Why Conflict Needs Consequences: The PBRPT Aug 27, 2019 16:25:32 GMT -5 tedium, pinkerdlu, and 1 more like this
Post by purgpurgpurg on Aug 27, 2019 16:25:32 GMT -5
Welcome to my reflections on Armageddon's most recent PBRPT. If you're mad about plot details being posted, you came into the Spoilers subforum on your own. Blame yourself.
First, let's take a look at how the staffers advertised this RPT; and let's try to understand the impetus and the background around this event. To save you the trauma of going on the GDB, here's a picture of the announcement thread.
Instead of calling this an HRPT, Shabago chose to call this a "Pretty Bloody Recommended Playing Time." It definitely was bloody. If the staff are seeking to measure the RPT's success by the turnover of developed and heavily invested characters, then this was a clear success. The overwhelming focus on combat wasn't to the best merits of both the RPI codebase, or in the best interests of the players participating.
Apparently, there's a big clutch of cannibals out there in the salt flats and everyone has to go out and defeat them... Wonderful. Having got the memo to avoid using spiders or gith for the thousandth time, the staff decided to summon a clutch of NPC cannibal defilers; and let me tell you why this is so tiring to me. This is, by the textbook definition of the word, a contrived conflict: there is no narrative arc, nor is there any great Boon for the setting or the players (and by extension their characters) for participating in this conflict: aside from shoddy DIKU-based mass combat spam. As you can see in the GDB announcement thread, Shabago plays at guilting the reticent by posing "Will you hide away behind the walls?" with le funny Monty Python gif. I'm willing to bet that a lot of people are wishing they had stayed behind instead of throwing themselves into this pointless meatgrinder.
Observing and hearing the reactions to this alleged RPT, I've reinforced my conclusion that you can put the players of Armageddon into two buckets: those who invest in their character, and those that don't. That isn't to say an individual is always solidly in one camp as some sort of insult: someone could have an inspired character concept or roll really high stats on their new character, and then decide to put more effort into their development than usual. The others? They treat the game, the world, and those around them as just things to entertain them: there's no higher cognitive level of shared storytelling, roleplay, or expectation of a compelling narrative from these guys. They're on autopilot. The MUD might as well be back in 1991, doing the same old "comfortable" thing (which, amazingly, requires no work or effort for our unpaid volunteer staff team).
But I digress back to the point of the RPT. These boredom of meatgrinding conflict, of narratively inconsequential death, of contrived situations of spectacle with no tangible or lasting outcome: they condition players to be in the autopilot bucket. This is a travesty for role-playing games simply because issues grow exponentially the less your playerbase puts effort into producing any narrative of value. By the nature of these RPTs, they always attract the sponsored and most developed, "high ranking" roles in the game world at that time; and usually due to the requirements of their clan, these developed roles are expected to jump through the hoops and participate in this nonsense. I'll tell you that it is the bent arms of these players, not the nonsense scenario, that gives any depth of meaning to this pseudo-conflict. It certainly isn't found on the staffer's side of echo fireworks, codedly ignorant spawning of hostile NPC fodder, and state machine plot nodes that will never be influenced by the lowly players participating.
But the worst of all experiences, I reckon, is to have your character that you've invested in die in one of these clusterfucks. They die for nothing! The preplanned ending to this whole kerfuffle would have been reached without their sacrifice — which will be of no ultimate consequence. And the more players that die, the more the curtain is peeled back on this set dressing of a contrived, busywork patsy play. As the playerbase has no agency in the pre-planning of a story, here the ultimate blame resides solely in the storytellers: they have a fertile sandbox with infinite possibilities, but continue to tell basic, two-bit stories of cartoon villain-of-the-week conflict. At the end of the day, everything needs to fall back into the same place it was beforehand so that we can continue on with the least amount of maintenance or world-changing. Why? What compels someone to tell a story that is, effectively, no story at all? If there were stakes at play or gains to be made, the players could have some solace knowing that their character's life ended while reaching for that gambit; but that is not the case. Indeed, a meaningless death in a supposedly fertile land of "meaning" is an absolute failure of storytelling. It retroactively poisons and unmakes the significance of the character that died.
And so these exercises remove players from the invested bucket, and plant them deep into the autopilot bucket — if they decide to return to the game at all.
Make no mistake, this PBRPT has been a failure. Surely some of the blame resides in the sponsored roles that participated (one templar in particular, spectacularly); however, the burden falls on the storytellers' shoulders most. They are incompetent, in a word, at their very title. Do away with these "evil has cropped up and is put down" spectacles, and produce something that would pass a creative writing English exam. Put stakes at play beyond the investment and worth of the characters who have (foolishly) come to participate in your firework show. Tell a story that is more than simply noise instead of silence. Prove me wrong!