Monday, October 21, 2002

Games and second person address
Dearly as I love Jill, I have never been too fond of her article on Games and second person address. The main reason for this is the rules for how to build a good role-playing MUD which the administrators of Dragon Realms, Aarinfel, Lu'Tamohr and Azhad worked (and work) by. Their main rule was: "Do not use the second person address."

The areas, the rooms, the descriptions of the PCs (player characters) and the NPCs (non-player characters) were considered offensive and intrusive if they used the second-person address. Even the room-echoes are not supposed to address you by telling you that you hear or see something, only by telling you that something can be seen. Not: "you admire the wonderful pink sunrise" but "The sun rises in the east, in a pink haze." To write in your description "you feel a cold touch of fear run down your spine as his cruel eyes glance over you" is to force a reaction on other players. This comes in the class of closed emotes: "Ragallion grabs the knife, and quicker than the eye can perceive he has slammed it point-first into the table, pinning your hand to the oak." This is a closed emote because Ragallion finishes the action without letting his opponent have a chance to foresee that there will be an act of aggression. What if his opponent was trained to be as swift or swifter than him? What if somebody behind him in the crowded tavern bumped into Ragallion and he missed?

A good role-playing game only permits second-person address when it's really addressed at a specific PC and not on the general public. If the PC addresses an NPC, the NPC will be programmed to respond in kind. If an NPC detects a quest-flag on a PC, the NPC may be programmed to seek the PC out and address him/her directly. The same goes for guards, police, enforcers, shopkeepers, priests, healers, all kind of NPCs who make it their business to address Player Characters with certain messages. In a well-built area of a role-playing MUD there is however not supposed to be an explicit you as Jill describes it:

Texts that have an explicit “you” can often make this seduction more visible and more self-reflexive. The tension between the safely voyeuristic pleasures of narrative desire and the presence of a “you” that draws (or forces) you into the story can be an extra source of pleasure. See how you like reading John Barth’s apostrophe to a reader: “The reader! You, dogged, uninsultable, print-oriented bastard, it’s you I’m addressing, who else, from inside this monstrous fiction.” (Barth 1988, 127)

This is my main argument against Jill's well-written article. Her analysis and her points about second-person address, how stirring it is, how well-suited to catch the player's attention, is brilliant. But among the players who role-play for the sensation of control and freedom it gives them; second-person address, exactly because it is such a good and powerful rhetoric tool, has to be used with great care.

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