Sims Shadow Government

So, I'm going back on my promise not to post anymore on politics this week. This is too choice to ignore. Peter Ludlow et al's fabulously fabulous Alphaville Herald has just posted an interview with SnowWhite, the head of the Sims Shadow Government. It absolutely boggles the mind. I won't say anything about it here. Res ipsa loquitur (or, as we lawyers say, "The thing speaks for itself.")


Comments on Sims Shadow Government:

Raph says:

So what's the difference between the SimShadowGovernment and the Mafias, other than the fact that we think one's good and the other is bad?

Posted Nov 27, 2003 8:54:02 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

This seems to indicate that reputation systems a la /. can at least create player control of griefing (aka virtual world crime in the latest Dan and Greg piece). Makes me wonder why other worlds don't let people assign reputation points to one another and then have those points matter for game play. Sure, it leads to mafias/SSGs. But it's good that the users actually can have some control over their own society. Reputational oligarchy is far better for the average player than the griefer anarchy prevalent in most worlds.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 12:18:14 AM | link

Ren says:

Raf> So what's the difference between the SimShadowGovernment and the Mafias, other than the fact that we think one's good and the other is bad?

Indeed, my fave line from the interview was:

"SnowWhite: I always have an open line of communication...I always try to talk to them first...I can generally tell by the first few words whether they will be good or bad."

ren
www.renreynolds.com

Posted Nov 28, 2003 8:22:09 AM | link

Dan Hunter says:

To suggest an answer Raph's question, I think the only answer is that the SSG is better organized. Outside that, they're both pursuing their own political ends. And I don't think that "we" think that the SSG is good, and the Mafias are bad. I think "they" do.

Of course it would be interesting to hear what Maxis thinks about this, but they're not gonna tell. I imagine they're delighted, because politics=social investment=more subs.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 10:19:08 AM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

I Agree with Dan on this. I'm not sure that "good" and "bad" are really applicable when viewed from the outside. What SSG is attempting to do that is interesting is carve out a kind of game within the gamespace that the TSO platform allows. So while the architecture of TSO also allows endless griefing and tagging (in effect, a kind of reputational paint ball that dominates the other TSO cities) SSG is trying to "pacify" the game space to make it safe for social gamers.

There is so much going on here that I could (and probably will) write a book about it, but here is one headline idea: the architecture built into these games does little to control the kind of gameplay that evolves. Try to build in a social game with mechanisms for marking good and bad reputations and it will be coopted for a new game of reputational paint ball. Yet, collaborative quasi militaristic social institutions can and do emerge to squash the paintball game and sieze the platform back for other kinds of gaming. Set aside 'good' and 'bad' -- this is about a struggle over the nature of gameplay itself.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 11:43:42 AM | link

ren says:

Peter> the architecture built into these games does little to control the kind of gameplay that evolves.

So are you arguing that there is one basic type of social play that is acted out in these games and that their structure simply provies different furniture to play that game ?

ren
www.renreynolds.com

Posted Nov 28, 2003 1:30:34 PM | link

Nathan Combs says:

> their structure simply provies different furniture to play that game ?

The furniture is likely not entirely agnostic though. Meaning that the architecture may influence some outcomes over others.

I recall articles about how piped-in classical music at troubled 24 hour convenience store parking lots tended to discourage certain kinds of goings-on.

With either case, I don't think we're talking about behavioral changes, just migrations, though.

-nathan

Posted Nov 28, 2003 1:55:57 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

I'm not going to defend SSG or its actions. I don't know them or what they do, and I will be the first to admit that it is all too easy for those fighting "injustice" (as they see it) to end up indistinguishable in their behavior from those they oppose.

But surely we are not so phobic about ethical absolutes that we have to shun all categorizations of obvious "bad" behavior when we see it? What is NOT "bad" about some griefer deliberately and voluntarily invading the gamespace occupied by (and arguably intended FOR) people wanting to "play nice" together and using the game mechanics to bully/extort/grief those players? And what kind of ethical banckruptcy must we buy into to accept the premise that victims of such behavior are just as 'bad' if they band together to exclude those invaders from their gamespace?

