A Riot

By way of an Oct 20 Grimwell Online post, "When Does an Online Game Go Too Far", comes an article from the "mmorpc" group at Yahoo Groups by Tammy O'Sullivan. The following incident was described:

...On Saturday, October 16, 2004, A Tale in the Desert, owned and operated by Andrew Tepper (also known as Teppy and Pharaoh, in-game) of eGenesis, sponsored and condoned a game-wide event that introduced sexual discrimination, upsetting a large portion of female players. The event was known throughout the game as "The Trader Malaki" ...As the event continued, female characters were continually treated to defamatory slurs and sexual discrimination, inciting a riot within the game...

There are a number of important issues embroiled here - including how socially edgy (vs. neutral) should our virtual worlds be, and whether those sharp edges should be mutable against player social norms and player actions. Should "official" world actions (e.g. GM orchestrated ones) be evaluated differently than player ones when it comes to measurement against real world norms? When should real world sensibilities pre-empt in-world, fictional assumptions?

Posed here are hard Terra Novan questions. On the one hand very real people were offended. On the other, I would hate to see all our worlds become antiseptic places without experimentation and distinct points-of-view.


Comments on A Riot:

theresa says:

I found some details of the event storyline at the ATITD wiki: http://wiki.atitd.net/tale2/TheTraderMalaki which clears up some of my gameworld-related concerns.

From the article quote posted above, it sounded like the discrimination was wide-spread, and player based. According to the wiki description (which, granted, may or may not be complete), it was one character refusing to trade with women, or desiring to trade for women as slaves.

I'm all for pushing the boundaries and using MMOs as a sort of ethical experiment chamber. From the description of the event on the wiki, I think it sounds completely reasonable from a designer standpoint trying to maintain a world, and as a player in that world.

Regarding the questions posed, I think what needs to be remembered is that "official" world actions are governed by real-world causality - in other words, in our wonderfully litigious country, the GM, the designer, the game company can be sued for 'official' actions deemed discriminatory. There's a fine line to tread between introducing a bigoted event character to an Ancient Egypt without sexual discrimination, and introducing sexual discrimination to your game world.

Events like this are fine - sexual discrimination, from what I can tell, was not introduced into everyday life. It won't affect most players and their advancement through the world.

For me, the distinction is clear: if it makes sense as far as the history and design the game world goes, then it's not an issue. If the designers have suddenly decided this arbitrarily and implemented a slipshod event to cloak the change, then it becomes a real world issue.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 12:28:35 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Discrimination of female, male or neuter characters ought to be perfectly OK! Since when did fictional characters get legal protection beyond copyrights?

I really hope that will never happen...

(I'm all against having GMs in the world, but that is because they are never seen as being "just" in-character. Players will always see a vital aspect of them as OOC constructs.)

Posted Oct 22, 2004 12:52:16 PM | link

Oliver says:

I managed to miss this event. I'd agree with theresa's comments though. It seems like people were taking offense to something directed at there avatar, meaning they were taking the situation personally when there was no intent of that. Sex of the avatar is rarely used as a factor in mmorpg's. It happens that in ATITD most avatars seem to be the same sex as the customer playing them, and ATITD isn't normally any different; this event character was an exception, and somewhat appropriate to the context.

If people want to take the situation personally, that is there problem (and I think it's probably something those individuals need to deal with; it's really not a healthy thing, IMO). But honestly this doesn't seem as bad as the grimwell article makes it out to be...

Maybe the women of the desert should propose a law banning the trader malaki from setting foot there again...

Posted Oct 22, 2004 1:02:47 PM | link

greglas says:

The ellipses left out a point, which may be significant depending on how you view these things:

The event was known throughout the game as "The Trader Malaki" in which a character named Malaki traveled throughout Egypt trading rare goods. Players lined up,waiting a great deal of time, to trade with Malaki but when a female character's turn to trade came, she was greeted with comments such as "Who is your master?", refusing to trade good with her stating that he did not trade with "slaves."

So, in theory, it did stop advancement for those female-presenting characters insofar as it wasted their time and prevented them from obtaining the rare goods. The wiki adds context, though -- it makes it pretty clear that Malaki is framed as a bad guy in the eyes of Egypt and the traded goods were contraband that needs to be returned.

"...a woman named Ashari, who stated that Malaki was a thief and a scoundrel. This latter came as no surprise, but what did was the fact that he had evidently stolen items from the royal family, including the Soul Jars, items which are said to bring good luck."

Posted Oct 22, 2004 1:08:32 PM | link

greglas says:

Found a couple player threads for those interested:

http://www.atitd.net/forum/showthread.php?t=5362

http://www.atitd.net/forum/showthread.php?t=5425

erika2 starts off the second with the interesting question: "[T]here has been no public outcry about the fact that female avatars can weave canvas and linen faster than men... Why isn't there a public outcry about this?"

Posted Oct 22, 2004 1:22:59 PM | link

bruce rogers says:

Teppy rules!

Posted Oct 22, 2004 1:26:27 PM | link

ren says:


I have not read all the forum post of logs of the event as yet, so I might be jumping in a bit quick here, but here goes,,,

One way to see ATITD is as a game about creating a cohesive society. From the very start of it the mentor system creates bonds between players. In the first telling chaos was symbolised by the character of The Stranger. The developers introduced events and technologies that could potentially be disruptive. An example of this was clear cutting were you could accumulate a lot of resources in a very short amount of time, but deplete an area of those resources for a long time – soon after this technology was discovered there were clear cutting ‘incidents’ which caused the player base to have long and complex discussions about how laws should be past (some of which might have been put into code) to regulate the use of the technology.

This is classic ATITD, all is sweetness and light, then suddenly a disruptive element is introduced, society may crumble or come together, this is kind of the point.

The game is also set in Ancient Egypt (news flash: they kind of did have the odd slave back then). Thus, to me, the introduction of a character that comes from a culture where women are seen as second class citizens, seems, in the role play context of the game, to be a fascinating game element.

Will the Egyptians ban all members of this society from Egypt even if this means that they will never access key technologies?

Also, consider this. You cannot kill anything in ATITD (actually at the end of the First Telling, if you tried really hard you could kill your self). So what we have is that, when seen out of the context of the game, a character is being sexist. In many MMOs characters kill each other!

Posted Oct 22, 2004 2:24:13 PM | link

Pharoah says:

As an Ancient-Egyptian-American, I'm appalled by the coments from ren.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:02:36 PM | link

kathgar says:

Women no longer have a lower end timer on looms. There is also the issue of slavery that was touched on in some of the forum threads (Re: Jaime)

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:06:20 PM | link

James says:

Let's not forget this is just a game. It is not some grand social experiment. It is a service that people pay for and when you type something out it is being read by a *person*, not an Avatar. If someone is playing the game and paying for it they have no responsibility to treat is as anything but a game. In college, you were payed to be experimented on. I think they have every right to expect a certain level of protection from this kind of insulting behaviour.

Would calling someone on another team a racial slur in the middle of a baseball game be okay? If it was just to get a reaction and not meant with ill will?

The "social experiment" of slavery and sexism has already been performed and it didn't go well. There is enough racism/sexism on the net without it being officially sanctioned by people who are taking your money...

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:15:24 PM | link

Susan B Anthony says:

Number of female Egyptian pharoahs > number of female American presidents

[Childish name-calling removed by moderator - Edward Castronova]

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:25:40 PM | link

voodooc says:

I think the 'racial slur' analogy falls down at a couple points.

First, the character's behavior isn't quite a 'racial slur'; it would be more accurate to call it discrimination. Pedantic, I know, sorry, but lets make sure we're talking about what actually happened.

That aside, you could still forge ahead with a better analogy: preventing someone from playing basketball because of their race.

A better analogy, but it still misses a critical point, I think.

Discriminating based on race in a basketball game has to do with their intrinsic characteristics. That's sort of what makes it 'racism', and bad, as far as I understand it. It's got nothing to do with the game.

In ATITD, your avatar's gender is a player choice. It's a game trait, not an intrinsic characteristic of the player. In the basketball analogy, it is not equivalent to the player's race (or gender, for that matter). It's closer to the player's choice in shoes, or their haircut.

Similarly, in ATITD you pick your avatar's height. If Malakai was choosing not to trade with anyone under 6' tall, would people be screaming about "height discrimination"?

No, they wouldn't. And, from what I know of Teppy (the game's designer), that's why he chose avatar gender as the discriminatory factor.

ATITD is *is" as much "social experiment" as it is "game". The focus of the game is a giant group-based challenge, and most of the individual challenges have to do with building trust with other players. This sort of drama is totally appropriate for this game.

- vc
former citizen of egypt

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:37:33 PM | link

ren says:

If there are facts about the incident that I don’t know about e.g. ‘Malaki’ being personally insulting to people as opposed to a character acting in a role and interacting with other characters, then I would probably support those that think this was inappropriate – I’ve criticised ATITD before about stepping outside the Magic Circle.

