Random thoughts on sub-categories/tags (again)

Discussion in 'All Things LitRPG' started by Windfall, Jun 12, 2018.

  1. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    I really want my LitRPG tags to exist. Maybe I have this unhealthy psychological need to define and categorize everything. Maybe I'm just procrastinating again, but here goes...

    Why this is important:

    1) I believe that people like certain elements of stories without knowing exactly what they like, and so this leads to people not being able to find what they want, and terrible recommendations. Machine-learning has tried to tackle this in a 'if you like this you might like that' manner, but I've found that since no one knows what the machine is actually learning, these recommendations are still rather 'off'.
    2) I believe that there are really definable 'core' elements that make up every story, and these are based on the human psyche and its needs. I also believe that we need humans to define them.

    Background:
    I saw something interesting in a review -- they 'recap' the main questions, like:
    Premise: VRMMORPG
    Trapped: No
    Real-life stakes: Low

    This is extremely helpful. You can just glance and see what kind of story it is going to be. I want to be able to come up with a whole near-exhaustive list of things I consider 'elements', and see if it really answers the question of 'if you like X you might like Y'. There used to be an anime-recommendation list that gives you about 50 things to filter. That was a good idea, but it was way too complicated, and if people don't know what exactly that they like, they will still have problems finding what they're looking for.

    So let's start thinking about main categories. This is just me brainstorming with myself:

    PREMISE:

    Portal fantasy
    - Permanently there through being ported, death, summoning, etc.
    - There but trying to get back
    Fantasy/scifi world with game mechanics

    These two somehow feel rather similar, IMHO, so maybe we can put them on a scale based on how connected the characters are to the real world
    <-- Earth gains game rules -- transported to the new world -- characters already live in a game-like world -->
    (This sounds wrong... but I haven't read enough stories that fall into these categories)

    VRMMO
    - Trapped / Not trapped
    - RL consequences / Just a game

    Or... maybe we can look at it some other way, like a scale?

    <-- just a game -- game with rl consequences -- trapped in game trying to get back -- permanent upload / trapped forever-->

    The motivations are different too:
    - just a game --> personal enjoyment, exploration, personal psychological stuff
    - game with rl consequences --> beating the game, winning, playing well for rl benefits
    - trapped in game trying to get back --> beating the game in order to leave it
    - permanent upload / trapped forever --> building a new life here. 'Apocalypse' stories are actually in this category because there's no real world to go back to?

    GAME WORLD:
    Really half-baked idea here, but I'm noticing two opposites:
    <-- sandbox ----------------------------------------------------- rigid -->

    Or, maybe...
    <-- do what you want with the general rules -- open-ended with AI/Gamemaster/god influence -- game was 'designed' -->

    Different flavors:
    - do what you want with the rules -- more like fantasy
    - open-ended with AI/Gamemaster/god influence --> 'unique personal quests' like Awaken Online will go on the left of this, and 'tabletop rulebooks' will go on the right of this, and something like Hero of Thera will go right in the middle.
    - game was 'designed' --> there are puzzles to be solved and challenges to beat, communities to manage. In a way, Ready Player One is a bit like this. The Way of the Shaman (at least the first book) is totally like this.


    Even now, I can start to see my own personal preference very clearly. I like things on the "game side" (lower stakes) and the "rigid" side (more conscious design).

    I haven't really read a dungeon core book yet or a settlement-building book, so I'll be back with more thoughts...
     
  2. MrPotatoMan

    MrPotatoMan Level 13 (Assassin) Citizen

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    whatever it is its almost certainly not unhealthy im not a psychologist but im pretty sure its basic human psychology to want to categories and define things as that saves mental space and allows us to speed up thoughts on a topic its easyer to say "this is an action move" then "this is a movie in which characters frequently find themselves in violent situations and the movie is fast paced and energetic.
     
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  3. MrPotatoMan

    MrPotatoMan Level 13 (Assassin) Citizen

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    I really think this is the right scale to use but i think it needs to be better defined.

    Do you mean sandbox as in things that work more under phsyics (and other rules like magical rules ie wizards use mental energy to cast spells and thus feel more tired the more spells they cast) would work for example cutting someones throat will still hurt more then cutting there arm (assuming no crit is applied).
    And do you mean rigid as skills and abilities having defined damage numbers and descriptions about what they can and cannot do like for example fireball being a (1d6 + intmod*d6 dmg spell with a 50 yard sphere radius that applies a burn effect on hit that does intmod dmg a turn)?
     
  4. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    This is where I need help with, actually, because I don't know. I think there are two overlapping scales right now in my head. So I'll revise it and split it into two scales:

    Rigidity of design:
    <--- characters changing the world, or the world changing as the characters make decisions -------------- characters working within a pre-defined system --->

    In other words, maybe just the ability of the 'game master' to 'create' something: personal quests, abilities, etc. to suit the characters rather than having them pre-defined and designed? For example, in a 'designed' game, characters have the ability to influence things like other players, or things allowed within the limit of the game, like min-maxing, etc, but not the rules themselves.


