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Jul 07, 2009

Comments

1.

There's no rule in chess that says pieces can't go invisible. There doesn't need to be: the laws of physics already cover it. There is a rule in chess that says I can't move two pieces at the same time, though, because I have two hands and could easily do so.

In computer chess, the computer handles both kinds of rules: rules of the game and (implicit) rules of physics. If the computer lets you do it, you can do it; if it doesn't, you can't. The rules of the game are incorporated as rules of physics.

When people play other games on computers, they often assume the same basic idea applies: if the computer lets them do it, they can do it; if it doesn't, they can't.

This is fine for single-player games played against the computer, as it's only you who's affected. If you play a save/lose/reload strategy to beat AI opponents, for example, you're doing something "the game" allows, but it's not itself part of the game. Should you therefore use it relentlessly? Well some people might, but others might refrain from using it so their eventual victory felt more earned. The former would complain if the random number seed was saved (so that reloading didn't help); the latter would complain if the game design made you use trial and error (eg. there's no way of knowing in advance which is the one door that isn't booby-trapped).

When you play a single-player game, it's up to you how much you push at the rules. When you play a multi-player game, it's not this simple. Some people might be playing the game where you don't train guards on people (because use of a dominant strategy spoils the game for everyone), and some might be playing the game where you do do it (because "the game lets me"). If two people are playing the same MMO but different games, it's unsurprising that conflict can arise.

This grey area is one beloved of griefers. They can do things that annoy the hell out of other players (thus bringing enjoyment to themselves), but claim that they're doing nothing wrong because "the game allows it". In the old days, we dealt with this by giving death-dealing powers to our admin-level players ("yes, and the game allows ME to do THIS!"); this probably doesn't scale too well in today's MMOs, though...

Richard

2.

Agreed. When I was in college, I had a roommate who enjoyed playing EA's Archon by what was essentially perching (I forget the exact piece/technique). I was baffled at how that could be interesting, but he seemed to enjoy playing this way. Droning in COH PVP seems about the same.

I guess he enjoyed playing the game with the best winning strategy. He's now a very successful guy.

3.

Disappointed that it all comes down to who has and hasnt been droned. But, once you release the balloon, I guess, it goes steadily UP.

I lament further here:

https://dmyersloyola.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/was-twixt%E2%80%99s-behavior-worthy-of-wrath/

4.

Having wasted a good chunk of my life over many years in many MMOs, I can say that if I were in a zone where someone was playing in the style of Twixt, I'd be logging out for at least the interim and maybe looking for a different server if it persists indefinitely. That kind of anti-social gameplay just takes the fun out of MMOs for me.

Sure, we can all chuckle at the story of Fansy the Bard -- https://www.notacult.com/fansythefamous.htm -- as an amusing tale of the bad behaviour that occurs in a game, but that sure as heck doesn't mean that we want to be stuck in the Oasis of Marr when he's training every sand giant to the docks over and over!

5.

Having read the full paper, I'm wondering how Dave managed to get the go-ahead from his local ethics committee to begin this experiment. It seems to me that deliberately pissing people off to find out what happens when you deliberately piss people off is not something they would have merely rubber-stamped as ethically sound, especially as the people he was pissing off weren't aware they were being experimented on.

Then again, for all we know, Dave could be trying to piss off other academics by not getting clearing in advance for his experiments, to see what happens when you break the societal norms of academia...

Richard

6.

Indeed, Richard. The ethical implications of purposefully placing minors under psychological duress without informed consent boggles the mind.

More troubling are the ethical implications of continuing with a study protocol when study participants explicitly demand that you stop.

Maybe we haven't learned our lessons from Milgram after all ...

7.

What confuses me (and maybe this is just because I don't understand the theoretical frameworks and the pre-theoretic assumptions that they make) is the primacy given to written, top-down, rules. These seem, un-problematically, to be taken as 'the rules'.

Many branches of Games Studies would suggest that these are not, in fact, 'the rules' at all, and the game provide can be a transgressor of the the rules in operation as a player.

Having said this, I don't think that this detracts from the core ethnographic research. The behavior and reactions to it are valuable to document. I merely question some of the underlying value assumptions overlaid onto it.

8.

"Dave could be trying to piss off other academics by not getting clearing in advance for his experiments, to see what happens when you break the societal norms of academia."

Hoho. Im thinking this is the main reason this piece seems now to reverberate in several different communities and contexts. It is not simply polarizing; it is threatening.

I am particularly interested in the assumptions this group brings to the table though.

Twixt was aggressive in the CoH pvp zone. At the very end, in fact, Twixt was aggressive in the CoH forums. But always playfully.

I played the game.

And this, among other things, is the reason, as Ren notes, there is an emphasis on top-down rules. If you are playing the game, yes, there are limits: the game rules. Not the software, not the society. The GAME rules.

Also note, in considering my question below, Twixt behavior has been vastly distorted. That behavior was aggressive; it was oppositional. It was not exploitive -- not in any sense. Never happened. (And I will probably have to argue this infinitum, but, for the sake of the question of the moment, let's assume it.)

So, here's the question:

Are game rules meaningless now? When push comes to shove, do game rules get shoved? Do games get shoved?

Tell me, you game thinkers you, does playing the game = griefing?

9.

> I played the game.

No, you played the game in a manner that was calculated to annoy others. The fact that you consistently refuse to acknowledge this, and in fact justify it (while not backing up those justifications when called on them) is sadly, a very standard response by those who take joy in wrecking the fun of others.

> It was not exploitive -- not in any
> sense. Never happened. (And I will
> probably have to argue this
> infinitum, but, for the sake of the
> question of the moment, let's assume
> it.)

While not exploitative in the very specific sense of taking advantage of bugs in game code, it did violate the spirit of intended gameplay (TPing foes into masses of NPCs to cause XP debt, ensuring that objectives within TP range of a safe zone were literally impossible to seize). Your thesis is that the spirit of intended gameplay, especially among the players itself, is meaningless. You then feign surprise when players are outraged when you challenge that. Essentially, you discovered that adding 2 and 2 does in fact equal 4, then are greatly surprised by this discovery!

As someone who's worked in MMOs for almost a decade, your story is not at all unique in general; the interesting part is where you pretend to objectivity and a veneer of "research" in justifying your MMO style of play.

10.

It would probably be safer to just keep lurking and reading threads, but since I brought this whole thing up in the OP...

Scott> Your thesis is that the spirit of intended gameplay, especially among the players itself, is meaningless.

I think what Dave has actually argued from time to time (though I may be wrong) is that "the spirit of intended gameplay, especially among the players itself" is meaningful, but because it is *oppressive* and *counter-productive* to play. I don't agree with Dave on this, but I take that as being close to what he thinks.

As far as research ethics go, I've got no clue what to say since I don't do human subjects research or know much about IRBs etc.
But I'm getting the impression that Scott & Nick & others are, in essence, pegging Dave as a griefer (an unethical griefer) for breaching agreed-upon community play styles.

So this whole Web discussion is basically carrying forward what happened in the COH forums.

p.s. Dave's book, The Nature of Computer Games, might help explain where he's coming from. Part of what's going on here, I think, is that Dave is saying these are not really games.

11.

Scott came off his blog. That's nice.

"you played the game [in a manner that was calculated to annoy others]"

My calculations: Kill vills, win zone.

"take joy in wrecking the fun of others"

Is playing the game = griefing?

"the spirit of intended gameplay"

The big disconnect. Try this: Twixt personified the spirit of intended game play.

"objectives within TP range of a safe zone were literally impossible to seize"

These are the kind of statements, here and on your blog, that are most disconcerting. Just false, Scott. Just plain out false.

"You then feign surprise.."

Only, perhaps, to hide dismay.

"the interesting part is where you pretend to objectivity"

Objectivity is a tricky thing foshur.

I can only play the game and see what happens.

12.

I think what Dave has actually argued from time to time (though I may be wrong) is that "the spirit of intended gameplay, especially among the players itself" is meaningful, but because it is *oppressive* and *counter-productive* to play. I don't agree with Dave on this, but I take that as being close to what he thinks.

That's an interesting take. Essentially, you're saying he wanted to ignore the massively multiplayer parts of the MMO and simply run up a scoreboard, and the social structures that arose around that scoreboard inhibited this.

'Kill-stealing' (something else Myers was accused of doing by other CoH players) is a similar disconnect - if the game doesn't enforce rules against kill-stealing, and players unofficially do, then the kill-stealer could feel as though his gameplay was being unfairly hampered by those unofficial rules.

The proper response is, of course, to learn from those unofficial rules and codify them where they make sense within the game itself, thus enforcing the social compact when it makes sense for the game as a whole (and not coincidentally, significantly reducing support costs handling "social issue" tickets). Which is why in most MMOs produced within the past 5 years or so, killstealing is impossible.

Scott came off his blog. That's nice.

You're welcome.

My calculations: Kill vills, win zone.

"take joy in wrecking the fun of others"

Is playing the game = griefing?

I'd ask if you were even aware other players existed given such a construct. But, of course, you were, since you were supposedly studying their behavior and, as you said yourself, trying and succeeding in provoking responses. So, playing the game isn't griefing, but playing with other players is.

It's not that difficult a concept to grasp, but one you consistently ignore in this discussion. The fact that "actions have consequences" is not some unknown territory ripe for exploration. You provoked other players, and they responded. Because you provoked them in a matter that was calculated to cause offense, they responded offensively.

