I've caught several American soap operas in the past few weeks. I can't tell you which ones, or even what was going on, but I was struck by some fascination with the mechanisms of the Soap Opera. First of all, I'm something of a Spanish (Univision) Soap Opera guy: I generally don't watch them for the plots, merely for the pretty women on them. (Completely off topic: Spanish Soap Operas have the cliche that all of the women are rather well endowed in the chest department, with often the sole exception being the often "villain", due to what I assume is the simple matter of fact that the lesser endowed women need to make up for it with acting talent which then stereotypes them into the one actual role that requires some acting talent, albeit the ability to act mad, angry, vicious, and ultimately someone with an inferiority complex due to a smaller breast size...) There are a couple of not-quite-but-almost Soap Operas I do pay attention to the plot, however. (Smallville and Veronica Mars, should I catch it randomly.)

So I was trying to unwind bits and pieces of the plot. As a casual observer, this is a tough thing, particularly as I came in the middle of both episodes and realize that the shows I was watching could have nearly a half-century of back-story. It is much easier to watch shot composition, which is interesting in that all soap operas seem to have a long list of shot rules, including a too heavy use of the close-up. (This transcends the genre, apparently, as the Spanish Soap Operas look almost the same shot for shot.)

The idea I struck on was that if Shakespeare was writing for the audiences of the Television era (which, to me, has just ended is or shortly to end), he would be writing Soap Operas. Admittedly they would be weird soap operas, perhaps closer to the current reincarnation of the Soap Opera, the prime time soap operas that are currently popular. I was wondering if there was any great writers that shown as exemplars in the craft from the world of soap opera writing... are there any shining example episodes amongst the half-century lifespans of these Soaps, that you could pull out of context and display as shining television drama? Would people reenact classic Soap Opera episodes a hundred or more years from now? Or is the seeming mass-produced unexceptional mush that I seem to see as all of Soap Opera-ness really all there ever has been? Are Soap Operas, then, merely iterational constructs slowly redoing what has be been done before over and over again until it has been done as best as possible?

Bringing that into more general focus, I'm curious if human drama itself is iterational. I sometimes do wonder why so often the same arguments, flame wars, crises, and emotions flare. I don't think it matters if it is iterational, cyclical, or just chaotic, but it is interesting to ponder.

All of this brings me back to my usual day to day ponderances on Synthetic World Design. One of the biggest flaws in the current structuring of the major synthetic worlds is that the scripted story lines always seem cardboard. Writing stories across NPC interactions in manners to allow all/most players to try/sample/read the story in exactly the same manner/circumstance, leaves little feeling of drama. The reason for this system is somewhat egotistical: current writers assume every player wishes to see their brilliant prose or auto-filled form letters and current players assume that they won't "miss anything" in the content of the game. The writers tend to see the stories in terms of Soap Opera-based "components"; Get x, Kill x, So and So seeks Revenge, Get x to Kill y, Kill y so you can Get x, and so on in infinite variety.

Personally, I was wondering if Shakespeare were to write for a Synthetic World, what he might be thinking. I keep thinking about trying to harness the natural human penchant for drama into a unique drama engine. Probably the closest live experiment to some of my thinking in this area is Eve, which has had its history develop as an emergent tale of inter-corporate warfare, with players, not NPCs, often leading the corporations.

The questions that I'm working on my own answers for: How do you balance between developer control and user power? (Why shouldn't players physically affect their landscape in reaction to/consequence of drama?) How do you connect and thread between individual players' stories, over-all stories, and the general landscape of the synthetic world? Suppose that you have Shakespeare on your team, how do you leverage him best in a largely player-emergent environment to add the beauty and poetry that will immortalize your world's stories?

Give me a few days and I might start writing on my further thoughts in this area...