[City of Heroes Article] Playing by the Rules vs. Playing With Others?

edited July 2009 in Story Games
Posted By: Thunder_GodA professor writing about video gameswritesabout his experiences, playing a game (CoH/CoV) by its rules, without regard for the community's social conventions.
I thought this article on City of Heroes was interesting, as much for the professor's attitude as anything else. It perhaps deserves more discussion. I've certainly been thinking about rules that are perhaps necessary, but should not be used constantly, like 'veto' rules in games with a heavy storytelling component (like Dogs or Archipelago).


  • That really is fascinating.

    In Vampire LARPs, the social rules are much more important than the written rules. Try walking into a game and launching an attack. Things like that cause all sorts of trouble.

  • I think the aim of people who propose "Playing by the rules" in design, is that it wouldn't be "versus playing with others", because if the goal is supposedly to have everyone playing by the same rules (let's say it's an ideal, and not necessarily a reachable goal), then playing with others would be the same as playing by the rules, and vice versa.
  • edited July 2009
    The article fairly clearly shows the other side of this equation, though, Guy. The professor was playing by the rules, but he wasn't playing with others. Thus the backlash.
  • Yes.

    It's more "Ideal versus real".

    Or as we know, Social Contract is part of the System, so he was only playing by parts of the rules.
    It also has to do with why people play. And how some people won't play in some games against certain set-ups, like in Warmachine, playing against 30 Bane Knights, or in Magic, playing against a deck that wins when you say "Go" and you don't get to do anything at all.

    In tournaments, you accept it, but when playing for "fun" (whatever that is), you give them a pass, since it's just not fun.
    A voluntary and self-imposed handicapping. The fail happens when people are either new and don't yet know the social rules, which is why people originally messaged Twixt, they thought he just didn't know. It also fails when there are people who are playing to win, competitively all-out, and they are unwilling to accept handicaps.

    In such cases, you could say that there's a clash, and majority usually wins in games where "Interaction" is required. Technically, I would side with the person playing by the rules, it's not even like it's an open-game where everything is possible, this is a game with specific mechanics, the mechanics are combat-oriented, so is it surprising someone goes with what the mechanics reward and enable? We know that's not so.
    But realistically, it's also a social game, and you can't play without paying your social dues.
  • edited July 2009

    Yeah, the dude was a 'griefer.' From the sounds of it he was working within the rules of the game, but exploiting them. I'm not quite sure how City of Heroes works, but he was teleporting villains in front of the uber-NPCs that guard entrances to the hero zones so that they'd be insta-killed.

    I suspect in an analogous tabletop game, he'd be that guy who gets a kick out of finding ways to twist the rules.
  • The article is misleading as heck: for instance, people do actually PvP in PvP zones. They just don't do it in a way that's mutually destructive. It's worth doing some follow-up research in google.

    Also, here's an amazing article on the same topic: Bow, Nigger
  • Sure, Bret, but define "exploiting" or "twist". He was just using the rules.

  • Posted By: Bret GillanYeah, the dude was a 'griefer.' From the sounds of it he was working within the rules of the game, but exploiting them. I'm not quite sure how City of Heroes works, but he was teleporting villains in front of the uber-NPCs that guard entrances so that they'd be insta-killed.
    This is the bit that really gets me about the article. I mean, the professor says "If you aren't a member of the tribe, you get whacked with a stick. I look at social groups with dismay," in the last line of the article, in a sort of "Tut tut, whatever happened to tolerance and acceptance?" sort of attitude.

    But this isn't just wearing a provocative T-shirt. This is the cultural equivalent of punching people in the face and stealing their shit. Sure, it's not permanent damage, but it's clearly doing things designed to significantly inconvenience them. Yeah, people are going to react harshly to that. News flash, alert the presses and scientific community: people don't like assholes.

    Although, it is interesting (I don't play CoH/CoV myself) that evidently, nobody uses the PvP areas to, well, actually PvP. That's something worth looking into.
  • edited July 2009
    Lehman, I actually prefer his WoW article in this context (though what you linked was powerful too).

    Not only on the "Cheating aspect", which isn't cheating per se, but on his stance on "If you don't have to group, and if you don't group, then it's not really an MMO". This dovetails nicely into the theory discussions we have, about having mechanics for what we want to see (there's partying mechanics) and not having mechanics for what we don't want to see (making it impossible to progress solo?).

    Interesting, regarding "Twinking", what if a real friend of yours gave you help? Or you partied with them and they helped you through. That's in a way very much the same, but it also meets the MMO social aspect, and what we see in a lot of fiction: One mentor character guiding a lot of first-levelers about, essentially.

    The "Cheating" is on one level on the social level, of what's "Accepted", but who decides what's accepted and how? And what if 90% of the players accept this practice? I think in a sense he'd still consider it cheating, but then it'd move from the social level to the ethic of "I did it on my own". No help from people who aren't on par with you, no using things that aren't on your power level unless you came by them "Squarely", which also means, "Squarely with this character" when we unpack it.
    Which is not unquestionable.
  • edited July 2009
    This reminded me of "Playing to Win" by David Sirlin, available here:


    And in finding that link, I also noted that - of course - Mr. Sirlin has blogged about this particular incident here:


    It's my opinion that any game which, when you play by the rules and use only legal moves, allows one player to consistently out-do others, is a well and thoroughly broken game. In a table-top setting with only a few face-to-face players, this could be mitigated by clearly delineated expectations (i.e. "house rules" or "social contract"), which act as a "patch" on the code base. In any kind of open, organized play such as, let's say, the Camarilla LARP organization or Living Forgotten Realms, such rules should also be made openly available and official, not presented as a "guideline" for acceptable behaviour.

    In case of CoH/CoV, no patch to the code, official and enforceable codes-of-behaviour, or even guidelines from NCsoft have been published. In their absence, I can only assume that Myers is playing the game "right", and the others are playing the game "wrong". Imagine if you walked into a LFR game, ready to slay some orcs, only to find the DM literally making deals with the players to make all the loot and XP in the dungeon made available at practically no effort, through having the monsters act friendly to you and give you all their stuff? And when you decided to play the game as intended and bashed the orc leader's head in, everyone got furious with you and tried to have you ejected from the RPGA because now you've ruined their plans to just stand there and power up their characters?