The real question, of course, is whether this was 'research', 'observation', or simply pseudo-academic justification of your normal online behavior. Given how you've responded so far, it's pretty easy to draw a fairly negative conclusion to that question.

13.

And keeping this a seperate tangent:

These are the kind of statements, here and on your blog, that are most disconcerting. Just false, Scott. Just plain out false.

Is this CoH player lying then? Because either he or you are. Source: https://forums.f13.net/index.php?topic=17344.msg671486#msg671486

Part of the 'mini game' of the RV zone that Myers claimed to be participating in is the capture of the various pillboxes to temporarily capture the zone. One of those pillboxes is well within the range that a Hero can drone a villain trying to capture it. None of the pillboxes was close enough to the villain base to do that. The only way you could capture that pillbox if there was a dedicated droner at the hero base was if you were lucky enough to have a buff that negated TPing. While a pre-made group could make sure to have that buff available, the zones were largely made up of pick-up groups and Increase Density was generally not a commonly taken power. Pre-made groups usually stuck to the arenas, as they didn't like the interference of all the NPCs in the zones. I hear pre-mades were more common on Freedom, though. As for camping, it's actually impossible to camp the bases in RV because it's the only zone that actually has a couple of alternate exits from the base.

I realize it's easy to read the article and wonder what the problem is when this guy was just 'playing by the rules', but in the context of the game he was exploiting flaws in the game design specifically to grief people. 'But it's allowed by the game' is always the very first excuse given by any griefer to justify their anti-social behavior.

I fully expect you to dismiss this first-hand testimony, of course, as you have dismissed the testimony of anyone who has first-hand experience with your character, since debunking them makes your actions impossible to challenge. Well played! Fully within the explicit rules of the game.

Implicitly, of course, it's irritating. But I suspect you're aware of that.

14.

As someone who has dealt with development, customer service, and community relations in mmogs, to answer Professor Myer's specific question - is it possible to play within the rules and still be considered griefing? The answer is yes.

This has been supported multiple times by many mmog developers taking a stand against players who skirt the gray lines of the EULA and ROC that it's odd to me that the question even needs to be asked or that anyone would find a community's negative reaction to this kind of behavior surprising at all.

Professor Myers - you were griefing other players and they got mad - this shouldn't be shocking in the slightest. It may have been in the name of research, and you may not have gotten banned for it, but your actions as described in your own paper are a form of griefing. The level of griefing can certainly be debated of course but it was griefing.

15.

Striking that everyone ignores lore here. Dave was doing nasty things to villains. Villains. You say that's meaningless. I don't. People who go into a social space and announce "I am a villain" really have no right to complain about what anyone does to them.

Of course, you then argue that putting on an Evil Suit should have no implications for how a person is treated. But if it doesn't, there's no difference between Heroes and Villains. It's Team A vs. Team B. BORING.

If the designers put an Evil side in the game, and some people decide to play it, I say it is much more fun if there are no norms of good treatment across the divide. People should play good characters as basically good people; they should play evil characters as the basic assholes and sadists and megalomaniacs that (cartoony) evil people are; the good should be good to the good; the evil should be evil to everyone; and the good should do nasty things to the evil (only) because, well, they are evil.

Now THAT'S fun.

In other words, it's a far more interesting world when people who wear Evil Suits get the griefing that is so thoroughly consistent with their gaming choice. It cracks me up that "Villains" complain when nasty things are done to them. How odd, for the Joker to complain that he's being handcuffed and placed in a cell. Actually, that's what the evil do all the time, isn't it. "Batman! It's unfair! Why are you arresting me again!"

Ha! I guess people playing as Villains actually think like comic-book villains. "Grief me?!?!?! ME?!?!?! An outrage!!! I will destroy the whole world!!! MUAHAHAHAHA!!!"

Ha! Well done Dave.

16.

If the designers put an Evil side in the game, and some people decide to play it, I say it is much more fun if there are no norms of good treatment across the divide. People should play good characters as basically good people; they should play evil characters as the basic assholes and sadists and megalomaniacs that (cartoony) evil people are; the good should be good to the good; the evil should be evil to everyone; and the good should do nasty things to the evil (only) because, well, they are evil.

Now THAT'S fun.

No, that's ridiculous.

Being a juvenile prat wasn't excused in Ultima Online in 1999 by the excuse "I was role-playing EVIL!" and it isn't excused ten years later in your dystopic fantasy of superhero gaming.

There's room for exploring relative and absolute morality and the consequences of choices in gaming, and it has absolutely nothing to do with (and is greatly harmed by) people justifying their asocial impulses out of game with a thin veneer of convenient subtext in game.

17.
The rules that are enforced in MMOGs, like the rules enforced in any society, are not limited to the formal rules set forth in writing or coded into the software.

Agreed, and that's a nice way to put it. I might go further, and suggest that it is only in computer mediated spaces that we even dare imagine a world of perfect enforcement, where everything that is socially forbidden is physically impossible. And even in computer mediated spaces, it is rarely possible to actually do this: there are usually social rules that cannot conveniently be reduced to computer code.

@Edward Castronova

I think you'ld see much the same sort of griefing even without the "good vs evil" backstory, but your comment does point up a mildly worrying disconnect between players' social situation as players of the game, and the relation between their characters in the world of the fiction. If I'm supposed to be evil, why should social rules bind me? If those other guys belong to a group we're at war with (in the world of the fiction), why should their social rules bind me at all -- shouldn't it only be the rules of my own group?

18.

Yea Scott beat me to it, but when I was on Ultima Online the excuse of "I'm being evil!" was by far the most common excuse used by anti-social players to justify their griefing. It was (and still is) an extremely weak defense and it didn't work. Those who used the excuse didn't really care about the lore and were only invoking "lore" to attempt to hide behind it.

The vast majority of players who actually role-played evil in UO were able to do so without being a jerk.

19.

dmyers>Hoho. Im thinking this is the main reason this piece seems now to reverberate in several different communities and contexts. It is not simply polarizing; it is threatening.

So did you get clearance from your IRB for this experimentation, then? If you planned it in advance, as you say you did, then surely you must have. On the other hand, if you did it for fun and only decided to write a paper about it after the event, that would suggest the paper-writing was a slightly more sophisticated version of the "I'm not a jerk, I'm only role-playing a jerk" excuse we've seen in virtual worlds for 30 years.

>I played the game.

Well, you played one game. The majority of players were playing another game. The rules of both games intersected in the implementation and the enforcement of the EULA. However, they had some rules of their own that you didn't, and you had some that they didn't. You broke the extra rules of their game, and, because these were important to them, the players of that other game were pissed off. They broke some rules of your game (by trash talking you in non-official forums) and you likewise got pissed off.

>If you are playing the game, yes, there are limits: the game rules. Not the software, not the society. The GAME rules.

You say "the GAME rules", but you mean "THE game rules". You have a very definite idea of what "the" rules of "the" game are. These are not the same as other people's rules. Indeed, there are probably as many sets of rules as there are players; come to that, the same player may obey slightly different rule sets on the same day.

In general, this doesn't matter because the rule sets are compatible enough that people can get along. Most of the time, they will indeed be following the same rules - it's only in the penumbra where there may be differences. When such differences arise, that's when opposing groups can negotiate to establish a new or newly acceptable social norm.

If one or both parties are utterly intransigent, though, this isn't going to lead to anything constructive.

>That behavior was aggressive; it was oppositional. It was not exploitive -- not in any sense.

Not in the sense that you exploited your fellow players for the benefit of your research? They knew when they signed up for CoH that they'd be unwilling participants in a social science experiment? CoH has an ESRB rating of teen: the minors who you deliberately pissed off weren't being exploited so you could make some arcane academic point?

>Are game rules meaningless now?

No, they're not.

When people play games, they willingly give up specific freedoms of action in order to gain some benefit. Often, this benefit is "to have fun", but it doesn't have to be (yours was "to see what happens when you piss people off"). When all the players do this, there's a game. If some players don't give up the same set of freedoms of action as other players, then either they are playing a different game, or, if they present themselves as having given up all the freedoms others have given up, they're cheating.

>When push comes to shove, do game rules get shoved?

You're being too absolutist about this. You seem to think there is only one set of rules. There isn't. There are many sets, and you were just following a subset very close to the intersection.

Basically, you just spent several months pissing people off in order to make a point based on a false premise.

>Tell me, you game thinkers you, does playing the game = griefing?

It depends on the sense of the word "griefing". I personally prefer the original and strongest meaning, which was to do something that pisses someone off purely for the enjoyment of pissing them off. Whether you were griefing in this sense or not, only you would know.

This wasn't quite what you were asking, though. You wanted to know if playing the game is equivalent to griefing. Again, I have to respond by pointing to that word "the". What do you mean by "the game"? Just the programmed rules plus the EULA? If so, well I'd say that no, playing this game is not griefing. If you play chess to the letter of the written plus tournament rules, you won't be griefing anyone. MMOs are no different. However, chess has very few social lubrication rules built on top of it that you can willfully break; MMOs do. In part, this is because they're not games, they're places. Achievers treat them as games, but the other player types only do so when it suits their purpose.

Playing by "the" rules comes close to griefing when, having discovered the social lubrication rules that have evolved on top of the program and the EULA (which allow the game actually to be played), you choose to ignore them; even then, though, to qualify as full-blown griefing you'd have to choose to ignore them so as to get enjoyment from pissing people off. Unless you did that, no, I wouldn't say you were griefing.

