Game talkOn Trust, Part III

 Posted by (Visited 10059 times)  Game talk
Mar 132006
 

Read Part I
Read Part II
Read A side note

I ended part II by concluding that the reason that the differing models of trust mattered is because at some point, solutions from one model would be applied to the problem domain best suited for the other model.

In other words, bringing in an external authority into a communitarian model (as in the recent examples with guild name trademarks, or even GLBT guilds); or alternatively, trying to use a communitarian model to deal with authority based problems. Many of the latter would likely involve intellectual property concerns, or other intrusions of real life policy into virtual space.

From a commercial perspective, the goal is to get customers to the indifference threshold — which sounds worse than I intend. This isn’t a state of active trust, it’s one of benign neglect. It’s equivalent to a chunking of trust-like behaviors: you want users to behave as if they trusted you, perhaps on the basis of trusting one of your staff, even though it is not true trust (because there’s no assumption of repeated interaction). At this point, we have effectively crossed over into the realm of politics.

In short, the goal is to have an authoritarian model where the players treat you as a member of the community even though you are actually in a position of authority. From the outset, this may seem a doomed enterprise, given that even attempting this pretense could be seen as a betrayal. But practical politics tell us that in fact we live quite happily with this sort of quasi-tribal membership in a wide array of groups, including political parties.

LambdaMOO as an example

The thing about quasi-tribal membership in groups is that they rely on twin loyalties: to a platform which we might term a vision of shared values, and to a person, whom we might call the exemplar of said platform. The tensions between these two loyalties is always evident. Often the current exemplar individual does not live up to all forms of the vision, or exhibits venality in some fashion; often the exemplar is a poor fit, or has a different agenda, but is a prisoner of the platform; often the platform itself may be uninspiring to a given voter/customer/audience member, but a given individual might, through personal charisma, convey a very different sense of what the tribe or organization’s agenda is. (Not to inject politics into things too much, but you might consider both Kennedy and Clinton as examples of the first case, and President Bush as an example of the last case).

It’s a fairly rare thing indeed to have both an agenda and a leader capable of living up to the vision for it. Quite often, in fact, one agenda is sold to the members of a group whilst another is the real operating agenda; the two agendas may not be at cross-purposes, but they are certainly somewhat orthogonal. The classic example of this is any service business, where the agendas of satisfying some need for customers overlaps with, but is not the same as, the agenda of making money.

The case of LambdaMOO and its various new directions is illustrative here. The infamous “Mr. Bungle” Rape in Cyberspace came after the first New Direction. The first form of the New Direction was characterized by the admins abdicating not their abilities (they still had their fingers on the power switch, and they still retained their abilities to affect the code, and take actions not permitted to other players) but rather their authority. They effectively demoted themselves to be the servants of the community, rather than its leaders.

In place of retaining decision-making powers, they instead signed up to do things based on player-driven governmental systems. As documented in Julian Dibbell’s My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, what resulted was first and foremost, apathy.

The abdication that the admins had engaged in was specifically directed at social forms of administration, you see. They remained as technicians, but not as parent figures. Without the parental figures around, some players moved into those roles but exercised purely moral authority; and most players simply continued to exist, since the intersection with administrative fiat in social matters was generally limited. Given a small enough community, with no major controversy at hand, the typical forms of communitarian pressure served to regulate the environment, and the result was a retreat to standard communitarian approaches.

It took the crisis of the Mr.Bungle incident to change that into a profusion of politicking, driven starkly by cliques, influence spheres, and yes, even idealism. What seemed like a homogenous community was suddenly fragmented along philosophical fault lines: importantly, philosophical differences in governmental approaches. In other words, the crisis surrounding Mr. Bungle emerged as being a discussion about the forms trust should take.

Dibbell describes the following constituencies:

  • Parliamentarian legalist types, who favored the creation of laws by which to govern (trust mediated via contracts)
  • Royalists, who favored the repeal of the New Direction and the return of wizard admins (trust in authority)
  • Technolibertarians, who felt that governance was best accomplished by empowering users with tools (operating in a world with no trust)
  • Anarchists, who in Julian’s retelling actually come across as strict communitarians, arguing for toading as being a form of shunning

The difficulty here, which manifested in several ways in the LambdaMOO environment, is that these groups are not necessarily motivated by even remotely the same issues. Where multiple overlapping but disparate constituencies exist, their needs must be resolved by someone with an understanding of the ecology of the whole; typically, only those in a higher position in some form of hierarchy are in a position to do that.

