Do you use Wikitude or Layar? Or Foursquare? Or a service that allows you to “tag” a location via a browser-type interface? These are augmented reality services that allow you to mark a location with you attendance and leave a comment for future (or past, I suppose) visitors. “The reuben is great here,” you might leave in a Foursquare check-in at a restaurant. “You can let your dog off her leash at the dog park,” you might tag Piedmont Park. “Hot bartender,” you may comment for others on a visit to a nightclub.
Demon’s Souls does this, too, to a certain degree. Players can leave comments for other players. If those other players rate the comment as helpful, the comment lasts a little longer and the comment-maker earns a sort of mechanical benefit. But demon’s souls isn’t an MMO, it’s not a persistent shared world, and it doesn’t offer much in the way of player-set goals. (These aren’t shortcomings, by the way, it’s just not that type of game.)
LOTRO’s Arda-Online community has built an application that makes possible one iteration of this idea: They’ve Google mapped Middle Earth. Their tags are very neutral and rudimentary and aren’t built into the actual systems that carry the game, but it’s a step. At the very least, it’s a rendering of the virtual world that can be commented on. It’s a world tool that builds community.
Some element of this exists in a tabletop environment, but it doesn’t happen on the scale that we’re talking about in an MMO. Ben Robbins’ beautiful Western Marches campaign is built on a narrative adaptation of tagging. The carved-map table at the tavern where the explorers gather is effectively this. Granted, the play happens only when the GM-as-server runs the game, but the fact that he allows his players to drop in or drop out for a given session means that the information archive becomes relevant on a per-player basis. The benefit and persistence systems of the tagging become less important here, but the core idea has value.
You’ve already made the leap with me, haven’t you?
Get this augmented reality tagging into an MMO. Let me drop tags into a virtual world that show others where I’ve been and how I dealt with the content that was there. “The wraith-king is susceptible to fire spells,” you might remark. “There’s an ammunition cache behind the service panel.” “Only scout-class ships can dock here, but they refuel at +15 percent.” Hell, you could even engage in a bit of subversion and lie to your fellow players: “The lich-king is immune to spells; engage him in melee combat.” You scoundrel.
And to those tags, a system exists that rewards fruitful commentary and community building. I rank your comment helpful, you gain a buff. I rank your comment unhelpful (along with enough other players) and it vanishes.
What concerns arise with this idea? A few arise, but none so significant that they undermine the benefits of the system: community, persistence, and player ownership of the world.
- How do the tags fit into the world – what in the setting do these tags represent? Are they an abstraction of hearsay around the adventuring community? Are they actual VR tags in a sci-fi or modern environment, data points that contain the information in question? Likewise, what’s the justification for the systemic bonus to the player? Where does the buff (or whatever form the benefit takes) come from?
- Why wouldn’t I just check this out on a service like Allakhazam or Thottbot? The systemic benefit seems to cover this. As well, integrating the system into the game means not having to alt-tab into a separate application to search for information. Granted, Allakhazam and Thottbot have information that’s as “true” as possible, making subversion and misdirection of limited value if people check for veracity at one of these other sites… but, let’s face it, lots of people don’t use them. The only time I’ve ever used an external service is when playing WoW four years ago (the current state of in-game questing really gives you everything you need to know), EVE (hey, I work at the company and I don’t even know all the available equipment or best loadouts), and Final Fantasy XI.