Thursday, December 10, 2009

Walking the Tightrope

First things first, this post is dedicated jointly to Doagle and Stevie Ray Vaughan (RIP) who has provided the title for the post. Go now and listen to one my top 5 guitarists: 

Ok, now that we've crossed that bridge let's get down to business.

The question was raised as to how players can address the issue that can sometimes come up where they get a little too attached to the game, their characters, etc. This isn't really something that's very easy to tackle in any way, and it's definitely not a subject where I'm going to really pretend to be any sort of authority on the subject. I'd encourage people to chime in and share their own ideas for what techniques they use to keep a healthy distance. 

The root of it is in something that's been around for decades (at least). Modern "RPGs" really aren't very much of the sort. You may pick a type of character to play (by that I mean mostly good or bad, as it doesn't tend to get much more complicated than that), and use that to pick dialogue options or such. That, combined with some sort of progression of strength, are sort of the two calling cards of a modern role-playing game. If you think about the history of the genre and about what the very name of the genre means, that's really a pretty poor approximation to the games of old. 

TSoS and other games like it fall into a rather older style of RPGs. They're a lot more akin to the D&D games of yesteryear than they are modern take. You pick a character type...and that's just the starting point. You have to imbue them with a personal history, personality traits, motivations, hopes and dreams, etc. To some extent, it's like your very own multiple personality setup. You're creating a whole different person that you have to try and think like and act for. Sometimes these may be patterned (at least a little) on you, but just as often they may be someone very different.

There are plenty of stories out there about people who've lost touch with things in their real life from playing D&D just that little bit too much. It's probably not as big of a deal now as it was when I was going to school, but back then it certainly had enough of a reputation even amongst people who knew little to nothing about it. MUDs and their ilk are different in the sense that they aren't really known very much outside of a fairly small subset of the gaming crowd. Even folks that I know that play RPGs really have never heard of the text-based variety other than something like Zork which is really, on some level, entirely different. 

It's just as easy to get a little too heavily invested in your character, their comings and goings, etc. with something like a MUD as it is with an old fashioned D&D game. In some ways it can probably be easier as it probably takes less work to go home and login than it does to get your favorite group together for a gaming session in person. You also will end up with probably a larger group of people that you'd typically interact with, even if just in passing, than the small tight-knit gaming group.

So when does it all become a problem? Well from both personal experience, as well as years of watching others I'd say that for many the first time when they really realize that there's something amiss is when they lose their first real character. I'm not talking about the one that you had for a couple weeks and then lost because you did something stupid in a roleplay and got killed. I'm talking about the one you had for two or more years, got really invested in, and then had something go wrong leading to a sudden or unexpected death. It is tough to lose something that you've invested so much of yourself in. It may feel like the many hours you invested were taken away too quickly, for little to no real reason. It's kind of what makes the worst part of TSoS's death system losing the character rather than some portion or skills and such. (If you don't feel that way, you probably should reevaluate your relationship with your character or your priorities.) 

I think the advice that I would give people in that situation is pretty much the same advice that I would give people in general who would struggle with finding a good balance with respect to their game-play habits in general. We wouldn't be responsible administrators if we didn't want people to play our game and enjoy the product that we're putting out there. On the same line of thinking, however, we also wouldn't be responsible if we didn't worry a little now and again if someone seems to get a little too attached.

I think one of the first things that people who lose loved characters needs to realize is one of the most important pieces of advice that I could give anyone who's hooked on TSoS or any other game. That is to say, at the end of the day when you power down the computer it is still just a game. It's not necessarily any more intrinsically valuable than Monopoly or Connect 4 or Poker. It is something that we do to pass the time and find some measure of enjoyment, it's a game. This particular game is made infinitely more complex than those others due to the element of interpersonal interaction that's involved though. Games are meant to be fun, but they aren't meant to be more than pass times. It's should certainly be the case that the relationship that you have with the game should be a lot less important than the one with your family or friends.

That isn't to say that there's no value in the game, or that you can't make new friends there that will become close ones. Still, if you find that you're spending more and more time logged in, get really stressed about what's going on or any particular thing that's happened, all of those situations it is probably for the best that you at least talk to someone about it. There may not be a problem, but venting is a healthy process. Find a friend and tell them how annoyed you are by this silly game. Find an Imm and tell them how frustrated you are that ____ happened and you don't understand why. We're always here to listen to concerns that you might have and to try to help, even if it is just to explain why something isn't going to be different. 

Find yourself struggling to deal with managing game time and other priorities? Here are a few tips you could try that might help a little:

  • Try scheduling things for a while rather than just logging in. That is to say, set up specific times with friends that you're going to get a RP sorted out, and then login for that particular RP and logout and do something else afterwards. 
  • Limit your days or playtime in some way. Take a day or two every week off. Go play basketball or draw something, or play bridge with your family or whatever it is that you do. Just make it a day or two where you leave the MUD client alone.
  • Don't login while you have other things you should be doing. Is the homework done? Driveway shoveled? Laundry cleaned? House picked up? Flowers bought for girlfriend? If the answer to any is no, leave the MUD client alone until they are.
All of this basically boils down to use common sense and have a good time. We're glad when people like the game that we've put work into creating for them (feel free to let us know when you like it, it's always nice to hear that) but it's important that people don't always like it Too much. That's when you become a staff member and get sucked into doing extra work, and that's kind of like a fate worse than death.

