Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Humans are Better Than Computers at ...

Pretending to be humans.

Which is the reason for MMORGs such as World of Warcraft. Why hire a computer when you can get humans to offer a superior service for free?

(Inspired by xkcd1263)


At 12:01 PM, September 17, 2013, Blogger Shaddox said...

Of course, this is essentially a rephrasing of the Turing test. Turing's idea was that the most difficult task for a "artificially intelligent" computer isn't multiplying numbers together really fast, or playing chess, or even recognizing human speech or pictures of human faces (all things which computers can currently do much better and faster than humans), but rather participating in a direct conversation with a human.

At 3:11 PM, September 17, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"computers are better than humans" is stupid, its like saying the chisel michelangelo used is better than michelangelo.

whenever a computer beats a human in chess or something, it is NOT the computer who is doing the beating, but thousands of mathematicians, engineering and programmers who are doing the beating through a machine they built.

people who are worried about computers being better than human obviously have no clue as to how a computer works. if they bothered to learn even basic programming they would realise that even getting the computer to say "hello world" is hard.

i think David Friedman, being a physicist, should understand this point.

At 3:55 PM, September 17, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Maybe a bit off-topic, but if an interstellar space cruiser landed on your lawn tomorrow, all other things being equal, would you be willing to bet that the aliens would be more interested in trading or taking? I have a theory on the topic and was just curious how it compares to your own.

At 7:08 PM, September 17, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think it depends on a lot of details you are leaving out, such as whether they expect long term repeat interactions, whether what they want is something we produce or something there to be taken, and the like.

At 7:55 PM, September 17, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Pretend that I'm your next door neighbor. We're both outside in the front exchanging notes on growing tomatoes when the spaceship suddenly lands on your lawn. Therefore, we both have exactly the same details regarding the event. Before the spaceship doors open...I offer to bet you $100 that the aliens would prefer to trade (as opposed to Hollywood box office bad alien behavior). Would you accept the bet?

At 12:48 AM, September 18, 2013, Anonymous stone said...

I agree with you. Humans are Better Than Computers sometimes and Computers are Better Than Humans sometimes.

At 2:55 AM, September 18, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Xerographica Stephan Molyneaux has this interesting theory that aliens are very likely to be traders because if they have the technology to go all the way here, they must be good at cooperating.

At 5:42 AM, September 18, 2013, Anonymous Simon said...

I don't get the trade vs. take question. It assumes that humans control some resource that the aliens really want, no? But if they are capable of interstellar travel, what would they lack that we have? Could the most likely answer to "Do they want to trade or take?" be "No"?

At 2:37 PM, September 18, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

@Xerographica and Ricardo Cruz:

On the other hand, aliens able to get all the way here are at least in some significant respects much more advanced than we are, since we can't get all the way to their planet. How much more advanced are they? I'm not sure, but I imagine the different in advancement between them and us is larger than the different between us and, say, chimps.

If human banana-traders landed on a banana-rich island on which chimps were the most advanced creature, would the humans be trading things to the chimps in exchange for bananas, or just taking bananas and dealing roughly with any chimps that got in the way?

At 3:33 PM, September 18, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

Back to the topic:

Which humans are pretending to be humans in the first place? World of Warcraft players? Yeah, I could see that.

Seriously, though, I don't play MMORPGs--or RPGs for that matter--but this just kind of supports something I had always suspected about them, which is that the point is more to socialize than to have a challenging gaming experience, or at least the kind of experience you get from a good game of chess.

If they came out with a computerized chess game that engaged you in Turing-approved small talk, I wouldn't play it.

A lot of this has to do not just with the nature of the game or the computer itself but the context in which it's used. People spend so much time on MMORPGs, they need social interaction from it or else they wouldn't get any social interaction at all. Meanwhile, I like to play chess on my cell phone for the 5-15 minutes each morning I spend on the commode, and then I don't look at another game the rest of the day.

At 4:37 PM, September 18, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child: I don't think your description of MMORPG players is accurate. Social interaction is a part of the game, as it is in any other game. I suspect you enjoy a game of chess with another human more than with a computer.