Please don't give me hypothetical cases of games where that is the declared intent of the game and the play nice crowd are SUPPOSED to stay away! While I love burning straw horses as much as anyone, it's not very conducive to profitable discourse. :-) This particular episode is occuring in a game/world which was deliberately marketed to the sheep, NOT the wolves. (I'll leave 'intent' to the authors to declare, not being all that accurate a mind reader.)

Peter is correct, this is indeed a struggle over the nature of gameplay itself (although his demand that we set aside 'good' and 'bad' in examining it is silly and unneccessary). It seems to me that the crux of the issue is that, in these online multiplayer game/worlds, the root irritant/source/cause of all these disruptive and contentious conflicts between 'playstyles' is the LACK of a common shared perception of what is 'good' and 'bad' behavior.

Of course, this is not a problem unique to MMOG's, but rather it is common to ALL human endeavors involving more than one person, from a game of chess or tennis to global politics. If the participants don't agree on what is acceptable behavior, there WILL be problems. Most organized activities therefore end up with at least two formal mechanisms for establishing and enforcing standards of behavior: rules/laws and referees/police. Anyone care to discuss why game designers seem so loathe to include such considerations in their visions (although most game companies have been forced to do so by the marketplace)?

Note that arbitrary enforcement of unwritten rules of behavior is no more conducive to player happiness (and presumably subscriber retention) than is anarchy. The days where either anarchic environments (such as UO at release) OR despotic dictatorships (such as EQ at release) can flourish (as in attract any measurable percentage of the 'mass market') are either gone or soon will be.

One direct result of the rapidly increasing number of choices gamers have in the MMOG market will be in finding places that cater to their particular playstyle preferences. I would posit that one of the key decisions which diretly contributed to EQ's near-instant success over UO was the PvP switch. 3D graphics, variety of races, classes, environments, etc. certainly were also significant. But I can pretty much guarantee that had EQ released with non-consensual PvP such as UO had, it would not have been nearly as successful.

Game designers are going to have to stop wringing their hands (or washing them) over this issue and deal with it sooner or later. When it comes to persistent character-development games, the mass market WILL NOT TOLERATE being bitch-slapped, trash-talked, PK-ed or otherwise abused and bullied. There just aren't enough masochists in the world willing to continue spending their entertainment dollars for that kind of treatment, sorry. If you, as a game designer, want to make any significant inroads into the mass market, you are going to HAVE to provide that market with a play meta-environment that is comfortable to them (in addition to all the other requirements such as ease of access, tons of content, pretty graphics, etc, etc, etc). Give your poor future CS staff a break and plan for it from the very beginning!

Posted Nov 28, 2003 2:01:23 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

Oh, and to directly answer Raphs question - the mafias invade and initiate, the SSG defends and reacts. Or at least that's my impression of the situation. If the SSG runs around to other players cities/houses and tries to enforce it's standards on those players, then no, there probably is no real difference.

Surely we can agree that there is a difference between 'violence' (of whatever form) initiated against another's person or property and the same action taken in defence of ones person or property?

Posted Nov 28, 2003 2:06:35 PM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

ren asks:

"So are you arguing that there is one basic type of social play that is acted out in these games and that their structure simply provies different furniture to play that game ?"

No I think there are lots of possible social games that emerge, and it is probably impossible to predict what might happen. In some cases the platform will give rise to mutliple layers of games, in some cases a meta-game in which there is a battle for gaming styles (the Alphaville case). A lot can turn on single individuals like Merrill/Voleur/Evangeline or Mia Wallace. These are chaotic systems (in the mathematical sense) and not all of them will even achieve an equillibrium as Alphaville more or less did. I think that the game architecture is a factor in what emerges, but probably not in a way that is predictable. Game architecture is just one small element in the intitial conditions of the game.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 3:06:33 PM | link

Peter Ludlow says:

Bryan says: "Peter is correct, this is indeed a struggle over the nature of gameplay itself (although his demand that we set aside 'good' and 'bad' in examining it is silly and unneccessary). "

I didn't "demand" that we set aside 'good' and 'bad', I just said that "I'm not sure that "good" and "bad" are really applicable when viewed from the outside. " Of course there is something bad about Evangeline scamming 13 year old newbies out of 10K simoleans, about one cent in US money, but it is bad in the sense of stealing candy from a baby. One wonders what kind of mind would enjoy doing that, but it isn't the biggest RL problem on our plates. The ssg dispute with the mafias comes down to a kind of playground dispute about the rules of the game. Again it is possible to take sides and think, yes there *should* be a gamespace *somewhere* where we can play nice, but I'd rather hold back 'bad' and 'evil' for nastier behaviors. More to the point, I'm not sure those terms add much to our grasp of the nature of gameplay.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 3:17:01 PM | link

Brask Mumei says:

"Of course there is something bad about Evangeline scamming 13 year old newbies out of 10K simoleans, about one cent in US money"

Let me make it clear that I have no respect for scammers, grief players, etc, and what I am about to say in no way condones their actions. They still remain the sort of petty-evil people who do not even deserve to be spit upon.