    If Myers has found an exploit which is deemed illegal by NCsoft, they should fix their game, not rely on the community to develop unofficial house rules enforceable only by abuse and ostracism. In fact, a reasonable fix to this issue, which would make the game non-broken, is a statement from NCsoft that "we only provide a sandbox for people to play in - it is up to the community to build rules surrounding its use and up to each individual to learn the unspoken rules if they want to be successful and popular". Much like "Rule 0" in 90's RPGs, this would make the game "not broken" by definition - just, not complete and coherent.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: GrahamSure, Bret, but define "exploiting" or "twist". He was just using the rules.

    Well, here's the thing. In games like this there are things that are within the rules that aren't intended by the designers (or we can suppose, but it's generally kind of obvious and sometimes the developers will even say, "Yeah, this is a problem") that the designers can't fix or haven't had a chance to fix. It sounds like what he was doing was walking through one of these gaps. Generally what's done in this case is social leverage is used to try to get the party to stop. Kill-stealing is a good example since it's a problem in a lot of MMOs. You wack on a monster until it's down to almost no hit points, someone else walks in and lands the killing blow and they get credit for it and access to the loot. It's within the rules, but not considered good sportsmanship.

    It's been a long time since I played City of Heroes, but I am pretty sure I know what he was doing. He was basically teleporting villains into areas with super-powerful and nigh-unkillable hostile NPCs. He didn't get credit for the kill. There was no reward to him or any other hero. The only thing that was happening was the villain was dying and as a result the player was having to deal with the pretty steep penalties that City of Heroes imposes for death (which when I last played was a sort of experience point debt that you had to dig your way out of in order to contiue to level). He wasn't playing to win. It's more accurate that he was playing to punish the players of villains.

    I'm not making any judgments here. Just saying that when it comes to competitive multiplayer games there are often holes in the design that people can step through until the developers patch it and correct it (if you're lucky). Without any other recourse, players will try to lean on the exploiting player, sometimes very uh vigorously.

    And like I said, I think there are tabletop analogues and the same sort of thing happens. Some tables try popcorn throwing to stop the player from doing this, others will have deep out of game talks about it, others will try to deal with it in-game. Sometimes the player will end up being ejected if none of the former methods work. But imagine if you're stuck with a player in a game who is abusing the rules, you've talked to him about how it's ruining other people's fun, and he says "I'm just playing by the rules," and continues to do so and you have no way of ejecting him. That's sort of what's happening here.
  • edited July 2009
    Here is a tangenital but important question. I do not claim to have THE answer, but I think each person's judging will depend to a degree on their answer*. I also think the answer changes for different game types.

    If you do things in order to cause grief, you're a griefer.
    If you don't do things that cause grief, you're not a griefer.

    If you do things, but not in order to create grief, but it does cause grief, and you're unwilling to stop doing them, are you a griefer?

    * Edit: I think our replies don't really reflect on Myers, but on our own perceptions. They are judgments, but they are more telling of us, who make them, either way.
  • If he were the only player on the game, that'd be one thing. It's not that the professor didn't understand that the social norms strongly discouraged (I'd say "prohibited," but they had no teeth to stop him) his griefer behavior, but he decided to just play "by the rules." Certainly there's a disconnect between the designers' idea of what is acceptable and what the fan base think is acceptable. The more complicated answer is that "by the rules" necessarily includes the rules added onto the game by the players. In a social environment, which CoH/CoV is indeed, the rules include the social norms. Myers was being a dick. A dick in pursuit of science, perhaps, but still a dick.

    Dr. Richard Bartle has done some research that show that a certain influence of griefers in a game actually help it, though. I suspect NCsoft gets this. Nothing galvanizes a community like a common enemy.
  • There's a difference between norms and rules. The teeth is an important aspect, or if you will, whether it is a constituent or not set in stone.

    For example, a rule is something that you can't go against and still be said to be playing the game, and when you trespass on it (if you can), you get penalized. You can't handle a football in your hands if you're not the goalie, you can't kick a basketball, you can't have your bishop move in straight lines.

    In a way, there are two layers here. Heck, there are two games here, that have a meeting place of occuring in the same zone. Isn't that a form of incoherency? He's playing CoH/CoV, but so are they, but they are playing different games.
    In one game, these are "Soft norms", in the other, though they technically aren't, they're treated as "Hard rules". Or, "Laws".
  • Posted By: Thunder_GodIf you do things, but not in order to create grief, but it does cause grief, and you're unwilling to stop doing them, are you a griefer?
    As a person who runs a small (population 220) MMO, I will say yes (probably). That player knows that their behavior causes problems and upsets people, and is unwilling to change that behavior. The unwillingness to change upsetting behavior can itself be griefer behavior.

    However, not all upsetting behavior is grief in the technical sense of "griefer." If the social norm on City of Heroes was that PvP was fine and expected, then Myers' "Twixt" character wouldn't be causing grief by killing other characters, even if those character deaths upset their players. Griefer behavior is antisocial behavior.
  • Posted By: Thunder_GodThere's a difference between norms and rules.
    I agree with what you said in that post. Were you disagreeing with something I said?

    Just because it's a norm and not a rule doesn't stop Myers behavior from being antisocial*. Yes, he was playing a different game than everyone else. Most of his CoH community rose up against him and told him to stop. It doesn't matter what the rules are if you can't get along with your community while playing.

    * As an experiment, yes. Myers probably isn't really a dick.
  • edited July 2009
    I have been playing a ton of first person shooters lately. They're multiplayer, similar to COH, but a different style of gameplay and innately competitive in ways that COH isn't. But I think one key thing is the ability for individuals to host their own servers where they can enforce their desired norms which is something that you cannot do with COH or other MMORPGs. A lot of the time you'll see common rules across many different servers as the players enforce what they feel is a gap in the games rules.

    Many Team Fortress 2 servers have rules against spawn camping. Spawn camping is a tactic where you stand around where the opposing team's players will respawn into the game and kill them the moment they respawn. In competitive play it's considered a valid tactic but it drives most people nuts as it barely gives them a chance to fight before they're killed. The Team Fortress 2 developers resolved this by setting up the game so that teams spawn inside of an enclosed area that the enemy team can't enter, but they can still stand outside the door and kill opponents as they exit. So it still drives some people nuts.