But if this was in the context that I gave then this fall into the category of what the limits of appropriate game play are (see also the current discussion on the Serious games list concerning the “Nanjing controversy” http://listserver.dmill.com/lyris.pl?visit=seriousgames&id=256960424), and for me a character that comes from a culture that does not respect women (to the degree that they are mere chattels) interacting with Ancient Egypt does not seem out of bounds as Egypt has to work out how it deals with this.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:45:24 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

------------------
Nathan wrote:

When should real world sensibilities pre-empt in-world, fictional assumptions?

I see these as hard Terra Novan questions. On the one hand very real people were offended.

------------------
Oh, those poor children. They were OFFENDED. My god, it's as bad as if gypsies broke into their houses one night and stole their children isn't it? We as a society must work to ensure that nobody is ever offended by anything!

Just think, maybe if we're REALLY GOOD, all game developers will start making inoffensive games that look like this: http://www.vzwdevelopers.com/aims/public/BrewContentGuidelines.jsp

I can't wait to beat up some more strippers in GTA: San Andreas or shoot me some innocent civilians, personally. In the meantime, I think I'll go snort some gleam and murder some characters in Achaea (feels like a vivisection kind of day!) to tide me over. Then perhaps I'll defile the dead bodies and stake out the corpses for public viewing.

I'll tell you when real world sensibilities should triumph: When the freaking designers/operaters decide they will triumph, and that's potentially vastly different for every game out there. If I want to make child rape a part of my world, I damn well will and the only thing anyone is going to do about it is stop playing in my world.

---------------------
James wrote:
Would calling someone on another team a racial slur in the middle of a baseball game be okay? If it was just to get a reaction and not meant with ill will?

---------------------
Yes, yes it would be ok. It's called "freedom of speech." There's no "freedom from ever being offended" as far as I'm aware. If you didn't like it, you could complain to the stadium management. Maybe they'll kick the guy out. That's probably their perogative. If not, tough.

---------------------
James wrote:
The "social experiment" of slavery and sexism has already been performed and it didn't go well. There is enough racism/sexism on the net without it being officially sanctioned by people who are taking your money...

---------------------
Hey, the social experiment of mass murder has certainly been tried many times and didn't go well, except from the point of view of those who approved of the mass murderers' actions. Doesn't stop 95% of MUDs (graphical or text) from implementing mass murder as the core game mechanic.

--matt

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:51:16 PM | link

EmmanuelGoldstein says:

A) It's a game
B) Said 'trader' I.G. came from a land where women were treated as slaves
C) The game is set in a time when women were treated as slaves
D) It's A FRICKEN GAME
E) It was protraying a VERY COMMON STEREOTYPE from the world IN THAT TIME PERIOD.

Stop trying to whitewash history, it happened, they were protrayeing like it happened during those times, dont like it, dont play.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:55:31 PM | link

Tribisha says:

In my opinion, having been on the server the day it occurred, the event was much like any other event with the obvious twist of something sour. Not everything can be sweet all the time and it was the reactions that the designer wanted to get. Rather than wanting to start a riot, he was looking to see if people would support each other and work together to trade, or whether people would take advantage of the fact that the trader was only trading with men.

Once the event had turned really sour due to the public outcry, there was a system wide announcement to confirm what the rest of us already knew, that there would be another event somewhere down the line that would focus on women and exclude men. It was an event to challenge the society of the game and see what they would do about it, simple as that.

I'm not saying people shouldn't get offended, they ahve every right to be offended but the challenge is to focus that energy and do something with it that is positive rather than taking the negative and breeding more negative from it.

If you haven't seen the game or read anything about it except for this article, may be you should see what it's about before jumping to conclusions and assumptions. http://www.atitd.com/ is the main site and http://www.atitd.net/ is the site with all the forums. You can even chat on IRC at irc.sorcery.net in the #atitd channel.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 3:56:33 PM | link

|NoSoup4U| says:

Instead of whinging in real life, shouldn't they be using the dynamic structure of the game to pass laws which abolish discrimination against sexe ?

This seems way to silly for me ; Should i complain the next time my dwarven warrior doesn't get the same great deal than my Elfen warrior in Everquest ?

There is enough blatant racism going around in real life ; they should focus on that if they are so offended...

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:10:16 PM | link

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz says:

James> Let's not forget this is just a game.

Well, it isn't "just" a game, or there wouldn't be such an outcry. However, who exactly is it that is forgetting that ATITD is a game? As Ren pointed out (rather un-idiotically IMHO) which is worse: Character sexism or character murder?

Novels routinely explore various social issues without being charged with "social experimentation," so why is this story element in ATITD different? And again, why is DAoC, in which characters can actually kill other characters, much less controversial? Isn't there enough killing in the Real World "without it being officially sanctioned by people who are taking your money...?" Why the double standard?

Also, in what manner is having a Antagonist do something in either a novel or an online world the same thing as officially sanctioning anything?

Mind you, I'm not saying that this ATITD story-line shouldn't be more controversial than DAoC's killings (or Darth Vader's destruction of Alderaan), I'm just really curious to explore why it so obviously is.

--Paul

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:10:20 PM | link

Darkonc says:

First of all, Most female avatars are also female players. This is part of what pissed off a lot of females. Although Malakai was in 'theory' only discriminatory against female avatars, the effect was discrimination against female players.

In any case, in a society like the egypt of AITD, I don't think that it's at all unreasonable to expect that people would get upset and attempt to take action against someone doing what Malakai did. In the real world, he'd have gotten the snot beaten out of him by somebody. Given that he appears to have been a 'game creature', I think that the 'riot' was probably the next best thing. (if you'll excuse the phrasing).

NB: Haven't read the more detailed history

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:22:33 PM | link

Dee Lacey says:

This is silly. There's arguments galore and they're all devolving into semantics.

Basically: No, it should not be illegal to make games that have sexism in them. That would be way past a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech. It should also not be illegal to make a game with any other component that you would not want in real life.

Should it therefore be legal to advertise and charge money for your game and then put such items in it sprung on unsuspecting customers? I think it should not be criminal but perhaps it should allow for civil complaints about fraud and false advertising and maybe even intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Should game developers do it? If they think it'll sell, or they want to do so for other reasons than making money (and are not publicly owned), then sure, they should give it a try.

Did ATITD give adequate warning to its users that this sort of game experience was part of the package? I don't know, and I doubt I'll make the effort to investigate this.

Should players be able to write editorials and post on message boards about how they hate this Malaki trader event or similar events, complain in game, "riot" in game or otherwise express their annoyance? Yes, not letting them do that would be way past a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech.

Should people who think the complainers are whining be able to say so? Yes again. Should people who think the complainers-about-whiners are idiotic be able to say so? Yes again. Etc ad infinitum. That's what freedom of speech is centrally about - you can yell all you want but so can everyone who disagrees with you.

Is anyone doing the above (complaining about the game event, complaining about the complainers, etc) committing any form of censorship? No. They are exercising their freedom of speech. Are they idiots? That's a matter of opinion, not fact, and I really don't think any of them are idiots for my own opinion, I think they just happen to disagree strongly about what is within the bounds of polite and proper behavior in various circumstances, and in many cases also disagree about what is fun for them in a game.

Would I enjoy a game that contained this sort of event with implicit sexism by a GM controlled character? No, I would not. The particular sort of behavior described as occurring in the "Malaki" event, is a sort of behavior that can (especially if I encounter it on an empty stomach, for some reason) make me feel severely nauseous, often accompanied by rage, or sometimes uncontrollable crying if I am in private. It goes beyond feeling "offended." Playing a game while sick to my stomach and furiously angry, isn't any fun. I take a bio break and play something else for a while.

I have had acquaintances that feel similarly when exposed to things I find mildly amusing, such as bulky males in pink speedos and berets dancing to boomboxes. To each their own triggers.

The most recent time this feeling of excessive illness/rage happened to me was about a year ago, when a player in a freeform rp game I am in wrote a story that happened to contain some actions about his character mistreating and murdering another. I asked the GM to ask all players whose stories included that sort of thing to put a warning in the subject line. She said it was up to them if they wanted to or not. I haven't read a post by that player since, but I still am in the game.

However, I am aware that the reason for my excessive reaction has to do with my own psychology, traumas in my past, etc. It is not intrinsic to the content that triggers it. This is important that everyone become aware that their revulsion at certain things is not license for them to outlaw those actions. If you are ill at the thought of what people of the same sex would do in private if married, you may wish to make such marriages illegal. Your reaction does not however justify that. Nor does my reaction justify prohibitions against any game including things that would make me vomit.

