October 13, 2009 5 Comments
Last week, a thread was started on Warhammer Alliance from an ex-guildie that no longer plays the game. He’s a good guy and still watches the forums as we all developed a lot of friendships in our time there. In any matter, the videos that he linked to are to a site called Justice Harvard. It hosts videos of a class on morality and justice. At first blush, it probably sounds dull and boring, but the teacher is amazing, and takes what is a giant lecture hall and somehow makes it personable. He’s got a good sense of humor, and his delivery is spectacular. It’s the type of class that everyone would want to go to. In any matter, the few episodes I have been able to watch got me thinking along my favorite hobby and how it relates to the material he is covering. Morality and ethics in video gaming.
As we all know, there are a host of “good play” manners that you find in MMOs. Anywhere that has large groups of people coming together is going to have some system of civility and rules placed upon them/created by them. The rules that I mean aren’t the ones that the game explicitly enforces, but the implicit rules that are generated through our interactions with others. In Everquest 2 for instance, it’s considered rude to harvest something if someone else is standing there harvesting it themselves. The game allows it, but the outside party will be upset with you, and often express derision your way, or go so far as to seek revenge in some manner. In WAR, people like to duel. It’s not a function that is in-game, but it’s not uncommon for the two combating sides to gather in an agreed location and fight out 1 vs. 1. Etiquette calls on you to not interfere and let them duel it out, intruding will often lead on you getting zerged by all the enemy forces as one while your allies sit back and watch. Related, in duels, most consider it bad form to use health potions, pocket items, or clickable items. Breaking this stigma usually results in no future duels, and maybe some verbal assaults.
What sets these type of social regimes in place? Where do they derive from? What makes a community, as a whole, except a series of arbitrary rules of how the game should be, when a system is already in place that lays out the limits of your capabilities, or as Locke would say, the game represents Nature and our Natural rights, why do we then seek to impose structure beyond that? Of course, sometimes it’s not just the players that implement these laws, sometimes the developer does as well.
I don’t know how many of you were around at the time, but to this day, I can still clearly recall when SOE implemented their “Play nice” rules. A lot of the systems in place in todays MMOs were not even a glimmer in a developer’s eye when the original Everquest launched. The game was groundbreaking, and as a pioneer, it had to find out a lot of things the hard way. Training mobs on people, kill stealing, and camping spawns maliciously were all new advents of the MMO market. There was no locking of encounters (or greying out, whatever). Mobs had ridiculous long leashing ranges if they did at all. Indications of mob difficulty was nothing more than a simple color code and text readout after using an appropriate command. Throw into the mix, the incredible grind to gain experience, and slow respawn of some quest mobs (measured in days at times) and the internet ass-hat had a tendency to come out in players. The idea of a utopian player-base, all working together, hand-in-hand toward a fun, rewarding experience melted faster than a scoop of ice-cream on the asphalt during a heat wave. So, Sony, like a frustrated parent dealing with squabbling children, literally said, “Play nice!”, requiring people to share camps, and a whole host of other inane, hand-holding things. It was terrible.
Still, despite this disaster of an attempt of moral enforcement, it did pave the way for future games for what the player base could expect to be the outlines for how we as gamers should interact. It also reminded us to not be selfish jerks all the time to anyone else out there. Our moral compass was given a loose North, in the general direction of, “somewhere that way”.
That’s not to say that people don’t still chafe at societal norms in-game, arguments against adhering to these concepts are as plentiful as there are people who oppose them. Some say that the game has all the rules in place that are meant to be there, and that if what they are doing isn’t supposed to happen, then the developer will correct it. Essentially, saying that the game-world is a system where everything is permissible, except that which is explicitly stated not to be. Others claim that in a leisure activity of a fantasy world, that is used to escape from the routine and strictures placed upon us in real life, that adhering to the preconceived notions of civility is anathema to what it is they seek to achieve in their play-time. Who is anyone else to declare what they should and should not do with their free time? Others just see it as playing to win. Whether it means that they get the best gear, more loot, or further advancement in a relativistic sense of competition, or it means that they destroy the opponent in a head to head competition, they do whatever it takes to succeed, and to hell with anything else.
If you’ve spent any amount of time doing competitive game play, or playing video games in general, it’s likely you’ve seen the article on scrubs in video games. You should read that if you haven’t. It goes over the notions of cheap play, and what cheap play is. It’s an old article, and mainly from the perspective of an arcade or fighting game player, but the concepts still apply across multiple genres of games. It can lead to a very brutal, cut-throat perspective on how you approach your game, but it can also lead to an acceptance of the way things are. Like it or not, some people will play this way, and understanding how they view their gaming will help you better understand why things work they way they do, and lead to less surprise when interacting with them.
This subject is really far too broad for me to be able to cover in a blog, and I don’t think I have the requisite amount of education in the necessary realms to truly do justice to the topic, but I did want to get down some basic thoughts out there and see what you guys all thought. Do you find the moral structures placed upon games by its players adds to its overall enjoyment, or do you revel in going against the grain and seeking your own path of fun, or victory?