Playing: Constructing Our Own Meaningful Narrative of Reality

In a game, through play, you make your own story, personal to you, with a meaning personal to you.

MMOs, being games, are driven by player actions. Narrative removes meaning from action. Offering three, four, or five different endings still removes meaning. Your gameplay experience is running on rails that are all going in the same direction, and switching tracks doesn’t change that.

MMOs should be richly-featured enough that they don’t need imposed narrative; events can unfold as a result of player action and interaction, taking individual players’ personal experiences into uncharted waters. Players shouldn’t merely get the chance to redirect the narrative, they should get the chance to define it.

The answer is that people are individuals. Some things are incredibly important to them, but not to anyone else (or at least not to many other people). In playing a game, a player can cause events to occur that might not even impinge on the consciousness of the majority, but which are a major experience to that one person. They don’t even have to be a major experience, they can be a minor experience that the player is using as a building block to construct a more meaningful story in their mind. That story may well be garbage to anyone else, but it’s not to the player concerned. They did what they did in the game because it generated (or is working towards precipitating) an event that is a continuation of the unique causal chain the player is assembling, extrapolating, appropriating, honing, and personalizing.

Games, as systems, allow players to experiment with events, picking from them the ones that make the best story for them, which will lead to the further stories that are best for them. An overall, plot-driven series of events can also do this, but by necessity it’s offering a general rather than a specific story. Games allow people to weave these plots into their own story—the one that is arising from the gameplay they are manipulating.

Games are machines for creating stories. Play them, and your imagination will construct ones that work for you.

Everyone likes stories, but they like their own stories most of all.

Games don’t generate meaning. Players and designers generate meaning. Games are the objects or tools from and through which meaning is generated, but it’s the people who generate the meaning.

The Real is Imaginary

In the real world there is nothing except subatomic particles. It’s only because you view those as collecting to form energy and matter, and interpret particular configurations of energy and matter to be “objects,” that you can say a particular thing—a house, for example—“exists” in the real world.

In virtual worlds, objects are emergent consequences of the interaction of computer code and data. People ascribe meaning to these configurations, just as they do to matter/energy in the real world. They recognize that there is a difference between this kind of object and the kind they deal with normally, so they call them “virtual objects.”

Ultimately, though, the “objectness” of anything (whether real or virtual) is nothing more than a construct of the mind.

Richard Bartle, MMOs From The Inside Out

Playing: A Quest For Identity

The theoretical reason is to do with immersion. MMOs are virtual worlds: people play them to get away from Reality. In an MMO, you can be someone else; by being someone else, you can become a better you. Why do people play the same game for hour after hour, night after night, week after week, month after month? It’s not because they like the game; it’s because they like being who they are.

When players play characters different to themselves, this can influence both their real self and their character. Much of playing an MMO involves making tiny adjustments to your perception of yourself and to your perception of your character until eventually the two align. It’s as if there’s a dialogue between them, the resolving of which affirms (or reaffirms) the player’s sense of identity.

It’s a quest for identity.

By being someone virtual, people find out who they are for real.

It’s an identity thing. The more you feel that your character is you, the more immersed you are. When the two finally become one, the result is a persona—you, in the MMO.

That’s immersion.

Imagine a line showing a spectrum of identity. Yes, I realize this is a tall order, but bear with me. Put a box on the left of this marked P, which shows the player’s sense of self when they start. Put another box on the right marked C, which shows the character the player has created. A third box in between, marked H, indicates the hero—the renewed sense of self the player gets from having played the MMO and completed their hero’s journey.

Playing an MMO—or a virtual world in general—is a hill-climbing exercise through identity space. The hero’s journey is a good algorithm for finding a local maximum. Through playing, you get to affirm who you are.

Or, put another way, you are a multi-faceted diamond. Playing an MMO means you get to see more facets of yourself than you would in ordinary life.

Richard Bartle, MMOs From The Inside Out