Of course, if I were a player whom you were pissing off, I might say you were a griefer in order to get you to reconsider your actions, and to warn others you were acting like a jerk.

Richard

20.

Ted>Dave was doing nasty things to villains. Villains.

I thought villains did nasty things? Heroes do good things.

Richard

21.

Gee, Ted, is like my only supporter and now I have to say this:

Twixt was often the recipient of harassment based on this role-playing excuse. I agree, it's most often just a lame excuse, though I guess it doesnt have to be.

For instance, I remember one particularly distasteful incident when I was afk, killed, and then, when I came back, there was this very involved scatological-like role play going on over my dead body.

It was so grotesque that I petitioned it in order to see if that sort of thing was kosher (I never found out, of course). But the player involved gave this excuse: petition all you want, I am just role-playing evil.

Okay, fine, but from my position that sort of role-play is totally irrelevant and unnecessary to achieve game goals. It's certainly not the sort of thing, for instance, that Twixt would ever even consider doing.

My position -- and here's where I diverge from Ted -- is that the game rules set the limits and role-play doesn't normally have a very good (or any) rules. If the game rules concerning role-play are very clearly laid out, then okay. But usually not, allowing social rules, with all their problems, to encroach.

***
re: in the land of the LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE

The pillbox Scott is referring to is Alpha. Pillbox Alpha was close enough to the hero's base that you could indeed drone a vill trying to take it, but it was none of this one-button-kill exploitive Twixtish troll-griefer thing that I keep reading about on the internetz.

In addition to the buffs and power (Increased Density) preventing tp that Scott's snippet mentions, tp was also thwarted by inspirations, accolades, invisibility, a whole range of def powers (tp requires an acc check), archetypes (some cant be tp'ed), tier9 powers (several tho not all), numbers (can't tp but one vill at time), and, of course, smarts. Invisibility was probably the easiest to use, since invis was widely used and avl in RV.

I remember several times when the zone was up for grabs if only I could prevent vills from taking Alpha and then run really quickly over to some other open pillbox on the other side of the map where my hvy (pet) was preparing it to be taken by me for the hero side. And then, all of sudden, Pillbox Alpha would seemingly magically switch over to vill ownership. Some lootboi invis stalker had taken it while I sat there with no idea.

Ah, the good ole days.

22.

re the social lubrication rules

I thought the social lubrication rules were not harassing others through obscenities, stalking, or such; being a good, learned game opponent; participating energetically in game play; not gossiping, not rumor-mongering, or otherwise telling lies about your fellow players; not using exploits, not cheating, not spoil-sporting... stuff like that.

I can only understand from your position that social lubrication rules are basically doing what you're told to do and/or what everybody else does, even if what everybody else does is lots and lots of the stuff above.

hmm.

You know, I regret ever saying this was an "experiment" in the paper. That description was supposed to reference an analogous set of studies -- Garfinkelings -- that indeed have some similarities to what I was doing, but also have some important differences.

I addressed this issue on my blog way back, but I won't go and find the comment -- it's there somewhere. What I said then, as I remember, more or less, was that this was more of an investigative journalism piece.

And now, looking back on things, I really don't know how else I could have gotten the data without doing it the way I did it.

The crux of the matter, I think, is both the extremity and the implications of what Twixt endured.

The reaction itself might have been easier to observe. Any outsider, like Twixt, who refused to become an insider, who refused to be brought into the fold, might have received similar reaction. However, in that case, the outsider would simply have been kept out. And then he might would have concluded that social groups in mmos are insular and exclusionary. Okay, no big deal.

But Twixt was, simultaneously, both outsider and insider. Twixt knew the rules, he knew what was naughty and nice, he knew the exploits, he was good player, he had been around the block a few times, and then he began playing in this weird way that was different from how an outsider could possibly have played: Twixt began to prioritize outsider values over insider values *with full knowledge of those insider values.*

The consequences of this decision, this choice, I think, were far, far more telling than they would have been if Twixt had not had this knowledge and history and experience inside the game.

Just to give one practical example of how this changed the situation in important ways: Twixt simply knew a lot about the details of the game. Put bluntly, he was able to discern the difference between bullshit and non-bullshit. Not to point fingers, but a good example is Scott's post above about the literally impossible. Posts like those, claims like those, are the main source of the insider's power: they almost completely control the information flow in the game.

Because the game is so complex, outsiders are never on equal ground with the insiders. They really can't win. They can be befoozled, duped, led astray, suckered, and, if necessary, run out of the game at will.

Twixt's great advantage was that, as an insider, he could (at least part of the time) win. He could, at the very least, avoid being run out of the game. So it was really only Twixt, or some insider character like him, who could have observed the things he observed and endured the things he endured.

Was it an experiment? I don't think so. It was more like an endurance test.

But what was interesting was that, while Twixt was playing the game, it was still fun. It was always fun. When he shut off the bcast channel and tp'ed right and left and took pillboxes and fought villains wherever he found them, it was fun. It was a fun game.

And then he turned on bcast.

23.

Your paper does make more sense as a subjective journal of experiences than an objective study. Asserting "this is my experience" is far less confrontational than "this is what games have become".

Pity you didn't explain that detail to the newspaper reporter.

24.

And finally, this:

Twixt knew the rules, he knew what was naughty and nice, he knew the exploits, he was good player, he had been around the block a few times, and then he began playing in this weird way that was different from how an outsider could possibly have played: Twixt began to prioritize outsider values over insider values *with full knowledge of those insider values.*

The consequences of this decision, this choice, I think, were far, far more telling than they would have been if Twixt had not had this knowledge and history and experience inside the game.

Why is there this disconnect between cause and effect that you seem to have? You describe quite clearly that you knew quite well (due to your status as "insider") what the consequences of your actions would be, you did them anyway, and you then suffered those consequences.

Why did this surprise you?

25.

It surprises me now, Scott.

It surprises me that that total bs iltat message has been promulgated to the ends of the earth.

It surprises me that you would have the energy to continue an optional attack while I barely have the minimal energy to mount a required defense.

It surprises me the lengths that people will go.

Of course, could be that I am just a suprisable boy.

26.

dmyers>I thought the social lubrication rules were not harassing others through obscenities, stalking, or such; being a good, learned game opponent; participating energetically in game play; not gossiping, not rumor-mongering, or otherwise telling lies about your fellow players; not using exploits, not cheating, not spoil-sporting... stuff like that.

Yes, YOU thought that, but others thought differently. They tacitly agreed to moderate their behaviour in order to have fun.

We often see this in virtual worlds. There are plenty of things which, if everyone did it, would ruin an MMO. If everyone were a loot ninja, people wouldn't group because of the unfairness; if everyone were a gold farmer, there'd be no-one to sell gold to; if everyone used exploits in a battleground, the battlegrounds would only contain people who thought one-shotting and being one-shotted was fun.

If there's a dominant strategy, then either everyone uses it or everyone agrees not to use it. If it's no fun when everyone uses it, then social norms develop not to use it. If one person breaks ranks, then everyone has to break ranks - which means less fun for everyone. It's a prisoner's dilemma situation.

>I can only understand from your position that social lubrication rules are basically doing what you're told to do

You can only understand that? You need to widen your views... Social lubrication rules are the result of negotiation between individuals within the context of a culture. It's up to individuals to make their own views known and to present arguments. You don't have to do what you're told to do, you just have to factor the reactions of others into your decision of what to do. If you don't care what other people say about you, you may reach a different decision than if you don't care about "winning".

This discussion we're having at the moment is using social rules. If I were to make an ad hominem attack on you, for example, other people would criticise me for it. Am I basically doing what I'm told to do? No, I'm doing what I choose to do. I don't go in for ad hominem attacks anyway, but if I did then I would weigh up whether the consequences of using such an attack would make it worthwhile or not. Some of the people who have criticised you decided that, in their view, it was worth their while being considered jerks if they could land a punch on you. Others didn't. All operated within largely the same set of social rules.

>You know, I regret ever saying this was an "experiment" in the paper.

I bet you do, especially if you didn't get clearing from your institutional review board...

Yet what was it if it wasn't an experiment? You formed a hypothesis in advance of undertaking a very long and extended series of actions designed specifically to test that hypothesis. You examined the causal relationships among several behavioural variables. It doesn't matter whether you choose to call it an experiment or a study or an anecdote - it WAS an experiment.

>What I said then, as I remember, more or less, was that this was more of an investigative journalism piece.

Investigative journalists have the luxury of operating to lower ethical standards than academics. Even so, one of the things they do is tell their editor in advance what it is they are investigating, so there is some review of the morality of their actions. Did you do that? Did you tell anyone in advance that you were going to investigate what would happen if you deliberately pissed people off for several months?

>And now, looking back on things, I really don't know how else I could have gotten the data without doing it the way I did it.

You could have interviewed people who everyone already thought were jerks. You'd have got a more representative set of answers, too.

>The crux of the matter, I think, is both the extremity and the implications of what Twixt endured.

It is if you're the player behind Twixt. If you're one of the players who was unfortunate to come up against him, the crux of the matter is the extremity and the implications of what they endured at Twixt's hands.

>And then he might would have concluded that social groups in mmos are insular and exclusionary. Okay, no big deal.

He'd be wrong to conclude that, but since he was acting in an antisocial way, he wasn't going to find out enough about social groups to form a more nuanced opinion.