It does, however, easily justify me deciding not to purchase that game. And with a game that contains no combat, which might be thought to have natural appeal to women, it's an odd choice to do something that would antagonize possible women customers. It's perfectly legitimate for the creators to make it, though.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:24:59 PM | link

Obnoxious Idiot says:

I've always been amazed at the Rampant Stupidity of Others(tm) in this day and age. These people that got offended at an offensive NPC in ATITD need to grow up, get a clue, and look at the modern and primitive worlds. Wake up you fools and realize that for the most of human history, or should I say "'man history" here just to piss off the fools, in the Arabic/African/Medd area women were considered property or trade goods. Most everyone who wasn't royalty-attached or somehow related to whatever religious edifice fawned over was also considered property or trade goods. In the 'modern' Middle East, Asia, South America, Central America, and even Europe that there are still populations/groups/tribes/states/nations that consider anyone not in possession of "a pair" to be property or trade goods, or anyone not of their family/tribe to be sub-human. And did you know that in their culture that this is considered normal? The United States of America is not the only nation in the world, folks. Get a clue, get away from your computers, go outside, look at the sun, and for goodness sakes, travel to foreign lands so you can see just how screwed up your world view is.

I have better things to do then listen to easily offended people whine about how offended they are about a fictional character in a fictional representation of Ancient Egypt treating female characters appropriately for his culture at the time.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:59:30 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Darkonc wrote:
In any case, in a society like the egypt of AITD, I don't think that it's at all unreasonable to expect that people would get upset and attempt to take action against someone doing what Malakai did. In the real world, he'd have gotten the snot beaten out of him by somebody.

Really? He would have? How odd and how contrary to my experience. I wonder if you've ever been to the area of the world that A Tale in the Desert is set in?

--matt

Posted Oct 22, 2004 4:59:53 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

What happens when a riot begins in a virtual world and then breaks out into the real one?

What happens when a real-world war seeps into a virtual world? Or vice versa?

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:04:51 PM | link

Chris says:

Maybe I'm not up on my archeology, but I don't think we really know what the life of the average commoner, male or female, was like back in the day of the Pharaohs.

"We are, of course, limited to the available documentation which only indirectly touches the bulk of the population, the peasant-farmers at the bottom of the economic scale. There are ample written records to show how the economy functioned at the level of the royal family, the wealthier strata of officialdom, and the temple hierarchies." [1]

However what we do know precludes merchants from treating all women as slaves.

"Women were frequently identified by their husband and his occupation but still had considerable theoretical autonomy in legal and economic situations." [1]

"Egypt treated its women better than any of the other major civilizations of the ancient world ... regarded as totally equal to men as far as the law was concerned. They could own property, borrow money, sign contracts, initiate divorce, appear in court as a witness, etc. Of course, they were also equally subject to whatever responsibilities normally accompanied those rights." [2]

[1] http://www.stoa.org/diotima/essays/wardlect.shtml

[2] http://www.umich.edu/~kelseydb/Exhibits/WomenandGender/intro.html

[3] http://www.womenintheancientworld.com/women_in_ancient_egypt.htm

I've never played ATITD but it certainly doesn't seem to be stratified *enough* to be like ancient Egypt. Isn't it run democratically or something? Heh. If you're going to use the "we're just being authentic" line you should at least be so...

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:19:21 PM | link

eM says:

Want to know the most imteresting thing?

When the populace discovered the NPCs views on women, what did they do?

I'll tell you:

They insulted back,
They spammed said Npcs chats,
They object spammed (re: kept giving them hyper-common objects, like sand. When given an opbject a popup usually appears to say you received said object. Obviously hundreds of people giving = hundreds of popups)

And, perhaps stupidest of all,
They Spammed GMcalls, which are reserved to report technical glitches, not whine about a player bieng mean.

What they didn't do:
Ignore him,
go through proper channels to get him banned from egypt.

And then, they had the audacity to complain about it. perhaps if they'd bothered to deal with it properly rather than like a bunch of spoiled brats then things would have ended better.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:34:44 PM | link

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz says:

Dee Lacey> The most recent time this feeling of excessive illness/rage happened to me was about a year ago, when a player in a freeform rp game I am in wrote a story that happened to contain some actions about his character mistreating and murdering another.

I remember feeling rage/helplessness when the Kilrathi leader killed my love interest in Wing Commander III. Later, there is a mission where you have an opportunity to battle that same Kilrathi, but are given strict orders not to do so, but to get back to the carrier. If you go after the Kilrathi, you lose the game. I still went after him. Over and over again, trying to figure out how to kill him quickly and still make it back to the carrier.

To this day, that game is one of my favorites because it actually made me care. I really wanted revenge and was emotionally involved in the story.

Obviously, that experience was very different from how many experienced "Malaki," and I'm very curious about the differences.

Is it because Malaki was being played by an actual person, so it was easier to connect him with a GM instead of seeing him as a character in a story? Is it because of the interactive and social nature of online gaming? Perhaps the more controlled environment of a single-player game or a novel feels safer? Online worlds feel more like a public gathering place and less like a story or a game?

Is there anything that Teppy could have done differently to help players have an emotional reaction more like my own in WC3? A reaction that could be seen as entertaining and compelling, though not particularly "fun" as a singular game element? Or is it impossible in an MMORPG to implement such content in a manner that doesn't offend a lot of people? (I hope the latter is not true, since that would seem to make MMORPGs much less interesting as a tool for exploring the human condition.)

--Paul

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:41:31 PM | link

Nathan Combs says:


...They were OFFENDED...

Or is it impossible in an MMORPG to implement such content in a manner that doesn't offend a lot of people?

This is a difficult topic precisely because there are so many cross-cutting issues in play here. It strikes me though, that the question of whether or not players should have been *offended* misses the larger possiblity: how can one frame a provocative fiction in their worlds without offending people? This is a different question than whether or not people should be offended given some assumptions about design (e.g. status quo).

Perhaps one challenge for MMORPGs has to do with the tenuousness of the immersive experience (ref. number of previous TN discussions) over single player games.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 5:56:19 PM | link

greglas says:

Just FYI: More discussion on Slashdot. (479 comments at the moment.)

Posted Oct 22, 2004 6:03:46 PM | link

blah says:

Just goes to show, if you add this kind of element to you game you can get Slashdotted :) $$$$

Posted Oct 22, 2004 6:05:02 PM | link

Dee Lacey says:

Paul wrote:
"I remember feeling rage/helplessness when...
To this day, that game is one of my favorites because it actually made me care. I really wanted revenge and was emotionally involved in the story."

I had a similar experience to what you describe about Wing Commander. It was in a D&D game I played about 14 years ago. I became very attached to an npc and when he was killed (by an arrow shot from my own bow, gone awry) I was devastated - in character - and crying for real, quiet tears without sobs. The other players were terribly worried about me. But I was *enjoying* it. The feeling of being wrapped up in the game, so involved I could feel the character's emotions.

I don't believe it's the same feeling at all, as the "offended" rage/nausea thing I was describing in my previous post.

And the difference is so simple - it's a matter of expectation, I believe. If you have consented to have your feelings wrapped up that way - you enjoy it. If you haven't - you feel an injury.

In a game - there is an implicit contract between the GM(s) and the player(s). If something is emotionally wrenching and within this contract, it makes the game memorable. If it is emotionally wrenching and outside the contract, it destroys the game.

I read a lot of interesting discussion about this "game contract" concept in rec.games.frp.advocacy over the years. It might still be around in google newsgroups.

Of course another possibility is that you just find something fun that others don't. Can't rule that out. :)

the self described obnoxiousIdiot wrote:
"for the most of human history, or should I say "'man history" here just to piss off the fools, in the Arabic/African/Medd area women were considered property or trade goods."

Er, excuse me, but perhaps you're missing something obvious here, person whose name I don't wish to use because I don't wish to be insulting.

It is *because* of this history that it is so stressful and un-fun to many people to encounter this in pretend-land.

It is real history, really happened to many people, and left scars behind. Those scars haven't healed. Such evil, tolerated as fun, is sickening. And I consider it evil to turn human beings into trade goods. Whether they are black, Jewish, female, or otherwise demarked doesn't make it any less evil. Or for that matter, any more evil. But the fact that it really happened to those groups (and others), makes us more sensitive about it in a lot of cases.

If there was a lot of historical periods and a huge swath of the world where people like you were enslaved, habitually and acceptedly, you might find it more disturbing than if you were a sort of person who would be much less likely to have your human rights violated in that way. Which seems pretty darn rational to me :)

In fact people tend to be *less* offended when treated in a way that is not historically a way they or those like them have been abused. As another poster pointed out, you would not have such emotional reactions if they had been discriminating against the tall.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 6:37:41 PM | link

Jesus says:

It's called roleplaying. If you're not willing to role play maybe you should play the game. Having your character enraged inside the game is valid tho.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 6:42:13 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Jesus, GMs are never roleplaying. They might try, but it isn't their roleplay the players are excited about and it isn't their roleplay efforts they are judged by. Developers should know this. The event as described was as kitch and clueless as anything you see in MMOs.

If you had spent your life taking shit for being a black female, and found the virtual world to be a place where you can be judged for who you are, wouldn't you be offended if you felt that the official capacities of the game brought all those bad feelings into the freedom you had gained in this virtual setting? Sexism and being called a slave might be a bit over the top, perhaps? I think it is a bit too easy for white-young-men to judge how players with a different life story are supposed to react.

