A couple of weeks ago, someone raised a very reasonable question about characters in EVE Online
-- do they date? They're all clones, they're born pretty much just to pilot ships, and they have a culture that keeps them in some variety of ship pretty much all the time. So do they date? Do they even know what differentiated genders are all about? Would they be capable of having a child in the conventional sense? Would the concept even occur to them to try?
The problem is that we look at these characters and see human beings because they are human beings. They behave, by and large, in ways that we understand human beings to behave. And yet there are some pretty huge obstacles in the path of their natural behaviors, things that the developers don't seem to address. When you start to think about it hard enough, not only does it seem like they shouldn't
date, but it seems like they wouldn't even know where to start
dating. And if the idea of dating doesn't exist, a lot of our assumptions fall apart.
In honor of Star Wars: The Old Republic
, this is what I think of as the problem of no bathrooms on Coruscant: There aren't any.
You can argue that they must be just off-camera. But you get to walk through the equivalent of government offices many times, and if you've ever been in a real government office, you know that there are bathrooms and signs pointing to said bathrooms everywhere. Not so in Coruscant. There's no sign that anyone on the entire planet needs to go to the bathroom. Heck, it's debatable whether or not any of the ships or stations displayed in the film series have bathrooms or not. Certainly there are no signs up in the Death Star saying that there's a restroom in one direction or another.
But of course, there have to be bathrooms, right? They have to exist somewhere, even though we never see a character who needs to use one. Similarly, there has to be some
explanation in EVE Online
for biological reproduction, some precedent and reason for keeping pilots as more than just brains in jars.
Back in 2000, the (now happily active once again) online magazine Critical Miss
posed a similar question about the fact that most characters don't seem to engage in... well, basic biological functions
. (Fair warning, the language in the magazine is not
all that polite. There's a lot of cursing, is what I'm getting at.) This is an extension of the same problem. In a tabletop game, you assume that several of these elements aren't present just due to conservation of detail... but in an MMO, there are certain areas of the setting that just fall apart when you think too hard about them.
Death, as we've mentioned before
, is one such area. It's a big enough one, however, that there's usually enough space for gameplay and story segregation to take over. But the little things start to creep in on the edges of your perception, and as with the elephant in the room, once you notice them, you can't stop noticing them.
Lots of games have no bathrooms. World of Warcraft
certainly does have them (and is occasionally overly fond of reminding you about that), but it doesn't have nearly enough space in any given city for all of the apparent residents to live there. Final Fantasy XIV
handles all crafting via crystals, and yet it still includes tools which by their nature rely on mechanical crafting devices (saws, hammers, and so forth). City of Heroes
has no traffic issues, despite being a supposedly major city -- and anyone who has driven in a city will realize very quickly that there should be far
more cars on the road, usually trying to go far
But you assume that these things exist. You assume in Final Fantasy XIV
, for instance, that the concept of getting a hammer and some nails to build a shelf exists. If it doesn't, then one of your big touchstones for understanding what carpentry must be like falls apart. And yet there's nothing to indicate that this is the truth. Nails exist, and wood exist, and you can put them together using a saw
. And the crystal synthesis is referred to in quests, meaning that it can't just be seen as a game mechanic divorced from the setting.
That's the real danger here, obviously -- that some of these elements are specifically referred to by the setting. EVE
explains the state of player characters but then gives us as players no way to reconcile that with what we understand as normal human behaviors. So we have to either stretch for an explanation that makes sense, or we have to handwave it away and assume that there's more information than we're aware of.
Personally, I prefer the second option. There has to be some
way for you to date when you're locked in a spaceship at pretty much all times, even if it means that it's much harder to get even to first base, because the real alternative is to accept that these characters cannot
act in any ways that we recognize as normal for human beings, and to then create an entirely new set of cultural reference points that make no sense to anyone outside of that culture.
Or you could have your character realize that he or she is a video game character. But that's a bit too meta, even for me.
Feedback, as always, can be sent along to firstname.lastname@example.org
or left in the comments below. Next week, I'm going to take a look at family trees, where they help and hurt, and how Star Wars: The Old Republic
manages to do both with its use of the Legacy system.
Every Friday, Eliot Lefebvre fills a column up with excellent advice on investing money, writing award-winning novels, and being elected to public office. Then he removes all of that, and you're left with Storyboard, which focuses on roleplaying in MMOs. It won't help you get elected, but it will help you pretend you did.