>Twixt began to prioritize outsider values over insider values *with full knowledge of those insider values.*

If his knowledge was full, he would have known what would happen in advance, and therefore have no need to undertake the experiment. I could have told you exactly what would happen when you did what you did, as could thousands of other people.

>The consequences of this decision, this choice, I think, were far, far more telling than they would have been if Twixt had not had this knowledge and history and experience inside the game.

Indeed. If you hadn't had the knowledge, then the morality of experimenting on other people in this way could have been partially mitigated by your ignorance. If you knew exactly what you were doing but did it anyway, you can't fall back on this.

>So it was really only Twixt, or some insider character like him, who could have observed the things he observed and endured the things he endured.

Then you should have sought out a character like him and interviewed that character.

>Was it an experiment? I don't think so. It was more like an endurance test.

It can be both. I'll take your word for it that it was an endurance test, but however much you deny it, it WAS an experiment, and whoever OKed its ethics has a lot of questions to answer.

Richard

27.

Like I said in one of my reply :Well, rulers don’t like the game rules?Eliminate those rules. Rules can be change in 1 click, law in many days ...

https://projectai.wordpress.com/

28.

So interesting.

Richard, that was a better answer than your first, I think. Your position is now clear. Playing the game = griefing? Yes, says Richard. But even more: Playing the game = experiment.

Because, as I understand it, when you play the game you introduce some sort of strange and alien (and detestable) treatment variable into… what?

Not the game, apparently. The “Society”?

I think that's it. The Society.

So now Recluse's Victory in City of Heroes is not really the isolated and consensual area of the game where explicit and specific pvp rules are in effect for all who choose of their own volition to enter that area and abide by those rules. Nope.

Recluse's Victory is The Society.

***

That's just an untenable position, Richard. It really makes no sense.

I addressed something similar a while back on my blog when I attempted an earlier debriefing on the CoH forums.

“I cannot fathom how anyone can call any hero attacking any villain (or vice versa) as either “harmful” play (as defined by its consequences on other players) or “griefing” play (as defined by speculative assumptions concerning the attacker's motivation). Those who would criticize the study on these grounds seem to apply these terms of “harmful” and “griefing” play indiscriminately, subjectively, and, at least on the surface, self-servingly. On the surface, this seems to claim that NCSoft has created a game that, when it is played as it was designed, is inevitably harmful to its players and that those players who play it as it was designed are inarguably griefers and (by same strange extension of this argument that I also do not understand) justifiably griefed “in return.” Is such a claim really being made? It seems ludicrous.”

So, the first thing: NCSoft disagrees with you.

If, at any point during playing the game, I would have been warned or contacted in any way - most certainly if I had ever been banned - I would have stopped playing the game immediately. No question. But that never happened. And once again (the advantages of Twixt being Twixt), there were plenty of opportunities for NCSoft to warn me or contact me or ban me. Never happened.

In fact, NCSoft did take several opportunities to ban members of The Society. That is a very strange thing to do, given your position. You say one thing; NCSoft says another.

The second thing, of course, is this anonymous, all-powerful The Society.

It's just a small, loud-mouthed, self-centered pack of bullies, Richard. It's a bunch of squatters. It's a bunch of campers who got to RV first and camped it with their bully rules and their bully values and their bully society.

These aren't the same players who complained about Fansy the Famous Bard; those players had a beef. These are the people who swarm the gamer forums with their pseudonyms and their profanities; these are the same people who have tried, over and over again, to run Prok-ofy Neva into the ground.

You can't call these people players, because they don't play the game. Guess you have to call them The Society.

29.

So now Recluse's Victory in City of Heroes is not really the isolated and consensual area of the game where explicit and specific pvp rules are in effect for all who choose of their own volition to enter that area and abide by those rules. Nope.

Actually, yes. It is. This is why you were never banned by NCsoft (the s is lowercase, by the way), despite being, by your own description, wildly unpopular with "the Society". Your play was within the rules of the game. No one disputes this. You were in a PvP playground, and you were free to attack and kill others. Again - at no point was your actions outside the rules of conduct. This has, as far as I know, not been disputed.

The dispute and disconnect comes from your interaction with others within this playground. You seem to feel that the metagame others set up is not the game you wished to play - which is also valid. I've written before of how players disrupted other players within a PvP battleground and actually taken the side of the disrupting force. (https://brokentoys.org/2001/05/30/other-peoples-propriety-author-lum-the-mad/)

The disconnect that I see is that you then threw yourself against other players disruptively - which, again, within the rules of the GAME, perfectly legal to the letter of the law - and the players responded. They didn't like it. They threw you out of your guild, they outcasted you from groups, they reviled you on message boards, and in many instances their outcasting and shaming went too far.

Which, you noted, you took to NCsoft's customer support who then acted on it. Which is their job and the sum total of what they can and should do. They are not there to police the metagame. They are there to police the game. But you seem to believe that NCsoft should have policed that metagame and -- what? Made statements that you were playing the game as intended and they should TP foes into drones more? Tell them to be politer to you? I don't really understand what you expected NCsoft - or your fellow players for that matter - to do here. Your main objection seems to be not that you were abused but that they weren't playing the game you wanted to play. You wanted to play as a killer, they wanted to play as socializers, and by god, no matter how many times you killed them, they still socialized. Someone should stop this!

Except that this is what happens when people gather. Tribes form, politics happens, people play favorites. This is basic sociology, something you should be passingly familiar with. And in fact - this is why people play MMOs, because that sort of social metagame just doesn't exist in single player games or smaller multiplayer games. It provides context for the playground. And in this case, you disagreed with that context. And made your obejection known, in ways you yourself said were objectionable, and were ostracized for it.

Seems like society - or "The Society" if you prefer - worked as advertised to me.

30.

SusanC wrote (in responding to the vital point that the constraints of games are *never* reducible to their "rules":

I might go further, and suggest that it is only in computer mediated spaces that we even dare imagine a world of perfect enforcement, where everything that is socially forbidden is physically impossible. And even in computer mediated spaces, it is rarely possible to actually do this: there are usually social rules that cannot conveniently be reduced to computer code.

Best comment so far, in my opinion. I don't know why we should be surprised by someone pointing out how the rules don't comprise the game (Scott said something similar when he pointed out that Dave essentially acted surprised that he had found out that 2+2=4).

This kind of "research" trades on the disconnect between its own naive assumptions and the social realities it encounters. The assumptions are naive because they are not grounded either in common sense nor good social theory (to me these are often the same). Why is such an "insight" even worth the candle when we know how complicated things really are?

For dmyers it has always seemed to me that giving unwarranted primacy to game rules over other constraints was a necessary move in order to then be able stridently to shout "player experience" at it, railing at the heavens. All this just supports that suspicion.

31.

This topic hits very close to home for me because I've been thinking for a while now about ways to do real griefing research in an ethical manner. As an industry games researcher I’ve got access to some very nice tools for looking at the topic, including lists of banned players and datamining logs of games where griefing was reported. To my mind, the key test for whether the research is ethical is whether or not it’s encouraging griefing. If I identify a griefer and follow him around recording what he does, is he going to grief more because he has an audience? If I bring a known griefer into the lab to play a multiplayer deathmatch with other participants, am I responsible for any distress his teammates feel when he shoots them in the back? Do the long-term benefits of the research (hopefully better game design which reduces griefing) make up for short-term pain of the participants?

To toss in my two cents on Myers paper, it’s crap. He’s a griefer with a line of self-justifying patter publicly bragging about his antisocial habits. His actions were unethical and his results predictable. This paper undermines legitimate academic games work by making academics look out of touch; anyone could have described exactly what player reactions would be. There’s nothing in this paper that couldn’t have been investigated by methods that didn’t involve Myers personally causing people distress. He griefed because he wanted to grief, simple as that.

32.

John-

You're at Microsoft, right? I assume they have an in-house IRB which might be able to help you figure it out. My gut tells me you're fine if you bring adults into the lab, with roughly-informed consent (i.e. don't tell them there's a griefer), and then debrief them afterward.

I suspect your best bet though is to surreptitiously watch naturally-occurring griefing, either in logs or real-time. As long as it's naturally occurring and you anonymize the results you get, it seems like that should pass muster. Plus it won't encourage bad behavior and the results will be more "real" than something with you observably intervening.

33.

dmyers>Playing the game = griefing? Yes, says Richard.

Er, I think if you re-read what I said you'll find I said no, it wasn't. You can grief within the rules, but being within the rules doesn't itself mean you're griefing.

>But even more: Playing the game = experiment.

Well, if you're assigning some non-standard meaning to the symbol "=" then I guess it could be. Otherwise, it would take a misunderstanding of epic proportions to reduce what I was saying to such a statement.

Playing the game is not experiment. Playing the game to experiment is experiment.

You're like a chemist who has been adding acid to alkali to see what happens, who claims that adding an acid to an alkali is not an experiment. Well sure, it's not an experiment if you put a slice of orange (acid) in your mouth (alkaline saliva), but if you're doing it to figure out what happens then it is an experiment.

You were deliberately acting like a jerk in order to test a hypothesis that you had established in advance of doing it. You can't wriggle out of your responsibilities as a researcher to behave ethically merely by reducing it to a lower level of abstraction. You wanted to find out how people would react when you pissed them off, so you pissed them off, you did so repeatedly over several months, you continued to do so when they asked you to stop, you wrote up the results of this experiment as a paper, and then you claim that no, you were just playing a game. You're fooling yourself if you believe that - you're certainly not fooling the rest of us, that's for sure.