Consider the Schmoo Wars. In MOO softcode, you have the ability, as a player, to do quite a lot. One enterprising player decided to make an alternate definition of what a player character meant, in its core functionality and data structures. As I recall, he did this for his own purposes: to add sexual functionality to the avatars, as well as other bells and whistles which were not supported by the default definition of virtual “personhood.” However, the Schmoo player type was, according to its detractors, not as robustly constructed as the ones provided originally by the maintainers.

In a situation like this, you have sympathy with the creators of Schmoos, because you want to allow expressivity on their part; on the other hand, you also want the decision on the continued existence of the Schmoos to rest with someone who, if not an actual maintainer, has full access to and the knowledge of, a maintainer. And that is because while the maintainers may not be fully objective (after all, the existence of Schmoos is an implicit critique of their work), they are also best positioned to determine the impact of the presence of Schmoos, what security weaknesses they might, what technical issues might arise, and so on. Rank hath its privileges, yes, but the most undervalued of said privileges is perspective.

This perspective is what we hope our lawgivers have, when they construct and interpret contracts. Seen in this light, it’s frankly astonishing that something like national constitutions ever emerge, and highly unsurprising that they tend to be written by the rich and overeducated. And yet, the contract is exactly what we are developing towards in this story.

LambdaMOOs second take on the New Direction occurred after the the end of the Mr. Bungle incident. One of the wizards decided to use their powers to toad Mr. Bungle, thereby shortcutting all of the debate about what to do regarding the cyber-rape incident. This was exactly the sort of wizardly fiat that the New Direction was intended to eliminate, but it also brought into clear relief the fact that given such widely differing constituencies, none of which actually had the power of shunning, no form of trust could exist. Communitarian solutions were failing to even get a handle on the situation precisely because they lacked any tools.

After this action, the new take on the New Direction was put in place by Pavel Curtis, and it was the step of creating the tools: forcing upon the userbase a system of referenda and votes. In other words, a trust delegation system whereby the hierarchy was restored, albeit subtly. A contract was formed between those in power and those who lacked it.

Eventually, the implicit lesson of this system was made explicit, and “Another New Direction” restored the powers of the wizards.

On December 9, 1992, Haakon posted ‘LambdaMOO Takes A New Direction’ (LTAND). Its intent was to relieve the wizards of the responsibility for making social decisions, and to shift that burden onto the players themselves. It indicated that the wizards would thenceforth refrain from making social decisions, and serve the MOO only as technicians. Over the course of the past three and a half years, it has become obvious that this was an impossible ideal: The line between ‘technical’ and ‘social’ is not a clear one, and never can be. The harassment that ensues each time we fail to achieve the impossible is more than we are now willing to bear.

So, we now acknowledge and accept that we have unavoidably made some social decisions over the past three years, and inform you that we hold ourselves free to do so henceforth.

1. We Are Reintroducing Wizardly Fiat

In particular, we henceforth explicitly reserve the right to make decisions that will unquestionably have social impact. We also now acknowledge that any technical decision may have social implications; we will no longer attempt to justify every action we take.

Players will still have a voice, however. Your input is essential. We will keep our existing institutions for now, with the modifications described below…

It’s worth pointing out that the most commonly repeated reason why the wizards felt obliged to do this was not out of a sense of idealism, but out of a sense of self-interest (emphases in the below are mine):

We explicitly reserve

(*) the right to veto any Arbitrator decision, particularly one that significantly impairs the ability of the wizards to do their jobs.

(*) the right to veto any Arbitration Change Proposal that is clearly not a “minor change” in the spirit of *Ballot:Arbitration (#50392) or that significantly impairs the ability of the wizards to do their jobs.

These may be temporary measures, as we hope to facilitate revision or replacement of Arbitration so that it may more adequately meet the needs of the community.

c. Wizardly Actions with Social Implications

The wizards will no longer refrain from taking actions that may have social implications. In three and a half years, no adequate mechanism has been found that prevents disruptive players from creating an intolerably hostile working environment for the wizards.