Reading the diary, I had to be shocked yet again, not at the scammers (I take as a given that they exist) but at the naivete of some of the player behaviour that falls for the scam. This so-called "scam", if I understand it properly, involves placing all your money in a trade window, with nothing on the other side, and hitting accept. If my 13 year old fell for it, I'd be glad it happened in a game with 1 cent of cash rather than in the real life with $1000 in cash.

People need to learn certain simple economic survival skills in this world. These scams of pennies in the virtual world are, I hope, teaching the victims the necessity of performing due dilligence on their real world transactions.

There are, of course, entirely different categories of scams which fall outside of this. The various exploits of UO where, due to trade window bugs or vendor oddities, the most paranoid person could be bilked, do not serve valuable lessons (Except maybe push towards the Buddhist belief in the ephermeality of all things).

But there is no excuse for anyone to fall for: "Give me all your gold, and then I'll double it!" I can think of no better place for people to learn this lesson than the Virtual World where the results are mostly inconsequential.

I think the future generation is going to be more economically aware and more critical of "Get Rich Quick Schemes" than the last one, due to having had robust first hand experiences of these systems in Virtual Worlds. But I am an optimist in human nature (Believe it or not - my optimism on human nature stems from experience in the early UO world, which failed to fulfill my expectations of a complete gankfest)

- Brask Mumei

Posted Nov 28, 2003 5:34:30 PM | link

Dan Hunter says:

For those who don't check trackbacks, have a look at Kill The Net, http://killthe.net/ktn/archives/000138.php

Also, useful background material referenced there on the Sims mafia. See also
http://www.thesimmafia.com/
http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=03/07/07/0010231&tid=206
http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/6019958.htm
http://www.tegatai.com/~konduct/archives/000062.html

Posted Nov 28, 2003 7:09:32 PM | link

Bruce Boston says:

Design by omission?

"SnowWhite: She is not breaking the Terms of Service, they feel that her occupation as a thief is an acceptable one"

Granted, this may be a loaded statement, but clearly, TSO isn't the first persistent world to condone the role of a thief within the context of a game.

I would be surprised if there has ever been a V.W. that condoned this sort of activity where the community did not come to this very same conclusion. While in games where swords and wands are the tools, thats what is used to right the 'wrongs' of the society. In TSO, the community has simply shifted to using the tools that it has available, reputation systems and friend webs.

This seems more planned than truly immersive behavior.

But it begs a bigger question: is this legal? I'm guessing that if someone were to do these very same actions in RL we might see some concerned law enforcers show up. For example, if someone were to stand out side a local middle school and tell kids, "hey give me your money and I'll double it".

Clearly, Maxis knows that this is going on. I'm just wondering what it is about the nature of virtual worlds that allows them to condone these actions. If a mayor of a small town came out and said, "thief is an accepted role in our community" wouldn't that sound strange? Could a mayor do that? Can you legalize theft in real life? So what is it about virtual communities that makes them immune to the laws of the land?

-bruce

Posted Nov 28, 2003 9:11:25 PM | link

Tek says:

Bruce: remember that Maxis is to God as, say, SnowWhite is to the mayor. I believe the correct analogy is then whether or not God (or the gods) accepts the existence of thieves in real life.

One failure here is that Maxis has no corresponding "Hell", since that would be futile (Right of Departure). An interesting test though would be to separate the miscreants from the do-gooders at some point and see how well they survive. My guess is that both halves would suffer losses (Raph has some good, pertinent writing on this). Which is why, in the end, I think any developer would and should allow the existence of thieves.