    Anyway, what is a solution on TF2 (set up your own server or find one that shares your norms) is impossible in an MMO as you can't host private servers and they're managed by the company. It's like being forced to play a tabletop game with any person who decides to wander in and sit down. Nature of the beast, it seems like.
  • edited July 2009
    Adam, merely a more careful look at the claim that you've made, that "By the rules" also necessiates the social norms. The question is what you view as "By the rules". Since norms are not the same as rules, it is not necessary that one follows* the other.

    * Logics wise. Not that a person should follow something, but since they are different, "By the rules" doesn't necessiate "By the norms", so "By the norms" doesn't follow "By the rules".
  • It is necessary to follow (respect, heed) a game's social norms if one wants to fit into the game's community and not be perceived as an epic duckwaffle.

    In many cases, being perceived as an epic duckwaffle by a majority of players has negative consequences and may prevent your continued playing on that game. NCsoft apparently didn't care -- and may have even benefited from Myers' duckwafflery -- but many games (like mine) just want people to effing get along and have fun, and will stomp the living feathersyrup out of duckwafflers (i.e., they can't keep playing that way or we ban them).
  • Posted By: Ben Lehman
    Also, here's an amazing article on the same topic:Bow, Nigger
    Yeah, I remember reading that in the Game Design Reader. A fascinating read.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Posted By: BenhimselfAlthough, it is interesting (I don't play CoH/CoV myself) that evidently, nobody uses the PvP areas to, well, actually PvP.That'ssomething worth looking into.
    Yeah, that's what I was thinking too.

    It sounds to me -- and I've never played CoH, so I could be totally off base -- that the community of players is using this PvP arena in a non-standard way in order to fulfill a need that the game as designed doesn't provide for. They're "house ruling", so to speak. If that's the case, the interesting question to me isn't "is this guy a griefer?", but "once these rules are released into the wild, who gets to decide how they're used?"
  • Posted By: Ron Hammack "once these rules are released into the wild, who gets to decide how they're used?"
    I think that's an excellent question.

    I think the answer is "Everyone, all the time."
    Social contracts are both redefined and affirmed all the time. When someone comes into the area for the first time, gets told the rules and accepts them, he didn't just affirm the current usage, but he makes it so himself. The original players could then move on and he'd keep it upheld.

    And when someone comes like Myers, he's negotiating the Social Contract, and even if there's a tear between him and the rest of the community, we see "Who gets to decide how the rules/area is used." It is used as a non-adversarial area by population X, and as an adversarial area by population Y. Social Contract doesn't require us to agree, that's just an ideal, there could be a power-play between different groups.

    Of course, the designers sometimes have room, or a GM, or whatever, as an embodiment of "Control". If the area was changed, so PvP combat was no longer possible, then you'd know who gets to decide how it'd be used: Everyone. The coders would just get to decide a certain parameter in which it can't be used, in this instance. I'm sure someone could just aggro monsters, run around to the weak opponents and then vanish and let them suffer.

    Everyone negotiates and re-negotiates social contract all the time, especially in such a setting, because as Bret noted, everyone can just walk in. So they get a say, whether by agreeing, disagreeing, or whatever.
  • There are multiple issues here.

    I think the professor may be focusing on the issues that fit his agenda while ignoring the issues that would detract from it.

    He found a loophole to instant kill opponents. I’m not sure if the loop hole has been fixed yet but I know that City of Heroes developers were at least intending on fixing it at some point. Not only was it a loop hole, but it was one that didn’t benefit him. He didn’t improve his ranking or gain any in game awards. He didn’t challenge himself. It can be a lot of fun to find and exploit loopholes but he kept doing it again and again to the point where there was no challenge. Nor did he gain any social rewards. He became an outcast. He might have been doing it to gain personal pleasure but he admits to being shocked and even afraid of the consequences of his actions. Ultimately he was acting in a way that didn’t make sense for the game (system wise, rule wise, social wise) because he had an agenda outside of the game.

    Ultimately City of Heroes should have fixed the loophole. But when a system can’t be quickly patched, people usually step in and use social pressure to correct the problem. But sometimes the loophole is so powerful, social pressure isn’t enough to change things. And customers quit playing.

    I used to be ranked in the top 300 in the world in Smackdown vs. Raw online. I’ve played every version. And saw similar behavior again and again.

    Online play quickly became unfun. Out of the thousands of moves available it would often take less than 1 month after a new edition of the game came out before people found all the loopholes. Unblockable moves. Moves that could be chained to infinity. Or ways to keep running away from your opponent till they grew so tired of waiting for you they would quit. New editions would fix the problems. But editions were at least 1 year apart. 3 months into a new edition interest would severely drop.

    Funny enough, people abusing the rules this way weren’t even the major problem. People using 3rd party tools to actually hack the rules tended to be rampant. For example, you can make it so that you simply can’t be hurt by your opponent. And in comparison people who would abuse loopholes would point to hackers and say… “at least I’m not that bad!” But it still made the game quickly unplayable.

    It’s not that different than certain definitions of ethics. People can get away with using a loophole because not everyone does it. Like cheating on your taxes. But one way to test what is ethical is to see what would happen if everyone did it. If the system can’t continue to function with everyone cheating on their taxes, it’s likely unethical and something needs to change. Some of this reminds me of our recent problems with abusing loopholes in the stock market and credit markets. Once everyone does it…

    That being said, there are other interesting issues to explore. Like how systems evolve in use beyond their original intent. Using competitive modes as methods of trade or socializing. But even with these evolutions, there were still areas where PvP was going on. And his observations seem to be ignoring his potentially unethical behavior.

    It’s interesting! I think Bret nailed it above.
  • I'll note that, according to players on the server, people were PVPing in the PVP zone. They were just chatting as they did so, and PVPing in a way that was in keeping with the game's reward mechanics.

  • The curious angle here is that the players are opting in to a system that allows this behavior. Having played a little CoH in my time, and kept up on the game casually, I'm pretty sure that socializing with players on the opposing team can be done completely without risk in Pocket D (A "nightclub" zone that prohibits power use, and is open to both Heroes and Villains). Choosing to socialize in a PvP zone is a telling and nonsensical choice.

