium that would be so much better than D&D that DMing (but not playing) would become obsolete?

 I don't think I'm going to answer that, at least not right now.  I'm thoroughly enjoying reading and taking inspiration from others who are parsing this question.


  1. Dream Park, written by Larry Niven, which the International Fantasy Gaming Society tried to put together in the 1980's in Denver, Colorado. Sadly, the tech, and the necessary computing power, did not exist then.

    However, with the developments of World of Warcraft, Google Glass, FX Lightsabers, and iPhones, the technology is very close to becoming real. Unfortunately, I did not win the Powerball so I cannot devote the rest of my life to merging the technologies.

  2. Just to see if I follow,
    so social contract refers to explicit or implicit rules between Players on how they interact/operate together in the game (an metagame)

    DM role A as judge/intermediary/interpreter between PCs actions and the worlds reactions

    as distinct from
    DM role B as supervisor of the social space, procedures and decisions of PCs

    An electronic medium can and does dispense with both DMs roles, MMORGs still have moderators so there is still an element there.

    However, from what youve written previously Alexis, the deep potential of the game is only realised with pacing (managing boredom), focus (managing emmersion), mind-fuckery (managing tension), trust (managing social atmosphere)....

    All of these need a live DM to be sensitive and adaptive and to intervene both as DM role A and B . A specific social contract would seem to enable these to be effective and learning this is part your education of new players. This I think is the essential element that may not be replaceable in electronic medium.

    I have played computer games where I have been completely immersed (where 3 hours have past in no subjective time) but I dont have vivid memories of what I have done in game. However I have a few vivid memories of in-game actions from RPGs. Is it the social context (with real people) that builds this as a "real"?

    If so the ultimate gaming experience could be games using augmented reality not unlike LARPing. Your party (the players) are actually in a real live forest with headsets adding audio and visuals to create virtual monsters/NPC to interact with.
    I dont know if a DM would/could enhance this experience or not. Perhaps yes in terms of social interaction with NPCs. There is nothing quite as jarring as "talking" to computer controlled personalities...



  3. "Is it possible?" In my experience, the answer here is almost always "Yes" unless you're pushing against the fundamental limits of physics. The followup question I'd ask is "Is the above possible without strong artificial intelligence?"


  4. And in continuation of what Eric has said - if strong artificial intelligence is needed for such a task (as i think it would - house ruling exotic circumstances or whacky hijinks and social interaction all require incredible adaptability, to the point where the computer program would likely be of near human intelligence, at least in some respects. And creating a digital DM ("Just like a real DM, Except he doesn't pay rent and can work all day on his world") would be kind of pointless, since if it's as smart as a person, and as social as a person, you have to treat it like a person. But probably possible, for a sufficiently advanced level of technology.


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