This "I was only..." approach is classic griefer behaviour, by the way. I've lost count of the number of times players in MUD would say something like "you punished me for setting fire to my own sticks" when they knew full well that what they were being punished for was setting fire to their own sticks in the presence of a keg of gunpowder which then blew up and killed everyone in the room, including the total newbies who were being shown around and who would never play again as a result.

>Because, as I understand it, when you play the game

You maybe missed that whole section on "the game" that I wrote back there. What you think is "the game" is not what other people think is "the game". Jumping on your high horse about it doesn't make it true.

>Not the game, apparently. The “Society”?

Look, MMOs aren't games, they're places. They are presented as games, but only achievers treat them as games; the other player types will consider them as games when it's useful for their purposes, but most of the time they regard them as places. We've known this for well over a decade. You were operating on a false assumption right from the beginning.

>That's just an untenable position, Richard. It really makes no sense.

Think place, not game. Then it makes sense. Or, if it doesn't, you really, really don't get it.

>So, the first thing: NCSoft disagrees with you.

Not necessarily. MMO developers will consciously tolerate a certain amount of aberrant behaviour, as it adds spice to the game. It gives people something to talk about; you were, in a small way, adding to the sustainability of the community. Again, this is something we've known for years. It's only when objectionable play styles start being taken up by so many people that it seriously disrupts overall play that developers will change the rules to prevent its being possible. This is what they eventually did with the teleport command. After all, if they agreed with you (as you seem to believe they did), they wouldn't have nerfed it, would they?

>It's just a small, loud-mouthed, self-centered pack of bullies, Richard. It's a bunch of squatters. It's a bunch of campers who got to RV first and camped it with their bully rules and their bully values and their bully society.

And yet they'd see you as the bully. Go figure.

>You can't call these people players, because they don't play the game. Guess you have to call them The Society.

I call them players, but in the sense of "role players". Some of them may well be game players, too, just not of what you define to be "the game". Because MMOs are places, they are indeed part of that particular MMO's society. I'm glad you seem to be coming round to understanding that, even if it's not something you actually like. At least it gives us a point of disagreement we can sensibly debate.

Richard

34.

I think for the purposes of this discussion, instead of calling them "players", "society" or such, it would clarify things to call them "experimental subjects". Once you do that, the issues of harm become much clearer.

35.

There are social scientists who understand modern IRB standards, consider the ethical implications of their research, and make sure to get their research approved before conducting the study.

Then there are social scientists who get initial IRB approval, but strong complaints from study participants raise ethical concerns and they report these complaints to their IRB and ask for guidance.

Then there are social scientists to whom ethical implications are raised by peers after the study is complete and they try to address these issues in an honest manner.

And then there are social scientists who do not appear to have sought out IRB approval, do not appear to have considered the ethical issues even as study participants explicitly asked them to stop, and when called out on this ethically suspect research publicly by his peers, evade the question and instead reply with "Hoho".

Dave - Given that this was human subject research and Loyola (like most academic institutions) requires all human subject research to go under IRB review, could you answer the simple question of whether you had IRB approval for the study? If not, do you honestly believe they would have approved it?

36.


Thomas Malaby wrote:

"I don't know why we should be surprised by someone pointing out how the rules don't comprise the game"

I think there is more to it than this and Dave is getting caught up in the blogosphere's inability to dig a little deeper. The original paper Dave wrote is more interesting then the cross-commentary.

Excusing the research ethics problem for the moment I will grant that Dave was running Twixt in the spirit of a Garfinkelian 'breaching experiment'. The purpose of these, for Garfinkel, was always to expose the texture of otherwise tacit dimensions of mundane social order that everyone knows is there but seldom can articulate (this is a sociological argument against the idea of 'norms' for instance which are structuralists' version of social rules - basically. rules are in principle articulable, social order is not therefore rules do not explain social order; RIP Hobbes and his kin... er that's your paradigm Ted).

So far so good.... the vehemence of the reaction to Twixt is proof positive of the thickness and robustness of this kind of social order (i.e. the more intense the reaction to breaching the thicker the tacit culture). Fair play (epistemologically speaking) to Dave for taking this route but the question is what more does this study tell us that numerous other breaching events in VWs already don't... my favorite case to talk about is the WoW Funeral Massacre.

So where to go... check out Dave's paper. Is Twixt really playing by the rules whilst others are playing by something else? In the description of RV Dave basically says that the zone lent itself to mutual cooperation in order to ease the needs of high level farming activity thus setting purely rational conditions for the negative social reaction to anyone who would mess with a social arrangement based on mutual self-interest. No irrational mob mentality or human nature thesis is needed here... nor is the culture necessarily that deep in any ethnographic sense... is there any data that could help push the Garfinkelian thesis here?

Last thought - there is little to be gained from taking breaching experiments personally. Sometimes Garfinkel's students would push things too far (he tells stories about this and these are always the most fun to read of course) but there is dwindling analytic value in pushing things beyond the first death threats. After the initial wave of negative reactions to Dave's breaching play, why continue? Is there something else at stake that has nothing to do with Garfinkel?

-Bart

37.

Bart seems to be saying, in as nice a way as possible, that there could have been a valid research interest in Myers's research, that Myers made a strong effort in his paper to support the argument that there was, but that it strongly appears that this is more about Myers playing a game than it is scientific research.

Isn't this obvious from merely his responses here? They aren't the words of an academic—they're the words of a person with a large emotional investment in a particular view of a social interaction.

Myers's lack of awareness of normal social interaction astounds me. Someone mentioned chess tournaments above...well, I am certain that even in chess there is a swarm of partly codified, party un-codified metarules about the character of how the game is played. There are innumerable ways in which someone could be socially disruptive while playing chess...exclusively with regard to how one plays chess while staying within the rules. I'm not a chess player, I'm only guessing, but I imagine that someone who was ranked highly enough to enter high-level tournaments but then played in some deliberately erratic fashion that made it very unpleasant for his/her opponents (intentionally losing in a very frustrating manner, say) would be quickly ostracized from the chess community.

Death threats? Well, no. And why "no"? Because virtual spaces, including blogs, are severely limited with regard to the range of social interaction. In person, there is a huge host of ways in which groups put pressure on outcasts and these things are relatively effective. Textual interaction is extraordinarily limited and, thus, people push it to its limits when interacting socially. A death threat here is a mumbled insult in person.

I'm not excusing death threats, and I'm not excusing bullying and the mindless urge to punish non-conformers, whether or not they are behaving according to anyone's definition of virtue or vice. But Myers could have as easily experienced the same kinds of responses had his subject been the neighborhood pick-up basketball game, or bridge club. Indeed, having family who play bridge, I'll say that Myers clearly has no experience with that sort of social gaming, either.

Everywhere there are games, there are people who are socially poor players yet are "court lawyers"; and there are people who deliberately break the social rules while ostensibly obeying the rules of the game because, well, maybe they're on the autistic spectrum or maybe they enjoy pushing other peoples' buttons or maybe they're just addicted to being aggrieved and self-righteous.

There's many good ways in which academics can research these things. Myers's supposed attempt is not among them.

38.

It seems to me that this 'study' consisted of intentionally inflicting emotional distress on unwitting and unwilling 'subjects', including minors. And that he continued to do so after it became obvious that he was causing harm to people and after he was asked, practically begged, to stop. And he continued tormenting and harassing people for years. It seems grossly unethical on the face of it.

39.

I am certain that even in chess there is a swarm of partly codified, party un-codified metarules about the character of how the game is played

Or tennis.

Casino gambling is another -- and probably the closest match. There are lots of lots of behaviors you could engage in within a casino that don't violate any of the formal rules of the games that will nonetheless get you in trouble.

40.

I think the moral ambiguity that exists in City of Heroes/Villains deserves more prominence here. The final straw in isolation coming from killing the Villain alt of a Hero? The usage of the PvP zone as a farming operation? These are clear indicators that no one was playing the game, and to cry foul for the poor players who had progressed to an advanced stage and considerable wealth, is a weak claim.

Yes, what Myers did was griefing, but only griefing by the standards set by players who had no apparent wish to engage in PvP inside a PvP zone. What we might benefit from asking here is, "Do these social rules provide a benefit to the world that is greater than the benefit to individual player?"

Having not played CoH/V I can't answer that specifically. Perhaps Dave can wager a guess. However in my own experience, I haven't seen farming to be beneficial for the game world. Most games rely on a competitive economy based on risk/reward systems and rare-items. Ingenious as it is to remove the social risks to be better rewarded, it also devalues the rewards.

41.

Long time reader, first time poster. This case does hit a nerve dont it...

A further worry as a result of the lack of ethical consideration is how the MMO community now perceives game researchers. This story has been mentioned in quite a few blogs and forums, and seems to truly be "doing the tour of teh intarwebz".
It can be hard enough getting gamers to set away and hour to talk about their game experience, or to get a guild/clan on board with beeing part of a observation study. This account of how a researcher treated other players, and behaved within a gameworld does not help in any way.

The aftermath that have appared now where Myers keep putting the blame on the community, and does not give any apology or show understanding for the outrage - is a further insult.

The paper does account for interesting events, and tells a gripping tale of how one is treated (and the experience of) as someone playing outside the social rules. Too bad really that the way this data was gathered pretty much invalidates it.