    Also, the particular method he was using is pretty cheap, and I am quite surprised the game masters didn't warn him off of it. If he was not concentrating unduly on one particular villain, his behavior couldn't be considered harassment, but the Terms of Service do prohibit exploiting loopholes to make the game perform in ways not intended by the designers. I'm pretty sure that using the NPC "Guards" to kill his enemies constitutes such behavior.

    If he's simply better at using his character's abilities to deal damage and prevent/reduce damage than anyone he attacked or who attacked him, then his behavior may be dickish, but it's within bounds of what you can and should expect in a PvP zone. His refusal to stop when, as he wrote, it became un-fun, and when people (on both sides of the Hero/Villain divide) asked with varying degrees of politeness for him to knock it off definitely push it into dickish territory. The fact that it was for research doesn't in any way prevent it from being rude, crude and socially unacceptable.

    His conclusion was... something I could have told him up front. Normally rational, polite people get enraged when you fuck with their funtime. I used to rant at the top of my voice whenever some PK would waste me in Ultima Online. I would type some pretty foul things into the local channel as I watched them ratfuck my corpse. Granted, curse words aren't precisely uncommon in my vocabulary, but I like to think I'm pretty reasonable and friendly most of the time.

    (incidentally, I do not find his behavior problematic; Those pissant PKs in UO were a big part of why the game really worked well, and once they created whole PvP-free zones, that game quickly became a shadow of its former self)
  • Posted By: Ben LehmanI'll note that, according to players on the server, people were PVPing in the PVP zone. They were just chatting as they did so, and PVPing in a way that was in keeping with the game's reward mechanics.
    From what I've seen on the subject so far it sounds like the concern is grounded in the fact that Myers was playing according to the explicit but fictional intent of the zone - killing the other team. The fact that the actual mechanics of the system doesn't reward Myers' behaviour is the problem. It sounds like we are, in fact, dealing with a classic example of incoherent game design, where the reward system triggers for completely opposite or at least orthogonal actions than what the fiction suggests it should. No wonder there is strife - when people enter the zone, they are forced to pick between competing creative agendas. Engage in PvP supported by the reward system, which has a low payout on both in-game and out-of-game rewards? Or engage in PvP with methods supported by the game, but outside the norms of the player base, which yields a high payout on out-of-game rewards (the sense of "winning" in accordance with the zone's stated purpose)? Or purposely not engage in PvP, rather completely contradicting the zone's stated purpose for a high payout of purely in-game rewards (loot from NPC mobs)?

    As for whether Myers' behaviour was "unethical" or not, take a look at EVE Online for a good study on that. People have run scams in and out of game to amass wealth and power, and doing so is a major aspect of gameplay. In the context of the game, this behaviour is exactly what CCP (the developer) is going for - their game is attempting to simulate a hyper-capitalist universe where nobody can be trusted and people will do anything for ISK (money). You cannot possibly call that behaviour unethical, although it may be unexpected and outside of societal norms. The moment the scams are taken out-of-game, the line becomes blurred. CCP looks away when things like that happen, figuring (correctly, IMHO) that they cannot hope to control what goes on after a player has logged off their servers - at that point, they are subject to local laws, not CCP's. Yet this sort of behaviour might potentially be called unethical, or even illegal. But as to what happens in-game? I can't fathom how anyone could call that unethical and not comment on the ethics of the developer, whose responsibility it ultimately is to determine what is and is not okay to do in their game. To draw a parallel with tabletop RPGs, NCsoft is not WotC - NCsoft is WotC, the DM, and the game's host, all at once.

    If "griefing" is the act of making someone feel grief, and a "griefer" is a person who habitually engages in "griefing", then it's a meaningless term. It is I who construct the grief, not the person "griefing" me. In my many years of playing MMOs, a particular action by another player may alternately cause grief, excitement, terror, anger, elation, amusement, frustration, and a whole series of other emotions. Which particular emotion depends on who I am, how I feel today, what else happened to me that day, who is the catalyst for the emotion, who else is with me, where I'm playing, what game and zone I'm playing in, how much time I have, what I did previously in the game, what my losses or gains were, etc etc. As for concrete examples, I've felt amused, frustrated, upset with myself, and excited when shot down outside a space station in EVE Online with a freighter full of cargo (which was all lost, and took days to get back), but I've felt bitter and angry at my attacked when killed in Age of Conan despite losing exactly nothing in the process. Conversely, there was a time where I was killed in Age of Conan by a guy much, much stronger than me, and I was overjoyed at the opportunity to repeatedly play hide & seek with him despite my low chance of success.

    Suffice to say, "griefing" is 100% subjective and useless as a term. I've spoken with so-called "griefers" in person and found them to be perfectly reasonable people with very legitimate reasons behind what they are doing, usually revolving around "winning the game". And man, if there's one thing I can't stand it's playing a game with people who aren't playing to win.
  • What griefing is, isn't really subjective. It's based on knowledge of reactions to your behavior, and the will to do it anyhow.

    If what you're doing is likely (or more concretely *intended*) to cause grief, then you are a griefer. You are taking your amusement from the destruction of other people's fun. That's a pretty concrete definition, and a lot of the time, it's pretty concrete that people are doing so, and on purpose, by how they respond to their 'victims'. If the guy you're attacking tells you to knock it off, and you do it anyway, you're griefing.

    Dude in the original article had every evidence that what he was doing wasn't considered a fun challenge by his targets. He continued to do so. It's fairly cut and dried. The only complicating factor is that he wasn't doing it for fun, but for research. He had a valid reason for doing so, but he was still a dick for doing so. The people taking part in his 'experiment' weren't volunteers. They did not sign on for dealing with his fun-crashing behavior for the sake of science. They were not paying for the privilege of being his research subjects. Hence, his higher reasons were immaterial, and quite possibly scientifically unethical, depending on how you squint at that issue.
  • edited July 2009
    In summary of the above, taken into tabletop territory:

    If, in (insert typical hack&slash fantasy RPG here):
    • a Thief is a class which is underpowered in combat
    • individual XP is used
    • the game features rules for stealing, which Thieves are particularly good at
    • XP is provided for Thieves as they acquire gold
    • Thieves are limited to alignments which are typically associated with untrustworthiness and lack of honour
    then the implicit reward system for Thieves involve stealing gold from other PCs, and this behaviour is to be expected. If that's not something you want in your game, then:
    • whoever is in a position of rules authority, typically the DM, must make it an explicit part of the social contract that stealing from players is not allowed, or

    • the PCs must come together to punish the Thief via in-character means, or
    • the players must petition the DM to modify the system or social contract to stop rewarding the behaviour, or
    • a different, non-broken system should be used
    Edit: Note that the system is not broken if the intended behaviour is indeed what you're looking for, and for many, it will be.