Thus it is demonstrated that arbitrators, the mediators of trust, are inevitably part and parcel of the community they arbitrate. And yet the need for accreditation remains. In the case of a virtual environment, the ultimate accreditation for the purposes of trust is not the merely technical ability to affect the playerbase, but is in fact the willingness to be considered a full participant in the community that the server represents. Whoever has their finger on the power button must be someone who would be just as devastated as any player to see it flicked to the off position.

The wizards in fact recognized this; in their statement, they proposed that were players not to favor this new direction, they could vote by simple majority to take LambdaMOO down forever. The offering of this choice actually clearly indicated their desire to be community members, and even worthiness to continue in charge of the system. They demonstrated their idealism by being willing to have all their work vanish if the playerbase objected. They effectively signed a contract with their virtual blood.

Building a tentative model

Demonstration of idealism is typically done via yet another accrediting body: the trade association, in the case of businesses. Essentially, once a business recognizes that it is part of two communities (customers and peers), it can be guaranteed to its customers via its peers. This only works, however, if the trade body is itself altruistic.

It hardly bears stating that finding a self-abnegating staff of saints doesn’t scale very well. We must rely on self-interest in some form — market forces, in the case of commercially operated services — to drive the authorities towards saintliness. Even then, there may need to be a guarantor of rights in order to create a trust framework, a contract that flows both ways, interacting with the communitarian aspect of the audience.

This contract is the document that stands above the authorities, and enables the community to enforce behavior on them, reversing the traditional hierarchy. In the real world, it is things like declarations of rights and national constitutions. In the technologically constructed worlds, it must be something that trumps the power switch, because in the end that clearly has the ultimate power.

Given that nobody has yet trumped the power of the power switch, and if we take all the above as a given, we are left with two choices: either we remake the environments themselves to no longer be dependent on the power switch, so that documents like declarations of rights and constitutions can come into their true power; or we accept the ongoing Balkanization of the Internet.

We see this happening today with content filtered on a national level, new root domains, and so on. We alse see it replicated in small in the virtual worlds, as users migrate from world to world, often attempting (somewhat futilely) to recreate lost communities, or just escape from allegedly repressive regimes. We also see the separation into communities of interest. Each user will naturally belong to more than one community, but there is still the risk of homogeneity mentioned previously.

This Balkanization occurs precisely because the various authorities involved (national governments desirous of curtialing the thoughts of their citizens, or protecting them, or protecting themselves; filtering software companies who wish to make money; game operators who wish to make money) and community members involved (various types of players, bloggers, and browsers who have a multitude of agendas and desires) lack unifying principles that bridge the gap between their differing agendas. They do not share one contract.

To recap: we have seen three broad models for trust management.

  • Trust uses communitarian models to provide recourse in the event of a breach, and allows autonomy of response by the involved individuals. But it is vulnerable to attacks on the accreditation of the arbitrators. The virtue in trust is in belonging.

  • Faith functions much like trust, but frankly does not provide recourse. We oeprate with a veil of confidence that is maintained by the relative rarity of its failure.
  • Contract sets the virtue inherent in the contract itself; it may be the social contract, or a document that serves as a statement of principles in which all have placed their faith. The weakness in contracts is actually in identification; should a participant in the system not be someone who has signed up to these principles, then it may be very difficult to enforce anything. This can range from the guy who defrauds using a false credit card, to the cheater who does not provide a real id as they go about wreaking havoc in your virtual environment. Remember, ID leads to accreditation, which then leads to enforcement.

We can plot these on three axes, then: confidence, recourse, and autonomy of response (e.g., does the control rest withthe aggrieved party, or with someone else?). Trust hits all three, faith hits confidence alone, and contract hits recourse alone.

We can see that when plotted on a cube, there are other potential behaviors. In Ultima Online, a huge part of the social landscape was informed by a group called the anti-PKs; these folk operated solely based on autonomy, and had no metrics for confidence nor official recourse or sanction for their actions. They are the textbook vigilante. Other combinations of characteristics lead to other coping strategies. By and large, though, these coping strategies are not really what we consider to be civilized.

In fact, the modern definition of ‘civilized’ revolves around the contract, which is perhaps better termed “the rule of law.” Self-limitation (e.g., giving rights to the interactor, the citizen, the lowly A in our diagrams), is the ethical step of encouraging trust by self-enforcing, thereby putting oneself into the community rather than above it.

