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The Model Economy
- Scatter ///\oo/\\\
Reviewing Muds
- Selina Kelley
Applying a MUDpack
- Chris Caines
Mud Governments
- Griffin
Who's Who? A look at Character Sharing
- Kethry
The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat
- Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer

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Who's Who? A look at Character Sharing

by Kethry

Character sharing is when more than one-person share ownership of a character. Many times one person is the true "owner" of a character, but it is played by more than one real live human being. Ever since I was a player, the issue of character sharing has been a hot debate among players and immortals. Everyone has their own idea as to whether or not it is a good idea and there are many reasons both for and against sharing characters. The issue is whether or not a happy medium can be arranged to satisfy both sides of the debate.
Zebra Mussels

Zebra Mussels found in the United Kingdom somewhere.

Character sharing can benefit players in many ways. It can make playing a little easier, each class/race has different advantages and perhaps you need that special spell or ability and there is no-one on to aid you, this gives you a solution without waiting for someone else to be available, much like having the skills of many different classes wrapped up in one. Or even if you just don't like grouping with people or owing someone a favor, this lets you play without relying on someone else. Also, it allows someone to get the "feel" of a character, perhaps they have been considering making a bug-eyed zebra monkey, but just are not quite certain if they'd enjoy playing one. Sharing that character lets them experiment without making the time commitment of playing it up only to discover they find it a very boring thing to play.

Experienced players often have the problem of being bored, sharing characters lets them "break out" so to speak without having to create a new character and go through the old drill of leveling up a character. Instead they assume a new body for a day or however long and break up the monotony. Also, sometimes someone may borrow another character for a "quick fix" repairing some equipment or some such that could have fatal result. There is always the chance the skill/spell could fail, causing equipment destruction, loss of experience, gold or whatever. Some players would rather take the risk themselves instead of asking someone else to perform such a task and feeling guilty if that was the time they failed their skill/spell.

Sharing characters can also help people to get through the low points associated with leveling and gaining experience. All classes have their rough spots, where it seems you will never again level. Having several players working on the character, splitting up the tedious work amongst them, can help push through that spot making it easier, or prevent someone from simply giving up on a character because they feel it is just too hard to play. Also, it can be a useful tool in showing a friend a mud (instead of them looking at you strangely every time you talk about it). Showing someone the perspective of a higher more powerful character may get them hooked a little easier than starting them with a newbie who may tend to fall down and die while crossing main street.

While these are all ways in which character sharing can be beneficial, many of them can also be a serious detractor from the game as well. Letting someone who has never mudded before have access to your high level character may give them a feeling of power, but when they start playing a new character, they may not be happy because now they scratch things to death. High level players also learn techniques that give them an edge, and a novice player will put the high-level character at a greater risk than at the hands of the more experienced player.

Also, veteran players who have put in a lot of time and effort into creating their characters, playing them up through the rough spots, can resent someone who did not give up their own time and energy being handed a powerful character. It can be hard, and cause bitterness and anger, to see someone handed something on a silver platter that you yourself had to earn. When trying to establish boundaries of fair play, it is hard to accomplish when people see others gaining benefits they do not have.

Sharing characters also has its own number of risks. When character sharing was allowed on our mud, while people said that yes, if something went awry they would accept responsibility for it because they agreed to share characters, it rarely happened that way. Immortals often found themselves in heated discussions over missing equipment, lost experience, and changed passwords. In one instance, a player had given away their characters, swearing never to return, only to return a couple months later and complaining his characters had been "stolen" from him. Another time we had a complaint about a "hacking" they said someone must have used their characters because it was missing so much equipment and had died, multiple times. They did not know that the person they let use their characters had decided they hated everyone and were going to quit forever. Of course they only seemed to destroy the equipment/experience of the characters they were borrowing, not the ones they themselves had played up. There is also the situation of; you loan your character to your friend Bob. Bob is really good friends with Sue and lets Sue know your password as well, soon its hard to be clear on who has the password and the simple shared character has turned into one gigantic problem.

