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Wavinator

High school, GameDev, putdowns & content dodging

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Wavinator    2017
This is a post about game design. Honestly! We all deal with or have dealt with group dynamics. Maybe it involved being a member of the out group in high school, or the most popular kid; GameDev itself is a microcosm of social interaction groups with different aspects representing elements such as status, trust and affinity. If you were to try to abstract the core sense of what this is made of into playable game rules and mechanics, what factors would you try to capture? How might they work? Assume that specific applications--MMO, RPG, FPS, etc.-- don't really matter, as the core of the idea can be applied to different games so long as you capture its essence.
Putdowns, Praise & Bragging Rights To see if I can start this off, one element I think might fold nicely into a group dynamic would be status building through praise, bragging and putdowns. You could start representing this by giving characters verbal arsenals. Verbal arsenals would contain both barbs and praise (self or other). It would serve to alter your status or another's, provided it was successful. To add texture, you could break the arsenal into categories which impacted different characters in different ways, sort of like magic resistance and vulnerabilities. True to life, these could be based on things like personal attributes, past behaviors or reputation. Content Dodging The challenge with this is that it's a lot of content, in the form of writing and/or dialog. One way to dodge this is to create abstractions which mirror real-life conflict and are effectively circular. As an example, ever notice that an old argument that you have with friends or family (or Lounge threads about politics and religion) essentially go over the same points again and again? The words alter somewhat, but if worn thin enough text itself fails to vary. This reflects a circular nature certain arguments (and those who argue them) innately possess. The key is to get the player to fill in the blanks. It might work to use symbols (The Sims is an example). You could also use less elaborate phrases that don't wear thin, or even use ellipsis to give the player the general idea. To make this workable, there would have to be risks and a how & when to use certain "moves." If you're in the low status out group, telling the most popular girl/guy that you're madly in love with them (praise of a sort) probably isn't the best move. Nor is using a devastating, profanity laden string of insults when the school principle is standing right behind you.[grin]
I haven't gone heavily into specifics because I want to leave this open, and because (as usual[rolleyes]) this post is already too long. So what are your thoughts?

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Trapper Zoid    1370
I've seen some research into group dynamics systems which revolve around character interactions, although I can't remember all the specifics about their implementations. I think there were a series of projects from the Oz Group, in particular the researchers who have now gone on to make Facade (may I use this opportunity to direct people to their list of links to interactive story and character stuff; it's a really good resource. And try out Facade if you can!).

Most of the stuff I've seen revolves around a small group, however, and the interactions are usually hard-coded and very specific to their domain (even Facade has this quality, I think). I haven't seen many good abstractions of the qualities of conversation. The ones I can think of, such as the use of Persuation in Morrowind, are too basic (persuation devolves into my character insulting other NPCs endlessly until they attack, for example).

Content Dodging: I've been thinking about "content dodging" for a bit as it's relevant to my present game design and to my previous study of interactive storytelling systems; for these to work there has to be an alternative solution to a writer hand-writing all the dialog trees.

I think one way to do this is just to communicate emotion, either through animation or intonation of garbled speech (like the Sims), or both. If you limit your characters so that speech is not required (say if they were cute cartoonish aliens, for example), then you can communicate purely through non-verbal means (which is easier to encode). The next step up would be to communicate emotions or general interactions, much like the Sims, with options such as "Argue", "Complement" etc., which is still abstract enough to implement.

The next quantum leap in conversation abstraction would be to somehow have a text parser that can generate conversation on the fly, a bit like a chatbot works. This is an awful lot harder; most chatbots are a lot of work, designed around a single personality type, and seem to work best when that personality is rather "extreme". However, if you aren't really expecting Shakespeare out of this and are prepared to have a lot of repetition template conversation might work well. If there was only a good way to mask the robotic nature of the dialogue then I think this would be an extremely powerful addition to a freeform social simulator.

Sorry if this has rambled on a bit as I've been adding to this post over the course of a few hours!

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sunandshadow    7426
The more I have though about group dynamics, the more I have come to the conclusion that they don't really exist. Social groups have no definable boundaries, they are at most a high-density clump in a neural network of interactions between various individuals. A constantly changing neural network, might I add, where these high-density clumps are constantly breaking up and re-forming in different combinations. All of us are alone inside our own heads, we only imagine that social groups exist because it's a way of simplifying the world, dividing it up into self and other, us and them, allegiance to the red flag or the blue flag, so that we don't have to think too hard about how we ought to act towards every individual other person we know.

I'm not saying that it's impossible to try to model group dynamics. There have been some decent economy-based models - perhaps you've heard of the book _Games People Play_? A bit outdated now, but it has a nice simple definition of friendship as a 'trade treaty' where two individuals exchange 'strokes' (positive reinforcements such as greetings, compliments, hugs, etc.) and favors (A goes out of his way to help B trusting that B will soon return the favor. Each time this exchange is successfully completed that trust gets stronger, allowing for the exchange of larger favors.) This model works for romantic relationships as well as friendly ones.

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Guest Anonymous Poster   
Guest Anonymous Poster
In an MMO setting, you could focus the basic gameplay mechanics on a person-to-person level, and let the group dynamics emerge naturally on their own. If the gameplay is social by nature - no killing are "getting rich" - social cliques are just bound to appear and resemble the groups formed in the real world.

I had been thinking lately of a sort-of-dating MMO where they game mechanics are based on bragging and flirting, and the scoring would be based on coupling up. I imagine it being hardly a game as such, more of a game-chat hybrid. But as hard as I've tried I couldn't think of any doable implementation yet.

The idea is definitely interesting.

shmoove

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shmoove    821
Can't edit the previous post since I wasn't logged in.

Appart from the flirting and bragging mechanics, I would also icorporate lots of minigames. For some games being popular might give you an advantage, but there should definitely be games where it doesn't matter how many friends you have, and some where being a loner could give you an edge, to help conserve the balance. Now that I think about it, a high school setting could work wonders for that: class president elections, athletic competitions, the science fair.

This might also be a way of addressing the content dodging issue. All the complex group dynamic content would be generated by the users. The game designers just need to provide a platform for the socializing to take play, and this can be done in much more traditional ways.

shmoove

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