Tobold's Blog
Thursday, April 10, 2008
 
Suspension of disbelief

Deep in our hearts we all know that the MMORPGs we play are just games. The dragons we slay aren't real, nor are the epic treasures we gain. MMORPGs are a fun way to spend your time, but few people mention their virtual achievements on their CV. Talk to somebody who doesn't play World of Warcraft and tell him how you did slay Illidan, and instead of any admiration you'll just get a puzzled look. That is not to say that to those who play, the virtual adventures and achievements aren't important. There is a concept of suspension of disbelief in which the audience knows that what they see isn't real, but is willing to forget that knowledge temporarily in exchange for being entertained.

The problem is that this suspension of disbelief isn't equally strong among all players. That was pretty much evident when we discussed PvP servers in WoW, where some players were talking about how PvP added more danger to their virtual lives, and others resented being ganked by pimply kids. Same situation, totally different perception, totally different levels of suspension of disbelief. And of course that can lead to problems with the success of a game: what if your game is about impact PvP, and you aren't offering non-PvP servers? The players who suspend their disbelief strongly will delight in the "impact" their PvP has on the virtual world. The players more strongly rooted in the real world will experience the same situation as being more disruption to their game style, and won't like that at all.

Suspension of disbelief is a good thing to a certain extent, as it allows you to overlook the shortcomings that every form of media has. You sit in a chair and don't really move all that much, but still manage to believe that you are living an adventureous life killing dangerous monsters and gathering treasures. If you see the rewards as just a bunch of pixels, you will be a lot less entertained and enthusiastic. But this suspension ends at some point for most people. A lot of people for example don't raid for the simple reason that in their perception the real world effort you need to do to raid (playing until late, staying in front of the computer for X hours straight, etc.) is too high compared to the value of the rewards, which is only virtual. Thus their comments about raiders having "no life" [insert various South Park jokes here]. Objectively spoken it is hard to say where exactly the sane border is. Some people need less sleep, and their personal situation allows them to raid every night until midnight with no negative effect on their work or family life. Others crossed the border into what is commonly called "addiction" (although I don't really like the term), where the suspension of disbelief is so strong that the virtual rewards become so important that the real life suffers. Where that border is isn't necessarily the same for everyone, you can't measure it in hours per week played or anything. "Hardcore" is jokingly defined as "somebody playing more than me", but the joke is only funny because so many players think exactly like that.

Developers are well advised to think about how their various game features appear to players of varying levels of suspension of disbelief. What is often called "casual friendly" is just that: making a game for people who haven't suspended their disbelief all that much, and can't overlook things like anti-social behavior from other players, or harsh time requirements of a game just as easily as some others.
Comments:
I'd add that, when I first raided, my suspension of disbelief was broken by voice chat. Obviously voice communication is necessary to co-ordinate the actions of 25 characters but when you're hearing the Danish accent of your MT and the Yorkshire accent of your boomkin, it's not quite the same alternate reality :)
 
If you expected a nice chat in the safety of an inn in Goldshire, two daggers in your back is a distruption.

If you expected vicious, cutthroat war, then an invulnerable enemy who spits by the gallon and dances right in front of your army is a distruption.
 
I think the suspension extends beyond the loot to how you are treated as well.

It is easy to be put on a pedastal in the game because of your accomplishments and people enjoy the accolades they get from others due to their gear or position in the guild/arena team.

I know many that wanted to quit but enjoyed spending time with their "friends" too much. It is quite an addiction to log on and suddenly get /tell from many people wanting to know how you are, where you have been, if you want to group up etc...

I enjoyed my time but am enjoying my hiatus now as I fall into the not worth the reward category. I've been on both sides and eventually I'll be back I imagine but will "attempt" to control my hours lol
 
I personally think the developers need to think of what they build into an MMO.

Personally i think requiring 4 or more hours for a raid with 25 people is asking too much.
 
"Yorkshire accent of your boomkin"

*Thinks*

"When I were a lad, we 'ad none of this fancy tree summoning. We didn't 'ave enough mana to noobspam more'n twice a day, aye, an' we 'ad to farm Tyr's 'and for 26 hours a day ter do that, then walk back uphill through [Broken Glass]..."

Sorry, off-topic moment there...
 
The problem is that this suspension of disbelief isn't equally strong among all players. That was pretty much evident when we discussed PvP servers in WoW, where some players were talking about how PvP added more danger to their virtual lives, and others resented being ganked by pimply kids. Same situation, totally different perception, totally different levels of suspension of disbelief.

I think you are using the term "suspension of disbelief" here errenously. The above is about game style preference, not about how immersed you are by the game. To make an analogue, you can't say that the players of American football have higher suspension of disbelief than the players of chess.
 
It's also important to keep the setting in context. If you sign up for a PvP based MMO, and then complain about PvP affecting your PvE, well...

With the market being as big as it is today, it's no longer a choice between UO and EQ, but rather what type of MMO you want to play. PvP, PvE, SciFi, fantasy, almost everything is represented.

So just like a gank would break immersion in a PvE game, being unable to combat another player would be equally breaking in a PvP game.
 
This is a compelling argument and I think you hit the nail on the head.

I find I clash with a lot of players because I tend to be the only one rooted in reality.

I just never want to be one of those people who can't show up for something in real life "because I got a raid." I'll stab myself in the nailbed first.
 
An interesting post.

I guess that I have a hybrid view of this; I use RL tools, like WoW Internet sites, to help fill the gaps in WoW. For example, patch 2.4 brought in a lot of new stuff. So I read about the premise of the Shattered Sun Offensive, and have bought into it enough to do a lot of the dailies. But I also wanted to know if it could improve my character, and so I looked up what I could about SSO faction vendors and new patch 2.4 gear.

But therein comes some problems. My 'main' is a reasonably well-geared DPS caster shadow priest tailor/engineer. Thus the dailies are an easy farming exercise; the only 'issue' is competition from other toons. But I found that the expansion nerfed existing engineering pets and gave new pets and patterns to jewelcrafting. And the best new gear drops in the raid I'll never see. There's a great new goggle pattern for the goggle, er, engineering, profession... that drops in the Sunwell raid I'll never enter. There's an interesting PvP neck with spell haste... but more PvP gear access has been given exclusively to raiders, which will a definite, but uncertain, impact on my PvP experience. So for me the best thing about patch 2.4 is... a little gator fishing pet.

Thus, in my case, this has turned out to be the most raid-centric expansion I can remember. For me patch 2.4 consists of lots of repetitive dailies. I guess my alts will be well-cared-for, for at least until I completely tire of the daily grind.
So overall, patch 2.4 is rather disappointing in the 'suspension of disbelief' category, unless I can really get into the concept of 'SSO mercenary paid to pwn multiple mobs at a time on hamburger hill and mailing the paycheck home to Azeroth' meets 'epically-heroic fisherman' :)
 
@doeg. I've said it before its pure laziness. If they wanted people to have more gold why didn't they just increase the amount of money each mob dropped by a certain percentage?

My belief is they got to say "see we gave you new content. thier called Dailies"

Dumbest Idea they've every had with the possible exception of thier LFG tool.

All dailies do is remove the incentive for casuals to group. Why group when you can do your dailie solo and get your money.

Its become a parody. Watching the devs try to balance thier content and define raiders and casuals is like watching the 3 blind men try to figure out what an elephant is with nothign but touch.
 
you sound like my dad tobold :) I think 'immersion' is a very hard thing to define. Some people need a big world with really good graphics and some people don't. Its kinda a unique thing to each person. As far as pvp is concerned people need to take a different perspective on it instead of just getting angry. Would you get really so angry is the AI had done you in? No you'd learn how to beat it (if possible). Well I just look at enemy players and something to outsmart and sometimes I win and sometimes I lose, and sometimes they are invincible. But if its just a matter of smarts I usually lose first, learn from it, then win.
 
