Conflict and Creation

A few weeks ago in one of the massively podcasts a readers question popped up about whether or not an mmo without conflict could even work, Second life was given as an example during this time but for some reason it was automatically rejected. I read a lot of people dismissing second life out of hand for no real reason other than that gamers always seem to need a game, platform, program or whatever to make fun of.

Now I can’t say I like Second Life at all as it just isn’t my style of game, I enjoy the conflict that comes in the games I play but even I can’t help but applaud the varying mechanics in Second Life that have made it fundamentally different then just about everything else available. Conflict is nowhere near the focus of Second Life, I would say it is more akin to a virtual Facebook then the conflict based mmo’s that it is compared to. But it is more than that as well, while there is a large social component to the game it is mostly built around the idea of creation.

There are multiple types of creation ranging from creating relationships, communities, items, landscape and more but what having such creation types as a focus does is change the focus away from short-term gain into long-term goals. My husband has been playing  Second Life near exclusively going on for 5 years now.. yes 5 years, a very long time for any game really. At first he was just aimlessly wandering around the landscape but as he has gotten comfortable he has branched out into many different areas. He has been building houses and surrounding areas for years now and enjoys the act of creation immensely as it gives him a lot of purpose at times. I have seen him spend weeks just getting one house absolutely perfect not because there was anything to gain from it but solely that the act of creation is its own reward.

It reminds me very much of what I see at work all the time and the way children develop a capacity for creation. At first play revolves around destruction.. breaking sandcastles, toppling towers and all that. This is how a child learns more about the world and the properties of different materials, by deconstruction but then this slowly develops into something resembling construction.

The way mmo gameplay is now I would say the focus on conflict is very much like this urge for destruction, destruction is fun, it helps us learn and creates a staging point to learn about mechanics but destruction has a definitive shelf life of interest. It is immensely fun too but that fun lasts for very little. The fun is defined by a single or limited act as it is for the child as well. Creation on the other is only constrained by the imagination and tools of the individual. It is boundless in many ways and as children develop into this play we begin to see more defined and focused play that can sustain them over much longer times ranging from hours, to days, and even weeks in the form of creating their own rules for games.

The way I see mmo design now is that the 3 monther revolves around this limited act of destruction, it has a defined end that is unavoidable. This type of game really only plays into the basic forms of play we learn in infancy.. it is raw, undeveloped and primarily based on certain base feelings. Games like Second life however have a foundation that is far more evolved than these basic play types and revolves around creation as a community. I want to see more mmo’s tap into these feeling once more, they were there in games of old but for some reason they were no longer developed in favour of a more narrow and structured approach towards destruction  It is just very limiting to the experiences we can have and the sustainability of the payers attention, yet it can be so much more.

Adding the social experience into this becomes another element entirely.

12 thoughts on “Conflict and Creation

  1. I agree that Second Life is pretty much a ‘virtual Facebook’, a lot of people I have encountered disregard it as a video game, which is not true. But I do like your point of how MMO’s have gotten away from the social aspect of the game. It has came to a point where you can play an MMO without actually interacting with anyone. Which to me defeats the purpose! Great post!

    • That’s the thing though, I don’t think Second Life only just works because it is “virtual facebook”, the social aspects are a massive plus but it is also that the creating aspects not only add stuff to do but create a lot of interactions and communications surrounding them.

      The clothes you have, the house – you get questions about specific parts, where you got it or how you made it.

      And yes it certainly does defeat the purpose of playing, I’d rather play a single player game whose focus is that singular narrative and gameplay rather then that.

      • I agree! You have to applaud the creators of Second Life for being able to create such a huge following without having any conflict in it. They have created people whom are immersed in that game (I have no desire for it).

        So what we need to do is just combine Diablo and Second Life, then you have the perfect game! Problem solved 🙂

      • Diablo and Second Life; at first you had my curiosity, now you have my attention.

        can you imagine.. creating items, clothing, houses, dungeons, monsters and even whole areas. There must be some sort of indie game like that already with mod support

  2. Exactly! You could create everything! Or having to raid dungeons for the materials to build the houses, clothing, and what not.

  3. This is really a problem of language. Most problems are. I’ve argued for years that the biggest drag anchor to the development of the form we know as the “MMORPG” is the inclusion of that final letter.

    Gamers look for games in everything but most things aren’t games, even if you look only at entertainment and leisure. Virtual worlds certainly don’t need to be games nor to accommodate gaming structures and practices. Unfortunately, because the gaming industry was first on the scene to see the commercial potential in the technology and because the audience that was inevitably attracted was largely a gaming crowd, the entire concept of three-dimensional digitally rendered shared online environments has become attached, seemingly inseparably with “Video Games” in both the public and media consciousness.

    Second Life isn’t primarily a game, although it offers both space and tools for games to be created and played. For a while it was envisaged and reported as a fledgling version of the kind of social/political cyberspace that came into public awareness back in the 1980s with William Gibson and the rest of the cyberpunk crew.

