Backwards in time, perhaps

21st August 2009 – 2.20 pm

Julian, over at Kill Ten Rats, muses on our backwards virtual worlds, pointing out a handful of curious anomalies between virtual worlds and reality. I don't much agree with him.

- In reality, we’ve moved from expensive metal armors to lighter, cheaper durable fabrics for protection.
- In virtual worlds the progression is to from cheaper fabrics to more expensive metals.

We mustn't forget that we are generally comparing a modern, technologically advanced civilisation to a fantasy setting that more closely resembles the Euorpean Middle Ages. The trend may be to move away from bulky metallic armours in the real world but this process took centuries and generally involved more moves towards stronger metals before inventing advanced materials. I don't think I can begrudge fantasy games for not equipping warriors with carbon nanotube armour.

- In reality, adding an escort to a target dissuades enemy attackers by making the target more secure.
- In virtual worlds, escorting a target means an open invitation to be attacked by enemies which were not even there in the first place.

Adding an escort also effectively highlights a potential target, one that might have gone unnoticed if it weren't protected. It's also likely that the target may not have even dared make the journey without an escort for protection. And there is no way of observing an escort mission without there being an escort, thus not being able to determine and compare the number of potential attackers there would be against an unescorted target.

- In reality, packs of creatures in the wild protect their young and their weaker members by putting them in the center of the pack, out of sight.
- In virtual worlds, the weaker elements always surround the strongest member of the pack.

This may be true for wild animals, but for organised units the leader is generally guarded by weaker footsoldiers, in the same way a carrier sits miles off-shore and is protected by layers of defence. I can't say I've witnessed in the games I've played many instances of wild animals as disorganised as suggested, as they all tend to have some hierarchy that suggests leaders and followers.

- In reality, our world has been built to increase the safety of its inhabitants over time; generally, the longer a population has lived in an area, the more secure it tends to be.
- In virtual worlds, the longer an inhabitant exists, the more in danger he’ll be, statistically. Also, the oldest areas are generally the most dangerous.

The major cities and trading hubs, generally the oldest settlements, do indeed seem to be the safest areas in the world, and the furthest reaches of the land are the wildest and most dangerous. I'm not sure what the argument is here. As for the oldest inhabitants being the most at risk, it seems more that in a militaristic environment, such as heroes fighting ever-more powerful opponents, the most competent will tend towards the greater challenges. You shouldn't find many heroes battling tenth level kobolds for their entire career.

- In reality, physical and mental attributes of all living organisms naturally decrease with time and life progression.
- In virtual worlds, attributes increase with time and life progression.

Physical and mental attributes increase to a peak before decaying gradually, but experience and training can easily overcome this decades-slow decay of health. It's also worth nothing that mental health generally peaks later and lasts longer than physical health. A dedicated and active character can easily outmatch someone younger, even if the younger character is technically fitter. We can assume many heroes start out young, before reaching their physical peak, and so it is natural that their attributes increase. It should also be noted that virtual world attributes are not really increasing with time, but with training, which seems to be a natural progression.

- In reality, the world is built with the guiding principle of “How can we make things easier?”
- In virtual worlds, the worlds are built under the idea of “How can we make things harder?”

Well, yes. It would be trivial to make an 'I WIN' game, but it would also be no fun. Games are designed to provide a challenge that feels rewarding when overcome. There can be no direct comparison here as we are approaching a similar-looking problem from completely different directions. We can design virtual worlds in any way we please, so the design only matches our imagination, but reality is already designed and our challenge is to fit our demands in to pre-determined parameters.

- In reality, most items gain value over time.
- In virtual worlds, most items lose value over time.

Just about every item I own has had its value depreciate significantly over time. Would Julian like to buy my G4 Mac for more than I originally paid? Barring some expertly made items and occasional rarities I don't see this being true, and definitely not for 'most' items. Perhaps he is referring to value that isn't monetary, but it can be surprising how attached to virtual items some people can get.

- In reality, production of goods has generally evolved from few, expensive goods to mass produced inexpensive ones.
- In virtual worlds, crafting of goods evolved from large quantities of inexpensive items to few, expensive items.

And the large quantities of cheap mass-produced goods tend to have lower quality than the expensively crafted ones, leading to experienced and wealthy individuals shunning quantity for quality. I think the premise is wrong in general too, in that the games simulate an apprentice crafting many lesser items before being skilled enough to produce a masterpiece or two, not that characters are somehow learning mass production techniques before working out which end to hold a hammer.


- In reality, you want to risk as little of your forces as possible to try and obtain the largest gains possible.
- In virtual worlds, you want to risk as much of your forces as possible to try and secure even insignificant gains.

With this I can agree entirely, and I think it is a major flaw in the design of many games that battling a challenging enemy almost guarantees the death of many allies, many times. Even in a fantasy setting that allows resurrection, it grates on me that the only way to defeat a powerful opponent is to be killed by him a dozen times or more. A game that works on the principle of scouting, reconnaisance and intelligence, and allows retreat and regrouping would be a major step forwards.

Our virtual worlds may be 'backwards' in some respects, but this should come as no surprise when they are fantasy settings based on medieval or earlier time periods.

  1. One Response to “Backwards in time, perhaps”

  2. Quote:
    "- In reality, you want to risk as little of your forces as possible to try and obtain the largest gains possible.
    - In virtual worlds, you want to risk as much of your forces as possible to try and secure even insignificant gains.

    I don't think that one is quite as true. I games, I would also try to risk as little as possible to gain as much as possible, and it shows in efficiency, especially on killboards :P

    I have never encountered where someone had the intention to risk a huge force to try to get something very insignificant. I have encountered, however, situations where we brought as much forces as we can to gain insignificant things, while not risking them, since we had the upperhand and tactical advantage.

    It does not make sense why someone would try and be inefficient.

    By Tony "EVE's Weekend Warrior" on Aug 27, 2009

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed.