Thursday, August 30, 2007

Playing As Borg in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Or'ab Ibo:
As far as how a player would be able to achieve becoming a drone. I thought it could be handled the way Jedi was handled before NGE. You unlock Borg by getting assimilated!
I think that's exactly how it should work. I can already hear the ominous music playing to underscore the shock of realizing that you've just been assimilated into the Collective.

Talk about delivering a memorable gameplay experience...!

Originally Posted by Or'ab Ibo:
I think the unlocked account idea makes more sense. Plus it allows you to play both sides depending on what the player is in the mood to play that day.
I like that approach, too. It's easy to understand and maximizes fun. I'd hope some marginally plausible justification could be invented (maybe something like the way Thomas Riker was copied from Will Riker?), but the mechanic sounds great.

Now, on to some objections to "Borgplay."

One that I've heard is that while the hardcore gamers might enjoy playing as a Borg, casual gamers would hate it, presumably because it would allow casual players to be abused against their will by other players

My response to this is that I'm thinking of Borgplay as a PvP game. So even if some players choose to play as Borg, they wouldn't be able to affect any player who doesn't deliberately opt in to PvP.

As long as playing as a Borg is treated as a special case of PvP, and if PvP of any kind requires opt-in, then I think casual players are adequately protected.

Another objection is from people who want the abilities of Borg without the lost of free will -- they want to play "recovered" Borg.

I don't think there's anything especially wrong or bad with that idea. I just don't find it as fascinating as the idea of getting to experience the Borg as Borg. What would that be like? What's it like to be a part of something that's only powerful when everyone gives up their individual identity within the group? What's it like to gain power at the expense of your humanity? (Or whatever the word would be for non-humans.)

Playing as an ex-Borg, or freed Borg, or evolved Borg (etc.) which some people have suggested could be interesting. But that would no longer be the Borg we fear. It would no longer carry the threat of soulless power, and it would thus be vastly less interesting as an entertainment experience.

A final objection, and probably the strongest, is the concern over how the loss of individual agency is handled. "I don't want other players to be able to make me do things!"

I wanted to address this separately because it's a really interesting question -- in fact, I see it as what could make this feature unique to Star Trek Online.

First, being part of a collective aboard a cube would not be about directly controlling other players. You'd actually be giving up individual control over anyone, including yourself, in order to gain significantly more power as part of a group. Instead of the usual 1-to-1 relationship with your personal starship, where you think it, you give the command, it happens, being a drone on a cube filled with drones would be more like you think it, it's integrated with what everybody else is thinking at that moment, and the averaged-out desire is what happens. You don't get exactly what you personally want -- you don't control other players -- but in return for going along with the general will of the group, the effect of every decision made by the group is increased in power and efficiency.

So I don't see playing a Borg drone as being about controlling other players. I see it more like having a special way to act in harmony with other players. Harmony in the collective mind is like making light coherent: it gains the power of a laser to cut through opposition.

(How a Borg collective resembles democracy taken to a Platonic extreme is something that might bear thinking about.)

Second, if it's voluntary, why not let players choose to give up some control in return for power? To me, that is an absolutely fascinating possibility, not just for MMORPG gameplay, but as a mechanism for exploring what it means to be human in an age of advanced technology. Not only was Star Trek about that kind of exploration, I would argue that the best science fiction has always been centered on that question: when we gain the power to alter the very definition of "human," what happens to the individual human, and what might societies of such transhuman individuals look like?

If we had the power to merge with machines, would we even choose to be individuals any more? That, right there, is the Borg question. Some of the best stories in Star Trek focused on that question -- shouldn't Star Trek Online have that same opportunity?

To me, this seems like far too cool an opportunity to pass up. Not only would it be pretty amazing as art, I suspect it would be very useful as a marketing point. ("Be the Borg!") But it's possible that I'm being overly enthusiastic about whether this could be made fun enough to be worth implementing.