Anyway, as before, if you have ideas for folks about how you manage things, or want to share an experience where you first realized you were kind of attached, feel free to in the comments below. Until next time, keep on truckin.



  1. I think the first point when I had a sort of panic moment related to how attached I was to TSoS is when my first character (named Luthien, strangely enough) died. I still feel like I was kind of cheated out of it, at least in the sense that someone may have abused their power just a little to get in on the roleplay for the purpose of taking me down. That's neither here nor there though. I was pissed, felt betrayed by my character, the MUD, that other player, the world in general, etc. I was about ready to quit when a friend managed to talk me down and convince me that it was just a game and that things would have been a lot more boring without me around. I still took a couple days off to figure out things, but I haven't really been quite so attached since.

  2. My initial reaction was a sort of calm acceptance, until the realization hit me. I knew it was my fault, and that I pretty much deserved it, but it never really sunk in until I tried to log in the next day before realizing that he wasn't there anymore. It did feel like a kind of betrayal, but not from my character or anyone else; I felt like I'd betrayed myself. Like I'd allowed myself to go down the wrong path over a long time, and didn't realize it was happening.
    I now know that I had been really attached to my him, and the loss still kinda stings, but it's a thing that I'm able to shove to the back of my mind.
    I considered taking a few days off, but for some reason that just felt like a kind of defeat, so I just plowed stoicly onward. Looking back, the day after I was in a somber mood, and the next few days after that as well. I'm glad that it didn't affect my actions too heavily, just my outlook.
    My thought is that after a while of getting to know your character, getting to BE your character, you can't help but become attached in some way. I'll admit that in some roleplays, I let myself get involved to the point that it wasn't me typing the words, but my character doing the actions. I was reacting purely how he would react, because I knew him so well.
    Getting to know one of my other characters has been difficult, because their personalities are so different. And I find it harder to immerse myself in the world because I have that fear of losing the character.
    I had tried to prepare myself for the loss of my character, but I realize that even though I felt like I was ready, my reaction tells me I wasn't... at all. More than anything else, there was a feeling of unfairness (which I know is BS), and a bit of looking back and wondering. I was somewhat angry about it, until someone talked to me about their experience losing a character, and then it hit me: I'm not the only one. I'm not the only person that's ever lost a character, and I'm not the only person that's been attached to a character. I think that now, I'm just going to try not to dwell on it and move on.

  3. Life just got too much in the way for me. Working 12-16 hours a day 6 days a week in the army and going to school full time since broke my addiction to the game pretty solidly a few years back. The characters I created a decade ago just don't seem to be mine when I come back to log into them. I've changed from my life experiences and they really didn't change much during that time. Combined with the amount of time I spend working on the game and respective website (Valtama can probably indicate to some of you that something interesting is coming with the website), and its not like its a huge secret that the site beta is and you never know what you will see over there. But with constantly having more and more things to do its hard enough to have a life outside of work as it is right now for me to also have a strong life in the game.

    As far as character deaths go though, the only major one I had that I felt betrayed about was my very first death. I hadn't been playing that long and I got killed off by a player which I later found out had an immortal alt. I even called an imm, which happened to be the player's alt, to try and argue how the other person violated OOC knowledge and stuff. I was mad but it didn't last long, I just got determined to not make the same mistakes that were made the first time.

    As for any deaths I've had since then, I've had 2 on characters I played for multiple years. Neither I was upset over, both had their time and shone at during it but their deaths were great RP and at least one of them has his death on the RP logs of the site. I think there comes a time when you outgrow your own character and at that point death is a great way to take all that work you've put into it and move in another direction. If you embrace it and your roleplay was solid, I can guarantee you won't get hit too hard by the skill set down and you get a clean slate.

  4. @Van:

  5. Well honestly I know what you mean. When I lost my first character I was really REALLY upset (just ask Zak!). I didn't log in for awhile and threw a huge fit. :P But I got over it eventually and learned to love her remort as much as I did the original; maybe more since the new one has a lot more prospects.

    But in all honesty I don't think anyone should let it get to them too much. Yea we spend a lot of time and effort on our characters but we also know that there is always that possiblity that we might lose them. There is always those risks... IE going into the blight with level 0 forms IC and expecting to take on a Fade.... >.> Or a wolfie and weapon master taking on a bunch of trollocs and not running... *shrug* It happens. You wouldn't stand in front of a speeding bus and expect to come out alright now would you? :D

  6. My first characters death was a bit long and drawn out, and wasn't horrible, he was a great character, and I enjoyed playing him, but in the end, I killed him more than the other person. Rioul on the other hand, hit me alot harder than any other, and he didn't even die. 9/10 of the time I spent on this game has been on Rioul, primarily trying to level his channeling, it's just what I enjoy, being able to strive for and slowly build up a character, not necesarily for PKing means, or self defense, I just enjoy the feeling of growing stronger over time, and the fact that he could experiment and do so by himself made it a little less trying. When he burnt out I was, at first, disbelieving, I figured it was me misreading something, I probably read that like of text 50 times before it kicked in. I logged off and left, just now have I started to get back into the game, I still refuse to give up on Rioul, I guess I'll just have to spend some time learning some other skills. In total, I felt betrayed in a way, that after finally making it to channeling rank 2, it was gone before I ever had a chance to fiddle around with it and get a good feel for it.