I think you're mixing metaphors here, suspension of disbelief has nothing to do with those issues, it's merely about whether you can overlook the imperfections and appreciate the art in question, or not. It's about how immersive you feel, which is indeed different for everyone.

But that has nothing do to with goals, play style, those are all personal preferences which people bring into games. If you don't like pvp, you won't like it no matter how immersive the environment is. I suppose you could argue getting ganked might bother people less if the environment is so non-immersive that they feel no connection at all with the avatar, but that's actually opposite of your point.
 
I tend to disagree that it's pure laziness. Overall, WoW is a huge effort and they've put together a big, interesting, polished game. IMO, it's more a matter of design decisions, impacted by the timing of the patch relative to the WotLK xpac. I'm sure that many people are quite happy with patch 2.4, at least for now.

WoW always has a design tension between casual and hardcore, and between PvE questing/instancing, PvE raid, and PvP world/BG/Arena content. I understand that this patch has to not only more new content, and also be the bridge to the xpac.

Blizzard decided to put a lot of effort into new interface design, which surely consumed a great deal of development resources. I expected dailies, and I like the 'unlocking content' idea. But this patch had no new 'normal' quests and quest lines - a conscious decision to put those quest design resources elsewhere (probably WotLK). There was finally a new instance, but once players get through that the fact sinks in that it's one-and-done. There was another new raid, and the opening of MH/BT, so raiders got more again, and lots of new gear including somewhat of a Sunwell emphasis on 'haste' gear. So up to this point the expansion design stacks up with previous patches. Then we depart...

No new Arena season. Just the opposite; raiders get access to PvP Arena gear through PvE-only means. There's nothing much for the PvP crowd to be excited about in patch 2.4. If the design intent is for PvPers to round out there sets by raiding, then Blizz has conceded that it's not 'welfare', but rather the opposite: An unreasonable time sink! Professions also received uneven treatment, with JCs seeming to come off really well, while other professions got patterns which are mostly safely tucked away in Sunwell Plateau (including the mats).

Patch 2.4 didn't even dangle serious gear carrots, since the upgrade gear and patterns are mostly tucked safely away in places I'll never see. So for me, one who plays a lot, but doesn't raid seriously, in the final analysis the patch gives me very little new endgame content. Actually, one could do all the casual content in less than a week of evenings (granting pauses for server-based unlocking of content).
 
I have to concur with some of the previous posters that I believe you are twisting what “suspension of disbelief” actually represents.

I am not “suspending my disbelief” if I appreciate world PvP. Quite the opposite, actually. The joy is heightened because I know I am competing against another real live person. I wouldn’t have the same feeling if some NPC came up behind me and ganked me.

Likewise, people who are “addicted” to the game have simply placed too much real life meaning on the rewards of a game. The same could be said of a sports fan who spends an unhealthy amount of time and money attending sports venues, buying jerseys or simply ignoring his family while watching the game on TV. Is that immersive? Yes. Is it suspending your disbelief? No.

Suspension of disbelief is simply someone’s willingness to ignore things we would otherwise know to be untrue. The term is used today primarily to describe when a writer failed to suspend disbelief. For example, if I have a detective story that never introduces or even talks about magic then I (as the reader) will call bullshit when the final answer is revealed to be magical in nature. If the writer wants me to suspend my disbelief that magic exists in his fictional world, then they need to reveal that earlier in the book.

Your use of the concept here is almost painful to read and detracts from the real message I think you are trying to convey. I would compare it to reading an article about the Eifel tower in which it is continually mentioned that it is located in Germany. If someone didn’t know it was in Germany they wouldn’t care or notice. For people who do know, they keep wincing while they read the article.
 
sorry doeg cant' agree with you. Dailies are just laziness. Nothing fun nothing innovative just a simple stupid way to get more money. I honestly don't understand why they didn't just increase the money drops of all mobs by a set percentage. It would have made everything else more lucrative.

And the boss in the new 5 man. An existing boss nothing new there. I stand by LAZY. That or thier design team is functioning under the dev equivilant of writers block.

this patch would have been a great patch 9 months ago. Now its like one icecube on a hot day.
 
