The uncanney valley of quests

There is a long running, yet still current debate on the Mud Dev2 mailing list about “the future of quests”. One of the interesting aspects of this discussion revolves around whether or not there is an “uncanny valley” in quests.

One type of quest, that I’d certainly put in the “uncanny valley” of quests, is the story arc quest. This generally amounts to a single player (or group) subgame where the players play through the same series of quests while leveling up; somehow saving the world along the way. Everyone on the server gets to save the world! Generally, hardcore roleplay worlds do not have this type of quest. Another types of quest that I’d rank as being in the uncanny valley, or as dancing elephants, are the short story types. These are similar to the epic quest chains, but on a smaller scale. I’m not talking about the sort of short, fedex, “deliver this package to the smith” types of quests typically put in for newbies. Delivery boy quests can probably be repeated endlessly without breaking immersion.

On one NWN world that I knew only as a player, there was a bear. This bear killed a man. His friend would give a tidy sum of XP to anyone who brought the head to him. This would be nice little side quest in a single player campaign. The problem was that you could complete the quest once per server reset; and NWN servers usually reset their state (but not character persistence) every 24 hours. How many times had this bear died? How many times had this bear killed this man? Were they trapped in some sort of groundhog day scenario? Moreover, the server was configured to automatically reset when empty. Despite being reasonably popular by NWN world standards (10-20 players on at peak hours), it would usually be empty after the North America based players went to bed and the European players had not come home from work/class. This meant that if you were in Europe and home sick from work one morning, you could repeat this quest a dozen times by exiting for a few minutes after each completion.

The standard of RP was very high on this world, but this did not help immersion one bit. Players generally roleplayed around it, but it was forced RP; a form of acting. It did not come from being completely immersed.

On another NWN world, which I’d worked on as a builder, DM and sometime admin, there were several quests that I’d regarded as very nice and I was responsible for creating some of them. Basically, they were long treks to go hunt down boss type evildoers. They would have been great; had it been a single player or multiplayer campaign. Again, these were daily repeatables.
The questions for me where the answers are not at all clear are:

Is there any kind of place for these quests that are well crafted, but ultimately immersion breaking in a virtual world environment? Would they be acceptable if they were only doable once? Under what conditions would they be acceptable?

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About Dave

I’m a 38 year old American who has lived the past 9 years in Germany and India.
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4 Responses to The uncanney valley of quests

  1. Edward says:

    It probably depends on whether the simulation game is primarily a simulation or primarily a game. To put it another way, any virtual world could be considered edutainment, but some are mostly education and some are mostly entertainment.

    In a pure simulation, there’s no place for quests. In a hardcore roleplay world, which emphasizes realism but is still primarily a game, I’d say they would be acceptable if they were only doable once and didn’t target a specific person or group (unless there were an in-game reason to do so). They should be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

    That’s my opinion, anyway. I would guess people who emphasize the entertainment aspect would favor more quests, while those who emphasize the simulation aspects would favor fewer quests.

  2. Pingback: Mad Libs « Dancing Elephants

  3. Dave says:

    The roleplayer is a funny animal. He needs as much immersion as the world can give him and yet he is not a hardcore simulationist. He would still rather play on a world with people on than an empty one. So the world’s “content” needs to be compelling enough to bridge him over if the server is empty while he is on, or everyone is elsewhere; such as at a GM event.

  4. Michael says:

    But to do a true immersion experience the amount of content being created in the world would have to be huge, to the point that I’m not sure you could ever sate it. I did one time come up with an interesting role play world idea. I created a virtual reality where clans, or clubs, or companies could build enough rep that they got their own piece of cyber space. They could then craft their own “servers” to protect the data and creds that they owned. The bigger and more powerful the group got, the more “quests” were issued to small to mid level groups to entice them to go after big brother. This would force more defensive postures to protect their rep and influence until the big boy would be hacked multiple times, lose the prestige they had built, knocking them down a few pegs on the ladder, allowing other companies to climb up. If one seemed to stable you could start offering up cool things to those in the clan to break it apart. This could all be done in world and make sense in that reality. There is no reason why something like that couldn’t be done in another type of environment, but the key is that these groups have to be willing to help create content. An admin or even a whole gaming company could never keep up.

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