The evil we pretend to do

 Posted by (Visited 40979 times)  Game talk
Dec 302005
 

Since the Admiral [Columbus] perceived that daily the people of the land were taking up arms, ridiculous weapons in reality…. he hastened to proceed to the country and disperse and subdue, by force of arms, the people of the entire island… For this he chose 200 foot soldiers and 20 cavalry, with many crossbows and small cannon, lances, and swords, and a still more terrible weapon against the Indians, in addition to the horses: this was 20 hunting dogs, who were turned loose and immediately tore the Indians apart.

– Bartolomé de las Casas, writing on the Spanish genocide of the Arawak on Haiti in 1495

Why are most MMOs about genocide?


I can hear the reaction already. “It’s just a game.” “That’s stupid.” “We’re just pretending.”

I’m more interested in why exactly we pretend this way.

Let’s look at the facts: the classic Diku model is rife with intriguing cultural assumptions. Among them:

  • There’s two broad sorts of people depicted: conquerors (“real people”) and victims.
  • Among the “real people” there’s the heroes, and the serfs.
  • Among the heroes and serfs alike, there are what get called “races” but are really species; but these are treated in terms of gameplay less as races and more as a well-disguised form of job choice.
  • The victims are generally portrayed as intelligent beings who are native to the places where they live.
  • The primary purpose for existence of these beings in the world is so that gold may be mined from them, experience obtained, and the ‘heroes’ may climb higher in their civilization’s hierarchy.
  • These beings are slaughtered by the thousands with no care for consequences, and indeed, there is an endless supply of them.
  • The victims are generally portrayed as ugly, stupid brutes.

As George Washington described the Ohio Indians, the mobs we harvest in the MMOs can be seen as “having nothing human but the shape.”

Now, the game (in a strict ludological sense) that is offered is of course not one of genocide. It is one of attriting hit point bars using a variety of defenses and offenses. It is a simulation of combat, and slaying orcs is presented as the narratological means to do so. Success is rewarded with greater options and challenges in this combat game.

And yet, the experience of a game is not solely in the mechanics; it is also in what I call the dressing, the narrative details and the metaphor in which those mechanics are encased and then presented to the player. (For more on this, you may wish to reference chapter ten of A Theory of Fun or my earlier MUD-Dev postings on the topic).

The dressing of classic MUD gameplay is unrelievedly classist, strongly colonialist, and carries more than a hint of racism. These things are then mirrored back into the gameplay.

It was a fearful sight, to see them thus frying in the fire and the streams of blood quenching the same, and horrible was the stink and scent thereof; but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave praise thereof to God, who had wrought so wonderfully for them.

— William Bradford, describing the British burning a Pequot Village during the Pequot War in 1636-7.

It is naught, it is naught, because it is too furious, and slays too many men.

— The Narragansett tribe, erstwhile allies of the British, decrying the British tactics

[The Narragansett style of fighting is] more for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.

— Capt. John Underhill

We can debate whether or not the hobby that so many of us are engaging in is somehow damaging to our psyche, or shapes us in unpleasant ways. The jury is rather out on that. However, we cannot deny the powerful role that media have in shaping a cultural consciousness. There’s a fine line between propaganda and art, really. And we’re certainly not on the moral level of the colonial powers who massacred native peoples across the globe. After all, it is just pretend. “More for pastime, than to conquer and subdue enemies.”

However, dressing is largely independent of mechanics. I’ve often used the example of the silly Flash game of popping bubble wrap, which is functionally extremely similar to the act of firing in a first person shooter: you line up the cursor and click on something. In fact, games such as Pokemon Snap and the brilliant Beyond Good & Evil appropriate the shooting mechanic and dress it as shooting a camera. The formal abstract models that videogames provide are tied to genre by convention, not by requirement, and can be dressed in any number of ways while still providing similar enjoyment. On the flip side, choosing the wrong model can also damage the enjoyment to be had from the game.

This boils down to the uncomfortable notion that our games are about genocide and grave robbery because we want them to be. They come from a tradition, after all, a tradition of mythic literature that by and large isn’t all that politically correct.