Regarding leaving the game. If people who didn't roleplay should leave RPGs, then all MMOs would go down in an instant...

Good roleplay involves turning things upside down and creating drama, but in a way which keeps thing IC and not brings it all out to OOC. As an official roleplaying effort it was highly clueless. No doubt about it. Of course, the roleplaying effort was probably not the goal here... And I say that as a dedicated roleplayer who has managed to hurt real people with my roleplay. It happens and you regret it.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 7:12:21 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Ola wrote:
Jesus, GMs are never roleplaying. They might try, but it isn't their roleplay the players are excited about and it isn't their roleplay efforts they are judged by. Developers should know this. The event as described was as kitch and clueless as anything you see in MMOs.

Nonsense. It is simply flat-out untrue to say GMS are never roleplaying (ours are instantiated as in-role Gods), and it's similarly untrue to say that players are not excited by their roleplay. Perhaps that's true in some games. Ok, it IS true in some games. It is certainly not true in all MMOs.
--matt

Posted Oct 22, 2004 7:30:12 PM | link

Bob Hancock says:

It's a fascinating read to take in the vast spectrum of comments in this thread.

The thing that really sends my mind spinning is trying to quantify why a reaction like this happened in response to a virtual reality of ancient Egypt but such a reaction does not seem to happen in the same way in response to similar scenarios as portrayed in written literature or the visual dramatic arts where the "viewer" is passive.

The conclusion I've tenatively come to is that people more personally involve themselves in "virtual realities" than when reading literature or watching movies. I think the implications of this for sociology are profound.

This incident makes it appear obvious that virtual realities have the ability to reveal values deeply held by their participants. This could suggest the corollary that a carefully crafted virtual reality might also have the ability to subtly shape or influence the values of the participants.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 7:41:29 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt, your response was expected :-). Let me put it this way "players would have been excited in a different way if they had not known that they were GMs". I am not saying that GMs are bad roleplayers, I am saying that players see the OOC link to the official capacities behind the game. It is therefore inconvieble that their actions will be experienced as "just in-character" by your typical player. Disagree, if you wish.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 7:44:03 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Ola wrote:
Matt, your response was expected :-). Let me put it this way "players would have been excited in a different way if they had not known that they were GMs". I am not saying that GMs are bad roleplayers, I am saying that players see the OOC link to the official capacities behind the game. It is therefore inconvieble that their actions will be experienced as "just in-character" by your typical player. Disagree, if you wish.


Yes, that's true. They do see the OOC link. Of course, similarly, they see the OOC link between -every- character and the player behind it, but that doesn't seem to prevent them from being immersed.

--matt

Posted Oct 22, 2004 7:49:18 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

It's not at all the same. I'm suprised you think so.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 8:00:05 PM | link

Chek Yang says:

Do GMs role-play?

A while ago when it was a big deal to hit level 20 in EverQuest, the GMs made it a point to personally visit each player who hit that mark, and in an IMO very well role-played ceremony, bestow upon that player his chosen last name. The GM even took the time to ask the user - in very RP manner - questions on his readiness to be recognised, and the surrounding players would often get into the spirit of things too. They certainly seemed excited about the occasion.

Certainly these occasions didn't happen anymore once a large number of players starting getting to level 20, but I still remember this type of incident very well because I was the recipient from one such event when my main avatar hit level 20 too.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 8:32:16 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Check, I am not at all arguing whether GMs are capable of roleplaying or whether it is enjoyable. I am arguing that they are interpreted differently. GMs are never just a character. They are always GMs, and that's an aspect that is difficult to ignore. To put it simple. Basically, your example, if anything, shows my point.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 8:45:32 PM | link

anonymous says:

Excuse me but.. sexual discrimination in a game is not ok, but killing your comrades is? Geeee. Some people do have some serious issues...

Posted Oct 22, 2004 9:17:27 PM | link

John Edwards says:

Back in that period, they didn't have Soul Jars, either. Or magic. How "period" do we want to get?

Posted Oct 22, 2004 9:50:34 PM | link

Hellinar says:

I don’t think racism or sexism is appropriate in games. But I do think racist or sexist characters can be appropriate in stories or plays. Using racist slurs against an opposing player on the football field is inappropriate. Roleplaying an ogre that makes racist remarks about elves in fine in my book.

From that point of view, the big problem with the Malakai event was that it was not placed clearly in a story context. So some players took the remarks as OOC and got offended. Also, in my experience, good roleplayers when playing an evil character keep enough OOC channels open to ensure that the other players are not being offended. The GM in question didn’t do this. The event intention was I think “evil character challenges Egypt to deal with an obnoxious visitor”. Instead, for some Players, it got framed as “GM abuses Players”. If you read the detail discussion, you may notice that the event bypassed the official event team. And the Event Team leader resigned over that issue. I think if the event had been properly handled it would have not offended people.

Nathan> When should real world sensibilities pre-empt in-world, fictional assumptions?

By my reading, whoever wrote the Grimwell account took the event as entirely OOC. Which isn’t too surprising, as the developer in my view hasn’t done that good a job of establishing the in-world, fictional assumptions. In my experience, there is a roleplaying community in ATiTD, but there is a big chunk of the player base has no experience of it. Hence they take such an event as abuse by a GM rather than conflict between characters.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 10:25:34 PM | link

Andrew Tepper says:

Technically, Malaki wasn't a GM, though he was played by someone who's other character is. So, Malaki had no special powers or protections. The event might have been more interesting after we had at least one Demi-Pharaoh though, since historically Demi-Pharaohs have been elected by pledging never to use the power of Exile: They would have to then decide whether to break their election promise, or force Egypt to endure Malaki's behavior.

Posted Oct 22, 2004 10:43:29 PM | link

John Prevost says:

I have to say that I jumped to support the event staff and eGenesis when I heard about this event. (It might be worth noting that my character is female, but I am male in real life.)

It brought up a lot of interesting things--although I was disappointed to learn on the forums that those organizing the event did not think this "quirk" of the character was going to be a big deal.

The thing that really gets me, from the interesting-bits-about-society direction, is what the poster above mentioned about how the character was treated. In general, people in ATITD's Egypt are quite good at cooperating with each other. Things aren't super smooth (I've been involved in my share of stupid politics, for example), but for the most part people treat it as one individual or group having issues with another individual or group.

In this case, though, it was different. If a player character had been doing this, people would have been upset, and worked to find a way to ban the character. (In ATITD, *player*s can only be banned for a couple of rule violations--muling with an unpaid trial account, for example. When a character is banned, the player is free to create a new character and continue--although they need to pay for a new account, they don't get "time left" from their banned account, which makes a good hedge against repetitive thoughtless griefing.) They may even have taken the uncouth actions described above to chase the player away. But I don't think they would have gone so far.

In essence, even though it was unintended, the event really *did* simulate (in a very fast and tense sort of way) a person from another culture with repugnant features coming and trying to make waves. And a not insignificant number of the players around took the time-tested avenue of stoning the character and running him out of town.

Indeed, not sweetness and light at all.


I do think that those involved are to blame for not realizing that this was going to be a big deal. I chimed in on the side of "this *must* have been planned, because nobody could be stupid enough to not realize there would be a bad reaction--even if they didn't expect it to be *this* bad." I was completely dumbfounded when I learned that the character's misogyny was considered a minor part of the event.

But we should expect a certain amount of moving and shaking like this when we play ATITD. Because while it *is* a game and not just a social experiment, it is also really a game and social experiment in one. The whole point of the game (long term) is to see if all of the players can work together well enough to complete major major projects in a restricted timeframe to "win".

It's true that games are about having fun--but for some of us, the fact that the game is intentionally designed with serious social problems (pollution, for example) which must be worked through by the players is a very very important part of that fun. If there were never any reasons for conflict between players--whether it be politics over conflicting goals, competition for rare resources, or whatever--the game would not be nearly as attractive to me. And I say that even though I mostly try to steer clear of the controversy and just do science to understand the physics of the world better. :)

P.S. Teppy: I had understood that event characters were also protected from the Demi-Pharaoh ban power. Is this not the case?

Posted Oct 23, 2004 12:50:22 AM | link

Bruce says:

I think we need to seperate this into two parts.

Firstly, can a GM run an event wherein the parties in-game insult characters in-game based on gender, race, and so on? I think so, particularly if it is done specifically to provoke social change. There's no harm done beyond some ruffled feathers, so it's perfectly fine. However, any big business has to tread carefully when doing this, because too big a flap can cost them customers, even if it is "okay" to do such an event.

Secondly, and to me this is the more key point, is is it okay for such an event to give an in-game advantage to one group over the other? This is far trickier. Games do this all the time with class and race-based quests, so that's not new, but on the other hand everyone usually gets their own equivalent quest/item, so it's not unfair discrimination. In this case, though, one sex was completely excluded from accessing the "phat loot" and the other was allowed -- that seems to step over a line. Why? I think partially because RL concerns obvious bleed into it... people for the most part can't choose their RL sex (or gender, depending on what definition you use), yet in a VR game you can. A quest where only, say, Wizards got benefits and no other class would not be viewed with the same sort of outrage, although players would still complain, especially if the imbalance persisted over time.