Also, it is confusing for people to be uncertain who they are talking to...is it the real Kethry, or someone I gave my character to use? This also led to problems of who said what to whom. People would log in to have someone very angry with them and they did not know why. Or on the flip side, had a new best friend they never heard of. I will not even get into new love interests and "relationships" people participated in without knowing about itů

Some players may resent shared characters, which can cause bitterness between players. Since we have moved to a policy of no shared characters allowed, virtually all cases of shared characters has been brought to the immortals by other players who do not think it is fair. It is hard to hide a shared character from other players, peoples mannerisms show through, even in a text environment. Players for the most part want to play in an environment where everyone has the chance to succeed or fail on their own merits, and on our mud at least, it has been shown that they will comment on what they feel is unfair. Many have supported the no character sharing rule, enough that we feel in the interest of fair play, this policy works best.

The argument has been given that an experienced player should not have to earn a new character because they have been through it all before, thus they should be allowed to share characters because they did already earn a high level character. This argument holds little weight though. We cannot have one set of rules for one player and another set for someone else. We cannot say "well you made it to level x so you can share characters and you other ones, nope you cannot do it". The logical extension of this line of thought is, once I have a high level character, I have earned a high level character in ALL classes, and shouldn't have to play to get them. All classes are different though, each has its own flavor, its own strengths and weaknesses, and simply having gotten one character to high level does not mean one has the ability or right to a high level character for all classes.

Administratively, sharing characters is a pain in the rump. Not only the issues of who owns the characters, but some characters can hold special positions, like clan leaders or heroes. Those are high profile, highly respected characters. They also tend to be mortals (at least on our mud) who are trusted with special tasks or knowledge. They often serve as liaisons between immortals and mortals. They have their clannies trust as well. Having those characters shared can damage much trust built up among players. How much trust can you put in your leaders, when in reality you don't know if it's really your mentor, or their little brother or sister, or the neighbor...or someone that any one of those people might have loaned the character to?

Disciplinary actions can be a problem as well. Let's say for example, Bob gives Sue access to his characters, Sue gets angry and takes actions worthy of being frozen for, like spaming other players with obscenities. But the problem is, Sue does it with Bob's characters. When Bob finds his characters frozen he gets angry because why should his characters be punished, he did not do anything wrong, it was Sue. We have also had the problem of shared characters had no clear ownership and some of those sharing had become discipline problems, so we froze all the characters, but without clear ownership someone could lose a character who did not deserve it.

Character sharing can also negate the social atmosphere of a mud. What is the point of developing a social environment using clans and other systems if it's just 2 people creating characters and sharing them. They become "clan characters", negating any reason for allowing other people into the clan or a group situation. Why bother playing on a mud then? Start up playstation, or set up your own private mud. Interacting with others is part of a mud environment, if one person has access to all characters and has no need of other people, that rather goes against the point of being there.

Monitoring shared characters can be a pain, and immortals have much better things to do than police logins and logouts to check for shared characters, but overall we've found we have less problems by disallowing it on our mud. While there are benefits to the players with sharing characters, there is no benefit to the mud itself, and sharing characters can damage a mud. Loss of trust between players and players and immortals and players can quickly destroy a mud, and character sharing is a quick way to destroy trusts. We have chosen not to allow character sharing on our mud-- we could not find a happy medium that would keep the players happy and the immortals sane (although some say being immortal negates any chance for sanity, but that is a whole new article J. While some of our players chafe a bit under the policy, most realize we did it for the best interest of the game, which, in my opinion, is how a mud should be run-- in the best interests of the game. So is there an answer to the issue of character sharing? Yes, do what works best and feels best for your mud. It may work well for some, and poorly for others, whichever it is, do what works out best for the mud overall, and you chose the right path. With luck, you may be able to avoid the pitfalls of character sharing, but for us, the answer was no sharing characters.