(This article was written for those playing on a MUSH server. Though Underlight is a MMORPG, the principles given here are extremely applicable.)
This month I’m going to talk about the pros and cons of pre-scripting, or pre-scheduling, scenes for RP. I don’t really have a stance on this one, because pre-scripted scenes seem to both rock and suck in equal measure, so I haven’t decided if I revile them or not. Basically, I love them when I’m in them, and I hate them when I’m not.
The basic idea is simple enough. You discuss with another player in advance to meet at the same place and time for RP. Providing both parties show up, a scene commences. Usually there is some predetermined theme, though sometimes it’s more the act of getting together than what is played that motivates players to schedule. My biggest problem with scheduled scenes is that the other party actually showing up tends to be a pretty big ‘if,’ but more on that later.
There are plenty of good reasons to schedule a scene in advance. There might be a scene that needs to be played before the storyline can continue — for example, if your character is on death’s door, and the action of another player, within a certain amount of time, can either save or damn you, it would be nice to play that out in a timely fashion. Also, if there is someone you’d like to RP with, and conflicting schedules make meeting up difficult, arranging something in advance can alleviate that difficulty.
The benefit to having a scheduled scene is that you know there’s going to be RP when you log in, and you have at least a vague idea of what you’re going to do. It takes the guesswork out of gaming. Instead of crawling the grid looking for anyone who might return a pose, you have some idea of the caliber of RP coming your way, and there is usually something to do besides bar chat. It also helps you manage your RP. If you’re not a big fan of huge spammy scenes, then you can pre-arrange a little one-on-one, and it’s easier to control the pace of your play.
All in all, these are good things. I’ve been known to schedule scenes in advance for the reasons listed above, and also because there are a group of people with whom I enjoy playing, and regular access to that high quality RP is a definite motivator. I can’t really say I hate scheduled scenes, because they’ve been my bread and butter on many a night where otherwise my online life would be sorely lacking.
One hassle to consider with scheduling scenes in advance is the reliability factor. My personal average for a scheduled scene actually taking place is below 50-50, and those aren’t good odds. Maybe it’s something about gamers in particular that makes flakiness flourish, but I became bitter on the idea of scheduled scenes when, more often than not, the other person simply didn’t show. It rubs me the wrong way in particular because I do have a life, and if I’m going to set aside time from that life to do something, I would like to have my plans come to fruition. Always count on the fact that there are about a billion and a half other things I would rather be doing than sitting online waiting for you to log in, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. Often, since ‘it’s just a game,’ the no-show doesn’t prioritize it, and chances are you won’t hear a word about what happened unless you ask.
That’s fine, except that my life is not a game, and the people on the other side of the screen are painfully real. When you stand them up and waste their time, they tend to react exactly the same way flesh and blood people in RL do — they don’t appreciate it. I think if you’re not going to be able to make a scheduled scene, the appropriate thing to do is mail the person involved and say so. It can spare a lot of tension later down the road.
Occasional flakiness aside, the other problems with scheduled scenes involve not being in on them. It’s irritating to try to initiate RP, and no one is available because they’re in a scene that, since it was pre-scripted, can’t be interrupted. I say the hell it can’t, but that sentiment usually isn’t well received. If you don’t script a scene, there are some people you will simply never catch, or catch so rarely it’s not worth investing any of your character in them, because the next encounter might be IC or RL months down the road. That closes doors to RP, and I’m generally not fond of things that do that.
There is also the tendency toward cliquishness. Mind you, I’m not against cliques as a concept. I think they’re a natural part of human socialization, and trying to disband or avoid them is a pointless exercise. You might as well ask someone to stop having opposable thumbs. Where cliquishness is bad for a game is that while the ‘gang’ meets up for their Tuesday 6 p.m. PST private scene, there are new players on the grid who could sure use a little integration, and it would be nice if someone who knew the ropes would come out of his/her private room and throw them a bone.
Also, you get ‘game within a game’ syndrome. What I mean by that is that these scenes are insular to what’s going on around them, or they’d sorely like to be. What happens if someone does happen to stop by IC? Are you saying I can’t knock on your character’s door, even though it’d be perfectly IC of my character, because you’re having your Tuesday one-on-one? My character doesn’t even know such a thing exists, and I probably don’t care. So where does that leave me? With no RP, and likely annoyed.
Come on, where’s the spontaneity? What happened to logging in and letting what happens happen? What happened to trying to create more RP instead of less? Would the world come to an end if people just logged in, hit the grid, and (here’s a concept for you) played? Sure, you might run into an idiot. Then again, you also might run into me, and I rule. So it’d be, you know, worth it.
What it boils down to is that I like scheduled scenes when I’m doing them, but when I’m not, they’re inconvenient and infringe upon my RP annoyingly. Therefore I can’t bring myself to hate them, but they also aren’t my favorite thing in the world. I can see how they’re a useful tool for getting things done, but I also see how they’re a wrench in the works that keep things from happening, because while you’re in your bubble, there are a multitude of storylines going untold.
As usual, I have plenty of unasked for advice on the matter. In my view, I think scheduling is a tool that, if used wisely, can enhance the MUSH experience without undue detriment to others. Don’t do it all the time. Don’t rely on it so heavily you can’t RP without setting something up in advance. Do make time to occasionally just play. Hit the grid, see what happens. If there is something your character has to get done with someone else, do it, but then rejoin the rest of us. Don’t think scheduling a scene makes you immune to what’s going on in the IC world around you. If someone could conceivably stop by, why not let them? Once OOC starts taking undue precedence over IC, things tend to go downhill fast, so don’t let the OOC schedule predetermine your IC action (and of equal importance, the IC action of others). Also, if you’re not going to make it to a scheduled scene, drop the other person a line and let them know. Be courteous.
Scheduled scenes, like many other aspects of MUSHdom, are just one of those things that, in the right hands, can be done well, but it’s easy to abuse. Play nice, kids, and get out of your apartment once in awhile for some nice clean virtual air and exercise.
Original Article by Karrin Dailey