The next morning, we found a place like a grave. We decided to dig it up. We found first a mat, and under that a fine bow… We also found bowls, trays, dishes, and things like that. We took several of the prettiest things to carry away with us, and covered up the body again.

— a Pilgrim colonist’s journal describing robbing a Native American grave

Many of the core sources for roleplaying games emerge out of the narratives of cultures that were far from idyllic. Our notions of trolls and dragons are powerfully shaped by Scandivanian cultures in terms of their behavior — a mythology wherein the notion of Heaven was to engage in battles every day. The iconography of advancement in our gameplay sources such as AD&D was derived from feudal Europe, a heavily stratified class society (one might even say caste society, given the importance of heredity).

Something happened, however, with the greater instrumental play that CRPGs carried with them, and then with the way the play changed further as it moved into a multiplayer realm. In Germanic myth greed is a deadly sin. Dragons become dragons because they were greedy (witness Fafnir in the Ring Saga); great kings were accounted “gold-givers” in Germanic tribes.

The narrative of acquisition is really a colonialist narrative. It’s the story of the Crusades, of Columbus, of frontier America, of South Africa. And in taking our heavily story-based roleplay games into the realm of spaces, we transformed nuance into outright aggression.

Consider the treatment of graverobbing in Tolkien, our ultimate source of reference for the heart of the RPG. The Barrow-downs are a dangerous place, guarded by dark and jealous spirits, and engaging in the theft of objects fom the dead is always portrayed as slipping towards evil: it lies at the heart of Faramir’s choice and Boromir’s less fortunate choice. The journey is framed by gift-giving, not by looting. Even the One Ring itself carries with it a curse of posessiveness, of acquisitiveness, and it starts its journey with Smeagol as a journey of murder and robbery. This sort of thought carries through to everything: although many have faulted Tolkien for his treatment of the Southrons, depicting them as dark-skinned men siding with Sauron, it is also clear in the books that most of the evil races helping Sauron were in fact made from the elves and dwarves and hobbits and men. In Tolkien, as in Pogo, “the enemy is us” in a very literal sense, a dark shadow of ourselves.

Where is this nuance in our games? Absent. If our goal with these games is to provide the experience of heroism, we are betraying both that ideal and our source material.

We do our players a disservice when we fail to provide this sort of nuance in our fantasy worlds. We do our players a disservice when we couch our reward systems solely in terms of antiquated feudal social structures. Yes, we may be satisfying some deep craving for a sense of power in our players, but surely we can be more creative in how we provide it? We currently base this sense of power on providing thousands of dumb brutes to slaughter and rob, couched nicely in a lack of consequence. There is no reference to the orcish agriculture that allowed players to colonize the zone in the first place, the staple crops they added to our diet. There’s no mention of the heights of civilization that they miht have achieved prior to our invading their land. There’s no mention of the reasons why they react aggressively to our appearance in their territory — perhaps because we slew their relatives?

Frankly, there’s better gameplay to be had. As designers, we could supply worlds that do have nuance, and players (who buy millions of copies of books filled with this sort of careful worldbuilding) would like it. We could think about adapting our same gameplay models to the saving of tribes rather than the elimination of them. Where’s the game for the player who wants to venture into the orcish lands as an anthropologist, and learn of and from them?

We shape the player experience by the verbs we provide. Right now, the only way to interact meaningfully with our fantasy worlds is at the edge of a sword, and through the barrel of a gun.

When dealing with savage men, as with savage beasts, no question of… honor can arise.

— Francis A. Walker, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1871

All quotations referenced came from Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Aspects of this post were inspired by the related topic “The Horde is Evil” at Terra Nova.

  86 Responses to “The evil we pretend to do”

  1. Blogroll Joel on SoftwareRaph Koster Sunny Walker Thoughts for Now Sex, Lies and Advertising

  2. t tell by now, and this is a great list of games that most fans of the system most likely overlooked. Find out about the systems most neglected titles, like Little Sampson and Clash at Demonhead. Stephens Pick:The evil we pretend to do: I follow humbly in Raph Kosters footsteps. More than two years before

  3. […] Raph Koster philosophiert in einem neuen Blog Eintrag auf seiner Webseite über die Geister, die stets das gute wollen, und doch irgendwie eher dem Bösen verfallen sind. MMORPGs, die mehr einem Abschlachten von Zivilisationen gleichen, und der Macht der Medien auf die kulturelle Entwicklung.