Posted Nov 28, 2003 10:55:54 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

Sorry, but I have to admit that I consider Raph's and others' claims to the effect that sheep need wolves in order to have fun to be total bunk. Sheep may need wolves to strengthen them in an evolutionary environment, but NOT to have fun in their recreational activites. Being on the recieving end of grief play, whatever its form, in a purportedly cooperative non-PvP MMOG is no more 'fun' or rewarding than being stiff-armed in the face and then full body tackled BY YOUR OWN TEAMMATE in a game of soccer. Some folks may revel in the additional 'challenge' that creates, but not, I submit, the majority.

The whole 'sheep need wolves' argument is just a lame excuse to justify not providing as much PvE content as is desired by the customers who WANT to keep playing (and paying for!) the game. Granted game players need a challenge to maintain interest. But abuse with malicious intent is a far cry in terms of the nature of the challenge from good game content. And anyone relying on unrefereed players to provide the challenge in an environment with no enforced "Play Nice Policies" should expect the masses, who seem to prefer impersonal non-threatening entertainment to go with their social chat-room, to avoid their game in droves.

Posted Nov 29, 2003 2:50:19 AM | link

Tek says:

It's not that being griefed is fun, but that it provides a foundation so other activities can be identified as fun.

This basically comes down to the philosophy of fun. I will detail my current beliefs. The first question is whether fun is absolute or relative. Is an activity intrinsically enjoyable? Or is it because it is more enjoyable than some other activity you have subconsciously set as your 0 (zero) value on an "enjoyment curve"?

If you went with the former, you're done. The latter leads to this question: how does that 0 value change, if at all? (Even further, how many zeroes are there and what is their inter-relation...)

Answering the last question is tough; you can get somewhere by thinking up lots of examples, but it is still hard to separate all the variables. My conclusion is that a 0 value can change fairly quickly (days) and dramatically.

I'll leave it at that for now. The tie-in is this: griefers act as a way to rescale people's enjoyment curve so they will have more fun doing everything else they do. Consequently, the effect of the griefer presence (in moderation!) can be to increase the net enjoyment of those affected.

I'd be interested if anyone has run across any literature regarding "enjoyment", whether philosophical or empirical.

Posted Nov 29, 2003 8:05:49 AM | link

ren says:

Tek>I'd be interested if anyone has run across any literature regarding "enjoyment", whether philosophical or empirical.


Well in relation to making value judgements I guess the philosophy to go to is Bentham, Mill and Utilitarianism. In Bentham's "An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation" Bentham spends some chapters (IV and V in particular) attempting to categorise Pleasure and Pain. These he splits into High and Low and enumerates the kinds which I guess he sees to be self evident. Mill (Utilitarianism Chapter II) also has Higher and Lower pleasures and take great account of the lower being associated with base pleasures and that we should prefer the higher ones, indeed that they have more moral worht.

Whether or not psycology, nurology or in particular evoloutionary biology has somethign to tell us about the character of pleasures from which it would be possible to rank them in a way that many would agree with, i would be interested to learn.

To segway almost back to topic - lots of policy decisions do boil down to a neo-utilitarianism where a sort of consiquence count goes on. I would add tho that I characterise much of what i see as also neo-puritanical. To take a simple expamle: are computer games good. What we tend to see is that poeple look for harm: addition, violence, death, and they find some, they then conclude that games are bad. But this is only half the story if you are being a utilitarian, you then also have to look for pleasure, and with games that's not nealy has hard as finding harm - then as a good utilitarianism you count and find the winner, and if you ask me on these grounds games win hands down.

But, this re-raises on of the basic issues which is the moral value of the types of pleasure and pain we might have found. Is the pleasure of 300,000 EverQuest players x the time that they play it greater than say the addiction of a few, or does pain actually count more than pleasure. To put it another way what is the universal quanitifer, the util we are using here.

Oh please not i'm not advocating utilitarinism here, for all its intuative power i dont really like it as a normative system. The is no doubt much more modern philosophy on pleasure but i still see Kant as a young pup with so odd new ideas

ren
www.renreynolds.com

Posted Nov 29, 2003 8:53:56 AM | link

Bruce Boston says:

"Bruce: remember that Maxis is to God as, say, SnowWhite is to the mayor"

Yes, I understand the analogy, its not a new one in the industry. What I am wondering is, what is it about virtual worlds that makes this analogy acceptable.

