Failure of Fantasy

Here’s the question: what is fantasy?

1. imagination, especially when extravagant and unrestrained.
2. the forming of mental images, especially wondrous or strange fancies; imaginative conceptualizing.
-Dictionary.com

That definition sounds pretty good.

“Fantasy is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting.”
-Wikipedia

That one doesn’t. Fantasy is not about “magic” or “the supernatural” in and of themselves, although they certainly must be central to the story. Fantasy is about taking participants in the story to a universe that contradicts the participants inherent expectations about the way things work. The story told hinges on this new and unpredictable world. Participants get to explore an unfamiliar world as they follow the characters on their journey.

Using this definition, a lot of self-proclaimed “fantasy” isn’t really fantasy at all. Whenever a “fantasy” story casts its story in a world of dwarves, elves, harpies, vampires, werewolves, goblins, orcs, wizards, etc. it is doing so because most fantasy readers will be familiar with such a setting and it allows the storyteller to cut straight to the storytelling. Yet, inherently, this is not fantasy.

These stories are still speculative fiction, but they are no longer true fantasy. I would call them speculative fiction with fantasy elements, but I certainly wouldn’t label them as real fantasy. Of course, the term fantasy can be used to refer to these works of speculative fiction, but it is an insult to the real works of fantasy that take the time to explore a completely new and unpredictable world (e.g. Discworld).

Some of these faux-fantasy universes include roleplaying games, both on the table and in games like Minecraft, and amateur “fantasy” stories. Obviously, world creation is hard and it is time consuming to think up convincing worlds that have interesting aspects.

Ultimately, this was the downfall of my Minecraft roleplaying server. The setting was not engaging, and players had difficulty getting immersed in the lore. But why is a “fantasy” setting necessary in the first place? People seem to associate roleplay with fantasy, probably because of the prevalence of roleplaying fantasy games. In addition, both RP and fantasy aim to satisfy the same itch: they are methods for an escape from reality.

But at the end of the day, you can have a fantasy Minecraft server without roleplaying, and you sure as hell don’t need a fantasy setting to have a roleplaying server. When I founded my Minecraft server, I wanted to see how much of a functional economy would emerge if I only set in place the loosest guidelines and money functionalities. Predictably, people found little need for money, since resources are, necessarily, abundant within (almost) any Minecraft world.

I am still interested in seeing how a Minecraftian universe can be reduced to a level where economic transactions become more feasible than collecting the resources yourself. On some level, this requires restraint from the players. However, people will not restrain themselves if it restricts their fun. So the parameters for my new server are slowly taking shape.

For one, people need an incentive to play, beyond just entertainment. There are a lot of competing venues of entertainment overall, and Minecraft is a particularly niche form of entertainment. But even within the realm of Minecraft, the pool of available servers is huge. And without a critical mass of players, a server cannot succeed. So, logically, the server needs to market itself in a way that pulls enough people in while still maintaining all the other parameters.

The server will be limited edition; it will only run for 50 days (7 weeks). This means that the story has a beginning and an end, and players are driven to accomplish a tangible goal within a time frame provided by an external force.

The setting of the server will be colonial. A group of colonists must set up a lucrative colony on a newly discovered land. The trading company that is sponsoring the colony will only fund it for ten years, during which it must start making money and pay back the initial investment. This means that players must collaborate both to survive and to generate revenue.

When the server first begins, players start on the ship that brought them to the uncharted land. It has a supply of food and tools. However, players will become hungry at a much faster rate than in the regular game. Any action, from crafting to using a tool to placing a block, will significantly reduce a player’s food bar. This will result in either a high death rate (because players will not be able to sustain their health and die from trivial falls, etc.) or a high food consumption rate.

Since the colony needs a much greater amount of food, a significant amount of energy needs to go into gathering supplies, which means that until farming and breeding infrastructure is established, not much effort will be put towards gathering valuables. Food scarcity will be boosted on the server, by making crops grow slower and increasing the cooldown time for animal breeding. Food is important because characters get only one life, raising the stakes considerably. Also, once a player dies he must wait until the next ship arrives from the motherland. These arrive once every six months ingame, which translates to roughly every 2.5 days real time. However, shipment arrivals are important for other reasons as well.

The colony can purchase things from its sponsor company. Of course, the prices are higher than reasonable. Some of the things the colony can trade away include gold, redstone, diamonds, magical items, sugar, and melon. In exchange for such raw materials, the colony is allotted some number of “trading points” with which it can buy guns (maybe), food, and other normal things like pistons, dispensers, lumber, stone, iron, saddles, etc. The exact trade ratios will be determined at a later time. They may also be adjusted as the game progresses.

Right now I think the difficulty will be set to peaceful, both because monsters would detract from the experience IMO, and because it means that the use of gunpowder, bonemeal, string, and slimeballs can be restricted.