    Explicitness of rules: (actually maybe this is just the 'crunch' scale)
    <--- vague -------------------------------------- explicit --->
    On the far left will be 'magic because magic', like in Tolkien and traditional fantasy -- all litRPGs will fall somewhere in the middle -- and crunchy litRPGs will be on the far right.

    So...
    Way of the Shaman (book 1) will be on the far right of both these scales.
    Awaken Online will be on the left of the first scale and in the middle of the second scale.
    Delvers (book 1) will be on the middle-right of the first scale and on the left of the second scale.
    Ascend Online (what I feel from my 30% in) will be on the left of the rigidity scale and near the right end of the explicit scale.
     
  5. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Interesting.... again, I find that I tend to like things on the right of both scales.

    Then there's also a matter of presentation, but I think that can be tacked on to the extreme end of explicitness (like Tower of Gates). And this might explain the unique sense of clarity it gives as well.
     
  6. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Random Hurler of 2-Cents LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Just to randomly add even more categories to your (un?)healthy psychological quest, I'd say one sub-category would be the game's AI.

    Specifically: whether or not there is/are some AI running the show, whether or not it's sentient (sub-subgenre if it achieves sentience at some point I guess?), and how much control the original game Devs have over it.

    Top of my head, that's what is behind your "Rigidity of Design" scale. If you wanted to apply that scale to games nowadays, it would roughly differentiate between scripted versus emergent gameplay; but in a world where VRMMOs and super-advanced AIs exist, the difference would be blurred (since the game designers can now have super-advanced AIs creating scripted content on the fly, so the scripted/emergent distinction ceases to exist).

    Just my 2 copper coins!


    EDIT: friggin' never-ending typos, grr!
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2018
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  7. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    This is a good point. Thanks! I will need to read more LitRPGs to get more examples of how AIs are presented. But still, maybe even regardless of whether there are humans in control of the AI or not or whether the sentient AI is benevolent or malicious, I'd say, if the AI just gives some people 'unique abilities', the whole feeling is more open-ended than, say, the AI building strict levels and making humans progress through them?

    My thoughts are still a bit vague at the moment, but I think the aesthetics of the two extremes will be different. One is more... emergent, and one is more 'puzzle-solving'/'sports-like'... if you will.

    Sorry this is just me thinking out loud so it might not all make sense.
     
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  8. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Random Hurler of 2-Cents LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Worry not, I also talk to myself as I type! =P

    And, yeah, just random musings here, since I also belong to the "let's put labels on everything, and then label the labels" camp.


    I have a hunch that you can actually argue the opposite.

    If the AI builds the world (just like modern Devs do with games nowadays), then just stands back and tells players "Okay folks, I'm done building this world, now you play with this however you want", that would fall not far from what nowadays we'd call an open-ended sandbox: there is a bunch of hard-coded rules, and we players interact with it however we want (and can).

    But if the AI keeps messing with the game and changing things (by, for example, helping a Chosen One by throwing "Git Outta Jail Cards" whenever the Chosen One has screwed up), then my hunch is that that's no longer open-ended, but rather what we nowadays would label as "scripted" (as a crude example, think of any of the classic Adventure Games from LucasArts, like Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, or Monkey Island: no matter what you do you won't "die", and the game progresses in a linear fashion exactly how the Devs scripted it).

    But, yeah: at any rate, not to lose sight of the main goal here (drive you crazy with more labels! :p), I guess that what roles AIs have (if any) in the plot is one of GameLit's sub-labels.

    As noted above, just my 2 coppers! =)
     
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  9. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Hmmm... I'll have to think about this. Do you have examples of different LitRPGs that do this? I haven't read much myself, and I'm trying to explain why I like certain systems more than others, and why they *feel* different, and what those feelings are exactly.

    It would be very interesting to see how other people classify their LitRPGs.

    Tangent again -- sometimes there are surprising underlying elements that seriously affect enjoyment, and one I've noticed with myself is that while I think the works of Satoshi Kon are absolutely brilliant (Perfect Blue, Paranoia Agent, Millennium Actress, Paprika, etc.), there's something that prevents me from ever going "OMG I love, love love this so much!" -- and after thinking about it I realized what it was -- all his works have this public-ness to them, a kind of social awareness, and things happen on an open, social scale, and that's a realm I'm not absolutely comfortable with. This is the same feeling I get with Awaken Online -- it's just so... 'out there in the world', and I personally prefer things that are a bit more internally-focused. And maybe this is also why I enjoyed the style of The Way of the Shaman very much, because of the sheer amount of attention it gives to every thought, scene and moment.

