Thursday, May 7, 2009

Morality is Subjective

This post is not contradictory to my previous post. It is referring to people who are not me, and people who should not be you. Unfortunately, if you haven't read my post on morality NOT being subjective, you probably will be one of the people I'm talking about here. So please, read that post first.

I watch Survivor. I really, really like that show. It's one of my favorite shows because it displays a more or less pure version of human behavior. I don't really care about immunity or anything else. What I love about it is the human drama and more importantly, seeing people manipulating other people.

Unlike other games, success in Survivor is directly tied to your likability. You can go far on being a physical player but you cannot win the game on it alone. The strategy in the game is simple yet deep. It is one of the purest forms of competition ever devised - where the only thing that wins the game is votes cast for or against you by the people you play the game with.

In Survivor, subjective morality is practically the name of the game.

Lying and deception are by their very nature amoral. I can think of very few (none offhand) people who would say to me that lying is okay, or that intentionally deceiving people is okay. It happens all the time in Survivor, though. Most of the time I cheer people on who deceive others in that game because deception is central to a strong game.

Interestingly enough though, even though almost everyone (there are exceptions) is sort of morally bankrupt out there, certain competitors show up as 'good guys' and others as 'bad guys'. Often times the good guys are not actually very good guys and are deceptive schemers. The bad guys almost always are deceptive schemers.

Morally we sort of pick sides, though - as though deceiving a certain amount is okay, or in a certain way is okay. Morally we say things like, "I won't lie to these people" or "I won't do this to these people" but is it really okay to lie just to some people? Isn't that the same as saying "I won't kill these people, but everyone else is okay"?

So this article is about moving people. Morality is subjective in most people's minds. I'm gonna teach you how to use it. Use it for good, please.

Everyone has their own idea of what is good and evil. Moreover - everything someone does is eventually justified in a good light in their minds. Not all people are vulnerable to this but the people that aren't are generally extremely emo/depressed people. Even most emo people are vulnerable to this. Even I am, although I am pretty good at recognizing this trick so don't try to use it on me.

People want to think of themselves as good people. Before I watched Survivor tonight I was talking with my parents at dinner (they took me out to a Japanese place, yummy) about accidentally leaving money at a restaurant. My stepdad joked that the people there would suddenly pretend not to speak English if he were to lose money there. I knew this not to be true because if he were to lose money in the restaurant and come back for it, it would make the person who found it feel like they were stealing. Most people would give the money back.

The people that wouldn't exist but are much rarer. People like that genuinely believe that what they did wasn't stealing. They'll justify it in their mind, like 'they lost it, they shouldn't have lost it so it's mine' or they will not think of you as a real person. Some way it will be justified in their mind as morally correct. However, if you challenge the people about it you are very likely to feel guilty because the person who the money belongs to is right there. It feels like stealing.

In this way you can theoretically bend people's morals in order to make what you want them to do look morally right. You can tell them things like "finders keepers," or you can say "you should let the front desk know because they probably left it there on accident." Those two statements reinforce morals (peer pressure) and make people feel better when they make the choice you want them to make. Please don't suggest the finders keepers line.

The main reason I suggest this is because if you ask people to think about the people they are hurting, they'll feel guilty. If you suggest moral ways of solving their problem, you can convince them to do the right thing.

So let's say you've got a friend who is a griefer of whatever kind. I'll use the trashtalking halo or SF or whatever player who disses on everyone who sucks and is generally not fun to be around. If you point out the morally good thing to do (explain what they did wrong nicely) and suggest it as a superior option, ideally making them feel a little guilty about the person they emotionally hurt, they're more likely to stop their behavior. If you morally reinforce them over this time period, they'll be likely to change their ways and be a much better player (in terms of behavior, probably in terms of skill too, since they'll have more people to play against!)