As far as WoW goes, I gave it a try few months back and it is really not very challenging. From what the other players told me, the game was actually gradually "dumbed down" to fit better the younger players. I hoped for dungeons where you need to use clever tactics to overcome the enemies, but that was not the case. Still I guess it can be fun if you find the right people to play it with. After all, you play to have fun, which can of course include facing challenges, but doesn't have to. My aim in particular was to find a roleplaying guild in which I could play sort of a pen and paper rpg but online (I know a few people who would play actual pen and paper, but it is really hard for us to meet regularly). I did not succeed finding such a guild (open to new members) even though the server (Feathermoon) is labeled as an RPG server, so I quit. Another fun aspect is the auction house, but after some time it also becomes repetitive. But I think the appeal of MMORPGs is not that they provide means of social interaction for people who are socially awkward in real life (although it can be true of some players), but rather that it lets the players use the world as a template and create their own stories (as the WoW "vanilla" story in particular is not very interesting and it is full of clich├ęs).

On the other hand, that is probably only true of the roleplaying players. Others seem to me to play it more like a sport. Get the highest stats, get the best gear, beat most opponents in arenas...but then it is again about challenges - only posed by real players. It is more satisfactory for someone to know he has the most powerful character among real life players, than that he is better than some AI characters.

All in all, I think there are not many MMORPG players who use the game as a substitute to other kinds of social interaction. After all, if your only aim is to chat (and you can't or don't want to do it in realspace), then there are online services which are, unlike WOW and most other MMOs, entirely free.

At 5:06 PM, September 18, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

@Tibor Mach:

I had a friend in college who played WoW, and from what I remember it looked like an over-the-shoulder type thing where you control a little character who runs around a 3D landscape.

There are lots of other games just like this, many of them not massively multiplayer or online. (This indicates to me that the social element was added later, maybe as a way to keep people from turning the machine off and doing something else that doesn't require a screen.)

When I was a teenager one of my friends had a Nintendo 64 and there were a bunch of games like that, the most memorable being the James Bond Goldeneye game. To some extent, going back to even more primitive consoles my friends had, MarioKart and Zelda were like this too.

There were lots of kids who played these games for hours on end, but eventually their parents would get worried and kick them outside and tell them to go play with their friends.

Now all their friends are also online playing the same game. Maybe their parents are too.

At 5:28 PM, September 18, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child:

Well, your examples suggest that the social element is attractive and makes the game more fun for (some) people. But the fact, that there are other players playing does not mean that you substitute real-life social interaction by WOW. It just means real life players tend to be better at creating a fun environment than AI is. The world seems more alive than that populated strictly by the AI (and one human). I think it is not that they play the game so they can interact socially, but that they interact socially within the game, because it makes the game more fun.

There may be occassions where it is the other way around. Where the computer is not really better at pretending to be a human, but much better at pretending to be a let's say a paladin from a fantasy world, than some human players. If you see people hopping around, engaging in "lolspeak" and bearing names such as "superman" (in a fantasy world), the world will never be as believeable as a single player game where everything is carefully scripted (not to mention that a strong storyline is much easier to do that way).

At 10:15 AM, September 19, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

@Tibor Mach:

Time, for now at least, is zero-sum. If you spend three hours playing MMORPGs, that is three hours fewer you can experience real-world (RW) social interaction. So, the one does necessarily substitute the other, though of course the extent varies depending on how involved you get in the game.

That said, your observations about the social aspects making the game environment more appealing are straightforward and rather obviously true, but dependent upon the context in which people play.

What I'm trying to say is that this kind of environment is only appealing in certain gaming contexts. Earlier you suspected I'd enjoy a game of chess with a person more than with a computer. That would be true, say, when I'm relaxing after dinner. It's certainly not true while I'm on the commode in the morning between my coffee and my shower.

If people played RPGs for a short burst of puzzle-solving action, say for about 10-20 minutes between other RW activities, the MMO element would be a detriment, getting in the way of the action.

I believe it's only because people dedicate hours, even whole weekends to playing them, that the MMORPG concept is the way it is, and thus the main reason MMORPGs are an improvement (for most users) over "single-player offline" (SPO?) RPGs like Bond/Zelda/etc. which offer only crude computer-synthesized social interaction of a quality which would never pass any Turing test.