But this requires that governing entities be ethical — and in particular, we worry about commercial organizations, given that it has been argued that corporations are psychopathic in terms of how they relate to society.

But I’ll have to talk about that in a part four (!).

Cites from “LambdaMOO Takes Another New Direction” from “help manners”: Cyber-Democracy and its Vicissitudes by Charles J. Stivale, in Enculturation, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1997.

  26 Responses to “On Trust, Part III”

  1. Raph’s WebsiteOn Trust, Part III The Sunday Poem: Housebuilding Near Montague Farm Hail in San Diego PowerPoint Presentation – Putting the Fun in Functional Shaping perceptions Midnighters Another prescription/crystal ball Darniaq has seen the future of MMOs

  2. One problem with this discussion is that the rules for online life are considerably different. You cover the administrator point of view accurately (“finger on the power switch”), Raph, but what about the player/participant point of view? One of the main differences is that the online citizen can leave the online space at any time for any duration. In essence, they have a mini form of the “power switch” as it relates to their own online participation.

    For example, let’s say this blog turned into a political blog and online game development wasn’t discussed at all. I’m not bound to this virtual space, so I don’t have to participate in the new space. On the other hand, if the U.S. changed focus (went from a democracy to a dictatorship, for example), I can’t “quit” quite so casually. Moving out of the country incurs significant cost (in terms of money and likely personal safety). The other major form of quitting is a huge societal taboo for Western countries: suicide. Yet, the online world equivalent happens on a daily basis in most worlds with few people even batting an eyelash.

    So, much of the problem here is that any behavior necessary for these issues of trust to be resolved have to be easier and/or more rewarding than quitting. Unfortunately, this generally isn’t the case. This is why a lot of community self-policing fails: because it’s much harder to police the community than it is to quit. It’s often not terribly rewarding, either.

    Of course, we see some of the similar problems in the offline world. Social work isn’t usually very rewarding, but there are some saintly souls out there that go into the field. Of course, you hear reports of bad social workers making the system unbearable for others. You can also look at issues like voter apathy to see what happens when the effort involved is greater than the perceived reward, even if the activity is incredibly vital for society.

    So, I think any discussion of trust really needs to consider this angle as well. Especially when we’re talking about commercial game worlds.

    My thoughts,

  3. [...] read Dibbell’s work by now… but I haven’t, and I got stung. I’ll get around to that, I suppose…(Post a new comment) Log in now.(Create account, or useOpenID) [...]

  4. This is a good reason to have ability advancement in a game. Losing a character or reducing their ability is about the only real punishment that can be done to someone who’s breaking social trusts. They can always get new accounts, and their identity can always be fudged. Account action doesn’t completely cover the problems.

    I agree with Psychochild, people can just quit. There’s a scale of measurement that they will use to decide this based on several factors…..
    “Do I have enough social investment in the game to want to stay?”, and the more time, the more friends, the more effort in the game, his character, and it’s world, the stronger this feeling will be.
    “Is my sense of justice being satisfied?” Revenge with a purpose….”Is this going to stop?”
    The ultimate question is “is it worth it?”

    I’m a proponent of empowering players. But, just as LamndMOO discovered, the ultimate authority must remain in the hands of the game controllers. But game masters can’t possibly support all the territory in an MMO. Empowering players in their own social structure, predefined by the game, allows them to handle things on their own. There has to be limits and that has to be directly related to game actions. PKing, stealing, grief in social zones of control, these things can be empowered to the players and usually will be subjected to their own social awareness for a balancing effect. But some things are well out of game play context, and well beyond anything that code can give to a set of players. That’s the need for game master controls that trump all else. There’s a side benefit to empowering players, in that it strengthens their social awareness, and thus the game as well.

    If someone is going to quit because the burden is on them, for the love of god, country, and mom’s apple pie, let it be the griefers.

  5. Clearly, given the comments I am going to have to address the right of departure issue in greater detail. Short form, it’ll involve unpacking these paragraphs into something much larger:

    We see this happening today with content filtered on a national level, new root domains, and so on. We alse see it replicated in small in the virtual worlds, as users migrate from world to world, often attempting (somewhat futilely) to recreate lost communities, or just escape from allegedly repressive regimes. We also see the separation into communities of interest. Each user will naturally belong to more than one community, but there is still the risk of homogeneity mentioned previously.