42.

guys and gals,

I really do feel as though I could answer each of your concerns, if not entirely to your satisfaction, then at least entirely to mine. But I can't at the moment. Intermittently long breaks, at minimum, will be forced upon me -- which is probably good since otherwise i would be pounding away at the keyboard incessantly saying much the same thing in oh so many places.

So, instead of itemizing, please let me generalize. This site, after all, is as much a microcosm as any.

This study has been reduced. It has been reduced to griefing, to an ethical transgression, to a South Park episode, to an anonymous "CoH Player" 5-point bs memo that Scott and others have gleefully used to hit and run (yes, Im still miffed about that). From my point of view, these reductions are tantamount to lies. But, to turn them into something else, I need to contextualize. And, in order to contextualize, I need to talk about individual player experience and the validity thereof (ty, Thomas). That's what the book is about, actually: the importance and necessity of individual play, play of self, in the face of all that is social. (Twixt = minor chapter, btw.)

But only reductions come calling here.

So, of all the reductions to choose, here's one I'm willing to live with for now: the confrontation between pvp (I would just say gamers, but that would start contextualizing) and pve. I note that one of the more consistent veins of support I've received is from the more dedicated pvp community: goonswarmers and such.

e. g., this sort of thing (from the Warhammer Online forums):

"To be Honest he was a Hated player by US and just as bad by his own side, BUT he did his job well he killed Vills and he was a bitch to kill. I would like to say to him GJ he made the game fun yet hard for the PVP crews."

And more here on my blog.
https://dmyersloyola.wordpress.com/2009/07/10/was-twixts-play-positive-play/

Aside from whether or not pvp is appropriate in CoH's dedicated, clearly marked, voluntarily consented to, and actually quite fun pvp zones -- the question is this: Which is more beneficial to the player, the game, and The Societ? Pvp or pve?

Since I'm forced to stay with the reductions for now, I'll say this:

In pvp you can have enemies -- heck, you WANT enemies -- and you can say GJ to them at the end of the day. "Hate" doesn't really matter.

In pve, you can't have enemies. And hate matters. Among most of my critics, opposition -- even when that opposition is clearly marked with a semi-clever Twixtism or two -- is less important than submission.

43.

I'm well aware of the UO case, but it's not relevant to my point.

In the UO case, people did bad things and then said, "it's consistent with the lore for me to do bad things and not get punished." That statement is not true. UO's lore asserted all kinds of punishment for bad deeds and reward for good deeds.

What failed in UO is design. The lore said, "Bad deeds = punish." The design said "Bad deeds = reward." It was not feasible (possible, but not feasible) for a system of general punishment of bad deeds to emerge.

This case is very different, and if you can't see how different it is, you are not seeing the difference that I see between lore and mechanics here. The lore of CoH/CoV says that people do bad deeds, and bad things happen to those people in the end. And that is exactly what is happening in the Twixt case. If you are a Villain, the things you do, by definition, are bad. Your life and activity is directed solely at being punished. You'll commit evil again, but, whatever - your job is to do evil things and then get punished for it. That's the lore.

The design in CoH/CoV is not completely consistent with the lore, but it's kinda consistent. Namely: If you self-identify as Villain, it is at least possible for someone who self-identifies as Hero to punish you.

What is completely inconsistent with the lore, and something I've never understood in Good/Evil/Ambiguous team PvP games, is why players maintain social norms utterly at odds with the lore. But they do. And this is my main point: How the fair-play norms of players violate the lore they are in. Look, the Joker never holds back on some wicked attack because it would exploit Batman's vulnerabilities. Right? Batman and the Joker do not share a norm of how this is all supposed to happen. They constantly trick, deceive, and exploit one another's weaknesses.

But player's cry foul at that. Take Warhammer. Here we have Dark Elves who worship a God of Murder, opposed by High Elves who worship a God of Love. What grounds are there for shared norms of warfare across such a vast moral chasm? And yet if a High Elf exploits the terrain, the Dark Elves cry foul. Man. Here you've pledged yourself to a life of murder and torture, and you're expecting Justice because somebody hopped up on a better polygon than you. Crikey. Odd notion of Justice.

Alright. Well, maybe sharing norms of war with your enemies is truly noble. OK - and by that standard Twixt is a jerk.

Also, maybe your eyes are narrowing and you're thinking "This Castronova guy doesn't do a good job of separating the real from the virtual, does he. It's just a game..." That's a valid point too - I'm expecting people who play villains to actually be villainous in the game, because I do crave that level of immersion. If that's not you, none of what I am saying makes sense. You want a good clean game with clean rules. I want something that feels real, dirty rules and all. I want the notion of "fair" to be defined entirely inside the fantasy. But you want to carry your notion of "fair" from the outside world into the fantasy. We're just at cross purposes.

Now, I think Dave didn't do what he did to role-play; his actions just kind of fit a certain notion of immersion that I like. And from the standpoint of player norms, well, he clearly violated those. If his standing falls and he is stigmatized, that's proper. I think his justifications are falling flat for the most part. But I just wanted to point out that we might look at good - on - evil griefing in a different light.

44.

Also, it should be noted that you completely out-number me. Dmitri's research project is giving hints that people who crave immersion in virtual environments are a tiny minority. Everybody else just wants a good game.

45.

@dmyers:

Are you *seriously* trying to redirect this into a PvP vs PvE playstyle discussion? Because *that's* certainly never been discussed, especially during the past decade.

Really, further discussion is pointless until the following points are addressed:

* The ethical implications of doing a transgressive 'study' on players of a live MMO -- while not an academia, I can assure you my reaction as the maintainer of an MMO, were I to find that you were taunting other players in and out of game solely to collect data for a sociological experiment, without the knowledge or consent of the players involved or the company whose game you were using as a playground, would be furious.

* Whether or not this actually was a 'study' or simply a diary of your CoH PvP experiences - especially since your 'study' ended not when you decided you had enough data, not when you had recieved threats, but when the developers changed how your character's power set acted in PvP.

* Addressing the complaints and issues raised by the 'study subjects' who had actual interaction with your character, rather than dismissing them out of hand as 'lies' and 'bs memos'. Given that the CoH PvP community is a microset of a small MMO community, finding people who have interacted with your character is not difficult, and they unanimously describe your actions in ways divergent to how you do. To believe your account we must believe then that the entire community has decided, in common, without dissent, to lie about your actions over a period of years. This is a bit difficult.

Until these matters are addressed with more than changing the subject to "reductions" or dismissed with a "hoho", further discussion is futile.

46.

@Edward Castronova,

Ironically enough, my gameplay in Ultima Online was, in the main, as a roleplayed villain - the "Lum the Mad" character was a literally insane wizard and part of the Temple of Mondain, who worshipped the prime villain of the Ultima mythos - devil worshippers, essentially.

One of the things that became very, very obvious quickly was that portraying proper evil is difficult as hell, assuming you weren't, well, evil in reality. For example, one of the things we would do is establish "tolls" along a heavily trafficked road, and require a 10 GP fee to pass unmolested and attacking those who didn't consent, instead of, say, stealthing, killing people as they passed, and then looting their corpses dry. The latter is far easier, and far more lucrative, so that's what most did.

The former is immersive. The latter is easy. People go for easy over immersive, and find justification later.

Frankly, unless you believe your opponents are orcs in real life, taking advantage of an uneven playfield (such as bugs or exploits that you know about and others do not) to win a battle isn't being immersive or "evil". It's being a jerk. Being abusive beyond the bounds of the game isn't being immersive or "evil". It's being a jerk.

Excusing your being a jerk by saying "you're adding to the immersion of the game" is a time-worn excuse by jerks in MMOs for decades now. It is as much a poor excuse now as it was then. As someone who spent time actually trying to be a 'force of evil' in an immersive setting, it's far, far different an enterprise, and frankly, not worth the trouble more often than not due to the vast quantity of people - including, arguably, Dr. Myers - who use in-game justification for their being poorly behaved for their own reasons. It has poisoned the well, probably irredeemably.

47.

Unless Dave says otherwise I think Ted's comments take us in a different direction. Even still I think the notion of immersion at work here is a little too literal. To play by the "lore" or by the "rules" is still an epiphenomenon of social relations at work. Neither the lore nor the rules speak for themselves and there must be some micro-cultural justification for any kind of normative play let alone immersive role play.

Can't immersion be understood broadly in terms of the feeling or experience of being otherwise? Even if evil characters aren't being "normatively" evil or even playing by the pvp rules for the zone can't they still be immersed in the game?

I hope that I am not scandalizing anyone if I say that most game lore and game rules are so utterly simplistic that given half a chance players will/have to get in there to get some nuance and texture going on. I think Dave's playing by the letter of the law (rule) must be one form of this and heroes and villains being friendly for mutual benefit in PvP zones is another.

Enforcing the good vs evil norm or hard-coding it as a rule seems to reproduce the medium as low grade pulp fiction (though maybe I do the extant pvp culture an injustice). That may work great for films, comics and books but maybe not for the sustained attention and commitment required by MMO players. Is it possible that the desire for meta-lore coherence gives way to fragmented,inconsistent and irrational fiction blurring micro-narratives. Lore and Rules are both red-herrings in this scenario.

I think one problem here is that some folks see conforming to the explicit story/lore and rules of a game world as the goal of participation whilst others see it as a collectively recognizable or salient excuse for doing other things.... like the students who come to my classes so they can meet and chat with each other during my lectures.