At 2:56 PM, September 19, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child:

Well, obviously you cannot spend the same minute twice. But you can use different methods to satisfy the same "needs". And I think that most people don't satisfy their urge to communicate with other people through MMOs, or at least that it is not their main incentive to play those games. the MMO makes some aspects of the game more fun for them but I don't think that for most players it is true that they use the MMO mainly as a way to socialize with people.

The difference you describe between the game of chess and an RPG (of any kind) is mainly in the genre itself. MMO chess would make little sense even if people spend hours playing it. RPG is (or should be) about role-playing...and humans are better at roleplaying than AI - at least AI whose lines are largely prescripted by a good writer. And even then it is very constrained. That is probably why I think all the MMOs are RPGs actually.

Although some 10 years ago, I played a web-browser game about the Dune universe, which was essentially a strategy game with factions each of which tried to win (after which the world wos reset for another "era"). And the factions consisted of real people. The game mechanics themselves were really simple, but the factions had real hierarchies and there was a strong element of diplomacy between the factions. So the game was mostly about diplomacy and politics (and espionage as well...I was a security minister for one faction at a point and blew it so bad I was banished - they thought I was actually a foreign spy...whereas I was just too talkative with wrong people which is not a good trait for the head of spies :) ). Which again means simply traits people are better at than computers are (I'm yet to see a single player game with actually well done and intriguing diplomacy). So the reason to play is social interaction of course, but a special kind, essentially roleplaying.

At 6:31 PM, September 19, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

Power Child,

MMOs like WoW are lots of games for lots of people. You can get challenge in WoW. It requires A) liking the specific challenge that high-end direct competition with other players (PvP) provides, or B) having 9 other people who love challenge as much as you do. (Heroic raiding). Aside from that, the game designers have been steadily leaching all the difficulty from the game (who, me, bitter? Perish the thought!) so it's very hard to find a challenge, though someone sufficiently determined and willing to think outside the box can usually do so.

Tibor Mach,

That is an unfair slander! Younger players could deal with old WoW just fine, and we can be elitist too! ;) Course, I still don't know who that leaves them making it easy for, but I'm pretty sure they have a lot more adults and teens playing than kids-young-enough-to-need-it-easier. So I don't think age is an issue; they aren't stupid enough to ruin things for the majority in order to make it work for the minority, so I can't believe that's what they're doing.

Also: yeah, the AH is fun. And really, you couldn't find a guild? I know of several currently recruiting roleplaying guilds on Feathermoon, and I'm pretty sure they were all recruiting a few months ago.

"It is more satisfactory for someone to know he has the most powerful character among real life players, than that he is better than some AI characters." I agree completely, and think this is a really good point.

Chiming in on the general point...

MMOs can substitute for realspace social interaction. They can also substitute for watching TV/reading books/other leisure activities. Which thing or range of things an MMO substitutes for for a given person depends entirely on that person. I've had periods when most of my social life was online... thank goodness, because having a social life realspace was not an option. The internet let me get around that. AIM is lovely for chatting with friends you've already met, but not so much for meeting friends, and usually friendships work better if you have something to do together. That can be roleplaying; it can also be focusing on the "game" aspect of an MMO, for example raiding or PvP in WoW. (It can also be writing stories, discussing cool science, teaching each other things... there's an amazing amount of stuff you can do online, without need for physical interaction. Though I admit some practical skills, like cooking, can be hard to transmit that way.) And there was certainly a period of my life after I got tired of WoW as a game when I was basically using it as a glorified chat client. (Before I discovered AIM.) So anyway: yes, judging by personal experience, socializing online can definitely substitute for socializing in person, and one thing that MMOs offer is a chance to socialize. I just don't view this as a problem.

(Apologies for that last line if you weren't; I know a lot of people do, which is why I bother to say I don't.)

At 7:45 PM, September 19, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

Is there a way to have a complete WoW "game" experience in under 20 minutes? How long does it take to organize a PvP or a raid? What about to establish a team -- or a reputation among teammates? As I said, I haven't played the game so I don't know, but those all sound like things that would require a substantial time investment.

At 12:32 AM, September 20, 2013, Anonymous Anonymous said...