One more thing that is sort of related to this is the stubborn idea that everyone believes the same thing you do. I of course do not think that everyone believes the same thing I do. I try not to push too hard my ideas on people. You shouldn't either. If someone doesn't want to listen, you can treat it as their loss. More though, if someone wants to start a fight over some belief that you have, you should probably not fight too hard. I do, and it almost always makes people not like me.


Anyway, so morality isn't subjective... except in everyone else's mind. Use this power wisely, guys.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Game Mastering Recap

So I've been toying around a lot in City of Villains (not Heroes, same universe though) with the new Mission Architect. For those of you that haven't heard, it's basically the coolest thing that a game designer has ever added to a game since the introduction of a gui interface. I've been spending a lot of time messing with it, which means, yeah, I haven't updated very much, lol.

This is not just a normal patch we're talking about, here. This update allows players to create their own user-created missions and stories and upload them directly to the CoX game servers. Other people can search for and play your content, and give feedback and ratings. You're even rewarded a little if people like your stories.

This content is also full-blown content. You enter into a number of instanced areas, each with customized spawns, dialogue, objectives, and everything else.

As we all might imagine, there is a ton of bad content, some content that exploits the system to get better experience and loot, and a small number of actually interesting and fun stories to play. That's just the nature of the beast, really. Most people have no idea what to write and Mary Sue the hell out of most of their stories.

So, in true Redefining Nerds fashion, I've decided to do a slight recap on some of the things essential to good story writing and moreover good game mastering.

Many ages ago I wrote an article about pacing. Pacing is really important. You should, in general, slowly curve up your difficulty. You should also not do a large string of 'cool' things with no breaks or buildup. Use smaller events to build tension for larger ones, and use larger events as "oh crap!" climaxes. Don't try to include super climax battles at every turn. At the same time, pace your stories so that people don't get bored with your plot (or encounters).

The characters you create should be memorable. Try to give them a little flavor, and a little feeling. You should also give them easily identifiable character traits, so that they stand out. Don't dump readers/players in the middle of your story - introduce the characters you've spent your time making slowly, so that people can learn to like them and understand them. The characters should have real feelings and motivations, and real flaws and failings. They should be human, because we remember those people better. Don't make characters that are larger than life and fantastic. Make them smaller and more readable. (If you're making them ridiculous for humor or shock value, by all means, go for it.)

As I mentioned earlier, you can't dump people in the middle of a story. Lead them into it, have them discover things, and slowly work your way towards the big moments. When you tell a story, it's a learning process. You can't throw big events with no context at people because they get confused or bored. Stick to small things to tell bigger things. Little details and clues along the path get people running like rabbits after them, wanting to know more. Slowly guide them to bigger and bigger carrots, give them a few teases here and there and you'll have some loyal readers.

Plot twists are essential to good writing. Never have a story go perfectly according to plan. Always make something go wrong and more importantly, make it go wrong in a way that makes the reader/listener/player understand what might be done to change it. Sometimes a windfall should occur too, to give the player some unexpected boons. Never make the story be too predictable. Luke got his hand cut off in Episode 5 for a reason - because having the good guys win all the time is too easy and predictable.

With regards to game design specifically, don't make enemies that are overly challenging. Playtest your stuff thoroughly and guess and check at how much damage the enemies and players might deal. This is more difficult in MA but in pen and paper it's really easy if you know your players well. Slowly scale up the challenges, but don't make things too hard that people can't finish your story. If your team spends too much time on a boss fight or worse yet, wipes, you've failed to do your job as a writer. Putting in a 'double elite boss' spawn in MA is really bad. Don't do it. If you absolutely have to make super hard fights in your story, spread them out so that they're beatable. Don't make enemies that absolutely force the players to fight a particular way - unless you're very good at establishing precedents about how the players should think in a fight.

That pretty much means don't do it except in a pnp game, by the way.

Anyway, that's all for now. Good luck, and happy writing!

(Also, for any non-CoX players reading this, my global handle is predictably @auspice if you should like to contact me)