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Apr 18, 2006



You can get much Bells on IGE, Dan. In fact, get in touch with Uri, who seems to be singlehandedly supporting the Animal Crossing RMT economy.


Mark> You can get much Bells on IGE, Dan.



There is a tight and complex knot that joins reciprocity, moral obligations, and the challenge to perform. The first two of these are frequently noticed, but let's think about the third one and why it might be relevant for game (and game-based) virtual worlds.

Consider the difference between a market transaction and being called upon by a friend in an emergency. In the latter, it is far more likely that one will have to deal with the unexpected, and (hopefully) come through. I don't think we've thought enough about how the moral aspect of the test of performing can drive us to fufill obligations.

Then, of course, it we have to to think about why NPCs should have this powerful moral effect on us. We learn at a very young age that obligations to others are not merely incredibly important to them, but also provide a chance to "shine," all the more so when one goes through extenuating circumstances and still comes through (I think of the extra glow that must show on my face to my three-year old when I learn that he's gone above and beyond the call). Games, of course, provide a structure for a multitude of these morally-charged challenges.


Then, of course, it we have to to think about why NPCs should have this powerful moral effect on us.

*with a straight face* They're part of The System, man. The System says, "I got a hoop here. Jump through it." And we're like, "Well, that's not going to kill me, and you're going to give me something for it (even if it's below minimum wage, but that's okay), so why not?" And then The System says, "Now jump through all these hoops." So you go... "Well, I started. Gotta finish what I started."


The "irrational escalation of commitment" effect (as painfully demonstrated in Shubik's dollar bill auction) is another one of those quirks of human psychology that game developers can exploit.

This one does rely on the participants being unfamiliar with the effect, however. Is there a lesson there for designers?



Watch out, because after you pay off that loan, Tom will ask you if you want to renovate your house to make it bigger. Of course, the Happy Room Academy likes big happy houses. I didn't know in advance (he's a wily bastard), but after the remodeling was complete, he slapped me with a bill for 120 000 Bells, which I am trying to pay off by replacing all my trees with non-native fruit-bearing trees (apples, peaches, cherries, coconuts), and selling the fruit to Nook.

Oh, and if a weasely looking guy comes by, standing outside your door, don't talk to him. He's an insurance agent and he won't go away unless you pay him 3 000 Bells! I learned the hard way.


Thomas> Then, of course, it we have to to think about why NPCs should have this powerful moral effect on us.

A separate datapoint on this that may be illuminating: I was in a relatively poorly populated village in Azeroth the other day, at a time when few other players were on. I wanted some help with an elite quest, and sent out a call, but received no takers. So I checked around the seemingly-populous village, and realized that the only occupants were me and about 50 npcs. Until that point I'd assumed that the village was bustling on, and had had the sense of activity and life. I hadn't remotely considered that I was a lonely loser in an imaginary space, that the only one there was me.


That leads in an interesting direction. It's frequently remarked (like in the great discussion here) how WoW players have virtually no opportunity to change Azeroth, and also have cripplingly shallow means of communicating cross-faction. Doesn't it follow that WoW's design commitment to narrowing the human agency of players must extend, to a certain degree, even within faction? As you found, Dan, NPC and player toons appear on casual perusal so very similar (how they walk, their conversations, etc), that one can feel amidst a crowd despite the fact that one is alone. So WoW shows the effects of doing something different than just the more regularly talked-about improving of NPC AI until it mimics real player-controlled toons. In WoW one gets similarly blurring effects by constraining player-toons so much that they approach the anonymity of NPCs...


Well, for starters, most of these virtual worlds are centered on mechanics of "self-employment." Debt is uncommon. In a sense though, you have tiers of goods and products added to the common wealth of nations.

On the one hand we often discuss goods extracted from the raw bits of unnature and imbued with that thing we call labor, and by extension human agency. From that we can probably go on to create claims of a labor theory of value and the familiar counter theories.

For brevity's sake let's posit for a moment that a currency is nothing more than an universalizing token by which a privelege (or permission to execute a duty)is extended.