    This Balkanization occurs precisely because the various authorities involved (national governments desirous of curtailing the thoughts of their citizens, or protecting them, or protecting themselves; filtering software companies who wish to make money; game operators who wish to make money) and community members involved (various types of players, bloggers, and browsers who have a multitude of agendas and desires) lack unifying principles that bridge the gap between their differing agendas. They do not share one contract.

  6. Oh, mannnn! Do I have to get out my “cafeteria food” analogy? But it will be very interesting, looking forwards to it.

  7. That’s the need for game master controls that trump all else. There’s a side benefit to empowering players, in that it strengthens their social awareness, and thus the game as well.

    There are lots of reasons to want a trust architecture of some sort which empowers players. But I think the most important reason is a very simple one: game administrator resources don’t scale.

    By which I mean, the game operator simply does not have enough manpower at his disposal to handle all the possible problems using their top-down authority. (Consider the acceptable-names policy of your favorite popular MMO. How many characters do you see running by every day with names that violate the policy?)

    We should try to somehow delegate as much of the problem resolution as possible to the players, and use the game operator’s “god powers” only in extreme cases and as a last resort.

  8. Moo, I certainly understand the desire for something like that. But in my opinion, that’s something that the GMs would need to take care of. But why is it that you have to page on the character in question and wait for an instant responce? I don’t know for sure how all games handle this, but it seems to me that there should be a list compiled by reports such as this. Then, a GM can review it later, it wouldn’t have to be now, not even today. But eventually, names can be taken care of by the one authority who really counts and has a clear guideline.

    The same can be done for words typed, guild names, etc. I’m pretty sure some games already do this to a limited degree.

  9. I think that the points commenters are making about how “you can just leave” are valid, but I think it’s also important to think about the complications of “just leaving,” which DO exist even in cyberspace. As Psychochild mentioned, it’s “easy” to just leave virtual space in that your very presence there is purely symbolic. It’s not so “easy” to leave your physical space – your physical country and home.

    However, people place value on their symbolic spaces. This is made clear in the article about the Mr. Bungle affair (god, it’s impossible to take anything seriously when you have to refer to a name like that!). People took the act of virtual (symbolic) rape very seriously, though it was always obvious that it was completely different from a physical rape. This is a question of where the line is drawn… we value our virtual spaces, so is it really that easy to “just leave” if you have spent months, or even years building a social network in a virtual space?

  10. Max wrote:
    [I]s it really that easy to “just leave” if you have spent months, or even years building a social network in a virtual space?

    Yes. Usually people convince their social network to go with them. LambdaMOO is an interesting example because there have been a lot of spinoffs set up by people unhappy with the original. Julian even mentions one other one in his book that Raph references above. This was hardly unique to LambdaMOO, though: I’d estimate that the majority of text MUDs existing at any one time were created by a player that was disgruntled by the place they had participated in before. Perhaps they had a different concept of how the mechanics should work, or they wanted to attract a different type of player, etc.

    Today, this is usually when you see a whole guild of people leave your game and go somewhere else. We’ve found out that guilds are incredibly mobile, because they often exist outside of games in addition to existing within the context of our worlds. If I’m a member of a large guild and I tire of Game A, it’s likely that some people in the guild will be interested in upcoming (or newly released) Game B.

    Some more thoughts,

  11. Interestingly enough, a game called Darkspace that had previously banned use of the word ‘rape’ in their game, reversed their decision last week. I dont really know any of the details behind it, but it seems from the linked post that they simply didnt have the desire and/or ability to effectively police their initial decision.

    One of the beautiful (and ugly) things about virtual spaces is that people tend to be more emboldened by their physical/real-life distance from their online personas. So, while you have some people who will be jerks and push the social boundaries beyond all notions of good taste simply because they can without any serious reprecussions, you also have those who will stand up to this sort of behaviour where in real-life, most people tend to avoid getting involved in other people’s confrontations. It’s kind of ironic that while the anonymity and relative safety of open, online spaces seems to create more ‘criminals’, it also creates more ‘police’. But then you have the question of who will police the police!

