Worlds of Darkness 7: communication

"Our tweets will blot out the sun
- We will chat in the dark

Contemporary horror takes place in the future, because the future is now
The future World of Darkness (WoD) might well have a stronger cyberpunk flavor, if only because Earth 2009 is already a cyberpunk setting.
It also meets a design constraint in this game rooted in storytelling and roleplaying: communication and information need much more emphasis in a MMO than in a pen-and-paper game. If the game does not deliver communication and information tools on a level worthy of a cyberpunk-themed Matrix, the impracticality will hurt the community and the game, and the tools will be used all the same, only not through the game client and exclusively so -out of game communication will occur, there is no way around that.
The community is the added value and a fundamental feature of any MMO; you want to make sure that the players have all the means at their disposal to communicate between each other, to reach out to strangers and to feel connected to the community. The tools need to be able to cope with the numbers involved in any group gameplay the players want to take part in.

The Internet of Darkness
: ubiquitous, safe
In Eve Online, every player can access multiple chat channels (local, corp, fleet, etc.) which, along with all other communication tools, can be deemed to be in-character. Instant communication throughout a whole star cluster does not seem out of place in a science-fiction setting featuring extremely advanced technology. But do we picture the vampires and werewolves of the 21st century communicating this way? We have to, as outlined above. The communication tools we use every day online are bound to be used more and more to help MMO players interact. This is one instance where function is all that matters.
The genre of the setting does not matter, in the end. World of Warcraft, a fantasy game, already offers chat and mail capabilities to the players. It does not break immersion (with genre in mind) too much, by integrating the mailing system into the game world (a post office service using physical mail boxes) and by dissociating the chat tool from the game world. WoD might use this method: 'wodmails', like evemails, would be part of the game world and considered to be encrypted emails, while chat would not and would not materialize in the game universe. On the other hand, it is possible that user interface designers manage to find a way to make chat channels look part of the game world in a plausible way. Mobile phones are ubiquitous nowadays, and their capabilities, which include discrete ear plugs and mics, can expand into the realms of face recognition and subvocalized conferencing.

You also cannot offer the possibility to hack into channels through in-game actions, besides social engineering. In-game instant messaging and emailing needs to be 100% safe and efficient, otherwise it will not be used for any serious business (as, of course, Internet vampires are to be regarded). Plotting will be so much easier than on the tabletop version when you had to physically move to the kitchen or the corridor to whisper secrets to your fellow conspirator without risking your other half-friends half-enemies learning about them.

Speaking? Over my dead keyboard!
The most basic communication takes place in the immediate surroundings of a character: let's say another character enters the street where mine lurks. I wish to greet him. Do I type a greeting or do I actually speak in my microphone? Software can alter any voice in real time (because, doh, the disturbance in the Force caused by all those baritone chicks) -"voice fonts" are announced for Incarna. Technology could also allow the characters to pronounce text typed by the players. But all this fancy stuff is probably not in the works, as it looks cool but not necessary. Plus it had better stay optional. If speaking becomes necessary to communicate, some people will have a hard time socializing: for example, disabled players, players who need to keep quiet to respect their non-gaming entourage and players with a strong accent (besides the wonderful French accent of course).

Vampire TV is on the way
In a typical World of Darkness roleplaying game, characters feel isolated. They can work with small group of like-minded individuals but stay mostly oblivious of the earth-shattering occult events taking place in the country next door. The very definition of 'occult' precludes any concept of 'public'. Isolation and fear are rampant. For most of the characters, there is no secret TV channel broadcasting news about the occult world. Now, I bet there will be one such outlet, albeit primarily player-supported, in the MMO. Eve Online has its TV, its radios, its podcasts. "Hidden media" will become an integral part of the user-generated half of World of Darkness, making it much more different from the tabletop version we experienced.
The upcoming delivery of the New Eden communication platform for Eve Online and DUST 514 will certainly give us a first taste of what could be in store for WoD.

The fourth power
Players communicate, but what about the peculiar relationship between supernatural denizens of the World of Darkness and the media? Their continuing existence depends upon their hidden societies being kept away from the spotlights. Getting some kind of control over media outlets seems like a good if risky way to ensure secrecy.
The game might provide us with mechanics to try and become the media mafia or buy its services, something that would allow the mastermind to bend the rules of aggression to his or her advantage (ignoring transgressions of the Masquerade for example), but could also backfire in a very bloody way (some creatures frown upon the media being toyed with; other creatures could infiltrate the media organization and plot against the mastermind). The equivalent of Eve Online's high sec wars, perhaps.
In any case, in the World of Darkness, you hide from the media or you make it your weapon, but you do not ignore its baleful eyes.

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