    Note that it's not just the mechanics which create this behaviour, but also in-game fictional elements (class is called a Thief, class should follow certain guidelines of fictional behaviour).

    Complaining that the Thief stole your gold amounts to nothing but whining. In David Sirlin's lingo, that's being a Scrub.
  • It seems the "Ethical argument" presented above is a form of one of Kant's formulas: If your action cannot, or you wouldn't wish it to become, a universal act, then it's not ethical.

    As for EVE Online, I'm bothered by what I read happening there. People join an organization, when they belong to a group who wants to see its downfall, and then keep playing inside for months of real-life time, till they get the power to dismantle it and/or send all of its gold to their own original faction.

    Yes, they get major "cred" and satisfaction, but so many players get damaged, their fun, the many real life hours' effort of mining asteroids, etc. I think that's why the game is so tiny, not because of "griefing", but because playing casually is a dead-end. You play casually, choose a faction to align with, and then get curb-stomped by politics you couldn't care less. And you stop playing, so almost all the players left are those both willing to engage in such practices, and who seem to enjoy them?
  • Lance, look at my question at post #13.

    It's subjective, because different people would not call this griefing. Simple. It's subjective, also on the part you're on. Heck, couldn't we look at the people slinging insults at Myers as "Griefers"? Unlike people who do what they do in spite of it causing grief, they did so with the goal of causing Myers grief, and saying that they did so in order to protect their fun is an excuse.

    Because, if I do something X in order to get "Gold", and it causes you grief, it's equivalent. I put the goal over your feelings. And here, their method didn't involve causing grief, but was aimed at causing the player out-of-game grief.
  • edited July 2009
    Guy, that's the game. If you don't like it, be happy you're not playing it.

    Betrayal of factions is part of that game. It creates the paranoia, and by contrast also the feeling of community, which the game is intended to instill.

    Despite being small, EVE is the only MMO other than WoW I know of which has had a consistent growth curve over the last decade. It also has a surprisingly high retention rate, which is a big factor of the integrity of that growth curve compared to other MMOs. Sure, some people get burnt out, but that doesn't mean the game itself doesn't do what it's intended to do. It's an amazingly coherent game, in that regard.

    Edit to add: You're right that the game is tiny because you cannot play it casually. It is not a casual game. The people who play it play it because of the factors you dislike. There's an undercurrent of MMO players who actually do prefer world-wide PvP, permadeath and backstabbing.
  • Griefing is a word with a definition and a usage. The definition doesn't change depending on who's viewing it. The usage is consistent with the definition in most cases.

    You can call the bright color of (American) stop signs green, but that doesn't mean it's not actually red.

    The definition is even less vague and subject to interpretation when any other reward is reduced or absent. Myers wasn't getting XP for the Villains he teleported into range to be killed by the NPC robots. PKs who killed me on the road from Britain could have gotten far better loot and far more gold playing PvE. PvPers who wanted a challenge didn't ambush newbies clad in a mishmash of looted armor and clothing. Myer's purpose was to gauge the results of what happened when he played counter to social convention, but with the support of the 'rules'. Hence, his research (substituting for fun) was gained from the destruction of others' fun.

    I won't say the line can't be thin, and hard to define from the outside. Here's a short story of something that happened to me... I was playing UO. For whatever reason, my character had gone 'gray' (meaning he'd committed a criminal act) even though I hadn't done so, to my knowledge. Glitches happen. Anyhow, this fellow attacked me. I lead him a merry chase, through moongates and across the country side. Sometimes I fought back and once or twice I had him on the ropes, and gave chase with righteous indignation, and other times I fled whilst bandaging the hell out of myself, and hurling invectives at my attacker. Eventually, he took me down, and he's rooting through my belongings as I'm berating him within an inch of his life. He engages me in conversation, noticing that I am calling him a PK and other things, acting like I'm the victim, which I was. When he realized I hadn't done anything to hurt anyone and earn my gray status, he resurrected me, healed me, and returned my belongings. We kept up a casual friendship thereafter. While what he did looked like griefing from my vantage point, I say that it may not be, because he believed I was in the wrong, and that he was in the right. His actions after the fact, making up for the 'grief' he caused, lead me to believe that maybe he didn't intend to cause grief.

    We could indeed, with a small stretch, call the tidal wave of crap that Myers brought down on himself griefing. It's a stretch because of the usage of the term, which almost exclusively refers to a type of game play, and because intent is harder to gauge from knee-jerk reactions born in frustration and anger. The dudes that talked about him on forums, tried to have him banned from the game, etc. is a bit more clear, and I wouldn't feel uncomfortable with it called griefing. They were trying to revisit on him what he did to them, but that doesn't change the basis of their intent.

    To join the digression of EVE: I love those very factors. I want a game that does what EVE does that doesn't primarily involve flying around in spaceships. While I hated the time I had someone lock on to me in the middle of a interstellar trip, and blow me to space dust before my sensors could even pick him up, I loved that thrill of going through .4 space, scrolling the camera all around looking for threats, my finger hovering over the button to jump me to a random planet should I see anything to worry me. It's the same thing about old UO that I loved. Getting killed by a PK was a real pain in the ass. Escaping a PK by the suede on my leather breeches, through judicious, skillful and lucky use of tactics, terrain and character ability brought a real feeling of accomplishment. Authorizing my guildies to form a 'posse' to go troll the haunts of known PKs to kill them and collect the bounty was done with a certain gleeful sense of righteousness.