    So, IMO, giving players ways to police their own communities is definitely a desirable direction, but even that will still require further moderation up the line and the potential for abuse is as great in online worlds as it is in the real world.

    Probably one of the best examples of giving power to the community as a whole is seen in a Tale in the Desert which allows the participants in the virtual world to draft and create their own binding rules. If the participants want to create ways to punish anti-social behaviour, they have it available to them, and they have done so on occassion, even taking that ‘final’ step of banishing at least one player from the world entirely. Unfortunately, I havent been following that community for some time so I’m not sure how things have played out over the past couple of years…

  12. The notion that virtual communities are defined through the resolution of conflict was also a strong theme in “Cyberville: Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town” by Stacy Horn, which has been cited before.

    What she doesn’t say specifically, though it’s implied, is that such conflict must occur for there to be any resolution. :) Unfortunately, as Dibbell has described LambdaMOO, the lack of other community-unifying features or processes was so great that there had to be a “rape in cyberspace” for anyone to come together about anything.

    This is why I advocate community initiatives with conflicts in mind. Don’t subvert them, allow them to happen. Sometimes, you might even want to facilitate them. Just don’t let anyone know that’s what you’re doing. :)

  13. I seem to recall getting yelled at by a lot of players for saying “Cultures define and refine themselves through conflict.”

    It is an unpalatable notion, though. Conflict usually mean winners and losers, victims and aggressors… but our responses in time of conlfict are sure pointers to our true values, and our stances in the face of aggression may more truly represent who we are than anything else. Being able to define oneself in reaction to something else is one of the classic ways for new groups or entities to be born.

  14. Yeah, well, they’re players. They’re going to do that.

    The problem with a lot of UO’s conflict was, just as you said, that the only resolution players would recognize was getting pwnt by PKs (winners and losers) and developers reacting with patches (victims and divine providence.) Trying to determine just what the motives of the dev team were was a guessing game at times, and the effort to inform and cultivate the community was very scattershot.

    You saying that UO’s community would ultimately be defined by the conflict that many players thought was drudgerous and otherwise not-fun, was the equivalent of Calvin’s dad saying anything painful would “build character.” So of course some of them wanted to set your pants afire. :)

  15. I strongly believe that *some* conflict promotes community. However, you need both internal and external conflict as well as some level-headed diplomats who can help the community reach some sort of consensus (even if it isnt a general consensus) and who can keep the hotheads from killing each other. If you dont have external conflict, then the internal conflicts get out of hand and tear the community apart in one way or another. If you dont have internal conflict, then there is no growth and things begin to stagnate until the external conflict overwhelms you.
    =======================
    After my initial post, I went over to the Tale in the Desert forums to see just how well the legal system there was working and I found some interesting discoveries. It seems that the community there also suffers from a lack of conflict and that what could otherwise be a fascinating social study on online legal systems is instead used mainly to make feature requests and to infrequently ban problem players. And when one poster suggested decreasing the built-in rules (mainly by doing away with the concept of locked chests) to introduce more criminal potential and conflict in an attempt to foster growth as a community and discover the potential of a virtual legal system, he pretty much unanimously gets shot down (http://www.atitd.net/forum/showthread.php?t=8556)!

    This lack of meaningful conflict has resulted in a weird amalgamation of an ultra-liberal hippy commune with a draconian dictatorship that is willing to lop the heads off of perceived offenders while at the same time preaching that everyone needs to work together to create the next Pyramid.

    From this, it seems that the players of ATITD not only lack the trust of each other to have a more open system with more potential for abuse, but they also mistrust both their, and the admin’s ability to self-govern their world in a timely manner. Once the participants have learned to be content with whatever binding rules were intially in place, however artificial they might be, it will be nigh impossible to get them to agree to start over in a less predictable place. If you were to try and build a self-governing system built on trust, both earned and given freely, it would have to be done from the ground up.

  16. [...] Also see Raph Koster’s analysis on its implications about trust and communities. [...]

  17. Virtual space? It’s all extentions of personal space. Lets look at some things. People claim their space in many ways besides just their own selves. We own property, and will fight to protect our space in property. We claim our rights to privacy in mail, snail or any other kind. We want our rights to privacy on telephone lines, it’s our space. We claim our space in payed for or even chosen seats, once settled in an accepted way (coats, wives next to us, etc.). People are willing to fight for their spaces to varying degrees, because they are extentions of ourselves. Ever see a fight on a dance floor because someones space is being infringed on? We don’t expect strangers to walk in our front door, we don’t expect people to eat food off our plates.

