The ability to customize character interactions with a broad range of behaviors is an aspect of MMOGs that makes them compelling for players. One example of what makes gaming such a complex and interesting topic (aside from the social dynamics) is the need for developers to find a balance between words/text and graphics/interface. People who came to gaming out of a MUD/ASCII text experience value the written word and want great latitude in the choice of words they can use to express themselves. People who came to gaming within the last 10 years, however, often prefer the “point and click” visual style of communication, where a designer has predetermined what types of communication players are likely to want to have and provides mouse or key shortcuts to them.
Some interesting work may be starting on the uses of language in gaming and related social interactions. Take a look at Nate Combs’ related blog at TerraNova. Is the use of more and more text in 3-D games a step backward in development or is it the expression of an increasing need for the same richness of cues and manipulation we see in normal, everyday conversation because the worlds are themselves becoming richer environments for self-expression? In the early 1990s, the DikuMUD Sojourn had about 200 active social commands. What is the optimum number game designers should build in today? Is there such a thing as too many verbs?