I am beginning to ponder whether “emergent gameplay” is dependent on what might otherwise be considered “extraneous details.”
In RimWorld, the details are the devil. Each and every creature that exists drops its own kind of meat when killed, along with its own type of leather. Forty-eight different kinds of leather, specifically. On the one hand, this can get annoying when your warehouse fills up with a dozens of different stacks of the same sort of resource (e.g. leather) that can’t be blended together to craft a piece of clothing. On the other hand, the specificity of leather allows for the now-infamous “Human Hat” situation.
Another situation is wounds/scarring. When a colonist takes damage, they can be injured across their entire body in ultra-specific locations like… middle-finger of their left hand. Or their eyeball. I have one colonist with a shiv-scar in their brain. I did not find out about that old wound until two-dozen hours in, and finally made the connection as to why this particular person was slower than others at Researching (brain injuries basically reduce productivity by 50%).
This specificity occasionally leads to emergent gameplay. Another colonist (Redfields) was addicted to Smokeweed, developed a small tolerance, which led to a large tolerance, which led to Asthma in both lungs and a small carcinoma in the right lung. I was tempted to just kill Redfields and hope to recruit a different person – keeping someone alive and happy through withdrawal symptoms is a real pain in the ass – but I decided to give it the ole’ college try.
So after the next pirate raid, I captured one of the downed raiders, stabilized them, and then harvested their lungs. Which I then transplanted into Redfields.
Everything was fine up until Redfields developed a small carcinoma again in one lung. “Goddamnit, Redfields, those were brand new lungs! Well, to you, anyway.” Luckily, I realized that I could excise the tumor directly, which my doctor did successfully. Once Redfields made it past his withdrawal period, I went ahead and rewarded him by removing the eye that had a permanent LMG wound and replacing it with a bionic eye. Now, he’s one of the best sharpshooters in my colony.
He’s still missing a nose though. Not quite sure how he lost it, and I don’t there is cosmetic surgery in the vanilla game. Oh well.
The point is that emergent gameplay is kind of predicated on there being many, many different points of potential interaction. If damage was only registered to more generalized sites, or abstracted away entirely into HP, there is no Redfields story.
Then again, this can be done on the AI side instead, I suppose. There are not a whole lot of player-moving parts in GTA5, for example, but I think we have all seen some outlandish things occur in that game that come about because of random variance in civilian (or cop) behavior. Or in the Far Cry series. A “normal” shootout suddenly turns into a 5-car pileup, a wildfire erupts, and now there’s an angry bear or mountain lion or eagle joining the fray.
It makes me wonder about how emergent things might work in an MMO setting though. Project: Gorgon apparently has a whole lot of nonsense embedded in it – players turning into Cows and leveling Cow skills – but for the most part, I think most of us prefer less fiddly bits, rather than more. For one, it’s much harder to balance, and for another, it complicates social dynamics. If you aren’t optimal, you’re sub-optimal, which means you are holding the group back with your selfishness.
This pushes emergent features more into the AI side, which sounds like the direction Blizzard is heading. At the same time, would you even want an MMO where the mobs are intelligent and a real challenge? Like, all the time? In an open-world single-player game, absolutely. But elsewhere? I’m wondering if emergent social interactions is more than enough emergence for MMOs.