    SL used to feature regularly in BBC mainstream news output. Global companies would use SL for virtual product launches, bands would play “gigs” there. Politicians would even make speeches from inside Second Life. After a while the interest dried up, in my opinion probably because the technological reality of SL simply doesn’t match up to the expectations of a non-gaming audience. It doesn’t look or feel like cyberspace – it looks like a video game, and quite an elderly one by now.

    There have been plenty of attempts to create 3D, avatar-driven social spaces online – remember Sony’s Home? They all seem to end up either being used as portals for games or disappearing. Non-gamers seem a lot more comfortable with flat, 2D social networks and they certainly don’t seem to want to interact in the form of Avatars, even avatars of themselves.

    Which leaves virtual worlds largely trapped in the hands of game designers and gamers, both of whom have built a decades-long partnership based on simulations of conflict or competition. Even creative, building games don’t seem to thrive online unless they incorporate some means of ranking by achievement or approbation. I think the potential for non-conflict virtual worlds is enormous, but the commercial market for them remains elusive.

    • I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing that virtual worlds have been claimed by the gaming industry. Before a virtual world as a social space would have worked fine, as you pointed out with many of the events and news pieces as it was a new interesting way to meet people. Now though there is a wealth of sites that are able to connect people, I don’t think it is just that gamers are comfortable with them but that these programs are faster and more efficient so the service the used to provide is no longer needed. I think when technology meets up with peoples expectations further and with better networking there may be a resurgence in providing a more social 3d space.. the Occulus Rift may provide one very promising avenue for it.

      While I may not call the base game of Second Life a game it still offers a variety of game like systems, what I would like to see is more varying styles of play being provided for like this. If Second Life was only a social space it wouldn’t have worked as well, I think this is why wow is so popular because there is so much variation in play. In this respect I don’t think we have to immediately turn all our games into non combat virtual worlds just provide more spaces and avenues of play that encourage creation and being social.

  4. It’s an interesting analogy, although I am not quite sure it applies to all MMOs. there is definitely a question of whether MMOs shouldn’t allow for more “sim” content and tools for creation because these aspects typically make for longevity. I know many MMO players however who are simply not very much into gameplay revolving around simulation, which is usually at the core of more social games (in MMOs it usually takes form in housing, cosmetics, RP etc.).

    The reason why I’m not sure that ‘destructive gameplay’ is so limited is frankly WoW. players are stuck with WoW for so long and the one thing that game really excels at is delivering new dungeons and raids (for loot). oh and dailies (for loot). they’ve also introduced the pet battles and all, but essentially WoW is very combat-centric and certainly not big on creation. and yet it has an incredible longevity. so there is something to this type of core gameplay that appeals to a large mass of players despite it not being very creative?
    now, I know myself and I certainly need more than that, but I don’t regard my playstyle as the ‘norm’.

    • I should probably add: what I believe makes WoW so appealing is how it caters to collector’s drive. and not just that, because all MMOs do that to some extent – but the dynamic between effort & reward in WoW is very well constructed and balanced, a lot more than in other games.

      so yeah, I believe collector’s drive trumps creator’s drive in many ways. and it’s far easier to implement than good simulation.

    • It is definitely not a system appropriate for all mmo’s and it is a big assk for smaller companies and budgets to accomadate.

      I think WoW is actually a better example for how to create a long term mmo. It doesn’t have much creation involved, farming and creating a wardrobe could be some of those but it isn’t just the same old combat anymore and has had a a plethora of different mechanics and areas that encourage non combat styles of play, or just differentiation in how you play. It has had the time to achieve this even if they do have a ridiculously slow update schedule. I think it is changing though and we are beginning to see creation becoming a bit more important to developers which right now is typically being promoted through housing (Rift, Wildstar).

      Then we have the creation being promoted in mechanics like the foundry in neverwinter and possible EQ next which I’m really looking forward to see how i works out. Eventually I would like to see systems as complex as say creating mods for Skyrim.

      And I think we all know that wow isn’t the great example since it is an anomaly of the mmo space time continuum

  5. The other game that immediately comes to mind is Glitch. Well, was Glitch. RIP Glitch.

    Very little conflict that I can think of except one mini activity where players had to chase off a force of destruction called the Rook (never tried it, really.)

    It was mostly a game of wandering around, exploring, collecting and hoarding lots of stuff, unlocking skill tiers to craft more things, playing dress-up with one’s avatar, and later, elaborate house design and decoration. Players didn’t come into conflict with each other much (except in one mini-activity of a voluntary competitive game.)

    It did keep quite a number of people entertained for a time, but it also closed because the payment model / program codebase used / number of people required to keep the dev team going all didn’t add up sufficiently. If any one of those factors had been less crippling, it might have still survived or thrived.

    • aww, rip Glitch indeed. It wasn’t my style of game but what it did was certainly rather lovely. I just don’t think it promoted the social aspects enough to really keep people playing. And it had basically no tools for creation which made the available content and styles of play incredibly limited.

      I still think the community could have kept that game alive by maybe buying, creating and running there own server

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