The tentative solution to patch all this up with better design (i.e. better alignment of lore and rules, better policing and rule patches, exceptions and restrictions) might actually muck with the very thing that makes MMO play meaningful for folks.

oh and after reading how Dave has been backing away from the epistemological questions motivating Garfinkel's breaching "experiments" I am now flummoxed on what to make of the Twixt case. Bummer. I had rather thought we might move to a discussion of background expectancies (cf pg 46-47 in Studies in Ethnomethodology) and Alfred Schutz and the like... there's productive stuff there methinks.

48.

I have not read everything, but much of the criticism elsewhere seems to boil down, I think, to two sorts of complaints that pass judgment on Dave: 1) that what Twixt did (or, I suppose, what Dave did with Twixt) is unethical (as research or simply as game play), or 2) that the conclusion drawn from the incident were so obvious that this was not research.

Many people seem eager to pass judgment on Dave in some form and I'm really not eager to do that.

I'll just say that, as I said in the OP, Dave's story of Twixt helped me make a point. It works better to illustrate the point I want to make than Fansy, or Mr. Bungle, or Trammel. So the fish that Dave caught here is one I can eat. I'll leave it to those who know more about human subjects research to talk about whether the fishing tactics were unethical.

I do want to say this, though. Learning the rules of games and role-play can be painful and that learning often happens during play. Two personal anecdotes:

I remember when I was learning judo, I was doing mat work with a brown belt, who was fairly tired since he had just sparred with several other students. I had the guy pinned and I was winning. Then he reached up, grabbed the collars of my gi, and pulled, the Nami juji jime. I promptly blacked out and it took many minutes to recover. Until that point, my class had no idea choking was legal in judo, but we learned that day.

Another interesting educational experience was at a gaming convention when I was eleven, where I was given the character of a chaotic neutral dwarf to role-play. Staying in character, I made a risky decision. It killed two other characters. At that point, the leader of the party, a college student who role-played a lawful cleric, started screaming at the top of his lungs, two inches from my face, about his negative appraisal of my actions. From this, I learned about immersive role-play. I would have preferred to be choked.

COH is a "role-playing game." It seems to me that the story of Twixt is, in part, a story about the pain of learning the rules of the game.

49.

The interesting part of all this, is Myers' apparently total ignorance of even basic subject matters taught in Soc 101. While there's a set of rules guiding most any society "top down", all communities develop "bottom up" mores and folkways whose violation is regarded as equally, if not more so, atrocious.

These rules aren't codified. Not in law, not in computer code. These rules are not enforced by the powers, not cops, not game designers.

Violation of those rules, however, results in social ostracism, anger, wrath, and often repercussions that are enacted by the community, not its leaders.

Most modern societies group those actions under something along the lines of "disturbing the peace", again something anyone with an undergrad degree in Sociology should understand.

Myers took major league Hockey antics to a friendly neighborhood game of soccer and wondered why people didn't like him, being there was no direct rule anywhere to be found concerning not trying to shoot someone else's head off with that ball. If he had enacted the same actions in Warhammer or Ultima Online, games designed from day one to be faction adversarial, he might have gotten a different reception.

In my not so academic opinion as a gamer, he tried to justify being a douche by claiming academic progress - and failed in more ways than he succeeded. That's not academia, that's crockery.

50.

Ted>But I just wanted to point out that we might look at good - on - evil griefing in a different light.

So ... if good griefs evil, then griefing is good?

Richard

51.

Greg - Dave knew the rules before he broke them. And when he first broke the rules, other players told him quite nicely and privately what he was doing wrong. No choke holds. No screaming. Far from it. Other players started being rude only once it was clear that Twixt continued to break the rules AFTER knowing what the rules were. This is not learning. This is about what happens when you piss people off repeatedly.

Or to paraphrase Skinner: Give me a chainsaw and I'll show you that every cognitive process is painful.

Re: Gaming convention story - I think this is a much better example for your point, but then again, did you not know that only crazy people play lawful-good clerics? :P

52.

Another thing, has anyone wondered why Twixt was so successful? Consider that he was limited in his griefing to one area in the game. That area had no apparent unique qualities; players could fight eachother in other places, make cash in other places, and socialize in other places. They also had the option to sit on the sidelines and simply observe Twixt, and if no one crosses over, there would be nothing to observe after some time.

It's strange that in a game where PvP is far from integral or forced, that a character like Twixt could be so disruptive by his own power. It's possible that I underestimate the necessity of this PvP area, but for an optional area that was added to the game years after release, it is absolutely bizarre to see players so resolute to enforce rules there when there is no real inherent benefit to it.

It's possible that they deemed the profitability of the area worth enforcing the peace. I could understand that, however Myers wasn't very specific about that function of the area. It's happened in other games I've played, but I'm not sure that the area is unique enough to warrant a fourteen month battle over one person's behavior. The other possibility that I see is that Twixt presented a great spectacle and a challenge. It could be a probable explanation since no one was required to engage Twixt in order to accomplish anything that couldn't be done anywhere else. Either way, no one was held captive and tortured by the merciless academic intrigues of Dave Myers.

53.

> So ... if good griefs evil, then griefing is good?

Only if the game design is set up to be permissive of and take advantage of it. That is, a game where the ability to fight dirty is intentional design and not metagame. And then is it still griefing?

I admit that might not make much sense but it's interesting from a design perspective. In literary fiction a hero might vow "I will hunt you to the ends of the earth, villian, and never let you rest!" However, most literatre doesn't have rez mechanics - at least not continuous ones, other than the trope of the villian being not as dead as they thought. Under most MMO rules, a good-aligned player who persues one villian relentlessly might get booted for harassment, especialy if the game permits the corpse-camping sort of play. And it's damn annoying for the player.

There aren't really good examples in existance that I know of. Eve Online (yes, I always reference it :p), being a griefing-permissive game, may have a few things that come close; you can play as a villian and reap rewards for your treachery, but you'll also earn outlaw status and the people you kill obtain "kill rights", a limited licence to come blow you up in return. But blowing up a single villan's ship is less effective when he has 5 more in his hangar and won't stop him from doing dirty deeds; most player wars in Eve (excepting territory control mechanics) are wars of attrition, to make the other side give up or run out of money. Or annoy them to death.

54.

Some just trolling, but Ill bite.

1. The charge: A transgressive study of players of a live MMO.

1a) "Transgressive" I can live with, though it needs qualification -- which I've provided. 1b) Players? Tell me the game and rules they are playing. 1c) I didn't mess with the MMO at all. Lots of zones in CoH/V, one zone is called RV, Twixt was in RV. 1d) Does "maintainer of an MMO" mean having an economic incentive to support social structures inside MMOs that oppress creative and individual play? Does it mean misrepresenting the administrative regulations of the current MMO player support structure inside that MMO? check the link at the bottom here: https://is.gd/1ynas-

2. The charge: "taunting players in and out of the game solely to collect data for a sociological experiment"

2a) Didn't happen. 2b) Also, re taunting and banter in RV, here: https://is.gd/1yngu-

3. The claim: "you would be furious"

3a) You seem furious now, Scott. I believe you.

4 The charge: The study ended when the developers changed how your character's set behaved in pvp.

4a) Easiest one. Let's go to RV and play the game. Social mavens always fall behind, despite designers nerfing stuff for them.

5. The charge: Addressing complaints by the 'study subjects' who had actual interaction with your character.

5a) Do you mean the author of that 5-point bs talking point memo you posted as gospel? I'l have to blow it up on my blog sometime. For now: https://is.gd/1ynos-.

6. The charge: "they [the people I interacted with, apparently] unanimously describe your actions in ways divergent than you do"

6a) I don't know how you can get away with saying this sort of thing, even when it's on the internetz, but I guess you can if no one ever challenges you on it. This "unanimously" is another case of the "literally impossible." Just trolling. Of course you can corral a group of people willing to say that Twixt did this and did that and was a lying, cheating, griefing douchebag. And then, based on what those people say, other people say it too. That's my paper. It's not unanimous: https://is.gd/1ynxp-

7. The charge: To believe your account, we must believe then that the entire community [No] has decided [have they? where's their decision?] in common [No again] without dissent [No, for the third time] to lie about your actions over a period of years.

7a) Years? But, yes, there are people in the CoH community who have consistently distorted, misrepresented, and outright lied about Twixt's behavior inside RV. Look at the definition of griefing from CuppaJo I posted above, for instance. That's from 2006! People are still lying about that.

***

And if Richard, or anyone else, thinks I could have revealed the intensity and extremity of what happens to a game player, a Twixt, under pressure from the social mavens, look around. Who is going to endure this? Who is going to live long enough to tell the tale? Who else -- if ANYONE at this point -- is going to be believed? I really think online cultures need a wake-up call.

***

Bart: Sorry, but I just don't think we can talk about interesting things with charges of autism flapping about.

***

I do like Ted's posts: Twixtishly whacky.

***

Nick: Twixt knew the rules before he OBEYED them, not broke them.

55.

Thanks for at least somewhat addressing the issues I raised. I'll first acknowledge what you did address, then note what you didn't.

Did:
- Address complaints of other CoH players - I may disagree with your characterizations but you did address them.
- "unanimously" being an unfair characterization - I'll buy that. The persons I've talked to were unanimous but it's of necessity anecdotal since I don't work on CoH and don't have access to things like server logs and the like, and most importantly wasn't there myself. Plus there are some commenters who are taking your side in this study (basically, that 'griefing' in the context of a pvp zone is impossible).