So, why is it when we describe a game developer we might call them 'a god' but when we look a company much larger like the NFL or Disneyland we'd call them an organization. And when it comes to RL rules we make the big powerful organizations follow RL rules, so why not a virtual community?

Maxis isn't doing anything that unique in terms of social structure. There are plenty of privately owned social gathering places in real life; clubs, bars, parks, schools, sport leagues, etc, etc.

For example, it would not be that hard to to create a 13+ club in RL and market it to teens in the town. But if there was a 40-something guy in the club that told new 13 year olds members, "hey give me your money and I'll double it" At minimum we would expect there to be some concern in the town. And if the club owner took it the next step and when asked about the issue published a statement saying, "Theft is an accepted role in our club" I am not sure I would expect that town to say, 'well its their club they can do whatever they want to in there'.

However, this is exactly the reaction many have to virtual worlds. Only we take it a step further by giving the owners of virtual social gathering spaces a tile to justify our reaction like 'god'.

So, my question remains, what is it about the nature of virtual worlds that causes us to have a completely unique reaction to something that if it were to happen in RL we would have the exact opposite reaction to?

-Bruce

Posted Nov 29, 2003 9:01:20 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

>>"It's not that being griefed is fun, but that it provides a foundation so other activities can be identified as fun."

Um, no. Griefing does not make anything else more fun, any more than smashing my toe makes my headache less painful. I may not notice my headache as much, and I may come to the realization that a minor headache might not be as intolerable as I thought before experiencing the REAL pain of the smashed toe. But no part of having my toe smashed is going to make my day any better or make me think a headache is a pleasant and enjoyable thing.

Likewise being griefed does not make not-so-fun play magically seem fun. If anything, a couple minutes of being griefed can easily make you forget ALL of the fun you had for the previous several hours!

Again, I'm not arguing that fun play doesn't require a challenge. It most certainly does. But that by no means automatically means that ANY kind of added challenge will make a game more fun. Playing solitare with a deck of cards from which your roommate randomly removes two or three before each game would certainly be more challenging than plain old normal-style solitaire, but I really doubt that it would be more fun!

If griefing is such a wonderful boon to play, why isn't it encouraged in all traditional (non-internet) context games? Why is it a penalty to taunt your opponents in football? Why would most rational adults frown on somebody who threw a bucket of cold water on their bridge opponent to distract them from their play? That's certainly not forbidden in the written rules of bridge! Why do people call foul when Microsoft bullies some PC maker into bundling is bloatware onto all the PC's it sells? Sure, griefing happens in offline games/competitive environments, but outside of "pro" wrestling or street-ball environments it is generally acknowledged as being not good sportstmanship. What on earth does "unsportsmanlike conduct" mean anyway in the context of internet play? Is it something that gets thrown out the window because it's so easy to forget/ignore the human being at the other side of all those ones and zeros?

I submit that griefing playstyles in MMOGs are not only allowed but attempts are made to ennoble them primarily because providing fun gameplay and content is expensive and hard, as is enforcing non-grief playstyles. All the rest is hogwash.

Posted Dec 2, 2003 1:14:04 AM | link

Euphrosyne says:

Tek--I think your sentiments are right on, though I'm not sure I agree with your measurement mechanism.

Bryan--"Griefing does not make anything else more fun, any more than smashing my toe makes my headache less painful."

There is nothing inherently edifying about suffering...but that might be because nothing is, on its own terms. Haven't you ever recovered from the flu and thought "My god, feeling average is *awesome*"? I read Tek's sentiments as acknowledging the necessity of contrast in human experience. Life in Disneyland or Pleasantville might seem great from the outside, but after a while it gets boring--and restrictive. And as "bad" experiences become ever less frequent, ever smaller infractions of decorum will become policed...In a world where no one is ever scammed, it becomes a punishable offense to shout at someone.

This is the freaky part of the interview though:
"...yes, we [the shadow government] are in SWG as well and there have been several people asking to take it into There.com"

Coming from the mouth of a self-dubbed Snow White, this goes obviously beyond wanting to provide 'good gameplay' in a specific game world dear to her(?) heart. Her title is Overlord. So we have someone who considers herself pure and all-powerful, obviously capable of no wrong. It's not about altruistically enforcing "good" gameplay--in the end, it's all about power.