    It's not the play atmosphere of EVE that failed to keep me, or the casual:serious divide. It's the color, and the gameplay (PvE eventually seemed too slow; I suspect PvP would seem too fast) and the sense of vast loneliness and isolation. If you were orbiting a space station, you were usually completely and utterly alone. I don't gel with strangers easily, so I refused all the guild invites I got from complete strangers.
  • edited July 2009
    Regarding the "He didn't get rewarded", that sounds so strange to me, on a forum called Story Games.

    He did what he did for IC reasons, for "Winning" the area inside the game. And according to Sirlin's article linked in Mikael's post (#11), he also managed to win the zone much more commonly than others did, which is an in-game goal.

    Edited: Because it might seem like I'm skipping on the mechanics vs. non-mechanics line, I'm not.
    His goal was originated in an in-character reasoning, heck, it came from within the game's world and fiction. He wasn't stopped by the other layer of the game, the mechanics. The argument against him to stop came from the meta-layer, of the players playing the game.
    I'm not saying one is more important than the other, and I think most people who call him griefer are only halfway there.

    Sure, he could be seen as a griefer, but what? Ending it at that is both simplistic and unhelpful, the thing to do is look not only at why there was a clash, but how the clash could be avoided and fixed. That's what we're discussing it on an RPG forum with design tendencies for, aren't we?
    And simply kicking him out is simple, probably works, but should also be a goal of last resort.

    The issue Myers identifies is a real issue, one we know of, and calling him a griefer is a bit weird in that sense, and I may liken it to what a "White hat Hacker" supposedly does. He points out the discrepancy between the game as stated, to how the game plays. Having the mechanics enforce the game's goals is only one side of the equation, the other was tried and failed by the players who reported Myers: Social Contract Mechanics. Reporting him for "Underhanded techniques" is a form of social contract mechanics, enforced by admins/mods.

    In a way, what Myers did was also a form of Social Contract Mechanics: In PvP zones, you are permitted to do harm to characters of opposing factions. By entering this area, you submit that you are willing to take the risk of this happening to you. And Myers simply carried out his half. Being able to attack other players is a mechanical aspect of the game. Should one be able, and should one do it, are Social Contract issues, and thus, these rules are Social Contract Mechanics. Whether they enable or disallow PvP, in certain zones, on certain servers.
  • As a social scientist myself, I take issue with the way that this guy hides this passtime behind a very thin veneer of "science".

    This was not a scientific study. As psychology goes, this was not an empirical or controlled experiment. It wasn't even a standardized correlative index. As anthropology goes, he completely fails at the basic tenet of taking cultures on their own terms and standing back from judgment. Fail.

    This is something that Professor did for "fun". In his blog, he even explicitly talks about how he stopped playing because it stopped being fun and how he reflects with bitterness on his detractors.

    And yet, when others challenge that he does not play well with others, he hides behind his scientist status. This non-study did not increase knowledge, and I think that it would definitely not pass an ethical post-study review-board.

    The esteemed professor is a scientist when engaging in science. The rest of the time, it seems that he is just a dick. Where he, himself, cannot distinguish the two, I personally call his qualifications into question.
  • As Lance says, the term griefer has a history and definition within online games that is very specific, and pretty clear-cut (it's a jargon word, like 'narrativism'): when you as a player set out deliberately to spoil the fun of others, and that is your source of enjoyment, you are a griefer. On Second Life, the online community with which I'm most familiar, there are groups of griefers, with pretty open mission statements: to wreck the fun of other players. They gain status within their sub-communities by doing the most damage to the SL community.
    Most griefers aren't that organised.
    The definition is clear-cut, but of course there are edge-cases. Myers looks like one of them. In my opinion, he deliberately chose to be griefer (without thinking of it in those terms), to observe and document the reactions to this behaviour.

    If I did that, and wasn't writing a paper about it, it's clear-cut. I'm a dick. If he does it, he gets to write a paper about it - but he's probably still a dick:
    Most psychological sociological experiments (these days!) are careful about the psychological impact they have on the experimental subjects, and also get some sort of consent. He didn't do either of those (very much the reverse, in fact) - so there's an argument that, even in his day job as a professor, he acted unethically.
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: Thunder_GodAs for EVE Online, I'm bothered by what I read happening there. People join an organization, when they belong to a group who wants to see its downfall, and then keep playing inside for months of real-life time, till they get the power to dismantle it and/or send all of its gold to their own original faction.

    Yes, they get major "cred" and satisfaction, but so many players get damaged, their fun, the many real life hours' effort of mining asteroids, etc. I think that's why the game is so tiny, not because of "griefing", but because playing casually is a dead-end. You play casually, choose a faction to align with, and then get curb-stomped by politics you couldn't care less. And you stop playing, so almost all the players left are those both willing to engage in such practices, and who seem to enjoy them?
    Posted By: lachekEdit to add: You're right that the game is tiny because you cannot play it casually. It is not a casual game. The people who play it play itbecauseof the factors you dislike. There's an undercurrent of MMO players who actually do prefer world-wide PvP, permadeath and backstabbing.
    Ehm, I really feel I gotta correct a few things about EVE here:

    1. One can (and many do) play EVE casually or without PvP. In fact, I'm doing exactly that: I play a carebear miner in a carebear guild. I log on, at themost, a few hours a week, generally to participate in the corp-organized mining or mission ops. (Which reminds me, gotta switch some skills.) I have been killed by another player exactly once, and that was when I explicitly went out to low-sec space to see if we could find some PvP.

    2. EVE isn't really "PVP, all the time". Well, it technically is, in that you can (try to) kill another player everywhere. Practically, though, the game is split in "high-sec" and "low-sec" space. In the latter, more or less anything goes, but in the former, attacking another player will lead to the attacker being killed by Concord, the ingame NPC "police", which cuts down on most PvP. (High-Sec isn't "safe", because you can skill be attacked and killed if somebody cares enough or you make mistakes. But all in all, high-sec space is pretty secure as far as EVE goes.)

    3. While the big heists and feuds are the things that make the news, I'd wager that for 90% of EVE's population, life there is much more peacefull and non-treacherous then one might think. Sure, there are the wars out there, and if you like that, I hear they are pretty cool. But even so, I haven't fired a gun at another players character in ages and I still have fun. And I'm not alone, the carebears are out there and we are legion. ^_^

    So, yeah, EVE can be a hostile game. And yes, the general attitude dev-side and in the player base is very different from other games (which is one of the reason I like it) but, as with anything else, one shouldn't just read the news and think the whole game is like that. To madly misquote Bruce Schneier: Something becomes news because it almost never happens. ;)
  • edited July 2009
    If you haven't done so already, I do suggest reading the study itself.

