Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Internal Conflict Between Character and Player

Everyone's run into that moment. You know, the one where your character wouldn't do something but you totally would? Or maybe vice-versa?

In a recent podcast (which I assume will be posted soon), Mickey told me all about some of the mechanisms that are used at Madrigal in order to mitigate these internal conflicts between player and character, and I must say, I was blown away. Something that wasn't even on my radar before that conversation is now very prominent in my field of vision.

The big example Mickey gave me was "the plague." If a player isn't feeling well or doesn't want to go on a module due to OOG circumstances, they might say something like "The plague has taken me." That is a sign to all the other players that while the character would definitely go, the player isn't up to it. The plague exists as a concept in the game, so there's very little break in immersion. And what might be more important, other players cannot refute or "dog" that person into going, because he or she has the plague!

So without stealing any thunder from the podcast, I'd like to talk about some important points to remember when trying to implement these conventions into your game.

1. Everyone Accepts the Rule
Obviously, if someone says they've got the plague and someone else tells them to tough it up or starts trying to convince the player that they should go on the module, the convention doesn't actually save immersion. All players need to understand that conventions like this shouldn't be challenged or discussed. If players aren't going to be willing to do that, then your game might not be the kind of heavy immersion game that would benefit from mechanisms like this.

2. Build It Into Setting
These mechanics should fit somewhere in the setting, so that they can be discussed IG and so that all characters understand the meaning. This trick can also be used in reference to use of various pieces of anachronistic safety equipment.

For example, Babylon (Knutepunkt 2011) used airsoft equipment which required face protection. In that game, the world was known to have poisonous gas/airborne viruses that characters had to protect themselves against. So whenever fighting was going to commence, sirens went off indicating that the air was contaminated, so players put on their masks.

Osiris Sanction uses this mechanic to explain all the laser tag equipment on the players as well as why players don't really feel pain. All of the fighting in that game takes place on a surreal data network, where a person's avatar is very close to their real self.

3. Empower the Player to Control the Character
Now, these mechanics are designed to give the player the comfort level they need at a LARP. So when you're designing these systems, try and find ways of actually empowering the player to invoke the mechanic, rather than the system or the character. I know this might seem like a no-brainer, but some games would rather put those controls in the hands of the staff running it rather than an individual player.

Simply put, you have to trust your players to use these mechanics appropriately, and just deal with players that you think might be abusing a system. This is definitely one aspect of the game that shouldn't have to be micromanaged by the staff.

What do you think? Does your game use any concepts like this? Do you think they would benefit from having a mechanic like "the plague?"

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