On the other hand, it's fascinating to see such an unprecedented political birth. Having an external force apply the same social pressures across completely disparate worlds [ie, a cohesive political movement wholly grounded outside of its sphere of influence] is something we can't know the results of yet. I'm tempted to make glib comparisons to underworld economies or somesuch, but this is different.

Posted Dec 2, 2003 2:40:28 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

Euphrosyne said "Haven't you ever recovered from the flu and thought "My god, feeling average is *awesome*"? "

Sure, surviving the flu makes you appreciate your life a little more, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do everything we reasonably can to eliminate disease does it? If you really want to improve the quality of life you'll try to eliminate disease, not revel in the challenge of it!

As for this whole analogy, let's reverse it just for grins. If the presense of griefers in an MMOG makes the virtual world a better place for its players, then likewise the existence of the flu makes the world a better place for people to live? Um, no.

Let me restate once again that I'm NOT arguing against challenge in MMOGs, I'm arguing against the particular *kind* of challenge we identify as griefing. Give me challenging content to make my achievements in the game that much sweeter, don't force me to play with the playground bully and tell me how wonderful it is that I can now be happy every day I avoid getting mugged for my lunch money!

Posted Dec 2, 2003 4:45:19 PM | link

Euphrosyne says:

OK, the illness metaphor was a poor choice on my part. I'm not opposed to getting rid of the flu, or to a griefer getting their just desserts.

But looking beyond the immediate micro effects of the SSG, a (potential) problem occurs when a formal system is set up for punishing "bad people", especially when it is a vigilante force headed by the Overlord Snow White, who has supreme dictatorial authority over the definition of "bad" (It has been rare in history for good to come from a single authority who claims to act for the good of the people).

I have no easy solution to the problem. Democracy, as has been noted, is difficult and time consuming--especially if the game designers don't build democratic mechanisms into the system. [Some purists believe that no such devices should be included, presumably to provide a blank political slate. But a simple mechanism for announcing and tallying votes--the kind that even primitive MOOs and MUDs had--can be incredibly useful, and put to any number of ends.]

While I'm not advocating it, you can take the view that the game designers/servers are the best parallel to the political state, and that only they can fairly enforce laws (and decree them, though democratic vote or otherwise).

To paint another dirty metaphor: paying your monthly fee to Sony, who then lets a self-organized posse administer its own in-game justice, is like paying income tax to the federal government, who then lets local gangs rule the place. Now OBVIOUSLY you can shoot holes in that comparison, but I think there may be a fundamental catch-22 with game companies believing that they can take a completely hands-off approach to gameplay enforcement. It certainly merits further consideration.

Posted Dec 3, 2003 2:23:02 PM | link

Tek says:

I think adressing the issue from the other end may be more manageable. So, by taking steps to outlaw griefing by methods out of the game's context, one is attempting to move in the direction of a utopian worldview. I would be one to say that there is no such thing as a utopia, primarily due what I detailed above. By eliminating all negative experiences, we also destroy the positive. More relevant, is that I say our happiness is always defined by our relative suffering, and vice versa. It's as _The Matrix_ poses: people didn't accept a world without pain and suffering. By this token, removing grief-style play only serves to redefine what we consider suffering.

Contrary to what you may think, I by no means believe it necessary to encourage griefing. I personally think there's a lot more of it occurring than is needed to serve its purpose. Addressing it out-of-context, however, is not what I would advise. By giving players the tools needed to handle it in a balanced fashion, we can achieve much more.

To tie up some other loose ends, allowing griefing is not an excuse for lack of content. A game's value should be primarily defined by the content it provides (and here I do mean game, and not world). In the same stride, a MMOG that succeeds at this should not outlaw griefing OOC, as per above. Ultimately, I think we can agree that the problem that actually needs addressing is the content, since that should come first.

Posted Dec 4, 2003 11:45:46 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

Tek said "by taking steps to outlaw griefing by methods out of the game's context, one is attempting to move in the direction of a utopian worldview."

That is as silly as claiming the same thing about taking the step of adding referees and umpires (or even rules) to a sporting event. Shall we instead for the Super Bowl just give them the field and equipment and let them make up their own game as they go?

