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Force Majeure

An Incredibly Delayed Posting

I had not quite realised that so much time had past since I last wrote a blog post. Initially, I had planned to write these at an approximate weekly schedule, but various distractions and duties, including a trip to visit some friends which ended up taking up a larger amount of my time in April than I expected, have kept me away.

It is a shame because when I originally envisioned this post, nearly six weeks ago, it was a concept that had me captured and invigorated. My mind was apace with Whirled and the concepts of community. I began to consider similar concepts in light of Puzzle Pirates. And then I read an article in Escapist Magazine while browsing through the recent archives.

Specifically this article on Dunbar's Number. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it is simplistically the idea that there are a maximum number of connections the human brain can cope with directly to other people. In the context of games, especially on-line games, this dictates how large a group of players is likely to become. If a group grows beyond a certain size, the connections will become difficult between members and the group is more likely to fracture.

Some of the article (and other articles linked) is on the validity of the number. There are also numerous questions to it's origin. It is possible that there is a biological or neurological limitation. Alternatively it may be entirely contingent upon time. On that I am not sure. However it does seem that in some capacity, the number is an observable phenomena.

Within Puzzle Pirates, it takes a very curious form, however. The social networks of the game are quite loose. For any given player, there may be numerous different social circles at play. At its most basic, a single account may have three pirates, each may be in a different crew, per ocean. With the number of production oceans, a single player may be a member of a dozen different crew or more.

While a single player may focus on a single ocean and crew, each other member of that crew may resolve their circles differently. So already there are multiple social circles within the game.

The second social network is the hearties list. Ironically, this is limited to one-hundred fifty individuals,  the same as the number itself. And while all hearties are mutual, hearty lists are not. I may be Nemesis' hearty and she mine, but while she is Hypnos' hearty, I am not.

Add in the extra layers of organisation available: the flags and alliances to expand upon the crews, the ranks and subdivisions of crews within, the islands and shopkeeping interaction, the parlour games, events, forums (both official and player-created), real-life parties, and so forth.

Through it all, however, is that personal limitation. Be it time, focus, memory, interest, or experience, we all have some limitation against keeping connection with everyone at the same level, all the time. I have many friends in the game I have not spoken to in months. When I became an Ocean Master, I did my best to stay active and in contact, but increasingly my new circle became dominant and my older ones faded. They still exist, as surely as friends I had back in grade school still exist, but they are not prominent upon me right now.

I have few conclusions, here. This idea is new and fascinating, but undeveloped. More, I have questions. How are your circles within the game? How far do they spread? How many players would you consider your closest circle, and do they encircle each-other?

Ultimately, is Dunbar's Number a valid application upon this or any game, or is it just correlation without causation?


Posted by tickleberry

wow thats one thought provoking post. and so many big words :S lol

i dont dare think how my circles overlap and interact with one another but im sure it would be a very extensive and complicated matter

May 05, 2007 at 04:00 PM PDT | permalink

Posted by Ptg

Dunbar's number is an interesting theory, but I'm not sure how usefully it can be applied to Y!PP or other MMORPGs.

In a primate community, if enough members object to the presence of a member, then that member pretty much has to move on. This is where the comparison breaks down: while humans can certainly dislike other community members, they can't (legally) deprive them of food, water, protection, shelter, or the other basics of life as a result. Primates, however, can do anything they like to other primates without legal repercussion. As such, you could say primate communities have to exist by mutual assent.

What does this have to do with Dunbar numbers? If enough of the population decides that it wants to "top out" at 50 members, it doesn't matter that several members of that population could handle 60. Those who have decided upon 50 will enforce 50, and that's that. Essentially, it turns a bell curve into a single point.

Turned into YPP, it'd be like having to hearty everyone else your hearties have heartied, and if any of them refuse to hearty you, you can't hearty anyone. If Hypnos and Nemesis are heartied, and Hypnos is at his Dunbar number, it doesn't matter that Nemesis can have a few more hearties before hitting hers: Bia can't hearty her because Hypnos won't hearty Bia. And the last time I checked, that wasn't how it worked.

From another perspective, it certainly says something about hearty lists and crew sizes. At least on Midnight, the rule of thumb is "More experienced players to smaller crews, less experienced players to larger ones." If we postulate that Dunbar's number is a *goal* as well as a limit, then that's how they achieve it: the experienced players have fuller (and more useful) hearty lists, so they prefer smaller crews, as it's fewer faces to memorize. Less experienced players with more limited hearty lists prefer larger crews to help them get closer to achieving Dunbar's number.

Then again, I suppose there's a reason I'm not a primate sociologist.

May 06, 2007 at 07:09 AM PDT | permalink

Posted by Martin Bossev

For me the Dunbar number is somewhat correct.

I play for more than a year alredy in only one ocean. I am in a crew with ~140 members but I communicate actively with 10-12 of them... I have about 20-30 hearties in my list, but I communicate with maximum 10 of them..
But anyway I may be an exception :)

May 07, 2007 at 08:24 AM PDT | permalink

Posted by Salmon

The Dunbar number, actually backs up one of the beliefs I have had for many years in my life, well really an outlook I have in life anywhom...

One that states that I can only know so many, what I label, real people at one time, and that everyone else is just part of an enity I like to label as NPCs. The robots in the world, the one's that you know nothing about, they are just The Microsoft Helpline guy, The Woolworths guy or at the end without a major company type backing, that person that just walked past me in the street...

In game I have been part of some large crews, and some very small ones, my current one consists of about 3-5 people, who are really semi-players now, and have no objectives except to be able to sail our own ships when we feel like it... But then again I stick to about that size social group outside game as well, a close net group, more of a family than friends, we know everything about each other and we spend most of our time together, when not in work...

I probably consider about 100 people "Real" at a quick glance, just to add my primative view on a highly philosophical subject.

May 09, 2007 at 02:17 PM PDT | permalink

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January 06, 2010 at 07:59 PM PST | permalink

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