    It's actually rather interesting. He explains the rationale: he was deliberately violating social norms to see what the social rules of CoH/V were. Interesting stuff.

    I'm fascinated by the antipathy shown towards him on this forum.

  • Clearly, this topic has people's winds up. Anyway, according to the book I keep beside me,

    "If your achievers regard killing as an achievement, it's bad. If your explorers see it as worthy of exploration, it's a calamity." (p. 140, Bartle 2003)
  • Aaron, noted and agreed on all points. I'm generalizing. The specific setup of EVE does allow for non-PvP play (although the typical definition of "PvE" is a misnomer - the game is grounded on PvP, even if not everyone engages in it, so that is still what fuels gameplay on all levels), and this is an integral part of the game's mechanics. The important distinction is that there are no meta-game policies surrounding safe zones in EVE - if you can figure out a way to attack a peaceful trader or miner in high-sec space, it's a perfectly legitimate move. Thus, there is no game-assisted "griefing", as this implies out-of-game motivated harassment: every action you do is considered In-Character, and can be easily interpreted by all players as such. In other words, if your pod is shot down and you forgot to update your clone, it's your own damn fault - not the attacker's, and not the game's.
  • I can't speak for anyone else, but I bear no particular animosity toward this fellow. I'm simply a vehement arguer. I think what he did was dickery. I think it falls pretty squarely into grief-play. I think (having not yet read the study, but about to) that the conclusions mentioned in the original article do not require much more than common sense to deduce, and that the dismay he displayed is pretty naive, and based on a shallow concept for the effect of what he's doing. If he had somehow managed to set the experiment up in reverse, where he was on the inside of the community against the griefer, that his findings would be vastly different. But there's no anger toward him.

    In the game that CoH/CoV was when I left, it would have been relatively easy to avoid this type of play, so I don't feel that his 'victims' were helpless before his onslaught. He also didn't descend into the depths that grief-play can go to, taunting and ridiculing your fallen foe, frequently in a manner comparable to the threats he was getting. My general, very non-specific approval of the effects of player-killing/grief-play are moot in CoH, because it is by and large a care-bear game, with clearly defined PvP zones, and clearly defined rules on who can attack who, even in those zones. Hence, to be a victim, you have to tacitly opt in. This makes me shrug my shoulders at the complaints of those victims. If I knew the fellow, I'd probably say "dude, you're being a dick." and move on. Being a dick doesn't necessarily mean you're a bad person, and it doesn't even imply that you're always a dick. I do find it hard to believe that people who make it their primary source of entertainment to ruin the fun of others, and to belittle and degrade them when they have no solid way of seeking reparation, could possibly be decent people, though. In this case, he doesn't appear to go to that extreme.
  • Posted By: lachekThus, there is no game-assisted "griefing", as this implies out-of-game motivated harassment: every action you do is considered In-Character, and can be easily interpreted by all players as such.
    Hmmm, dunno about that, really.

    For one, the ingame-outgame distinction in EVE is ... strange. While there are people that behave in ways that more closely align with what MMOs would call "incharacter play", I think the average EVE gamer is very much outgame most of the time, even though the resulting behavior "blends" into the ingame setting.


    Okay, I don't think that makes any sense to somebody not me. The way I see it, EVE is a game where OOC and IC match or "overlap" to such an extent that the distiction becomes, if not completely moot, then at least much less clear then in other games. For that alone, something like "every action you do is considered In-Character" isn't something I'd agree with. Shooting somebody to pieces for profit or fun aligns with both the fictional setting ("It's a dangerous universe") and the outgame "way it's meant to be played" as designed by CCP, but I don't think most EVE players would say "Ok, that's just the way I play my character".

    Also, even in a game like EVE, there are griefers and while similar behavior might be more accepted in EVE then in other games, that doesn't mean most people don't consider them huge assholes. But, as with the ingame/outgame thing, this is much less clearcut. For example, there the suicide gank: Killing somebody in high-sec (And be killed by concord for it) can be done for a variety of reasons: Profit (you or, IIRC, somebody in your corp/fleet, can later loot the wreck) is one, but there are also people who just like to fuck with carebears. Or who like to fuck with carebears and don't mind any profit that comes from it. *shrug*

    Same with various other shady business, like Ninja-Salvaging (Salvaging the wrecks of other players kills), declaring war on other corps for ransom, Ore-Stealing and so on. Shades of gray and all that...
  • Aaron, yes, even as I wrote that I realized that a statement better in line with my thinking would be "any action you do can be easily interpreted as motivated by in-character concerns". That is, it is very easy for me as a player to take any action done against me and find a really good in-game reason why the "dick" just did that to me, thus I do not take the attack personally but rather as an in-game interaction between two fictional characters.

    The reason "griefing" is so reviled is because it is usually easily identifiable as motivated by out-of-game factors, especially when accompanied by trash-talking (which even EVE is susceptible to, of course).
  • Posted By: lachekThat is, it is very easy for me as a player to take any action done against me and find a really good in-game reason why the "dick" just did that to me, thus I do not take the attack personally but rather as an in-game interaction between two fictional characters.
    That I can see although it's not something I'd ... "do", I think. When I play EVE, I'm still pretty much me and I don't really try to conciously rationalize peoples actions as ingame.

    That said, I think I totally get where you're coming from. This harks back to the weird blend that is ingame/outgame in EVE and it's one of the great things about the game, IMO. EVE is a game where the ingame and the outgame overlap to such an extent that the difference becomes pretty unimportant. (Or at least it can become so.) Ultimately, it doesn't really matter if the pirate is pirating because he plays a pirate character, because the player thinks it's a goodway to make money or if it's just the player enjoying some easy PvP, because the end result is the same: Somebody somewhere is getting podded and looted. ^_^

    In this light, griefing only goes away if you accept that it's only griefing if there are clearly identifiable outgame reasons. Something I, personally, don't, because intention is hard enough to establish in the real-world, never mind a massively multiplayer game where, short of telepathy, there is no functional difference for an outsider between a griefer and somebody just "playing an asshole".
  • EVE Digression: When some nearly nameless, faceless stranger podkills you, he's a dick. There's no benefit for him. He doesn't know you, and thereby has no particular animosity toward you. This is true whether you do it with in-game rationale (oh, my pilot's a psychopath!) or not. EVE is interesting in that it's the only game I know of where you can be killed in almost all ways that matter (you lose your ship, money, and any cargo you were carrying) but still not go all the way. Podkilling someone is specifically saying that you want to set them back if you're able. Disrupting their trip and taking their stuff isn't enough, you want to take their recent advancement if at all possible.