The argument that eliminating griefing from a game results in a game without challenge is a non-sequitur. It's completely bogus! There are lots of other possible sources of challenge in a game, many of them actually fun while still retaining the risk of failure. Eliminating griefing is NOT the same as "eliminating all negative experiences". Any argument for retaining/allowing griefing based on that foundation needs to be burned along with the straw horse it rode in on!

Prohibiting/preventing/punishing griefing is not about making a challengeless utopia, it's about establishing an official standard of playstyle which is comfortable and welcoming to the mass market rather than a target-rich environment for people who get their jollies hurting other people. It's about focusing, or to some extent limiting, the competition to the terms of the game world rather than reveling in the dynamic social environment of a culture war between incompatible playstyles. It's about having everyone in the game playing by the same rules.

The dynamics of a tempest-in-a-teapot culture war in the context of a game may well be fascinating, entertaining or even enlightening to watch, but will it really provide a GOOD GAME EXPERIENCE for more than a small fraction of the participants?

Posted Dec 7, 2003 1:16:46 PM | link

Tek says:

I would like to have your definition of griefing (include examples), so we can eliminate any conflicts there.

Bryan>That is as silly as claiming the same thing about taking the step of adding referees and umpires (or even rules) to a sporting event.

No. That example involves a contextual change. I believe a more appropriate analogy would be fining/suspending the sportsmen if they broke a rule of the game. There are, of course, many instances of these in sports, which generally result from out-of-context actions on behalf of the player. Taken to the realm of VW's, this is like the account suspension/banning for harrassment or cheating/exploiting. Just as a basketball player isn't fined for shoving another player to the ground, a player's MMOG account isn't suspended for scamming/killing another player. Instead, there are in-game consequences (ie the Sim Shadow Govt. puts the agressor on their list), mirroring the opposing basketball team receiving free throws.

Bryan>The argument that eliminating griefing from a game results in a game without challenge is a non-sequitur. It's completely bogus! There are lots of other possible sources of challenge in a game, many of them actually fun while still retaining the risk of failure.

Utopia != "challengeless". Utopia == "painless".

Bryan>Eliminating griefing is NOT the same as "eliminating all negative experiences".

This is mostly true. Grief play is just one set of negative experiences. However, many games are already removing the other causes, such as death consequences or the possibility of losing character progress. Since these seem to be on their way out the door, griefing may be the last source of negativity; and if so, banning that will produce an effective utopia.

Bryan>...rather than reveling in the dynamic social environment of a culture war between incompatible playstyles.
>The dynamics of a tempest-in-a-teapot culture war in the context of a game may well be fascinating, entertaining or even enlightening to watch...

The players revel in the dynamics of it as well as developers. For a good measure of this, look at the distribution of stories the media covers. We can hold this fascination with conflict true for VW's as well, since the one constant is that both are populated by humans (human minds anyway).

Bryan>...but will it really provide a GOOD GAME EXPERIENCE for more than a small fraction of the participants?

Again, this pertains to what we've already discussed (my Nov. 29 post).

And to make sure my stance is clear, I have no problem punishing griefing. I just want it done in the game, by the people.

Posted Dec 7, 2003 3:56:42 PM | link

Bryan Allman says:

Sorry for the delayed response, I'm still thinking about how on earth to define griefing. I suspect that may be as slippery as trying to define pornography. :)

One thing I'd like to discuss though is Tek's "I have no problem punishing griefing. I just want it done in the game, by the people." This may well be the (or at least one) source of basic disconnect between the "it's a world" and "it's a game" viewpoints.

Frankly, I DON'T want the people to have to do the policing, for at least two immediately identifiable reasons. For one I'm lazy and that's work, and I'm not spending my entertainment dollars for the priviledge/responsibility of having to clean up after (or put up with) other people's messes. If you want me to do the refereeing you'll have to pay me for the work, not me pay you for the privilidge!

Secondly, when the players are given the tools to police each other, the griefers gain access to those very same tools. And being inconsiderate by nature they are far more likely to use them inconsiderately than the play-nice crowd is, putting the play-nice crowd at a huge disadvantage. It may make an interesting philosophical/sociological study to put "play-nice" people into positions where to protect themselves they must play as dirty as the "griefers", but it's not much fun for the play-nice crowd.