If the game had a systematic series of encounters/quests and some were restricted to men and other to women, then the players would be much more acclimated to this type of gameplay. But this event is unique, and not within the realm of player expectations. Even if there were a corresponding female event next month where males were excluded, the rarity of such events would still cause controversy because they would stand out so much.

Bruce

Posted Oct 23, 2004 6:27:56 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

This basically boils down to "if you don't like it, you can leave".

The players who objected to the sexism were doing so for the same reason that the "rape in cyberspace" people objected to MrBungle's actions: it brought shocking reality into the virtual.

Virtual worlds feature much worse things than sexism, but these are advertised up-front. A virtual world with sexism designed-in would (or should) be no more controversial than one with murder designed-in. People who don't like sexism don't have to play.

The problem comes when these things aren't advertised up-front. Reality impinges on virtual worlds all the time, but sometimes it comes in such a large dose that it shocks some or all players out of the virtual and into the real. This is what happened here, for whatever reason. For those affected, it ceases to be a "game"; for everyone else, the magic circle holds and the attack from reality is beaten off.

As always when the real impacts the virtual (we see this with commodification etc. too), the players affected can do one of 4 things:
1) Grit their teeth and suffer in silence.
2) Leave.
3) Threaten to leave, in an attempt to get the virtual world changed so it better suits them.
4) Call in the real-world police.

We're seeing a lot of 3) at the moment. I don't think 2) will happen much (although it may mean people who were thinking of signing up to ATITD decide not to in the light of this). 1) is invisible.

I'm generally against 4), because there is always a legitimate reason that some virtual world or other might want to represent anything at all. However, I believe that it would be in the best interests of VW designers if they were to clear certain controversial things in advance.

Example 1: a virtual world in which players took on the role of POWs trying to escape from a World War 2 camp would have to have all-male characters because otherwise it would just be too distant from history. This isn't all that controversial.

Example 2: a virtual world depicts a far future feminist dystopia where all men are kept drugged as docile servants by dominant amazons. This may be off-putting to many men, but if it's OK as a movie then it's probably OK as a game.

Example 3: a virtual world set in the age of piracy occasionally depicts slavery. They had slaves in those days, so it's historically accurate. Most pirate games don't depict slavery, though, and if someone who had been playing for a month suddenly found their character had captured a ship full of half-dead slaves then it might be a very unpleasant shock for them. The developers could (and perhaps should) be open to a lawsuit on the subject. If they'd warned that it could happen in advance, though, they could (and certainly should) be protected from such lawsuits.

Example 4: a virtual world for teaching psychologists about paedophilia allows adult avatars to perform sex acts with child avatars. This is something that should be allowed, but it would be really dumb of the developers not to go to a judge and get some kind of legal OK first.

Example 5: a bunch of terrorists create a virtual world for the purpose of recruiting and training members of their organisation. They say it's just a game, and claim freedom of speech laws protect them anyway. Sorry, terrorist dudes, you're going to jail anyway.

OK, so coming back to the ATITD incident, what do we have? We have an ill-judged insertion of sexism into a virtual world in which sexism does make sense, but which previously had avoided it. We have some promise of a balancing sexism incident planned for the future (create those female avatars now, people!) but no evidence that this is true. We have a design decision that affects characters being interpreted as affecting players. We haven't yet had big-name academics with no concept of the issues pontificating on them as if they actually played these games, but I dare say that's something we can look forward to...

My verdict: Teppy was within his rights to do this. The players were within their rights to complain. Teppy gets to decide whether to listen to the players. The players get to decide whether to quit or not based on this. There isn't enough real-world effect to justify legal action, but that doesn't mean that for another virtual world at another time there wouldn't be.

Richard

Posted Oct 23, 2004 7:26:15 AM | link

dave says:

I don't play ATITD, but I play several other MMO's. In my opinion, it's not that big of a deal for this sort of thing to occur, in the context of a story element.

Why? Well, for one, it's a simulation of an ancient culture. It's a little different than our current one. Secondly, a character's gender in game has no bearing on their real-life gender or bearing. In short, people are being overly sensitive.

Posted Oct 23, 2004 7:49:52 AM | link

Jeff Cole says:

Richard:

Example 5: a bunch of terrorists create a virtual world for the purpose of recruiting and training members of their organisation. They say it's just a game, and claim freedom of speech laws protect them anyway. Sorry, terrorist dudes, you're going to jail anyway.

Why does the law not protect them? Games aren't speech? Is it unprotected speech or are we back to a 'clear and present danger' test for free speech rights?

And, after all, there's no causal relationship between games and violence. Is there?

Wouldn't an operational Example 5 be a really good place to collect intelligence? Like what might be a target?

Jeff Cole

Posted Oct 23, 2004 7:56:06 AM | link

MadDwarf says:

What would happen if, in this game, an Amazon Warrior arrived in town, and would only trade with female avatars, refereing to men as "filth" and being shocked that they held any power?

Posted Oct 23, 2004 8:11:22 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Andrew Tepper> Technically, Malaki wasn't a GM, though he was played by someone who's other character is. So, Malaki had no special powers or protections.

Doesn't matter. If players perceive it as an official event then the main characters represent the "face of the company". Then it becomes the company's responsibility to keep the event IC. Roleplaying is about taking the opportunities of the situation and make the most out of it. This requires more than planning, it requires skills in improvising. (And if it goes wrong, OOC explanations)

Players are like students. A lecturer cannot blame the students for not being interested in the topic. It is the lecturer's responsibility to motivate the students and make them interested in the topic.

Posted Oct 23, 2004 9:57:54 AM | link

John S. says:

Richard wrote> This basically boils down to "if you don't like it, you can leave".

- - -

One of the most interesting (and very scary) aspects of this episode to me was watching the reaction of players (and GMs) in the immediate aftermath - observing the cognitive dissonance formed by people who found the event extremely distasteful, and yet had too much character investment stored up in the game to vote with their feet and hit the big red "quit" button. Over time, the ATITD-faithful found all kinds of ways to rationalise the event (you can kind of see this process unfolding in the threads on the ATITD forums; at first, outrage over the event is pretty much prevailant - but within 48 hours or so, that turns around, and everybody is posting messages along the lines of "well, actually, in retrospect, I don't really see what all the fuss was about..")

I'm one of the people who *did* quit ATITD over this episode - an since leaving, I've had no end of people telling me "I wish I had the willpower to do the same". To me, that's a little bit scary. Are people compromising their rl non-acceptance of sexism in order to keep feeding their ongoing MMORPG addiction? Could an unscrupulous virtual world owner (not that I'm suggesting for one moment that eGenesis are unscrupulous - I know full well that this event was run through ignorance rather than intent) use that same process of psychological consonance to deliberately numb people to some other political agenda? MMORPG as a brainwashing tool, anyone? :)

Posted Oct 23, 2004 10:19:40 AM | link

Peter S. Jenkins says:

Richard>My verdict: Teppy was within his rights to do this. The players were within their rights to complain. Teppy gets to decide whether to listen to the players. The players get to decide whether to quit or not based on this. There isn't enough real-world effect to justify legal action, but that doesn't mean that for another virtual world at another time there wouldn't be.

Richard, I agree with your "verdict" which may surprise you since we have disagreed on speech issues in the past. A MMOG is not a "place of public accommodation" under the Civil Rights Act, since it is not a physical location. See the recent US Court of Appeals decision, Noah v. AOL Time Warner (March 24, 2004) which upheld a lower court decision that stated that a chatroom could not be a place of public accommodation because it was not an actual physical location in the real world. The same outcome would apply to a MMOG. Therefore, the sexist behavior by the avatar does not create a "hostile environment" claim under the CRA. I also agree with you that the players were within their rights to stage their protest about the sexist behavior. As I stated in my article on the topic, players have speech rights under the First Amendment because a MMOG is a company town. (Having played the first version of ATITD for many hours, I certainly sometimes felt like I lived there.)

You might ask whether it is inconsistent to state that a MMOG is not a place of public accommodation because it is not an actual physical place in the real world, but at the same time state that a MMOG is a form of company town. The answer is that it is not inconsistent, since the concept of the company town is not rooted in a narrow statutory definition of place the way that public accommodation is.

I also agree that the players are of course free to leave the MMOG at any time but that is just an observation and is not determinative of their speech and/or civil rights.

Peter

Posted Oct 23, 2004 10:59:52 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Peter S. Jenkins> I also agree that the players are of course free to leave the MMOG at any time but that is just an observation and is not determinative of their speech and/or civil rights.

I think it is wrong to define a MMO as a particular situation. If it is sold as an interactive improvised novel where you are expected to play fictional characters then I cannot see how the players can claim speech-rights on the scene. If that was so then that would imply a ban on roleplaying MUDs!