There's a problem with the bet you offer: $100 is worth much more in a world where the aliens want to trade than in a world where they want to take. In the former world, I can use the $100 to buy alien miracle technology. In the latter world, we'll all be promptly killed/enslaved/whatever, and money will be worthless. So you're offering a bet of 100 valuable dollars against 100 worthless dollars: regardless of the true odds, you can't lose.

At 3:55 AM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...


Ok, maybe it is not "for the kids" as everyone kept telling me :) One way or another, it keeps getting easier. I guess you can still find challenges, but as you said - you have to actively look for them. You need to do some work first to have fun...as long as fun for you involves challenges of course. I am not really into PvP, I enjoy RPG games for compelling stories (such as the one of Planescape:Torment which was incidentally commercially very unsuccesfull although praised by the reviewers...which suggests to me that most people want simple games above all...which would explain why WOW got gradually simpler), so I was looking for an RP guild. I found the Order of the Rose, which did not respond to my mails at all and another one, something with white tower, which did, but they honestly told me the guild does not really work currently very much, most of their members were inactive. I managed to find some players who wanted to do RP, we even made a guild of our own, but then they were also not very active, logged in once a month or so and the guild was for nothing really. Other than that, no RP guilds responded to my messages...and only met about 3-4 players who used the RP plugins over the course of maybe 2 months I was playing the game. I only had an alliance character, maybe the Horde situation is better there. Other than RP, the game is kind of arcade-ish, I was especially displeased by the way most poeple go through dungeons - "run through it as fast as you can and collect XP and items". I enjoyed a dungeon once when I met someone and went there with just one other person where the game suggested 5 players. Then it required some tactics and skill and it felt much more "real". Generally however, my experience was that of increasing boredom and mundanity. Also, my impression was that a lot of players were actually quitting the game altogether and it seems to me that WOW is in decline (which is no surprise as the game is now probably over 10 years old).

Forgive me for being nosy, but how come real-life social life in real space was not an option? I cannot imagine a situation other than being on a deserted island (where you will have a hard time finding an internet connection anyway :) ), or being ill for a long time an unable to go outside where that is true. Dont answer if you dont want to, this goes back to my "trait" of asking everyone about everything and talking too much which made me the worst spy in that Dune webbrowser game :)

Just to clear things, I dont think socializing online is inherently worse than socializing in real-life, it depends on a situation. My point also was not that you cannot use MMOs as a "glorified chat service" but that I dont think it is the main way most players use it since they can have other chat services for free. It is true though that it is probably easier to meet new people doing some activity (such as playing a computer game, or at a cooking class) than simply using a chat service.

At 9:14 AM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

Just thought of this as well:

To have a recurrent clique of players you coordinate your MMORPG play with, a large portion of them have to be online and playing much of the time. Otherwise you'd frequently log on to find you're the only person in your clique ("guild"?) who's around, or other guild members would be constantly popping in or out, making it impossible to coordinate sustained play.

So, while WoW may be different things to different people (per Rebecca's comment), one thing I suspect it cannot be is a straightforward gaming experience where you tend to open up the game, enjoy about 20 minutes of some puzzle or challenge, and then close it and go back to doing other things. If everyone, or even a lot of people, played MMORPGs the way most people play chess, the "MMO" part would lose its purpose entirely.

By the way, as a non-gamer looking in, I'm confused about what exactly qualifies a game as an RPG?

For instance, in MarioKart you can choose which character to race as--which "role" to "play", so to speak--and each character has its own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, plus the gameplay itself is over-the-shoulder 1st person while the character is navigated around a 3D landscape collecting weapons and prizes, but I don't remember ever hearing MarioKart referred to as an RPG.

At 10:57 AM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Ricardo Cruz, do you have a link to Molyneaux's theory? Here's a link to mine...Xero's Rule. Molyneaux drives me nuts how effortlessly and wonderfully he can convey his ideas. My only consolation is that he's pretty wrong on a few things...and his accent makes me laugh. "Just go ahead and try and infiltrate the maaafia." LOL. Hah, not only does he say "mafia" funny...but Deng Xiaoping definitively proved that it's very possible to do what Molyneaux says is impossible to do.

Power Child, an alien species doesn't crawl out of the muck one day and build an interstellar cruiser the next. In between is an extremely messy process of discovery. By the time a species has solved enough problems to build a star cruiser, they would have observed the correlation between trading and progress. See my theory for the details.