Finally, back to the sports analogy - the players do not generally police themselves as part of the in-game tools. The referees do the policing, even stopping the game to do so as needed. And yes, players are fined real world money or even banned from the game sometimes, in addition to the in-game penalties applied against them. Environments in which players self-police require that all the participants consent to constraining their actions to the same commonly accepted playstyle. When that fragile collective consensus fails the result is arguments and meta-game conflict rather than gameplay.

Posted Dec 14, 2003 3:56:26 PM | link

Tek says:

Yes, it is tough to define griefing, though only, I would say, because boundaries have slipped. In my earlier posts, I tried to approximate the consensus definition. Here (and in future), my basic classification of grief play is "the set of actions primarily motivated to upset others." This basically equates to physical and verbal harassment. The latter has been and likely will always be handled by the CS. The former, in my mind, can be tackled heavily with thought-out game mechanics, since it generally results from exploiting loopholes. The remainder can be dealt with by policing, explained later.

The next category in line is scamming (in game's context). I don't call this griefing since it's done for profit, but it probably falls within some personal definitions for griefing. It results from the aggressor either exploiting a loophole or simply conning the victim. Again, the solution to the former is good mechanics. I don't think conning should receive much attention; if people continue to forego common sense, it will be to their detriment. Though, to keep some balance, I think public fora should exist to help deal with career con artists.

Lastly, we have virtual crime against other PCs("virtual" meaning "in context"). The relevant crimes are player-killing (non-repetitive) and thieving. Even these get blanketed as griefing by some, which I must say is fallacious on their part. To address them, systems like that in UO are on the right path, but still a little shy of the ideas I have. In addition, as in the case of the con artists, public fora can balance the effectiveness of serial killers and thieves.

In answer to your post Bryan,

>Frankly, I DON'T want the people to have to do the policing

Ideally irrelevant, since it can be very enjoyable by design. My experience as an anti-PK guild member in UO leads me to believe that this design goal can be easy to accomplish. Even if not found to be fun on its own, victims tend to have enough fire in them to go through with any retaliatory measure anyway.

>Secondly, when the players are given the tools to police each other, the griefers gain access to those very same tools.

This is resolved in the democratic nature of the tools you will give them, and an assumption that a majority of active people will uphold some morals. For example, if there is to be a group of players imbued with high-level policing powers, they would be elected by the people or appointed by the elected.

And the sports analogy fails here since it is impractical to have proactive ,in-game, non-player police. This doesn't pose a problem due to the other failure, that half of the population in the sports game--the team--might defend a lawbreaker, whereas there will (or should) be a large majority opposed to lawbreakers in a VW. I have noted, though, that the existence of this majority depends on the quality of the game. If it sucks, everyone wants to destroy it :)

(I'll blame my posting delay on prodigious egg nog consumption)

Posted Dec 26, 2003 6:51:55 AM | link

Sayeh says:

I just read this blog after two years of being founder and head of the SSG. I must say that Bryan Allman is 100% right on target with all of his posts. I know he wasn't trying to defend SSG or its actions, I am going to agree with him because this is exactly how I feel. If a player is griefing and by this I mean anything that could be considered against the already existing Terms of Service that the developers have put in place, if reported numerous times and the creators/monitors do not teach the disruptive player a lesson so they don't continue...what are the ones being "griefed" supposed to do? Out of the many players that do play the game for fun and are not interested in being stalked, harassed, even have an account hacked repeatedly by the same person.. Why should someone who DOES want to play the game be forced to play with this menace? If the game monitors won't deal with the existing problems the ones who wish to play the game will have to. I think a huge part of the problem comes down to customer service. How many times have you dealt with AOL for example and spoken to the same person? Probably never.. different people just like you can see in this post will have different views on what is acceptable behavior. Unfortunately, I think that a utopian society regardless if online or off will never exist because disagreements will always arise. Depending on the scale and the behavior of the party's involved I could foresee a high probability that one would be banished from this utopian sanctuary. Anytime you have a location that excludes the "BAD" you will have constant wars from those who wish to be included.. especially after the banishment or upon entering/invading. Perfect example would be America and our borders and ease that immigrants without the proper documents enter. With the good can come the bad.. therefore no utopian society will ever exist.

Thanks to all of you for your interest.. Im upset I didn't find this blog sooner.
Sayeh
Founder of The Sim Shadow Government
www.simshadow.com

Posted Jul 28, 2004 8:46:29 AM | link

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