If the MMO is sold as a 3D homepage space (active worlds, sencond life etc) then that is something completely different. IMHO.

Posted Oct 23, 2004 11:52:29 AM | link

Apophis says:

(Quote - John S.)
>One of the most interesting (and very scary) aspects >of this episode to me was watching the reaction of >players (and GMs) in the immediate aftermath - >observing the cognitive dissonance formed by people >who found the event extremely distasteful, and yet had >too much character investment stored up in the game to >vote with their feet and hit the big red "quit" >button. Over time, the ATITD-faithful found all kinds >of ways to rationalise the event (you can kind of see >this process unfolding in the threads on the ATITD >forums; at first, outrage over the event is pretty >much prevailant - but within 48 hours or so, that >turns around, and everybody is posting messages along >the lines of "well, actually, in retrospect, I don't >really see what all the fuss was about..")
(End Quote)

Wow. I've played ATITD a very long time. I guess I'm already brainwashed. While I thought the event was probably not the best, I never once considered quitting over it. Am I sexist? I dunno, I asked my wife. She said the only change she'd see is that Teppy should have apologized to the people that were offended. And I can see that. But quitting? An absurd overreaction, imho. And your statement of cognitive dissonance is not only silly, it's wrong. Yes, I'm sure some people did indeed undergo that. And then they realized, wow, this was a stupid thing to get upset about. Is that cognitive dissonance? Thinking about something and realizing that at the end of the day, with ALL the facts presented, it was really making a mountain out of a molehill? I don't think so. I think that, on the whole, this was a lot of pretty intelligent people who were initially upset, and when they were given all the information, decided it wasn't nearly as bad as they had first believed.

I'm not saying the game is perfect. The game has problems. All games do. But demoninzing Teppy because he wanted to stir up controversy is wrong. And if you didn't know what you were getting into with playing this game, and you're so unhappy with this event that you felt you needed to leave, great. I'm happy you left, perhaps we can delve into other issues more, or this issue even deeper. I look forward to more events like this. For those of you who are new to the game, he's been doing them since the beginning, and will continue to do them. And that's the reason the game is great. Not because you can build things, but because of the social interaction, and seeing how the society we've built deals with issues like this on the whole.

-Apophis (James Stoneburner)

Posted Oct 23, 2004 12:58:24 PM | link

Peter S. Jenkins says:

John S.>Could an unscrupulous virtual world owner (not that I'm suggesting for one moment that eGenesis are unscrupulous - I know full well that this event was run through ignorance rather than intent) use that same process of psychological consonance to deliberately numb people to some other political agenda? MMORPG as a brainwashing tool, anyone? :)

John, interesting hypothesis, but freedom of speech rights would mitigate against this nightmarish scenario. In some countries where there are no freedom of speech rights even in the real world, a highly addictive MMOG might in the future be a particularly insidious vehicle for subtly disseminating various forms of propaganda.

Peter

Posted Oct 23, 2004 1:32:20 PM | link

Damion Schubert says:

All games do. But demoninzing Teppy because he wanted to stir up controversy is wrong.

I don't think he was striving to stir up controversy. I think, what he wanted to do, was to engage in some interactive fiction, which forced the members of this socially-driven game to react. As I noted elsewhere, the interesting thing is not that this event occurred, but rather that there appear to be such different rules for what's acceptable and what's not in interactive fiction vs other creative media.

Posted Oct 23, 2004 5:26:42 PM | link

greglas says:

Reposting below Andrew's Tepper's comments made over at Slashdot -- figuring people might not read all 600+ comments there...


While those saying "it's only a game" are making an often heard point, I haven't seem much discussion along the lines of why I think this was an interesting event. (BTW, I'm lead designer of ATITD [atitd.com].)

To a new player, ATITD can seem like a game about building "stuff." You build your camp, your compound, your character. If you play a long time, or play smart, you can excel in all of that. But the real challenge is that it's a game about building a perfect society, and that is *hard*. It's hard in RL, and if I'm doing my job correctly it should be hard in the game.

Along comes a foreign trader, with shiny new goods, and an attitude that's totaly offensive, totally out of line with the culture that has developed in our Ancient Egypt. Would you trade with him? Would you put aside your morals, if it meant you'd get an advantage that many people don't have? In real-life, would you patronize a store that had a "no jews allowed" policy? What if they had *really* good prices? Would you do it and hope nobody saw? Maybe feel guilty?

The best books, movies, television - can provoke a range of emotions. I like books that make me feel happy, enraged, triumphant, guilty, enlightened, sad. I want to have all of those emotions available in an MMO, and emotions occur in players, not characters.

So, to create emotions you have to do things to characters that the people behind them will react to. The only question is how hard is it ok to push? So hard that the person kills themself? Of course not. Did this event push too hard? Certainly for some people it did.

I'll continue to make it hard to build this perfect society. If that means we trade subscriber counts for a more memorable, challenging experience, I'm confortable with that. After all, if I were optimizing for subscriber counts, I'd have done a combat based game. Hell, if I were optimizing for money, I'd have been a lawyer!

Posted Oct 23, 2004 9:59:54 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Jeff Cole>Why does the law not protect them? Games aren't speech? Is it unprotected speech or are we back to a 'clear and present danger' test for free speech rights?

If I went out into the street right now and urged people to take up arms and decapitate immigrants, I'd be arrested in no time. My purpose in this example was to illustrate that there are cases where even though games are regarded as free speech, people can not expect that to protect them. If you're saying that this particular example doesn't go that far, OK, well substitute it with one that does. If you're saying that it is impossible for any participant in a virtual world to lose their liberty as a result of what they said in it, well, OK, maybe that's the case in the USA but it isn't in the UK. At the very least, what was said in the virtual world could be used as evidence of intent, in the same way that bugging a conversation between two terrorists in a RL hotel room can be.

>Wouldn't an operational Example 5 be a really good place to collect intelligence? Like what might be a target?

It would be, yes, but that doesn't mean it should therefore be legal.

Richard

Posted Oct 24, 2004 6:39:18 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Peter S. Jenkins>Richard, I agree with your "verdict" which may surprise you since we have disagreed on speech issues in the past.

I think our differences are that you look at the law as it stands (as you see it) and apply that to virtual worlds, whereas I look at how the law should stand (as I see it) and lobby against misapplication of existing laws created for other purposes.

Richard

Posted Oct 24, 2004 6:44:29 AM | link

Mirjam Eladhari says:

It’s interesting to see how the word game is normatively loaded in this discussion. On one hand we have "it is just a game", which gives way to trivialise the experiences, and the other - it is a game, and therefore "justified" since the events take place within a fiction or magic circle. The trivializing aspect makes me remember the telling about MrBungle (that Richard referred to) and how the argumentation in LambdaMoo was described by Julian Dibbel - in that case trivializing was not possible for those who had a stake in the world. (McKinnons argumentation from 1997 also suggest that having a stake or not having a stake is crucial, in his context it’s about punishing crimes though.
I agree with the majority of those who have posted here, where the general approach seem to be that it is not so much about "justifying" anything, but rather see the events as part of the in-world drama even though it is (as in this thread) extending beyond it. Credits to Teppy and the egenesis team who time after another creates interesting situations
Mirjam

Posted Oct 24, 2004 7:16:32 AM | link

Cocoanut says:

I have two good online friends who play ATITD, one male, one female. I played it with them for a week once on a trial account. I was planning on joining them for ATITD this fall, but got too busy on TSO and missed the beta on it.

Friday night they were late to our regular Friday night thing in TSO. They said they were late because of this huge drama that had gone on when a GM had role-played a guy who wouldn't trade with female characters and insulted them and talked about how they should be slaves.

My friends weren't very upset by this, and thought people were over-reacting. But I was appalled! "If I'd waited and looked forward to trading then found out that I couldn't because I was a female character, I would be majorly pissed," I explained.

It was immediately clear to me that game goods had been denied to game players (with insulted added to the injury) on a storyline whim. By a GM no less! And this was not simple fiction. This was actual discrimination against players under the guise of storyline, with no upfront warning or expectation that this could occur. And to add insult to injury, they were insulted at the same time! By a game representative!

All this seems to me about as harmless as if someone in TSO decided to role-play by creating a back-of-the-bus house, where players of color found themselves being told to go to the back, and that they were not allowed to use the group objects.

The fact that it was actually the game designer doing the equivalent of this in ATITD for "fun" makes the whole thing so very much more disturbing.

I won't be rejoining ATITD now, particularly since this Teppie person still can't see his mistake. Doing the event again with males as victims misses the point entirely, and in no way acts as a remedy.

coco

Posted Oct 24, 2004 11:21:21 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Ola wrote, referring to his theory that players are incapable of appreciating GM roleplaying:
It's not at all the same. I'm suprised you think so.

Well, I can only tell you that I -know- some players appreciate GM roleplaying, because I've played games where I have. Further, I've had players rave to us about our GMs roleplaying. I seriously doubt your sweeping statement has any real validity behind it. Perhaps some or even most players don't appreciate it. I have no idea. I can assure you some do.