Did not address:
- You completely avoided any mention of the ethical implications of using a live MMO population as a research tool without their consent, other than acknowledging that your behavior was in fact transgressive and that I would in fact be furious about it.

- "Whether or not this actually was a 'study' or simply a diary of your CoH PvP experiences - especially since your 'study' ended not when you decided you had enough data, not when you had recieved threats, but when the developers changed how your character's power set acted in PvP." Your only response was to essentially challenge me to a PvP match in CoH. Not only is this a fairly wacky nonsequitor, it also serves to prove my point, that you have literally no detachment regarding the game and saw my question as a challenge of your 'l33t PvP skillz'. Which reinforces the point that you played CoH as a game and sought to take your gameplay as research after the fact. Which to me is far less objectionable, but also makes it, well, far less research.

56.

Scott says...
- You completely avoided any mention of the ethical implications of using a live MMO population as a research tool without their consent, other than acknowledging that your behavior was in fact transgressive and that I would in fact be furious about it.

I believe that in other fields, just talking about it this much would make Myers' experiment important. Anyhow...

To be fair, in a PvP scenario, getting consent beyond the rules of the game would ruin the results. Players had already consented to Twixt's style of play upon their arrival to the area; they knew that they were at risk, and after seeing Twixt play for weeks and months, knew what to expect from him. To go a step further and kindly ask someone if they would mind being killed would yeild less worthwhile results. As a breaching experiment, to gather consent beyond what Myers had done would invalidate even the premise he was persuing. After that, the circumstances and duration of Twixt's experiment should remove any remaining ethical concerns; participation with Twixt's consistent and predictable immaturity was never mandatory.

57.

fted - Milgram's study and the Tuskegee syphilis study also yielded important scientific findings, but these were precisely the studies that directly led to the creation of modern IRBs. The notion that a study isn't possible with informed consent in and of itself is not sufficient grounds for waiving informed consent. And this is not the researcher's decision anymore either. It's the IRB's decision. Finding novel, ethical means of carrying out a study is the researcher's problem, and should never be the burden of unwilling study participants.

And just to be clear, all these ethical guidelines are well articulated and described in excruciating detail at: https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/humansubjects/guidance/45cfr46.htm

While it may or may not be true that this research question is not addressable with informed consent, the point is that whether any study is acceptable under modern IRBs is not a decision the researcher makes. That decision is precisely what IRBs are for.

I hope you see why allowing self-interested parties to judge the ethics of their own actions is problematic. It would be like allowing a defendant's family to be on the jury. The fact that so many study participants have concerns far outweighs what the researcher wants to think.

58.

Yee said: "The notion that a study isn't possible with informed consent in and of itself is not sufficient grounds for waiving informed consent."

Just have to throw in a good old QFT here.
And since the issues of consent and impact on a community have arisen I would also like to recommend:

McKee og Porter (2009): «Playing a Good Game: Ethical Issues in Researching MMOGs and  Virtual Worlds» i IJIRE International Journal of Internet Research Ethics Vol 2 (1) Februar 2009

Though I am not 100% on board with all their conclusions, they do give account for experiences from several researchers in the field and how they chose the deal with problems such as consent, impact on community, when to be a researcher/when to be a gamer, openess of study etc.

It is admittadly not easy choices, and often the ethical considerations will go at the expense of the awesomeness(tm) of the data. And they need to. Perhaps a year down the line that is what Twixt will really be remembered for? Perhaps that will be his real contribution to game studies?

59.

Hello Nick Yee.

I understand and am familiar with the IRB process. I did not mean to imply that we should disregard any ethical concerns for the reason that what Myers did may have been important. What I did mean to say is that the player behavior in that specific area and with that specific design should counter arguments of impropriety.

A lot of older MMOs and MUDs had a standard for PvP rules, that being once you leave town, you leave the protection of the town's guards and are responsible for your own life. This led to a form of griefing called gatesitting. It was a clearly abusive dynamic for a game because of two factors: it prevented players from leaving town, and players who are killed would respawn inside town. Griefers would just sit there blocking access to the game until they found something else to do, or ran out of victims. It would be unethical to do this in the name academia.

What Myers did (and is probably a reason why an intelligent person would do anything like what he did), was different in a special and uncommon way. A lot of the same old MUDs and MMOs that I'm refering to also had another standard feature, the arena. An area without law, a testing ground for physical prowess, but also a completely disassociated space from the world it resides in. It was there for posterity. If Myers should attempt to recreate his experiment in the old fantasy MUD/MMO space, he wouldn't be at the gate, he would be in the arena. That is because consent is implied by admittance, there is no mistaken entry, and there is no loss incurred by opting out. Coincidentally, in these older games, players would often let the arena gather dust just for those reasons.

Put simply, consent is not needed because the requirements of participation are such that it is not possible to participate without giving de facto consent and being aware of the laws governing their risks. Though it wasn't necessary for Myers' reasons to highlight the extreme and extended frustration that he caused, it is also evidence of the clear understanding that the community had of him and actions. He was given consent for everything he did by each player.

There is honestly so much more to talk about with Myers' article (partly because he opted to ignore so much), and whether Myers got consent or rather, if his actions were ethical seem apparent to me. The choices he made in designing his experiment (and choices he didn't make), are sufficient enough to conclude in his favor on that topic (but perhaps not many more). He could have gone to another area in the game, or another game where his breaching would have clearly been wrong, but he chose a place where it was nearly impossible to trick someone into combat, and after fourteen months, it had to have been impossible to hide his own notoriety.

Also, I really enjoyed your Player Life-Cycles piece.

60.

fted - I understand your point, and perhaps this is where we can agree to disagree.

I think the outcry from the CoH forums shows that had study participants been informed, most would not have consented. To me, this is enough evidence that there should have been informed consent.

The concept of informed consent is founded on the belief that consent should never be assumed by the researcher. But again, I think this is where we really disagree.

61.

We can agree to disagree. One of my complaints with Myers work in CoH, is that he left so much out that would have let us reach consensus, or at least, a better understanding of how we can disagree. Advanced players are hard to deceive, and know their interests better than the game developers, less advanced players, and ourselves. There is a reason why they battled Twixt for fourteen months, petitioned, shouted their complaints for anyone to hear, and threatened him physically. Yet when Myers describes the area his appraisal purports that it is hardly used except for some benign gold harvesting and the occasional duel. I'm not saying that the player response was less than genuine, but it may be better understood with interpretation; sadly the tools for doing that are hidden in the game and missing from Myers' study. Having a clear picture of player motivations for engaging Twixt, protesting, and refusing to ignore him might change our current interpretations of Twixt's experience.

62.

A rough standard for being able to do something without informed consent is (a) it would be impractical for some reason to do it with IC, and (b) the research won't involve subjects experiencing anything significantly different than they would if there was no experiment.

fted, it sounds to me like you think Myers' stuff falls into that category. I agree on (a), but disagree strongly on (b). A study on "breaching" is explicitly about exposing subjects to different things than they would experience without the study. That should have been recognized in advance.

I think it's reasonable to argue that his study was ethical by some standard, but not by the general standards adopted by IRB's. I personally don't have strong feelings about the behavior of Twixt as a player. I think part of the reaction on research ethics is honest chastising, and part is self-interested annoyance that someone else's mis-behavior may make getting approval more difficult for us in the future.

OTOH, while Myers is remaining mum on his interactions (or lack thereof) with the IRB, there's at least one thing he did which indicates to me it was pure thoughtlessness on his part. In at least one write-up, he identifies a character by name, in private tell, who's threatening Myers. That appears a no-brainer to me for anyone who's given human-subjects ethics a moment's thought.

63.

This guy is a total FRAUD. He proclaims that this is research on "social flaws" and other pyschological behaviors. When in reality this guy is a pure NUTCASE! He has not yet described how the game in itself is flawed where the "Heroe" class (that he chooses to be) is by default superior to the "Villain" class (the class he taunts). This game in its inception was (as most games are) poorly designed and rittled with flaws. I am upset for a few reasons;

1)Meyers is nothing more than a coward, he chose a game where he could dominate and abuse a bugged system (where is your W.O.W. character) and re-build his ego.

2)Meyers has basically gotten paid to harrass people and no one seems to care because its a video game.

3) NCSOFT the developers of this game have done nothing to stop him. You make a crappy game and let people get harrassed...yeah I'll play CO instead.

Meyers believes that his research shows that "even in the 21st century if someone does not conform they will be labeled an outcast" However he does not mention key differences in the real world and a game. The first being that when you exploit the system and get caught you will be punished. There is no such punishment in the game...(atleast not in COH)

64.

Get ready for this to come back around - the Associated Press picked up the Times-Picayune story for distribution in today's papers. A month old story, with no updates. Woo, Louisiana AP, setting the bar high as usual.

65.

Two quotes for consideration:

1) "1. TERMS OF AGREEMENT a. NC Interactive offers to allow you to play its multi-player online computer game(s) … conditioned on … your compliance with the posted Rules of Conduct." https://us.ncsoft.com/en/legal/user-agreements/city-of-heroes-user-agreement.html

2) "City of Heroes Rules of Conduct 1)…you may not defraud, harass, threaten, or cause distress and/or unwanted attention to other players.", https://us.ncsoft.com/en/legal/user-agreements/city-of-heroes-rules-of-conduct.html

There has been tacit acceptance that Myers was operating within the rules of the game - largely, I expect, because he so vociferously insists he was.

In fact, he was not.

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