Anon, LOL. Wouldn't it be the silver lining though? "Shucks, I'm being eaten by a slimy bug eyed tentacled alien...but on the bright side, I've got bragging rights for the next 10 agonizing seconds." So you kinda win either way. If you lose the bet then, well, at least you weren't eaten. If you win the bet then, well, at least it's not all bad. It's a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. Eh?

At 11:29 AM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Power Child, regarding WoW, personally, I think arenas are the funnest thing to do. Basically it's where you pick a team (up to 4 other people) and have a battle against a team on the other side. You win by killing all your opponents.

It's an adrenalin packed free for all in a relatively small space.

Two on two arenas are my favorite. It's fun to find random people to do them with because if you're lucky, you might find somebody who really complements your skill set and style. Then you add them to your friends list and do arenas together if you two happen to be online at the same time. If they aren't online, then you just ask random people.

It's usually really easy and quick to find random people to do arenas with. Oh yeah, and winning arenas earns you points which you can use to purchase better gear.

At 12:07 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...


By the time a species has solved enough problems to build a star cruiser, they would have observed the correlation between trading and progress.

Replace "star cruiser" with "sailboat capable of reaching distant banana-rich islands ruled by chimps". Does the second half of the sentence still hold true?

Okay, now revert back to "star cruiser." Even if a correlation is observed, is it likely to be acted upon?

Furthermore, why assume that aliens arriving here are interested in progress? What if the object that lands on David Friedman's lawn is essentially a space-hot-rod full of drunken alien teenagers bent on destruction, or a space-SUV full of alien terrorists?

(If you boil it down, the essential thing that drove me from libertarianism was acknowledging the fact that most people are not half as rational as the typical libertarian.)

At 12:38 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child:

Well, strictly, RPG is probably not a good term for the games that are described as such. Some fill that role well, since they have a compelling story that allows you to choose your own paths, actually play a character in a meaningful game. But RPG mostly means simply that there is some leveling up going on in the game in which you can improve and customize the characters you play. That way, even quite an arcade-ish and entirely linear (storywise) game like Diablo can be called an RPG.

I think the term was coined when these first games came around as electronic versions of Dungeons and Dragons and such tabletop RPGs. They were mostly text games, based on similar mechanics and they were close to adventure games (which contain no action, only dialogues and puzzle-solving) with the added elements of leveling up, collecting gear and some fighting.

Anyway, games like Wasteland (that is very old - I think late 1980s), Fallout, Baldur's gate, Planescape:Torment (which I already mentioned) or even The Witcher (to mention something newer) are good examples of (in my opinion) good RPGs and they basically summarize what the genre is about. Also most RPGs take place in fantasy or sci-fi (or kind of both) worlds...

At 12:50 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Xerographica said...

Power Child, as a civilization progresses, the chances that they'll see the connection between trading/progress increases exponentially. By the time a civilization has progressed to the point that they are capable of solving all the problems involved in building a star cruiser...it would be impossible for them to fail to see the obvious.

In the beginning there was darkness. Progress is like letting more light in. By the time an alien civilization can build a star cruiser, there will be enough light for them to clearly see the mechanism responsible for their enlightenment.

What drove me from libertarianism was that I actually managed to see the obvious benefit of allowing taxpayers to choose where their taxes go. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Now I'm a pragmatarian.

At 1:19 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...


Were you playing on Feathermoon? I ask because there is a Rose guild there that does role playing and that I have interacted with, although I'm not a member.

At 1:51 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

David: Yes, I were. And I contacted the Order of the Rose (which is almost definitely the same guild you mentioned)...they did not respond to my mail, however. Maybe I was doing something wrong or contacted the wrong people. I met a few members by chance (I kept looking for people with active RP plugins as I had been even less successful with the guildfinder tool before) who directed me to other members - ones I was supposed to contact in order to be able to join. I waited for a response for about 2 weeks without any success.

At 2:24 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...


Progress is like letting more light in. By the time an alien civilization can build a star cruiser, there will be enough light for them to clearly see the mechanism responsible for their enlightenment.

Tidy, but realistic?

Anyway, all of this rests on some very grand assumptions that alien species will be a lot like our own in significant ways. I don't blame you for that; it's only marginally easier to imagine other plausible possibilities for alien life and evolution than to imagine being extruded into a 5th dimension--and that's basically impossible. So the natural instinct is to extrapolate from the familiar.