    I know I'm going after the impossible here, but... I guess I'm just going to indulge in my (un)healthy habits :p
     
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  10. Jay

    Jay Hiatus. LitRPG Author Beta Reader Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    I really like the idea of categories, but I have to admit, they're often really hard to label broadly. I've read a ton of books where AI is involved, but in some it's a god, some it's more a demigod with powers but controlled, and some it's just there with no awareness and basically just runs scrips to rez, etc. So it's hard to just go "Powerful AI involved" because each type is kind of different.

    Another category I might consider is how many charts/stats/numbers are in there. Because some people love them and some people hate them, so having a way to go "Light charts/stats" or "heavy numbers displayed" or something might be useful.

    I'm sort of half-awake after a long day and having to take some cold medicine (stupid summer colds) so my brain isn't running at 100%. I'll have to think more and try to come back with more actual ideas.

    I really do love the idea though.
     
  11. Herko Kerghans

    Herko Kerghans Random Hurler of 2-Cents LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Agreed! =)

    That's more or less why I think the topic probably deserves its own sub-classification (depending the type of AI, its role, etc).

    Plus, AIs are arguably one of topics that firmly put LitRPG (or at least the majority of the VRMMO-style LitRPG/Gamelit) in the sci-fi genre, with tons of interesting questions about what it means to be concious, or to be human, which may be a good reason for them to be taking into account when classifying GameLit books.



    A couple of examples from Awaken Online:

    > Jason figures out a way to rack experience points by killing the rich NPCs. That would be, nowadays, a textbook example of an open-ended sandbox: a player uses mechanics (raising zombies as a necromancer) in a creative way to achieve something that the Devs didn't think of (there is a scene in which the head Dev realizes "He's killing the NPCs!", even if he doesn't know exactly how Jason pulled that off).

    But later, as Jason slaughters the whole town, the Dark One appears, and offers Jason the choice to create the undead town. Technically that's a choice Jason makes... but, on the other hand, such a town was never his goal (he didn't even know it was possible). while such a town is clearly what the Dark One wants.

    > After the undead town is created, there's another textbook example of what we'd call emergent gameplay nowadays: a bunch of players (lead by Alex) react to that event, and decide to invade. Most of what follows is open-ended bonanza (what Jason does, how other players react, etc), right up until the point in which Alex defeats Jason's last mega-monster.

    At that point, it's over for Jason. Alex has won. Even the Devs are sure of that...

    ... then Alex's head explodes because the Dark One gave Jason's friend some special Dark Arrow power.

    By today's terms, that would be scripted: the AI wanted Jason to win, so Jason won.

    It's not unlike the deus ex machina problem: if the Gods that rule the world have decided that the Hero will win, no matter what the Hero does, then the Hero may feel they are doing things in an open-ended way (doing whatever they want), but in the end things are scripted (whatever the Gods decided will happen, will happen).

    I'll play the too-late too-tired card here, if the above is a jumbled mess, but I guess the idea would be: open-endedness and sandboxyness are not as much, methinks, about how many different things a player can do, but more about whether or not they affect the result. And whether or not there's an AI running the show and making sure a certain result is achieved has an impact on that, of course.
     
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  12. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Thanks for this!

    I think the question I'm trying to get at is... do these two scenarios feel different?

    I personally like the first scenario (exploiting the system) much more than the second (things happening because... god/AI/(prophecy!))

    Or what I'm trying to get it is simply a scale of how much of the world revolves around the MC? -__-

    Okay, let me give another example. There's something about how Mahan from The Way of the Shaman plays his game that *feels* genuinely different from all the other stories. Is it just the presentation?

    I'll give an example from the first book, because I've only read one. The 'rules' of the prison are there: with water, hunger, how the ore system works, how players can't attack other players and how this leads to the whole leveling of Amiability and backstabbing and everything. Then we see the rules in play, when the prison's bad guy tries to kill Mahan's friend, and Mahan takes action -- and we see rules about water, water container, and non-PVP play out all at once. On top of that the scene is driven by an emotional decision, a moral decision, even. I think that's absolutely brilliant. Then Mahan is 'forgiven' by the prison NPC, and in a way that is special treatment. But it still *feels* different. It feels like he has impressed the guards and that warrants it.

    Maybe it's the feeling of "anyone in the same position could have done it" vs "you are the one the gods have chosen to do this!"?

    Or maybe it's a scale of how 'humanly involved' the AI is. Even if the AI is sentient but it simply leaves the world as it has created.

    Oh, another thought... maybe we have to be careful not to conflate 'story' with 'system'. If the system itself can be changed, it's less rigid. If the system itself is set in stone, it's rigid. In Awaken Online, the system itself is changing, because Alfred *is* the system. In The Way of the Shaman, the system feels rigid, and the prison guard, even when rather all-powerful in that context, doesn't feel like he has the power to change the system itself, but rather just operating under certain game rules.
     
