Friday, June 29, 2007

The seventh day

or otherwise titled...

How the sabbath relates to MMO design.

Human beings need a day of rest, and not just to recover our energy. Even if a person has wisely chosen a mode of labor that is fulfilling (and thereby refreshing), there's still something missing. When we have time and peace, then we are capable of a different kind of appreciation. The appreciation of the racecar driver speeding along at 100+mph is not the same as the spectator's experience, and that is not the same as either's appreciation when they go home and reflect on their experiences in moments of peaceful rest.

Peaceful reflection completes us in a way that is not matched by consideration on-the-go. It gives us a chance to see things only a relaxed mind unburdened by a lot of sensation can see, and a chance to tie together all of our experiences into a unified whole.

Every good game designer understands the importance of pacing. What pattern of pacing is encouraged or enforced should depend on the style and length of the game. If a particular FPS is almost exlusively about the action, then little downtime is best.

But subscription-based MMO, a game that's meant to last months for each player, seems more analogous to real life. Players should occasionally be encouraged to quietly reflect on past experiences and perceive it all as a unified journey.

One example, one which I've recommended a few times before, is to move screenshot perusal in-game.

Every MMO I play, I take a ton of screenshots. But I rarely think to look at the screenshots I've taken, because the games have forced me to view them from my desktop. If I'm not in the game and I happen to think of game memories, odds are that I'm going to just enter the game and hop back into the action. After a dozen MMOs, my experience has always been that my screenshots barely receive a glance until I've ended my subscription. Don't get me wrong, that's good too -- browsing memories months later has suckered me back into a game more than once. But retention is better than recovery.

In-game perusal can be tied into the particular game's genre, but it should take place in a quiet area, like player housing. If it's a fantasy game, you might allow the player to place one of many stones into a seeing pool, each stone corresponding to a screenshot; the camera swings behind the player and the screenshot is scaled to fit and revealed in the pool of water. If it's a sci-fi game, you might make it like a touchscreen menu on the character's wall by which he or she flips through thumbnails and chooses one to be maximized across the wall (or other large viewing space in-game).

I'm sure there are dozens of ways to remind players of game experiences, but the essential feature I'm trying to underscore here is a peaceful setting in which to reflect. Offer players the freedom to reflect when they feel like it, but encourage them to reflect... and not just in one brief moment before running off again to fight or trade.

P.S. A bit of trivia: The Christian sabbath, like the Jewish sabbath, actually begins on what we call Saturday, because the tradition asserts that one day ends and the next begins at sunset. That's why Catholics like myself sometimes go to Mass on Saturday evening, rather than Sunday morning (technically, it's already Sunday). Of course, most modern believers are less considerate of tradition in general, so it's not uncommon for the evening Mass to start before the sun goes down.

I don't know why I thought of this on a Friday, but I'm thinking 5 articles a week is probably enough anyway.

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