@Tibor Mach:

I know nothing about DnD either, except that it involves dice (and maybe cards? or is that Magic?). In my freshman year of college I had a dorm neighbor who played DnD, and looking on occasionally my impression was that it was basically make-believe of the sort I did when I was very young, but with a fairies-and-wizards flavor to it. The cards and dice appeared to be mostly just there as cues to guide the imagination. (In my make-believe at age 7, I was usually a Sasquatch, a musketeer, a soldier, or a pro athlete, and let's just say text or dice would have been insufficient to facilitate play. From a black-eye/skinned-knee standpoint, DnD is probably safer.)

The idea of customizing your character and carrying around weapons and status-emblems in an RPG is, to me anyway, reminiscent of that make-believe stuff. The fixation on sci-fi/fantasy is characteristic not just of the game designers but of the types who play them, too, I've noticed.

At 2:29 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

This is a little bit off topic, but concerning the WOW which already is being discussed anyway, I noticed that some players believe there that there is no way to succesfully make money on the AH, that there are monopolists who buy everything out and "keep a steady high price" and that it makes it impossible for the "ordinary players" to afford anything good. Apart from that being highly implausible, it can be simply proved by an observation to be false. I made quite some gold there by finding out that not many people bother smelting copper and tin to bronze and iron to steel (and by some other things as well, but mainly this) and although I encountered some attempts to get rid of me by buying out all my supply and charging two or more times as much, that only lead to me (and eventually some other people) making even more steel and bronze and forcing the "monopolist wannabe" to reduce his prices as well.

The reason I'm mentioning this is that it seems that people simply have some beliefs about "how the economy really works" and they see only what they want to see (even when it is really not there). Also, I guess for some of those players, this is a good excuse to whine about an "unfair system" instead of admitting that the fault could be on their side. I was reminded about that when I read a preview of an upcoming crowdfunded (and pretty big - so far 18 million dollars just from crowdfunding) MMO called Star Citizen. There the journalist says that it will have a partially controlled economy "unlike the wild west free market in EVE online which is dominated by huge monopolies". I've never played EVE, but I would expect this to be the same kind of whine as of some of those WOW players. The reactions of some EVE players under that article seem to confirm my suspicion.

David mentioned in one post here some time ago that WOW has a potential to teach economics. I guess it does...but only to those with open mind who don't just see what they want to see. Although I guess that is true of any teaching.

At 2:53 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child:

I guess it is similar to your 7 year old musketeer play in a way. As a matter of fact, you don't necessarilly even need any rules or dice (or cards...which I don't think are used very much in most pen and paper RPGs anyway). One person, called the game master or dungeon master (in fantasy settings it is a more common name) is sort of a storyteller and "deus ex machina". He (or she) comes up with a story, a world, populates it with non-player characters (who he acts as) and describes the sutiation to the other players. And they play only their own characters and if they are good players, they really try to "stay in character". That is they will act as the person they represent would. In short - they roleplay. And if you have a good GM/DM and a bunch of good players, you can come up with a fun interactive story. It is not easy to find good players (and especially a good storyteller GM), but if you do, it can be great. And the content is only limited by the imagination of the players themselves. Which, of course may be, in some cases, its biggest flaw :)

You don't even need to have magic in your world, it can be a completely realistic scenario, even from the real world. But people simply like to add something mysterious or exotic most of the time. The fantasy settings are probably the most popular, I don't know why that is so, but it is. Then there are games such as Shadowrun which is in a fictional sci-fi universe but with magic as well, Vampire games are also popular (where there are various competing and scheming and fighting clans who try to hide their existence from the humans) and there are probably many more. The point is that you can come up with your very own scenario...but it is not that easy to create your own world that works well, so most people go with what professionals prepare for them and only come up with particular storylines within those worlds.

By the way, there is a really funny DnD inspired comic called Goblinscomic. It is about a group of goblins that decide to become player characters and adventure (since that way they can level up and so defend their village better against the invading players). At first it is comedy more that anything else, and in time the story gets more serious. Also, the author's drawing style has improved greatly over the time and he now does it professionally. I'm not sure if people who are not familiar with DnD will get all the jokes though.