And it is the same. Player, GM, whatever. A GM is just a player with extra powers, particularly in some MMOGs (like ours).
--matt

Posted Oct 24, 2004 12:57:58 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

You know, it's occured to me that one of our games, Imperian, actually goes a step further than any of this: It has classes that are restricted by gender. If your character isn't a female, you can't get the Amazon class. If your character isn't a male, you can't get the Warden class.

Nobody has ever complained that I'm aware of, though I don't handle anything in-game for Imperian. (I'd be happy to lose some business rather than kow-tow to the easily offended in any case.)

--matt

Posted Oct 24, 2004 1:12:12 PM | link

greglas says:

Damion> there appear to be such different rules for what's acceptable and what's not in interactive fiction vs other creative media

Well, I'm not sure if VWs are exactly the same as IF -- they're like a lot of other things too, e.g., LARPs...

Damion (on Zen)> The neat part of interactivity is that it is a test - a test of how you deal with adverse conditions. In this case, the community responded with the exile of the offending member. It seems pretty clear that the community passed the test – and then missed the whole point by letting the test spill into the real world.

I agree with all the things you and Dee say it's *not* about, but I'm not sure who missed the point here or who should get to decide what the point is.

Richard> We haven't yet had big-name academics with no concept of the issues pontificating on them as if they actually played these games, but I dare say that's something we can look forward to...

I dare say you're right. :-)

Matt> It has classes that are restricted by gender. If your character isn't a female, you can't get the Amazon class. If your character isn't a male, you can't get the Warden class.

Which seems legit to me. Because everyone isn't perfectly at ease with avatar gender-bending, the consequence is that you'll get more IRL male wardens and more IRL female Amazons. Some stuff from Nick indicates that player gender in EQ can even influence class selection if it isn't coded in. Link..

At the risk of understatement, there's much to be said about how avatar identity relates to real life identity.

Peter> You might ask whether it is inconsistent to state that a MMOG is not a place of public accommodation because it is not an actual physical place in the real world, but at the same time state that a MMOG is a form of company town.

I appreciate the argument, but I actually think it is kind of inconsistent-- we can talk about it next week.

It seems, like Nate said previously, there are a lot of complicated cross-currents here. I'm personally not as concerned about the legal analysis of this as I am about the ethics of this, and how Teppy's concept of what he's doing in pushing art relates to the reactions from Dee Lacey and "Cocoanut."

Posted Oct 24, 2004 2:25:24 PM | link

Nick Yee says:

Food for thought - Most MMORPG gamers are male (~85%). Male players are more likely to genderbend than female gamers (~16%-vs-3%). So at any given moment, about 50% of female characters are actually being played by male gamers. So a designer implemented functionality that hurts female avatars actually hurts both male and female players almost equally ...

Granted people seem to think that there is very little gender-bending in ATITD, but in many EQ-clones, the underlying gender representation gets pretty interesting when you do the estimations.

Now of course the "stereotype" damage is different from the "functionality" damage, but on a "functionality" standpoint, a female avatar functional disadvantage hurts male and female players almost equally.

Posted Oct 24, 2004 9:54:01 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt> Well, I can only tell you that I -know- some players appreciate GM roleplaying

I know that too. And they can get into euphoria over having a GM present even without roleplaying... :P

>And it is the same. Player, GM, whatever. A GM is just a player with extra powers, particularly in some MMOGs (like ours).

Not really, a GM or someone running an official event represents the philosophy of the game maker, etc. Actually, it is quite complicated and I see little reason to dig deeper into the topic as we could go on forever... Granted according to what you say about Achea you seem to have a match between IC and OOC powers. Which makes the issue less visible. How often you are exposed to GMs is also an issue, etc etc.

Posted Oct 24, 2004 11:01:24 PM | link

Hellinar says:


Cocoanut>The fact that it was actually the game designer doing the equivalent of this in ATITD for "fun" makes the whole thing so very much more disturbing. <

I too would be very disturbed by someone doing this for “fun”. The event as I understand it was part of the published gameplay in the world. A major game objective has always been for the citizens of Egypt to come together in a cohesive society, and surmount various social challenges thrown at them by the designers. These challenges are often a disturbing and unpleasant experiences, decidedly “unfun”. But because they require real emotional engagement, and real moral thought, some players see them as a positive features of the world. Some players see ATITD as a purely “build stuff” game so regard these events less favorably.

Event within the “social challenge” context though, I personally think this one was poorly handled. I hope the designers learn something from it. I know from the debate in Egypt that some of the players did.

Posted Oct 25, 2004 12:08:29 AM | link

Damion Schubert says:

Not really, a GM or someone running an official event represents the philosophy of the game maker, etc. Actually, it is quite complicated and I see little reason to dig deeper into the topic as we could go on forever...

Does the depiction of slavery in 'Glory' mean the makers of that movie were pro-slavery? Does the rape storylines in police drama mean the producers are pro-rape?

God help me if I, as a designer, am limited to only telling stories about things that don't make people feel 'icky'.

Posted Oct 25, 2004 12:14:41 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Nick Yee>Most MMORPG gamers are male (~85%). Male players are more likely to genderbend than female gamers (~16%-vs-3%). So at any given moment, about 50% of female characters are actually being played by male gamers.

We don't know what the breakdown is for ATITD specifically; due to its non-standard nature, it may be different from the norm. While what you say is true in general, it could be that Teppy was "hurting" many more (or fewer) women than would be the case if this had happened in EQ. What's more, he'd likely be aware of that fact.

>So a designer implemented functionality that hurts female avatars actually hurts both male and female players almost equally ...

Not necessarily so. Example: let's say EverQuest suddenly and unexpectedly removed the clothing from all female avatars. This would affect roughly equal numbers of male and female players, but the way that it affected them would be different. It's probably that more RL women would be dismayed by it than RL men.

Richard

Posted Oct 25, 2004 2:32:05 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Damion Schubert>God help me if I, as a designer, am limited to only telling stories about things that don't make people feel 'icky'.

I agree that designers must have the right to tell whatever "stories" they want within their virtual world, so long as they don't transgress real-world laws. However, players also have the right to quit if they don't like a designer's story.

If you, as a designer, tell people up front that they can expect some edgy material in your virtual world, you'll get players who won't be fazed by it. If, on the other hand, you tell them you have a touchy-feely world that rewards co-operation over competition, you can expect to attract players who might be fazed by the arrival of a GM-run character who favours discrimination over egalitarianism.

Richard

Posted Oct 25, 2004 2:40:05 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Damion Schubert> God help me if I, as a designer, am limited to only telling stories about things that don't make people feel 'icky'.

Devices with living humans behind them are likely to be seen as different from non-human devices. Humans are agents acting on the behalf of somebody. Players are not as problematic as GMs as they don't represent offical game policies, they are just nutcases. If your GM start spouting homophobic comments then it is very likely that this will be interpreted as a bad taste policy of the owner of the system, not just a nutcase character that you can kill. It isn't just about what you tell, it is also about how you tell it. If it was just supposed to be a story then it would have stayed IC, if it is OOC then it is not a story, it is politics.

I wouldn't suggest creating a Gorrean MUD without warning signs. If you say that you are a big fan of the Gorrean world where women are liberated by becoming slaves of men then I am sure that many would interpret that as if you are inclined towards sexism (as a political position). Fiction has political potential... No surprises there.

Besides, as a designer it is your reponsibility to design the game to tell stories which includes the player's motivation and their response to the world. If you don't then why not just design an adventure game? It's a world, not a planned sequence of events.

Posted Oct 25, 2004 4:56:51 AM | link

shewhoguards says:

Am I the only one out there actually tempted to *join* the ggame because of this? Never heard of the game before all this fuss but a game whe3re you have to face and roleplay through issues like these.... yeah. That interests me. And I can see other people like me being attracted to join the game because of it.

No publicity's bad publicity I guess?

Posted Oct 25, 2004 5:54:58 AM | link

Staarkhand says:

I agree that this adds to the appeal of the game. Maybe the biggest hindrance to my finally trying this out is the prevalence of what I see as nonconstructive reactions. If the community as a whole had reacted the way Teppy had hoped and overcame this trial through teamwork, using the in-game construct to defeat and possibly prevent future occurances, they'd probably already have my credit card number at this point.

Maybe ATITD isn't quite the utopia of serious, mature gamers looking for a socially challenging experience that I'd hoped. For a game as un-"sold out" as ATITD maybe it would be better if some people did vote with their feet.

Not to say that I've never been pissed off (reasonably or not) in a game, and people have the right to feel whatever blah blah. Anyhow, my only caveat is that maybe Teppy's too much of a believer in the maturity and rationality of people/his customers. Next time have some other representatives present to suggest IC, constructive reactions should none of the player audience take it upon themselves to do so. Mobs are funny that way, and there was probably an opportunity to spin this the way they'd hoped.