If you only realize that WoW is a game 'deep in your heart', then you have a serious problem recognizing reality.
 
Likewise, people who are “addicted” to the game have simply placed too much real life meaning on the rewards of a game.

And you don't think that placing real life meaning on the virtual rewards of a game requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief? I'm well aware that I'm using a term that is usually used for other media like books or films and apply it to a new medium, in which it hasn't been used before. Only stuffy academics would think that you can't take one concept out of its usual context and see how it fits in another context. We can use other terms, but that is just semantics. In the end the fact remains that some people place too much value in something that doesn't exist in the real world, and that requires a certain detachment from reality, some escapism, or however you want to call it. If I choose to call it suspension of disbelief, what's wrong with that?
 
And you don't think that placing real life meaning on the virtual rewards of a game requires a large amount of suspension of disbelief?
Not really. Those that mention virtual achievements on their CVs don't list their epics, they list their management experience. Managing 200 people and coordinating their efforts towards a common goal is not that different even if you do it by guildchat and vent instead of email and phone.

Suspension of disbelief is all about control. It's voluntary, and you can "turn it off" whenever you want. You're able to recognize fictional and real events, even if they both happen within the framework of the game. But if you can't.. then we're talking about "diminished capacity to recognize reality", which is a symptom of mental illness.

There's a reason why "stuffy academics" prefer to use words with their generally agreed-upon definitions. The devil is quite often in the details, and ignoring those details can invalidate your central argument.
 
Well put, Shalkis. My sentiments exactly. There is certainly a self denial component to addiction that can be defined as an inability to discern the truth. However, since that denial is not at will, there is no way to “suspend” disbelief. The distinction is that we willingly suspend our disbelief of what we know to be untrue. Addicts often suffer from self delusion, whereas suspension of disbelief requires you understand the difference between the truth and untruth.

Your main point is well taken, Tobold. Games that are more immersive make it easier for someone susceptible to addiction to become self delusional and put an unhealthy amount of meaning on something that doesn’t exist. However, as Shalkis put it so eloquently: The devil is quite often in the details, and ignoring those details can invalidate your central argument.
 
they are just going slow with the content patch rate, cause :

1-they are using their workforce for ST2

2-they are waiting to counter WAR with LK, they have the graph and major content needed done and in storage, just have to polish it a bit

3-they have a truckload of money and a dominating position, can afford wait to attack with ST2 and get the player force in a second wave attack for War

4-seems the war ppl know this cause some rumors to WH40k mmorpg are surfacing

To counter this industry position, the players must know that they are the consumer and not some cow to be milked, i just advise to casual and raiders to play some other things and not return until strong content
(and not rewarmed undead crap) is ready

What you can do instead of WSG and daily Grinds:

-Go and sign for Jumpgate evo beta!

-Return to explore SWG!¡

-Try some tabula rasa

-there is some of interesting places in LOTR
 
well ed. I've talked to too many former SWG players to give it a try.

Tabula RASA as much as I wanted a fun scifi game just fell flat. I tried I really wanted a scifi MMO but it was like playing the son of HALO and WOW and it wasnt as good as either.

LOTR is a good leveling game but the game is so bent on not changing the lore that it really makes me feel like nothing i do is important. Pretty much what BC did to WOW it just sucked the epic feel completely out of the game, Ironicaly by trying to make everything epic.

still looking maybe war maybe not we'll see.
 
well ed. I've talked to too many former SWG players to give it a try.

Tabula RASA as much as I wanted a fun scifi game just fell flat. I tried I really wanted a scifi MMO but it was like playing the son of HALO and WOW and it wasnt as good as either.

LOTR is a good leveling game but the game is so bent on not changing the lore that it really makes me feel like nothing i do is important. Pretty much what BC did to WOW it just sucked the epic feel completely out of the game, Ironicaly by trying to make everything epic.

still looking maybe war maybe not we'll see.
 
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