(http://www.goblinscomic.org/06252005/ this is the first page...it is a long story, so it is better to start at the beginning...the pages are turned by that grey ball thing down there)

At 3:17 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

@Tibor Mach:

Hm. Those realistic scenarios happen a lot on their own in the real world. Maybe that's why they aren't appealing to people looking for diversion.

For instance, a coach going over plays with his team before a game is kind of like that: the coach describes possible maneuvers by the opposing team and makes sure his team is all on the same page as far as how to respond.

I imagine something similar happens in business meetings in the days before two firms negotiate a major deal, or in lawyers' offices while attorneys are coaching their witnesses to take the stand.

I can also picture a pickup artist coaching his eager friend on how to get girls' phone numbers at a bar, dictating the scenario as they go along.

It sounds like being a good dungeon master would foster great storytelling skills. Do you suppose people who play DnD as kids are more likely to get careers as fiction authors or screenwriters? (DnD probably demands that you stick to and finish a narrative more than running around in the woods hurling pine cones at your friends. (We called that sasquatch wars.) Though I've started a lot of screenplays, my actual work in the film industry was in visual effects because I lacked the discipline to really stick with one story until it was complete.)

I'm curious now about the term "dungeon master." A dungeon master is basically someone who directs the operation of a medieval prison. What does that have to do with the role you describe, which is more like a narrator who tolerates/encourages some degree of interactivity with his audience?

I understand that "dungeon master" sounds cooler, but it's a bit morbid isn't it? Plus, that would posit the other players as inmates of a dungeon, which isn't really analogous to their role as independent actors in a somewhat constrained scenario.

At 3:44 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 3:49 PM, September 20, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Power Child:

I don't know to what extent it can help you write compelling stories. That guy who draws (and writes) the goblinscomic seems to have learned something from it and it helps him to make a living today. Chris Avellone and other people behind Fallout and Baldur's gate which are games that have stories better than a lot of films have also played (and maybe still do) pen and paper games a lot. So it definitely helps you. In a way GMing is harder than writing a short story for instance. Since in a story you control the world entirely. In a game, the players may do something you don't expect them to. That makes you think about the non-player characters more and develop them beyond the few lines you have prepared for them. And the same goes for the environment. Writing stories might be a bit better practice in storytelling on its own, but GMing is definitely better practice for creating a world of your own, going deeper into it...which is probably useful if you write books and not just short stories (I say probably, because I've never written any stories over 15 pages of lenght).

As for the term "dungeon master", it was probably coined by the Dungeons and Dragons game which has been maybe the first, or one of the first pen and paper games (I mean those that included actual rulebooks and such). It is simply that the most basic and easy to come up with story is a bunch of heroes (the player characters) going to a dungeon (not a dungeon in a castle necessarily, just someplace dangerous, filled with monsters and indoors) for some reason (the daughter of the mayor of the local village got lost and kidnapped by the vile goblins who reside in that dungeon for example and the heroes are offered a reward for saving her) and the GM then spends most of his time describing the dungeon (he can either draw the map for the players or just give them verbal description and let them draw the map themselves...or no map has to be drawn at all) and controlling the aforementioned vile goblins. So he is then the dungeon master. In sci-fi and other settings the term game master is probably more common, but the DnD franchise uses the term dungeon master almost exclusively and so then most players as well.

At 9:14 PM, September 20, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

The Roses didn't respond? Ouch. Who were you writing, and did you try coming to meetings? I know the Rose is still recruiting, and they're good people generally speaking. The other one would be Order of the White Tower, and yes, last I heard they were in decline. Not surprising; the game is... well. Aren't the Boomstick Gang still holding pub nights? They were active last I heard...

... anyway! I could give you a lot of advice on finding people on Feathermoon, but since I'm quitting the game myself because as a game it is not great, not much point in doing so. I agree entirely with you about the dungeons. For whatever it's worth, once upon a time when WoW was new they were real challenges...

As for why socializing wasn't an option RL... OK, quality socializing wasn't. I wasn't on a desert island, I was just in a situation where it was very hard to find anyone I got on with past an extremely superficial level. Which I do not find sufficient.