    Whenever there’s a quantity, people want to stake a claim to their share, in many ways. So it’s little wonder people stake claims to space in MMOs. And if there’s one thing that makes people fighting mad, it’s not having their space intruded on, rather it’s having it done so when they have no recourse. It’s all part of the social animal we are.

    UO defined that. You got PKed, and while it was claimed you had recourse (you can kill them) it didn’t really work that way. But it’s true, you could kill them. Why didn’t it work in a socially acceptable way? Because they didn’t stay dead. It became a contest of attrition, and it was weighted heavily in the PKers favor. They could or would do things that other players wouldn’t, and that gave them the advantage. They used tactics to make sure they had the advantage, almost always. There was no justice (reminded of the movie “The Golden Child”). And UO never gave players a way to achieve justice, instead always protecting the game play of the PKers. OK, we saw how that turned out. Instead, they took away more and more liberties. Just like the games since. But that still left problems, because we as social animals have lost some of our space along with that.

  18. Conflict usually mean winners and losers, victims and aggressors…

    I’m still in lurk mode, but I noted that people didn’t notice (or at least didn’t comment on) the significance of “usually” in that statement. Ideally, conflict would never result in winners and losers; it would merely result in what Stephen R. Covey describes as a Win/Win scenario. But that’s notably atypical: the expectable outcome is usually a loser (and a winner).

    Just pointing that out. Conflict is simply too broad a term to conflate with most positive or negative notions. Re-lurk.

  19. [...] Earlier I mentioned the ways in which countries are chopping the Internet apart, creating national walled gardens where the perceptions of reality are literally different, thanks to the filtering of information. [...]

  20. Given that nobody has yet trumped the power of the power switch, and if we take all the above as a given

    I can’t personally take that as a given. The larger these games get, the greater their need to generate revenue. With all the rules surrounding that, I can’t see any fiscally-responsible decision being made to shut down a successful game (as in, one that generates more money than it costs). As stupid as the analogy may sound, I gotta go with the lines in Matrix: Revolutions, where the President/Ruler of Zion talks about how while they could shut off the machines that give Zion life (air, potable water, etc.), doing so would kill them all.

    Everyone has someone to report to, whether it’s a parent company or stockholders. As such, the true power to me isn’t the ability to shut things down. I don’t really see a “true power” here, but more, an abstract/complex relationship between players and developers and publishers and venture capitalists and stock holders. Some of that is being covered in these Trust discussions, but I think we may be at a point where the business end of things should be added.

    Raph wrote: I seem to recall getting yelled at by a lot of players for saying “Cultures define and refine themselves through conflict.”

    Because they don’t know their history. People need to take responsibility for their own temporal ignorance. History is defined by winners and losers in individuals and groups. This doesn’t always mean “war” though. It just means that, for the most part, cultures are not created nor managed in perpetuity solely because of some collective love fest :)

    In MMOs, the conflict is the common enemy, first of ignorance as everyone in your group learns the game, then the game itself as everyone looks to maximize it. When that maximization is done, or has been deemed unachievable, things start to break down at a rate proportionate to group size.

    This is why the Internet hasn’t magically unified humanity any more than TV or print was going to, regardless of what people thought would happen at those times. Being able to communicate to a larger audience first means learning just how diverse that audience is. Unifying them is a longer goal, achieved through a bunch of steps based on profitability (whether profitability in power or money or resources or all of them).

    In my opinion, of course ;)

  21. I can’t see any fiscally-responsible decision being made to shut down a successful game (as in, one that generates more money than it costs).

    Don’t forget opportunity costs in your calculations. Even tiny tiny MMOs are sustainable businesses, but the worst thing from a business perspective is to be just barely breaking even, unable to grow.

    You’re right, though, that the business considerations add more layers of complexity. One glaring example is that transparency and business often do not mix, particularly as regards notions of brand image (though the comments on brands from a while back do touch on this).