  13. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    To add: even when there are gods, and gods can choose to give their 'heroes' special powers, if the gods themselves operate under strict rules, the system feels more rigid.
     
  14. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    While we're still thinking about AI, I'll present a few more scales.

    The morality scale

    <-- dark and depraved ----- grim / gray ------ noble / moral ------ absolute morals -->

    I'm aware there are major problems with this scale, since morals being 'absolute' and 'relative' is a deep, complicated question in itself. But for simplicity's sake, I feel like ONE moral scale is enough.

    The two extremes are rather simplistic in nature:
    A Song of Ice and Fire would go on the left, since the whole feel is that of depravity. The whole aesthetics is kinda that -- people are evil and selfish. I'd say... the movie Cube is like that. I haven't read this -- but Everybody Loves Large Chests might be in this category?
    I'd argue that Joe Abercrombie's books, even when they're labeled 'grimdark', do not fall into this category, but rather on the middle of the 'gray' (or even leaning toward 'moral' because generally characters try to do good).
    On the far right would be the goody-two-shoes stories.

    Note that the scale doesn't represent whether the reader agrees with the morals, but how moral issues are handled. So I'd argue that The Sword of Truth (as terrible its morals are), will go on the far right, because its 'morals' are presented as the absolute "right thing to do".

    The middle of the scale will depend on how optimistic the story is about human nature in general. The more toward the middle, the more complex the issue is. Lolita will be in the middle because of how sympathetically it's portrayed, but leaning toward the left.

    I feel like I might have just opened another can of worms.
     
  15. Jay

    Jay Hiatus. LitRPG Author Beta Reader Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    A morality scale is a tricky thing because what's "grimdark" to one might just be "gray" to another, etc. It's an interesting idea, but given that it's a near-impossible thing to pin down, it would really hard to place most stories there without someone arguing.

    It might be more complicated, but easier to just tag things as what the story contains, such as violence, betrayal, etc. if only because then at a glance someone can go "oh, I don't like stories with x so I'll just avoid that tag" instead of them going "oh this is marked gray...but wait, it's way, way too dark for me."
     
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  16. MrPotatoMan

    MrPotatoMan Level 13 (Assassin) Citizen

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    So what ive found is best is rather then do morality do a seriousness scale or a grittyness scale. If its light it usualy wont be moraly dark and even if it is it will usualy be cheerful enough to not feel dark where as a verry gritty book can feel moraly grey with a character whos a perfect example of a good human being. Its all about presentation you can write a story about canibalism and have it not seem that bad if the book dosent take itself seriously.
     
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  17. Jay

    Jay Hiatus. LitRPG Author Beta Reader Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    True. Maybe a category for humor?
     
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  18. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Hmmmm... let me add a few more thoughts:

    I've been thinking about the 'violence' tag for a long time, because I'm cool with some kinds of violence but not others, and my SO is the completely opposite. For example, I really dislike Quentin Tarantino's popcorn bloodshed, but I'm perfectly okay with, say, Eastern Promises, or Old Boy, or the Japanese Battle Royale.

    Eastern Promises will be in my 'right-leaning gray' realm.
    Old Boy will be left, but not as far as A Song of Ice and Fire.
    Battle Royale... seems 'left-leaning gray' for me. We didn't manage to watch until the end because my SO couldn't stomach it. And he loves Quentin Tarantino.

    And I don't really know why.
     
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  19. Windfall

    Windfall Level 17 (Theurgist) LitRPG Author Citizen

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    Maybe a <--- serious ------------------------------------------ fastidious ---> scale?
     
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  20. Jay

    Jay Hiatus. LitRPG Author Beta Reader Citizen Aspiring Writer

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    Perhaps a sort of rating system similar to movies? Rated G through R (or X as the case may be)? Some tags for particular kinds of violence (child abuse, rape, graphic violence and similar things)?

    I mean, honestly you can't tag for everything. There's always going to be someone that finds something they're annoyed that wasn't tagged or they felt should be tagged; just as plenty of people will be annoyed at too many tags as they view them as spoilers. So it's hard to be able to label every single aspect of a story; you can't please everyone and getting everyone to agree is like herding cats.

    Personally, I'd prefer some decent, but not too extensive tagging with warnings for things that are basically pretty much universally considered 'triggers' (for lack of a better word coming to mind at the moment), such as child violence, rape, gore, etc.

    Like definitely tag humor, AI, Portal or not, etc. etc. I just think trying to 'correctly' tag every single aspect of a story is just going to make 1) the tagger go gray trying to get it all just right & 2) still not going to please everyone. Better to be fairly thorough, but not too anal, I think.
     
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