I picked to write about the interaction/narrative in a computer game called Starsiege Tribes. Base MOD is the classic, most popular modification of the game, which I played for about 10 years.
- any player with a green triangle over his head is a teammate; help each other capture the enemy flag.
- any player with a red triangle over his head is an enemy and will try to kill you and take your flag. kill him before he can kill you.
- you should try to capture the enemy flag up to 8 times. when one team reaches 8, the match is over.
- you can choose from 3 different character classes: light, medium, or heavy. lights are nimble and better for "cap routes," but have less health. mediums are slower, have a bit more health, and can carry heavy deployables. heavies are the slowest, have the most health, can carry heavy deployables, but also use the mortar (very powerful).
- there are 8 different guns in the game, including the mortar, which is exclusively for heavies.
- each map has a unique terrain
- if you get killed, you will respawn on your side of the map at the click of your mouse.
- you can walk, "ski" down hills, and fly with a jetpack that has limited, but rechargeable energy.
- you can explore the terrain and test "cap routes" for later use; the terrain will be the same next time that map is played
- you can pick up guns and change class at the inventory station
- you should help your team to capture the flag, but are free to do anything. though if you prove useless, start helping the other team, or just suck in general, someone might initiate a vote to kick you from the server. (maybe this one is a formal constraint?)
- can interact with anyone in the server through chat or, when up close, even body movements (poses, taunts, etc.).
*Overall, Tribes, while not officially a MUD, is the perfectly MUD. It has a very open environment that allows all four player types to have fun. Achievement (8 caps) is the official goal, but those who want to explore can roam around looking for new ski routes, socializers can put in the minimum effort to not be kicked and just chat with their friends, and killers definitely have tons of people to kill, as players respawn indefinitely. (Unrelated to Mateas & Stern, but felt like writing it).
For experienced players, Tribes is incredibly fun, because it has a very specific and user-derived game culture that we have a deep understanding of. The game has changed tremendously since it was released in the late 90s, and basically all of those changes came from the user community. As a result, a lot of the formal constraints come in the form of the game's culture. We've figured out ways to organize matches, keep the games balanced, and keep the game flowing. This stuff isn't written anywhere. It's not programmed. Since the community is pretty small, most activity happens on 1 or 2 servers, so if you want to play, you've got to follow our rules, our norms, our governing structures. There are usually a few admins in the server that have regulating powers. There are levels of admin power, so some are higher than others. We've played with each other so long that we recognize pretty much everyone's name. Each player has a certain status, a reputation. If someone new comes in and are really good, we know they are smurfing. Otherwise, if they are bad, we interact with them depending on our moods. One day we might harass the newb and another day we might take him under our wings and show him a secret ski route. For someone just starting to play Tribes (base MOD), none of these cultural (but definitely formal) constraints is obvious. I say our culture has formal constraints, because we basically designed our own unique game. The previous formal constraints (the terrain, teammate vs. enemy, respawn, match ends at 8 caps) remain, but we've added a lot of unwritten rules, many of which can never be known. As experienced players, we are both the authors and the players. For new players, however, I imagine the game can be very frustrating. It's a pretty steep learning curve and you just get thrown into this battle royale full of people who have been playing for 10 years. We've discovered tricks for navigating the landscape really quickly, but to the new player, these maneuvers aren't obvious so he/she has a hard time becoming immersed into the narrative of story, which is, ultimately, to capture the flag and win the map. They probably don't feel a sense of agency. Mateas and Stern say that in agency, we "have to convince the player that he should take any action at all" (p. 653). With all these veterans zipping around and mine-disking you to immediate death, you probably feel helpless when playing Tribes for the first time. However, there's lots of pressure from the players and the flow of the game to stay alive, get their flag, return ours to the base, and kill the enemy before it can kill you. Succeeding in any of these areas wins you stats and praise from your teammates.