Posted Oct 25, 2004 12:02:39 PM | link

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz says:

While it is difficult to not get side-tracked by the issue of whether gamers should or should not be personally offended by an Antagonist's actions in a fictional setting, I do think that the much more interesting discussion will explore the detailed mechanics that a game producer might use to help players easily recognize the difference between an Antagonist and an officially sanctioned position of various social issues.

OK, maybe I'll get a little side-tracked. :P

Damion asks> Does the depiction of slavery in 'Glory' mean the makers of that movie were pro-slavery? Does the rape storylines in police drama mean the producers are pro-rape?

To me, the issue isn't so much that a controversial thing is depicted, but *how* it is depicted. What is the story's perspective on this controversial thing? I'm not as familiar with 'Glory' so please allow me to use a different movie as an example. When I watched 'Schindler's List' it seemed pretty obvious to me that Schindler was cast as the Protagonist and the Nazis were the Antagonists. Because of this, I felt no outrage toward Spielberg as though he were somehow promoting the hatred and persecution of Jews with his film. But it was easily within Spielberg's movie-making skill and ability to have made a movie where Schindler was the Antagonist and the Nazis were the Protagonists. Though the subject matter would be basically the same, my reactions and feelings about such a movie would be vastly different.

In a similar way, to me there is a big difference between a game that contains violence against police officers and a game that glorifies violence against police officers. It isn't that I think such violence shouldn't be explored, but that I don't feel that every commentary or perspective on such violence is equal in its moral implications. I'll raise my voice in outrage at some perspectives, just as I would against the alternate Spielberg film above.

To bring this back around to ATITD, I think that as there are movie-making skills that allow you to hang an "Antagonist" sign around one character's neck and a "Protagonist" sign around anothers, it seems to me that there may also be MMORPG story-telling skills that allow you to do something similar; skills that were probably not adequately implemented in the Malaki incident. I does seem to me, however, that this sign is much harder to hang in an MMORPG because of the tendecies to conflate player and character.

To me, walking through the steps that a producer may need to take to hang an "Antagonist" sign around a NPC's neck might be a very, very interesting, useful, and skill-building exercise.

--Paul

Posted Oct 25, 2004 5:24:20 PM | link

Damion Schubert says:

To bring this back around to ATITD, I think that as there are movie-making skills that allow you to hang an "Antagonist" sign around one character's neck and a "Protagonist" sign around anothers, it seems to me that there may also be MMORPG story-telling skills that allow you to do something similar; skills that were probably not adequately implemented in the Malaki incident.

I would have thought that calling women chattel would have been a pretty clear clue that he was an antagonist. And by all accounts, the community quickly responded as such.

But part of social gaming is that the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil that are easy to depict in an EQ-style bash-the-baddies game don't translate well. What do you talk about in a social space? Controversy. The unexpected. Social quandries. Socializers don't like to be bored either. And the status quo of a peaceful, ripple-free society is pretty boring.

Posted Oct 26, 2004 12:56:00 AM | link

Brask Mumei says:

Ola Fosheim Grøstad> Doesn't matter. If players perceive it as an official event then the main characters represent the "face of the company". Then it becomes the company's responsibility to keep the event IC.

This seems disturbingly extreme.

I helped run events in Ultima Online which attendees believed were GM run. They were, however, in no way official. There were no GM or company involvement. At no time did we represent ourselves as GMs (indeed, as that would be out of character, it would have been counter productive) You seem to be suggesting that if we had produced an bad event, EA should be responsible!

Now, as for the trader...

I'm disappointed by the dichotomy of "It's just a game, so it is fine" and "It affects real people, so is bad."

In my view, ATITD is *not* just a game. But, in my view, this event was fine.

The warnings were written on the wall! ATITD has been very clear that it aims to develop a better society through challenges. Social challenges involve conflict.

Imagine if this were done inside EQ, however. Say male avatars got cool weapons and women avatars got insulted. Then there would be a stronger reason for anger. Paradoxically, that is because EQ is *more* of a game than ATITD. I think a lot of the negative reaction (especially from people outside of the game) is a result of this view.

- Brask Mumei

Posted Oct 26, 2004 9:19:01 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Brask mumei> You seem to be suggesting that if we had produced an bad event, EA should be responsible!

EA would be responsible for making sure that players know what the policies for the game are and for providing mechanisms which distinguish official events from player events. And yes, the players would have held EA responsible if they thought it was official..? Isn't this a bit trivial, though?

Posted Oct 26, 2004 9:40:54 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Ola wrote:
EA would be responsible for making sure that players know what the policies for the game are and for providing mechanisms which distinguish official events from player events. And yes, the players would have held EA responsible if they thought it was official..? Isn't this a bit trivial, though?


Why would EA be responsible for providing mechanisms that distinguish official events from player events? That just trivializes the ability of players to have meaningful events It's like highlighting, "Hey everyone, this is an event that actually matters! Ignore all the player-driven events, because they don't!"

Further, what about MMOGs where GMs will go out of their way to support player-driven events. For instance, we've added new code and built new stuff before to support events that were started by the players.

The idea that there is some Chinese wall between "official" events and "player" events is, I think, a highly artificial one, and inherently excludes what are, in my experience, some of the most satisfying events, ie ones started by players and then supported by the developers with whatever resources are necessary. I realize most of the biggest MMOs don't do this, but then, even their GM-run events are pretty linear and lame due to the scale and restrictions placed on them by the sharded world model.

--matt

Posted Oct 26, 2004 12:24:11 PM | link

Paul "Phinehas" Schwanz says:

Damion> I would have thought that calling women chattel would have been a pretty clear clue that he was an antagonist. And by all accounts, the community quickly responded as such.

Well, it certainly wasn't a clear clue that the character was being viewed as an Antagonist by the game producer. Instead, the character's views and the game producer's views were conflated by onlookers. The community's response reflected a belief that the game producer *was* the antagonist, not that the game producer had introduced a new character as an Antagonist to act as a foil for the story line.

No doubt part of the difficulty lies in the fact that the game producer is only creating (can only create?) part of the story. The reaction of characters creates the other part. From Teppy's comments, it seems clear to me that he expected played characters to attempt to boycott the offered valuables on principle because of the Malaki character's blatant sexism. The outrage (I can imagine him thinking) should have been directed toward those players who allowed greed for a highly prized item to overide a more principled approach that placed even higher value on treating the sexes equally. Unfortunately, the played characters didn't hold up their end of the story very well.

Perhaps the story would have gone more smoothly if a second GM played NPC was created as the Protagonist to Malaki's Antagonist. This NPC could have responded with outrage and called for a boycott over the overt sexism, leaving it to players to decide where to place higher value. I'm wondering if this would have effected anyone's feeling offended OOC. If not, perhaps additional measures could have been taken to telegraph to the players that the Malaki character was being cast as an Antagonist.

--Paul

Posted Oct 26, 2004 1:17:31 PM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

Matt Mihaly >The idea that there is some Chinese wall between "official" events and "player" events is, I think, a highly artificial one, and inherently excludes what are, in my experience, some of the most satisfying events, ie ones started by players and then supported by the developers with whatever resources are necessary.

I totally agree. In fact, I'd go further and say that the idea that there is a difference between events and play is an artificial one. In my experience the most entertaining events are the ones that are created spontanously... Unfortunately, MMOs tend to be "artificial" as far as I can tell. BUT, the moment you actively facilitate player events by intervention and GMs are few and far between, well then you breed a situation of envy and jealousy unless you are very careful. I'd prefer this facilitation to take place in more general terms (i.e. providing general functionality, not just help the favourite group of players)

That said, developers are responsible for the health of their system. To have players speculate whether the GMs are pulling in strings or not, is generally not a very good idea, unless it is an explicit policy. If one wants to create a world where all players are "rape-victims" and GMs are "rapists", go ahead, but let them know about the policy... Creating a world where players are both "rapists" and "rape-victims", but a few of the "rapists" are hand picked and given the power to become more successful at rape is perhaps a bad idea?

Posted Oct 26, 2004 2:12:26 PM | link

Treacherous says:

"Civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended--there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your morality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears--that's what soma is."

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? 'If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' . . . What you need," the Savage went on, "is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here . . . Isn't there something in living dangerously?"

"There's a great deal in it," the Contoller replied. "Men and women must have their adrenals stimulated from time to time."

"What?" questioned the Savage, uncomprehending.

"It's one of the conditions of perfect health. That's why we've made the V.P.S. treatments compulsory."

"V.P.S.?"

"Violent Passion Surrogate. Regularly once a month. We flood the whole system with adrenin. It's the complete physiological equivalent of fear and rage. All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences."

"But I like the inconveniences."

"We don't," said the Controller. "We prefer to do things comfortably."

"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."

"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."

"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

-Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Posted Oct 27, 2004 4:36:07 AM | link

Coldstone Cutter says:

I think we should all stop talking, and roleplaying, and delete everything we've ever said, bacause someone Might be offended.

Posted Oct 27, 2004 6:24:01 PM | link