To add back in some of the conflict lost from monsters, I hope to have two factions in the world. An existing faction, the natives, will already have infrastructure when the settlers arrive. The natives have farms, granaries, domesticated pets, mines, and supplies of string and bones. However, the natives don’t have guns (if they are put in) and can’t use any sort of redstone. To balance this, natives will be able to use magic freely, while settlers cannot. This means both sides have items from the regular game that the other side cannot access. Having such a dichotomy opens the door to different kinds of diplomatic relationships, depending on what the players decide to do ingame. I have no idea whether raids or trades will be more popular.

Unfortunately, I am also wary about creating two factions in the first place. Disparate groups on a server cause two problems. They isolate players from one another, essentially requiring double the players for two-faction play to feel the same as single-faction play. Groups also cause more frequent arguments, since communication is severely throttled.

I hope that with the right amount of advertising, I can attract around 6 people to start. They will all be colonists; only after the number rises to 12 can a native town be “discovered”. I am hesitant to go ahead with guns, because that would require a modded client to play, which significantly reduces the pool of available players. The server should be as accessible as possible. That being said, there is a lot of riffraff that, frankly, I didn’t keep out on the last server. Players NEED to be able to write full, coherent sentences both quickly and consistently. Even one person who cannot communicate well can ruin the experience for everyone.

If I ever get around to fixing connectivity issues and finishing the website, I am definitely going to go ahead with this server.

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Minecraft Server: RPCreate

A while back I wrote a post about Minecraft servers. Since then I’ve put more thought into it and I’m thinking about starting a new server. This will be a much more informed endeavor, and hopefully it will turn out for the best. Here are some highlights:

The main idea is that the server puts all the players on an even playing field by allowing all users to use creative mode and basic commands. This will eliminate hoarding and allow players to focus on interacting, not making money or getting resources. It also removes any worry about stealing. However, because players have the capability to get any resources they need, I am hoping they will be more willing to fill a so for economic role (farming, lumberjacking, mining, building, etc) and resort to using legit materials as much as possible.

You need to be able to write!
Number one requirement to join will be the ability to write. This indicates that you are at least somewhat intelligent and able to express your ideas. In addition, it means you can read what others write and grasp new concepts.

You need to relax!
With a guaranteed level of intelligence hopefully comes a certain ability to compromise and handle a situation gracefully if you don’t get what you want or disagree with someone. We also need people who can play fairly and understand the importance of keeping a balanced economy by not hoarding legitimate materials or abusing creative mode.

You need to play fairly, and build sensibly.
As stated before, each member should be responsible. It is their server, and thus they need to actively work to keep it fun. This is the main idea I want to permeate through the server community: the server is merely a utility through which the players, as a community, get to act out fantasies and epic stories. There are no “admins” lording over the players, telling them how to play; it is the players that get to enjoy the world they have made, and the players who have to maintain the server.

This is not to say that I won’t make suggestions about economy and distinguish between responsible building and overbuilding; I’ll be doing it as a concerned player, not moderator. I won’t have more powers than anyone else on the server, and I won’t get the final call on decisions.

One thing I won’t tolerate, however, is plugins and mods. Besides the basic Bukkit server framework, no mods or plugins will be installed, by request or otherwise, that change or enhance game mechanics. This means no currency, no WorldEdit, no seasons or races or NPCs, nothing.

The community will have a say in everything else, though. The players will make the stories, vote on policies, and build the world. The server will be quite open to change. If the players want to institute a new policy, they can. Since there are no admins or moderators, they will be the ones carrying it out. Since there is no higher authority to appeal to, players will be forced to talk out disagreements among themselves.

Obviously its impossible to completely eliminate a leader who “runs” the server. Someone needs to host it, and someone needs to maintain the bulletin boards and websites. I suppose I would do that, but nearly anything could be changed if it was popular opinion backed by a vote. What I want is a player-made server and community, not a pre-made admin’s framework which has been filled in by the players. That breeds a dependency that ultimately leads to arguments and unrest, and it gives the players something to blame for all the bad things: namely, the admin.

I mentioned in passing a website, which would actually be a key element of the server. In my opinion, a bulletin board isn’t enough to truly let a server grow into a community. It needs independent features for planning events, posting featured videos, screenshots, and stories, and a hub for bulletin board, wiki, and all the other possibly third-party utilities. A website lets the person hosting the server to post updates, which can be emailed to people in case they didn’t catch it on the bulletin board.

If I built my own bulletin board and wiki utilities (which I am interested in doing anyways), the website could have a single account for commenting on news, RSVPing to events, editing the wiki, and posting on the forum. I HAVE been wanting to get back into web programming… maybe I’ll start that this weekend.

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