Power Child,

A guild is an ingame group of people who have banded together using a specific framework provided by the game - such that, for example, you can send messages that everyone in your guild and no one not in your guild can see. It's a formalized way of creating a social unit. It's very useful. Having a large guild means that you have a larger pool of players to potentially do things with. If it's a good guild, then even if you don't know a given guildmate, there will be a higher-than-average chance he'll be someone you'd want to spend time with. How much higher... depends on how good the guild is, and how well you fit into it.

But no - WoW is not at all like chess. Some parts of it are much more like team sports (raiding, for example). It's not usually about puzzle solving - but then, plenty of games aren't. Games rely on things like reflexes too - think of shooters - or tactics - think of the kind of board/computer game where you play as a nation and (usually) conquer the world. Which I guess you could call puzzle solving, but not in nearly the same way as chess. And no, people don't have to be online and playing much of the time - you just have to have the same period of time during which you usually play. It's quite common for a guild to have nobody online most of the day, and then 10-20 people around in the evening after work. However, you're right that it's not a 20 minutes now and then type activity. It takes larger chunks of time - but you can have players, for example, who put in 4 hours once a week (though those are usually ones who are really dropping out, like me...)

And yes. Roleplaying is pretty much make-believe. Games like D&D provide structures so you can solve those debates that often come up when playing imagination-based games with other people. Things like this.

"You fall off the cliff."

"No I don't! I grab the edge!"

"You got knocked off that cliff way too fast to grab the edge!"

"Well I grab a tree on the way down!"

"There isn't a tree there!"

"Yes there is!"

... and so on. A pure imagination game has no rules defined, so to play a game/write a cooperative story you have to agree on everything, and there's no solution if you don't. D&D defines a bunch of things and sets one person (the dungeon master) as the one who makes final calls on the stuff that isn't already defined. How useful this is depends on how good you are at playing imagination games without quarreling if you don't have structures for solving disputes - but certainly, having the structures lets even people who don't always agree play together.

WoW may be defined officially as an RPG, but in actual fact, there's not much roleplaying in it except what you choose to make of it... and what other people do. Which usually isn't much, which is why roleplaying guilds exist...

At 12:41 AM, September 21, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

I forgot their names already. I know they hold meeting in the old Argent dawn building in Stormwind on Friday...since I met one other of their members later after I sent them the messages. At 5 pm server time. Which is 2 am here :) (I decided to play on an American server because when I played the trial version on EU servers, there seemed to be just too many people around for my liking...more "heroes" than monsters almost...so I figured that I can still play at the evening and avoid the rush hour at the same time by playing on a US server) So not a very good time for me to come there. I told one of their members who said she would contact the guild "officials" and they'd let me know when to meet...nothing happened after that. And I would never have even learned of their meetings had it not been for my chance encounter of this person. The boomstick gang are dwarves only, aren't they? Or at least they prefer dwarves. My character was a worgen hunter (called Stigward, maybe you bought some of my metals at the AH :) )

Anyway, if I'm ever going to play an MMO again, I'm going to choose a different one anyway. Because the good parts of WOW are those that you make of it, the game itself does not add much to it - or at least not anymore as it is really trivial. I would still prefer a pen and paper game anyway.

At 10:35 AM, September 23, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Do you suppose people who play DnD as kids are more likely to get careers as fiction authors or screenwriters?"

Games such as D&D are not limited to kids--lots of adults play them. And it seems to be fairly common for sf writers, at least, to have a background playing, perhaps in particular running, such games.

"Since in a story you control the world entirely. In a game, the players may do something you don't expect them to."

In my experience, an author does not control the world entirely. Once he has created characters he has to let them do what those people would do not what he had planned for them to do--otherwise the story won't work. As I like to put it, based on my own experience, no plot survives contact with the characters.

At 2:22 PM, September 23, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

"And it seems to be fairly common for sf writers, at least, to have a background playing, perhaps in particular running, such games."

With an emphasis on soft sci-fi, I'd guess...I can't picture Arthur C. Clarke sitting at a table with his friends pretending they are wizards and elves. Same for Shane Carruth.

At 3:27 PM, September 24, 2013, Blogger Power Child said...

PS. When I think of DnD now, I just think of this.

At 4:41 AM, October 08, 2013, Blogger Unknown said...

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