    Everyone has someone to report to, whether it’s a parent company or stockholders. As such, the true power to me isn’t the ability to shut things down. I don’t really see a “true power” here, but more, an abstract/complex relationship

    For the purposes of the discussion, however, the power to turn the system off isn’t a proactive power, really; it’s merely the ultimate threat. It’s the symbolic summary of “the forces that keep the virtual world operating.” It’s what is used as the justification for the authority held by the game operator.

    We’ve seen in various other forms of Internet communities that as long as there is a centralized server where data is stored, even grants to the common weal often flounder because of the basic necessity of keeping the trains running on time. Someone starts up a website, announces that everyone gets a say, and keeps it running. After some amount of time, insufficient donations come in, or there’s a technical problem, or something interferes with the operator’s life, and bam! He starts having to exercise authority.

    It might be his hosting company that actually has their finger on the power switch, but it doesn’t really matter from the community’s point of view, unless they can appeal to that company somehow.

    This is part of what I am getting at with these discussions; there is a common ground here between the authority and the community. If bth are ultimately answerable to a higher-up authority such as the bandwidth and hosting bill, then they have common ground for considering themselves parts of the same community. Similarly, in both cases their inalienable rights (departure for players, and turning things off for admins) are both destructive of the community. That’s why these are a poor basis for discussing trust.

    Let me draw the analogy. A captain and a bunch of passengers are all on a lifeboat in the ocean. The passengers are unhappy with where the boat’s going, but their only recourse is to jump overboard. The captain ultimately has the ability to scuttle the boat, and he uses this power to mandate a bunch of rules the passengers must obey.

    The thing is, if anyone exercises these powers, then nobody gets where they are going, captain included. Yes, in the end the captain may well be answerable to someone else, but as long as he can keep radioing in, they’ll probably leave him alone.

  22. I just realized I put this in the not-most-recent discussion :)

    While I got a bit into semantics on the whole power switch thing, I do in general agree that authority and the masses generally work best when there’s a mutually beneficial arrangement to them. There’s of course ways to control the perception of such benefit (protection, insular superiority, etc.). But in general, truly mutual benefits can be self-sustaining. With a lot of work on both ends, including a purposely self-aware society and a purposely self-aware authority that forces itself open to periodic trimming.

    MMOGs I think are a bit like this. There’s a core group of purposely self-aware members who think they’re the voice for the masses, a self-aware authority that only sometimes recognizes the breadth of their full powerbase, and the mutually beneficial element that ties both together in the actual game itself. Faith is a huge bond here. Faith in the world being there, faith in the teams that manage it and, importantly, faith in those teams to manage others.

    And that’s where I think an authority relationship in one MMOG is very different from another. For the most part, I think it breaks down between PvE and PvP:

    PvE- Player vs game, a contrived cooperative experience players play at their own defined pace. Everyone’s a guaranteed hero if they can manage their own expectations. Other people are in the way often though, so GMs are seen as both ombudsman and dispute resolvers.

    PvP- Players are their own government after a fashion. The devs are seen as people to make the world work and to continue to chase the paper tiger of pure balance in the face of ongoing game changes and emergent behavior. However, players otherwise expect to make their own rules.

    The LambdaMOO story always fascinates me because, a) it is an example of something I’ve long believed in; and, b) happened so long ago. That’s a future blog entry for me actually, how all this new found knowledge isn’t really so new, a wonderful example of human history and how few people actually understand the patterns it pretense, on a smaller scale. And I say this as someone who truly did once think I was learning stuff at the pace it was happening :)

  23. I’ll go further and say that one of the common pitfalls in PvE games in particular is to make it into a player-vs-content creators game. :) All of sudden, it’s hard to have that trust relationship.

    Heh, if LambdaMOO fascinates you, I assume you’ve read “The Lessons of Lucasfilm’s Habitat”?

  24. Oh definitely. I expanded a bit on my comment above, and the whole new-knowledge thing wouldn’t be complete without Habitat :)

    And I agree with you on the Player vs Designer game, particularly when players start trying to find reasons to stay in a game they completed to the level they could complete it.

  25. [...] That’s really the problem; of the three, it’s having a relationship with a community that doesn’t scale very well, as I have written about before in my series “On Trust” (1, 2, side note, 3, 3.5. [...]

  26. [...] has been building a series on Trust. I find the meandering through all things real and virtual, personal and sociological, to [...]

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