Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Solipsistic MUSHing

Just a quick though in a particular flavor of geekiness.

In MUSHing, a lot of players are uncomfortable assuming GM authority, even for a single scene, because they are uncomfortable about the boundaries. This is rough to wrestle with, but I wonder if it might be addressed by creating a lesser, but perhap smore intuitive, level of authority: that of the protagonist.

The idea is simple: in a given room, one player is the protagonist. If this was a book, it would be about their character. If other players aren't cool with that, they go elsewhere[1] but otherwise, he can resolve issues and answer questions based on how it suits his story. It requires no broader knowledge of the game, nor authority beyond ht escope of regular play, it simply makes it clear where the focus of things is, and allows for that to flow.

Certainly some protagonists may be selfish, others generous, and that's fine because it works either way. Because you're not opting into a another player's authority, you're opting into their story, and that's a very different sort of dynamic. And ideally also helps address the instinctive 14 year old in a lot of MUSHers.

Anyway, not a lot of bandwidth today, So I figured I'd share one of the weirder ones.

1 - This can even be handled with virtual spaces, as a nice compromise between all stages and fixed geography. If I want to be in a location, but I want to do it for my story, not for the guy who's already there, then I can 'shard' the location, creating a new version which is "Bob's Dark Alley", and it'll show up appropriately on exits and such (so people in the adjacent room might see Dark Alley, Steve's Dark Alley and Bob's Dark Alley and be able to at least glimpse who is in what. There's also a lot of implicit information in this kind of sharding: you can automatically find out where scenes are happening in a location, and you can also pass through or around them if it does not interest you.


  1. Instancing in MUSHes.

    Sir, you continue to make my day.

    I have another response to this, but my unmitigated joy at this idea eclipses it. I shall take it as a sign, and maybe e-mail you further semantical babblings.

  2. Interesting. But if the same player is both defining the conflict and resolving it, doesn't that tend to fall very flat? At the extreme, that would sort of feel like Mary Sue fanfic, to me. Or maybe I'm missing something.

    I do like the idea of players knowing when they should be shining their spotlights on a focus character that is not themselves. As long as the spotlight-seeker knows that sometimes they don't have to be the focus.

  3. @Carl The player doesn't need to define or resolve anything unless it's subject to some sort of argument. The thinking is that the mechanics of most systems can easily handle "Who wins" but they're more likely to fall down on "What's an appropriate conflict?" and this (in a roundabout way) tries to provide a reasonable way to address that.

    I always figure the double-edged sword of MUShing is all those other people. What might be a tense standoff between two people becomes a a joke when half a dozen people storm into the scene to "See what's happening." By setting up a clear sense that "This is Bob's scene" then people have the option of buying into the scene (so in the case of the standoff, they help magnify the tension, ideally by *respecting* it) or of using the non-claimed version of the room.

  4. This concept would have eliminated my single most frustrating MUSH experience. No need to go in to detail but suffice it to say, I like it.

  5. Hmmm. Mixed feelings.

    I always found that MUSHes develop what I will call a "Main Stage." (On AmberMUSH, the Main Stage was obviously the World's End Bar.) Then, the established elders of the MUSH spend a considerable amount of time trying to avoid and/or even destroy the Main Stage, because the average quality of roleplay there is so crappy, compared to their standards. Their heart is in the right place, but in hindsight I'm not sure it's the right thing to do.

    The Main Stage is the same place that new players are indoctrinated into the culture and roleplaying style of the MUSH. So, if the elder statesmen absent themselves, they fail to pass on their standards to incoming players. This only serves to widen the rifts in the player base. Over time, your culture fragments into a variety of little cliques that may or may not ever interact with each other, and as the elders leave, their culture bleeds away.

    Protagonist instances might be wonderful for small scenes, but at the same time, I think they might become yet another assault upon the Main Stage. I would also worry that it might represent a further fragmentation of the "Shared Hallucination" aspect of MUSHing. The trouble is that instancing is all about not sharing your reality.

    I'm trying to think of a scene where I would have wanted it, but I'm having difficulty. I always liked uncertainty in my power struggles, because that made it all the more sweet, if I succeeded. I don't think I'd want to have a political scene in a room where one of us was the established protagonist. I'm also having terrible flashbacks of my childhood best friend insisting that I had to play the Bad Guy, or she wouldn't play with me anymore.

    I'm not saying it's a bad idea, per se. I think I just need to understand the use-cases better.


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