To Simulate A Meaning In Life

Well, I think I figured it out: the reason why I keep halting my BYOND game-production half-way through is because I’m a fairly goal-oriented individual and I knew, at least subconsciously, that the goal of what I’m making sucks.

Today, in reading a a mere Wikipedia entry on game mechanics, I saw an association that pulled out of the subconscious the reason why the goal of what I’m making was so very sucky. Persistent state environments lack a goal: compared to these other games on the wiki, it’s not a matter of scoring more, avoiding being checkmated, or even (as a good RPG would) telling a story. Persistent-state environments, by the very definition of the words, just go on and on.

Consequently, you grind and grind, making your character increasingly more powerful, without any real reason to do so except exhaust content to kill bigger things that makes your character more powerful. The end is only the means, and it is ultimately a futile pursuit because sooner or later you’re just going to run out of content or get bored, abandon your character, and move on to the next game. It seems especially futile if, like me, you’re a goal-oriented individual who can’t just enjoy the journey.

And yet, despite knowing this, I started working with BYOND to develop a cool persistent-world game. Perhaps to recapture that same feeling of captivation that I had back when I saw persistent worlds in terms of virtual worlds instead of in terms of being mere treadmills. All the way back when I first started to put some consideration towards what to make in BYOND, you can see I had this goal: I was talking about making a persistent-world game that has interactivity (flow) and dynamic content (emergence).

My desire for interactivity (flow) was simply because a lot of MMORPGs are boring world simulations that have neglected to implement a game that really meaningfully challenges the player. My desire for dynamic content (emergence) was because I already knew that MMORPGs had the futility of lacking a goal, but I felt that dynamic content might work as a possible goal. If you can actually shape the virtual world, then that’s a whole lot more interesting than just grinding for grinding’s sake, right?

So here I am, nearly a year later (I started in BYOND in Sep 2008 and it’s Jul 2009) and I’ve finally come to realize I’ve been chasing my tail the whole time. I’ve been trying to capture the idea of a persistent world with a meaningful goal when persistent worlds naturally defy one by nature of their persistence.

Can a true solution can really be found? Probably not. My solution of emergence isn’t enough. To offer the means to change the state of a virtual world only creates another medium in which a meaning can operate, not the sorely missing meaning in itself. Trying to establish a virtual world that has a universally compelling meaning to play may be identical to trying to establish a true meaning of life (albeit on a simulated scale). All the worlds’ religions have yet to come to a universal agreement on the meaning of life, what makes me think I can simulate one?

But, you know, we might be able to get a close enough. The thing is, the meaning of anything (life included) tends to be defined by the individual. I might not be able to fabricate a cosmic meaning that is identical for everyone, but a meaning that appeals to certain individuals is not that hard to achieve.

For some, to accumulate power for the sake of accumulating power, as in the typical MMORPG, is enough. For some, to watch virtual lives go through the motions against a simulated backdrop, as in Dwarf Fortress or The Sims, is enough. It’s Bartle’s types, different people play games for different reasons, but I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that there’s infinitely more meanings to be found than Achiever, Killer, Explorer, Socializer.

In the end, what it comes down to is me. Why? Because I’m making a game and trying to figure out what’s really significant enough of a longstanding goal/meaning to create. Like any artist, when they touch the stylus to the medium, there’s some driving reason in which they did it. It may or may not be a reason you can get behind, and that’s really not that artist’s fault: he or she can only operate based upon what meaning is important to them. Until I can find an important meaning/reason to create (and there may be several valid answers for me) it seems unlikely I’d ever see a game through to fruition.

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