    Back to the matter at hand: I've read the meat of the article. One thing that strikes me is the way he refers to the actions of Twixt as thought those actions were not his. I wouldn't be surprised if this was simply an academic affectation, but it seems like he's trying to distance himself from the actions of his fictional character.

    I also think I understand the basic flaw in his whole premise: He looks at the game rules as rules for behavior. This is wrong. The game rules are like the laws of physics. They determine what's possible, with no judgment of what should actually happen. Yes, there is reward, but it's the same type of reward given by basic natural laws. If I am stronger than you, I can take your stuff. If I take your stuff, I am rewarded by having more stuff. The laws of physics inform social rules, by giving them a framework in which to grow. You can't have a social rule against killing people if it's not possible to kill people. The people playing the game have determined that certain things are the 'right' way to play, completely separate from what those who created the physics might have allowed for.

    Also, his dismay at the harshness of the reactions seems slightly disingenuous. He'd been playing the game for at least two years. It's quite likely he's been involved in non-academic internet culture as well. Because of this, I find it difficult to believe that he's not aware of the boldness offered by anonymity, especially when he took advantage of that same boldness to conduct this experiment. If such a concentrated campaign of doing things to break societal rules were perpetuated in the physical world, where people come within strangling distance, it's likely that the possibility of physical violence would have stopped him at a much earlier point, even without overt threats. Additionally, another concern I would expect he would be aware of is the level of expressive hyperbole necessitated by text-based communications.. Specifically, the fact that black and white cannot transmit emotional context, so to get a point across, you exaggerate. If you're mad, you don't just say "I'm mad." You say "I'm furious! I'm enraged!" If you're angry enough to be shouting at your computer while sitting there in your living room, it's quite possible that a death threat seems the most reasonable way to express your emotional state.
  • Reading his paper... on one hand, he seems to be playing from the perspective of "well my guy would do this in the fiction". In the fiction, he is a hero so he most stop the villains. So heroes and villains hanging out was against his suspension of disbelief.

    But in other instances, groups of heroes and villains would gather and have a representative from each side fight each other while the others watched. Which seems fitting from a fictional perspective. But even in these cases, he would join in and just start attacking the people watching the fight.

    In some cases he is doing what is right for the fiction in his eyes. In other cases he is following the letter of the rules while conveniently ignoring the intent of the rules. In other cases he isn't even optimally playing the letter of the rules as he doesn't benefit game wise from killing opponents the way he did because it doesn't count as kills for him. He isn't playing for fun. He isn't playing for a challenge. He doesn't even seem to get joy out of beating other people. And he isn't playing with people who want to play the way he does (he had many people to choose from). His actions seem a bit inconsistent. The only thing consistent is that he is doing things to purposefully upset people and their established social norms via "Garfinkeling".

    And it doesn't appear that he followed his school's rules for informed consent.
  • Lance, what are the rules for behaviour in Chess, or Soccer, or Basketball, or Go?
  • <blockquote><cite>Posted By: jenskot</cite>And it doesn't appear that he followed his school's rules for<a href="http://www.luc.edu/ors/irb_XIA.shtml">informed consent</a>.</blockquote>

    I wasn't even going to go any more deeply into that one than I already have.

    A few quibbles with your main arguments though: He does benefit, it seems. He doesn't gain experience from the "droning" or hostile NPC teleports, but it does further his goals of winning the zone. It is like the situation Iachek proposed in his related thread: It helps you win, even if it doesn't get you XP. From what I recall, there is a tangible reward in the form of what are essentially special loot drops, and possibly even XP rewards for winning a zone.
  • edited July 2009


    [edit] More specifically, those games aren't large enough (in the context of an instance of the game) to develop social rules that exist within the play of the game. The games are simple enough that the mechanical rules (the physics, as it were) are sufficient.
  • Soccer games aren't large enough? What about a soccer tournament? I'd disagree.

    The relevance is about whether a game has additional rules to those which constitute it. A constituent rule is simple, if you remove or change such a rule, you're no longer playing that game. So long as you abide by all such rules, you are playing that game.

    That's part of what makes a game a game. Real life is important, we could say it's more important than the game, but it's not relevant to what makes up the game's rules. You could say I'm turning it around, and while saying your point is valid about behaviour between people, who happen to be engaged in a game, it is completely irrelevant and orthogonal to the point of the game itself.
    Myers treated the game's rules as physical laws. And inside the game, that's exactly what they are.

    They are the rules for actions, they are the rules for behaviour. Inside the game.
    What you're pointing out is that this discussion has two layers, as I keep pointing out.
    Myers' error is not that he didn't follow the rules for behaviour inside the game, but that the game is inside something else, the social environment of our real-world. The disconnect is that the rules of behaviour inside the game tend to lose to the rules of behaviour inside the real world.

    That's a good way in which we decide how competitive a player is. Say playing Diplomacy, or Settlers of Cattan, how willing they are to renege on deals, backstab their real-life friends to win the game. Even though the game is created with that expectation in mind.
    Heck, the real decision you make in many of these games is not "Will I backstab my friend/cousin?" but "When will I backstab my friend/cousin?"
  • edited July 2009
    Posted By: WolfeA few quibbles with your main arguments though: He does benefit, it seems. He doesn't gain experience from the "droning" or hostile NPC teleports, but it does further his goals of winning the zone. It is like the situation Iachek proposed in his related thread: It helps you win, even if it doesn't get you XP. From what I recall, there is a tangible reward in the form of what are essentially special loot drops, and possibly even XP rewards for winning a zone.
    Thanks Wolfe! I'll look into this more.
Sign In or Register to comment.