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THINKING DIFFERENTLY

“You guys are, I think, suffering from a failure of imagination. Why can’t we create a game that will teach someone to play a musical instrument? That will cure cancer? That will end terrorism?”

— Raph Koster, AGC

So would it be like this?

This game: will never be made. Ever. Thus it’s safe to be used as a test case. (Can you imagine the sales pitch? “We want to spend 50 million dollars to teach people how to be terrorists!”)

This game: would not be an MMORPG. It would be an MMOG, possibly. But the classic model of an MMORPG would not work for this – and it’s a good example of how that classic model is holding the industry back.

Almost every MMO today follows the RPG model. You are one person. You have statistics and skills and items that not only map out what you can do, but act as a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

Interestingly, many online games that aren’t MMOs follow this model to a degree as well. In first person shooters, you are one person. You have (player based) skills and items that not only map out what you can do, but act as a way to distinguish yourself from everyone else.

So if you’re thinking every MMO seems the same – surprise! They are! As I said in a presentation earlier this year, it’s painfully obvious that we all played Dungeons and Dragons as kids – and nothing else.

However, there are different games out there. One of the more interesting are participatory web mysteries – here’s a good web site devoted to what was probably the best. Basically, the game creators scattered lots of diverse information around the web, waiting to be found, and the players combined their deductive reasoning to solve it.

Interestingly enough, counterterrorism is the act of using collective deductive reasoning to solve mysteries scattered, in many places, across the web.

So. We have a game concept from today’s headlines. We have a previously successful concept, that was done for very little money, and has been proven to be somewhat interesting (and has also failed pretty spectacularly). And we have a lot of proven technology for serving client-server applications over the Internet (in case you haven’t been paying attention, they’re called MMOs).

All that’s left is the easy stuff. The actual game design and implementation. So the game design goals for this mythical chimera of a project:

1) Be fun. Hey, sometimes you have to say these kind of things up front.
2) Be realistic. So realistic, in fact, that the game could be used as a learning tool (chasing Department of Defense dollars has never been a bad gamble).
3) Teach the players something, even if wholly by accident. To do this, we will have to make some very fundamental assumptions about the world we live in. Many people will disagree with these assumptions – we as game designers will be deciding such fundamental questions as “was the war in Iraq a benefit to terrorists?”. (Things like this are why, in the real world, this game can never be made.)

So. Set up a world within a world – the game servers. Populate them with message boards, similar to the old C64 “Neuromancer” game. (We can’t use the real Internet for this – because if for no other reason, most of our customers won’t be able to read Arabic). Set up a model for terrorist attacks to succeed – and points in that critical path for them to be interrupted.

Think of it as Counterstrike for Bejeweled players. The terrorists try to manuever money and resources around the globe to carry out attacks, and the counter terrorists try to find their needles in the haystack. (Developing the haystack will be a large challenge – how do you create a world with enough detail for people to be purposefully lost, yet not generic enough that the people hiding stand out amongst the white noise?)

Here’s another concept – the game ends. If the terrorist infrastructure is defeated, or if the terrorists manage to pull off a mega-attack that shatters the state of the world – game over. Give the player accounts scores – and high scoring players can take leadership roles in the next game.

All of this is pretty random and woolly – as befits something of only a few days’ worth of thought. But if you believe that there truly has been enough versions of Dungeons and Dragons created online – then perhaps its time to think a bit differently?