Above the first category of goods, we also see original services arise in world that are neither supported nor prohibited by the given mechanics of that world. These have the greater value imbued in them because and when it is explicitly recognized by agents other than the doer. Following this, we see networks of agents creating institions as value or commodities as in the following article about an ingame IPO pursued by multitudes. Trust Me.


Debt in games is, at its "lowest" form, "negative points." You borrow points today in the hope of paying them back tomorrow with interest... in terms of having more points than you would have had you not gone into the debt.

Why do we try to get a high-score in a game? Duh. It's a game. High scores are one of the main points. If we take on a "debt" in a game, it's a promise to play, as opposed to a "promise to pay." We are, in effect, saying the exact same thing that we say in RL when we take on money debt: "I believe in the future of this thing for which I am borrowing."

Because games are meant to model various aspects of life, we see "game debt" as being similar to "money debt," especially if some of the game's points are measured in game currency. If you are measuring successs in terms of "bells," then borrowing bells is a promise... a promise to play the game more. You don't have to, right? You can get your house with the bell-debt and then piss off? Eh? But do you? Not if you have interest in the future of the game. Then the debt is as real (in game terms) as money debt is in life.

Debt = negative points. We play for points.

Now... I'm more and more interested in game systems that model other and more complex rewards systems than money, debt, RL economics, death, wounds, talent levels, etc. What about a game where some kinds of points were based solely on who gave you positive responses? Could you do something nasty and go into "benevolence debt?"


One thing that Mr. Hunter brought forth that's being ignored in the thread is the sheer mindlessness and ultimate uselessness of the task.

I mean, when readings are assigned for courses, they're assigned not because they're boring, but because they have a purpose. If you get through the Poetics of Aristotle, even if you don't understand a bit of it, you still have a knowledge of what literary theory for the next gazillion centuries is responding to.

I'm not saying a game should be perpetual amusement in the sense that we should be ecstatic all the time. It's just that the rewards IRL, esp. as regards learning, are very real and almost always there. Even a minimum wage job yields money at the end.

Spinoza and Hobbes both hold that if we don't feel keeping an oath is useful to us when all is said and done, we'll break the oath. They're saying this mainly to get rid of the idea that the Word has any bearing on politics, so their statement is an exaggeration. But they're also bringing up the deep question that Dan's post brings up: What is the utility of performing obligations for the sake of relieving debt?

Remember: IRL, you pay your college loans back with whatever work you do afterwards. Work, while it can be awful, still depends on what you make of it. To have a grueling task in a game seems like a far worse torture, esp. if you believe, like I do, that time spent in a game environment is a great opportunity for education.

I don't know if any of that made sense.


Edit: The last question of the paragraph that begins "Spinoza and Hobbes" should be: What is the utility of performing obligations, contra any morality we may feel binding upon us?

Yeah, I shouldn't have posted all that, now that I look it over. I should have just said "You guys are interested in explaining the phenmomenon, which is great, but I'd like to know if this mirroring of real life in a game as regards paying back a debt is a good thing."


At the risk of belaboring a point, I would like to point out that the impetus behind the motive principle in a debt is whether or not it is a -recognized- debt (or privelege).

Two agents can agree to acknowledge a debt for any cause, even an unique one. A singular agent, when confronted with a server, knows that the server will always acknowledge or disacknowledge an objective (narratively isomorphic) debt or privelege. The server never recognizes contingencies or denotations in the narrative exchange. The agent can always leave, be obstinate and act counter to the objective unipolar goal and always return to it later.

The goals in a constrained world are much like an accessible ontology in all those hellenic texts. If it was actually accessible, we probably wouldn't care any more, not even to affirm, deny or make the study further nuanced.

Ergo, it is not really fundamental to have preprepared inworld support of centralized exchange mechanics. Narrative agents will remain narrative exchanging agents either way. Prescribed world objectives then can merely inform actions, while the impetus is probably more related to whether the doer understands them to be recognized or no. At least.. this is acceptable if you consider all of the agents actions to be symbols, or semiotes, and therefore constituting narrative expression. Aside from context, narrative is always a collaborative project.


I told you Animal Crossing was evil.


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