Monday, August 20, 2007

"Virtual" Unequal Information

Yeah, okay, I'm really getting ivory tower in this one. It's so minute...

Last post I talked about unequal information. Basically, I said that differences in what information various characters, factions, and players have is what brings context to a game and to a story. And context is something that computers are extremely poor at.

However, meta-context is very important as well. For example, in a tabletop RPG, players think - contextually - that they are uncovering a story with the help of a GM. If they begin to think that the GM is generating the story on the fly (rather than just adjusting it somewhat on the fly), this can change the context and render all their information worthless.

Sure, it can be argued that players are always just exploring the GM's mind. But there is a contextual difference: a scripted story exists on its own, largely separate from the GM, even if it was written by him. It's a different context, a world of "solid" information instead of "fluid" information.

Of course, players often like playing a generative game just as much. It's not that one is better than the other (although an (at least partially) scripted story is more efficient at luring players in), it's just that they have very different contexts, and the players will collect information in a very different way.

Context can completely change everything, even if viewed the same way. For example, the big reveal in Fight Club changed the entire movie, and watching it again with foreknowledge of that reveal makes it a completely different movie.

The context differences between characters, players, factions, and so forth are what drive games and stories. If you play Crackdown to leap from rooftop to rooftop, you're going to have a completely different game than if you play to kill bosses. You're in the same city, but experiencing it in another way.

Hey, I played killing bosses by kicking them in the face lots, and my office mate played by shooting them and grenading them. We had very different experiences.

Computers are really poor at handling context... but I wonder if that's just because nobody has really thought about it in those terms before? Is it possible to build a "context engine" that can manage this kind of thing? Not just to manage the player's context, but also the character contexts within the game?

No comments: