Becoming the Beast
It's an overcast day on Bleecker Street in New York City. Traffic grumbles past the door of this particular cybercafe that sits not far enough north of Ground Zero.
Yesterday, my wife and I made a sort of pilgrimage down to the rubble that used to be the World Trade Center. We didn't say a lot as we watched the cranes and the workers continuing to sift through rubble six weeks after two jetliners slammed into the twin towers. What exactly can you say? Should you? Thousands of souls remain buried in that wreckage. At the time, discussion of any kind seemed terribly inappropriate.
We sat silently on the steps of St. Peter's Cathedral - still closed for cleaning, still covered with soot and dust - and just thought for a while.
Upon reflection, sitting so close to a horror few could have imagined, let alone perpetrate, I found myself becoming angry all over again. But I wasn't just perturbed by the destruction wrought by terrorists. The fact is, there's little I could have done to stop the destruction of the World Trade Center.
No, I became angry with myself for allowing someone to perpetrate a horrific act several months ago that sent shockwaves through OtherSpace and threatened to tear it apart.
Several years ago, on my old MU** of choice, TOS TrekMUSE, I became furious with the management because they allowed a couple of rampaging, PK-happy Klingons to run rampant on Starbase One and kill two characters who had been serving in my character's crew. The characters who died never really had a chance to defend themselves, they never saw it coming until it was too late, and the management callously argued that what the Klingons did was okay by them.
I protested. I rallied others to be vocal about it. I called for an RP strike. All of this, of course, was to no avail. The management couldn't erase what had happened without angering the lobsterheads - or without making it look like they had caved in to a bunch of loudmouth players. Stand firm, stand strong, seemed to be their motto.
That incident was key to prompting me to create OtherSpace - an environment where coded weapons and the fastest macro wouldn't necessarily determine life or death, where players could avoid seeing their characters die foolish deaths at the hands of others, and where management should err on the side of saving rather than wiping out characters (while at the same time allowing IC consequences for IC actions).
And several months ago I betrayed at least two of those fundamental underpinnings.
Earlier this year, I effectively condemned dozens of characters to death after Bartholomew Ritter ordered the destruction of his colony world, La Terre, before it could fall into the hands of an invasion fleet.
He had long been convinced that the admins on OtherSpace, myself included, were out to get him. He thought we wouldn't let him do what he wanted, complained that the management always steered storylines the way we wanted them to go, and that we would do anything we could to undermine him.
So, as the invasion fleet approached, Ritter ordered his soldiers to activate underground explosive charges in veins of volatile polydenum that riddled the crust of the planet. He didn't issue warnings. He didn't alert the populace of La Terre.
The planet exploded.
In the next few hours, the death toll continued to rise as people logged on to find that their characters, who had flocked to La Terre because it was a popular RP spot, had died while they were offline. How fair is that? they wondered. Shouldn't I have had a chance to escape the planet? We offer luckrolls, after all, to give people a chance to cheat death in situations like this.
I refused to give anyone luckrolls, arguing that they had no warning, so they wouldn't be likely to try to escape.
I let them die. I could have stopped it, but I didn't. I could have reversed the flow of events, erased it, but I didn't, lest Ritter point to it as proof that I really would interfere with him.
In retrospect, I just shake my head and think: To hell with his opinion. The bastard decided to blow up a planet with a bunch of innocent characters on it out of spite and pride - and out of spite and pride, I let it stand.
At that moment, I had become that which I had professed to despise.
I couldn't do anything about the World Trade Center, but on OtherSpace, ultimately, I've got the power to undo such tragedies. It's my obligation to the players to step in when something like this happens, and by allowing it to stands, I betrayed a vital trust.
Overall, the playerbase has grown stronger since the La Terre incident. But it created no small amount of bitterness and growing distrust between players and staffers. I've seen friction between individual staffers, as well, who juggle suspicion of players with concerns about becoming too aggressive and angry as staffers.
I don't want to see that emotional erosion continue, because eventually it really will tear us apart. The healing for OtherSpace truly must start now, with this confession: I screwed up badly, and I've been angry at myself and everyone around me for letting it happen, and it's been crippling my connection to the players. I'm sorry for the pain I could have prevented.
The healing must also start with this vow: Nothing like La Terre will ever happen again. Yes, characters will die if their actions justify it, if they fail their luckrolls. But I will never again allow one character to determine the fate of even *one* other person who is offline.
It is important that one player have the ability to make a dramatic impact on our storylines, but not at the expense of so many innocents.
Maybe now we can repair and rebuild what was damaged and destroyed.
- Wes Platt, known online as Brody, is the creator of OtherSpace: The Interactive SF Saga, which can be found at http://www.otherspace.org. He also moderates the Top MUD Sites roleplaying forum at http://www.topmudsites.com. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.