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Sep 22, 2003



Dislogue's comment system isn't working, so I will comment here ...

{note: it's Raph Koster, not Ralph Coster. Poor Raph, I can only imagine how many phonespammer calls he gets that start "Hi, is this Ralph? Have I got a deal for you!"}

The argument is that non-roleplayers have no reason not to use eBay (hurrah - a hat trick in negatives!), and even role-players may in some circumstances have an in-character reason to eBay their way to a high level. My reaction is that the second point, about role-players, is overdrawn in the sense that this must be a tiny, tiny fraction of the eBay phenomenon. My goodness, if this was what was driving eBay, someone would build a true role-playing game where anyone could start at any level.

No, the fact is, these worlds are not populated by role-players. At least, not by conscious role-players. The amount of in-character conversation that I have experienced can be measured as grains of precious sand in a desert of chatter about topics ranging from the NFL to Britney Spears.

The players are role-players in one sense however: when the architecture makes them play a role. Against their will, and without their knowledge, in fact. Example: Clerics are designed so that they can't do anything but help other players. If your personality is such that you can't stand doing that, you won't play a cleric for long; the whiny demands of other players ("Dude! HEAL!!!") will drive you nuts. After sorting, the population of clerics happens to be largely helpful people, by nature. They aren't consciously role-playing, but the design structure makes it so that people who inhabit certain roles are, in fact, comfortable in the roles and react in accord with them.

I think that's one of the genius elements of the MMORPG genre - the designers figured out a way to get ordinary people to live out different roles, without having to work at it.

As a result, since nobody is really developing a role-play character, all eBaying is effectively about advancement. Advancement here means 'access to content' - the higher your level, the more things you get to see and do. Now, one can come up with a number of reasons why advancement-for-money make sense and is OK. One reason it would not be OK, however, is if the rags-to-riches story is identified by the designers as an integral element of their play-world. If so, then eBaying clearly violates the spirit of the world, and should rightly be banned.

And here we get into the difficult part. If the designers say, "This is a play world. Here are the rules. And spoil-sports - -those who don't play the game as intended - will be banned," someone could respond, "To me, this is not a play world. This is an extension of my daily life. Therefore, I cannot be a spoil-sport. Rather, there are simply a few things I want to do here, and I have the money to get what I need to do them." The designers and (rare) role-players thnk these places are role-playing games. The users, in general, think of them as something rather more real. In this conflict of visions, attitudes toward eBaying and other practices are hard to coordinate.

The core problem, in the end, is that we have these huge worlds with absolutely no sorting by play styles, so that role-players and eBayers are thrown in together. There's no reason why everyone can't have the world they want; the designers just have to come up with better solutions for getting people to self-select into like-minded communities. The travesty that is Firiona Vie (EverQuest's miserable attempt at dedicating a server to role-players) suggests that there are ways not to do it. Camelot's effort has not been much more successful. I like very much SWG's system of group-finding, where you can check off the things you like and don't like (classical music, hip hop, etc.) and then try to find similars. I would suggest a personality test at the character creation stage along with some questions about the atmosphere a person is seeking. Then servers could be suggested. (Of course if the industry is moving to a single-world architecture, there won't be any sorting at all. Which is bad.) I would even install an AI that does nothing but check a person's action and speech stream for obvious inconsistencies between what she is doing and what everyone else does, then offer free server transfer to somewhere that fits better. Finally, how about slashdot-style reputation systems that actually affect game-play?

In all these cases, the objective is to give the community more control over the individuals who are members. I suppose that may strike some as oppressive, but let's face it: we've got hundreds of thousands of people here, you can't get by with an argument that there's no community interests at all. Communities that watch out for their own interests make life better for all members, and so long as there are many, varied, communities, anyone oppressed by one norm system can surely find another where they will feel welcome. Once everyone sorts properly, eBaying will no longer be a game-design issue.


Ebaying is probably "morally repugnant" just because the majority of players agree that, within the context of the gameworld, it is. Part of the attraction of this second life is that it offers fame and fortune to a different set of people from the first life outside virtuality.

But several realms of morality exist uneasily alongside each other.

For a Roleplayer-by-choice, evil is a dark elf cleric with a propensity to cackle.
For the Roleplayer-by-design, that dark elf cleric is now a helpful guy who will cross zones to rez his guldies. Evil is ebayers and ninja-looters.
But the ebayer excludes himself from the moral compass of the gameworld, and lives by real world imperatives: the dollar talks.
These three kinds of people are playing different games by different rules. Why should they be on the same gameboard?


Apologies on the Coster/Koster error.

I agree that the vast bulk of those who play these games are not role-players in many senses. That said, I'd also bet that many of those who called in consider themselves to be and are operating under the auspices of the "roleplayer" meme.

While the ideas of sorted worlds by playstyle has some going for it, it clashes immediately with reality. If there is no enforcement mechanism, those who enjoy the game for the virtual sating of a (perhaps less virtual) bloodlust will be able to play where they can best sate that lust: the server communities that want them least. Unless the companies (businesses) operating these games make this sort of sorting part of their marketing scheme, and set in place mechanisms to actually enforce it in such a way they they gain more customers than they lose, it's a nonstarter from a business point of view. It thwarts one segment (sadly, probably the larger one) to cater to another.

I suppose I'm arguing that these are virtual worlds, not games. Once they exist policing only goes as far as the long arm of government (in this case the company running the game) and too much government intervention is a sure way to see your population emmigrate to more free environments. And controlling the mix of people in a world is more up to chance than design. I'm not sanguine about separate servers (and I'm speaking as one who played and role-played on the DAoC servers, which were a creditable attempt to draw in a class of players.)

We do play these "games" (mostly) for entertainment. Because this is so, we tend to avoid things that are not entertaining. Suffering, because someone else insists it would be out of character for their character to help our character is entertaining only to the most pure of role-players (and then, I suspect, only if they're in the right mood, not at 3am, with work looming too soon in the morning, as their corpse lies in a very bad place and they stand to lose something if they don't deal with the situation soon.)

We also, most of us, tend to dislike the sheer grind of the upper levels. As we get close to anything seen as a limit (lvl 50 in EQ, etc.) there is a psychological imperitive to make that goal, yet the time involved can exceed that required for the prior 10 levels in some situations. So, the temptation is there to use means that aren't exactly "in character."

It's a difference in degree, not in kind, to step outside the vworld itself to grab some relief on ebay. Both can be said equally to violate the concept of roleplay.

If the vast majority of players agree that ebay is "morally repugnant," whence cometh all the trading? Is it the same 100 people trading over and over again? Personal experience suggests not. I suspect many who called in might be verrrrry tempted to shop for some plats on ebay, but are horrified by the idea of "buying" a leveled character.

Degree, not principle.

I found it hard to sell a character because I get so attached to them! But I'm selling an EVE account as I type. And I bought an SWG account two weeks ago (though that was just a cheap way to get a second account). And I plan to try selling a developed character in the near future for the heck of it. It will be one I develop specifically to sell, so I'll have to keep my distance... sort of like eating one's pet goose the selling of characters if one is a roleplayer. (There's an anology: it's repugnant to most, but farmers do it all the time. Farmers don't have the luxury of considering their animals as pets in the urban sense.)

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