    Er vergleicht die Szenarien moderner MMORPGs mit der Kolonialzeit. Es gibt keine moralischen Bedenken und keine Zweifel, ein Drache steht da, der hat Gold, der muss gekillt werden! Dabei stellt er die Frage ob es auch anders ginge? Spieler die nicht ganze Orkstämme auslöschen, sondern eher ihre Länder bereisen und ihre Lebensweisen studieren. […]

  4. If our goal with these games is to provide the experience of heroism, we are betraying both that ideal and our source material.

    I absolutely agree with you. The only mmo I ever played that made me feel as if my character was a hero was CoH, and that feeling soon evaporated.

  5. I don’t think you can really lay this at the feet of MUDs in general or even DikuMUDs in particular. After all, they’re merely a port of hack-and-slash D&D adventures. (This doesn’t invalidate the rest of what you’ve posted, obviously. The kill-loot-repeat trope had to come from *somewhere*.

    I’m not terribly optimistic about other forms of entertaiment taking the forefront, though. I’m certainly open to the idea, but it’s hard to get past the fact that the most popular MMO ever released is simply the one that shined kill-loot-repeat to a very glossy sheen.

  6. There is no reference to the orcish agriculture that allowed players to colonize the zone in the first place, the staple crops they added to our diet. There’s no mention of the heights of civilization that they miht have achieved prior to our invading their land. There’s no mention of the reasons why they react aggressively to our appearance in their territory — perhaps because we slew their relatives?

    On the other hand, I really do agree that context is important. I’m more than a little curious as to how players would react to being told they were at war with a living culture, with full evidence of that, instead of merely killing random bags of XP. I suspect most would simply shrug and kill the child mobs along with the adult mobs (or maybe bypass them if children give less XP) but a few might start to think about the dilemmas involved.

    We certainly *could* create worlds with a contextual reason for the (sadly seemingly inevitable) conflict within them; the questions become (a) would that effort be appreciated? or seen as a more slightly refined version of the “lots of text in quests I click through quickly to get the stuff”. and (b) how would society in general react when we present Johnny Doe with a living, breathing war simulator.

  7. An alternative would be to actually present the XP bags as true evil. That would get around these issues too.

  8. How is that any better, though, really? It’s not much of a choice to be made if the people you’re fighting are EEEEEVIL. (This is also probably why World War Two games are so annoyingly popular lately. Can’t get much more evil then those darned Nazis! Shooting them – OK!)

  9. Choice? Who wants a choice? 🙂 A lot of players don’t, certainly.

    What I was getting at is that a lot of the weird ethical issues that I cited vanish if you stop presenting the victims as “a lower class of people.” Make them demons with no agenda other than eating souls, and there’s little whiff of colonialism to it.

    The Nazi example is one I avoided in writing the post — but we actually did discuss a little bit of these issues when talking about players playing the Imperial side in SWG. Some of the pro-Empire players were a little disturbing in their apologia for the Empire’s actions. Others presented themselves with classic Nazi excuses: “I just follow orders in my roleplay.” “I believe in the system, though not in its leaders.” That sort of thing.

  10. I don’t think they’re particularly “weird ethical issues” so much as they’re relevant to our history. As you noted, the West is an imperialist society (using the word in its least pejorative sense) – since the time of Rome, we’ve killed people, taken their loot, and levelled up (or down – history has some pretty harsh death penalties).

    Maybe I took away precisely the wrong thing then. I’d *like* a game to explore why we feel compelled to stamp on others with hobnailed boots. And making the Other a race of vampire space Nazis that has the Politically Correct Seal o’ Approval to exterminate simply sidesteps the issues, as you said. I think they should be confronted head on. Then again, when it comes to such things I’m more than a little evangelical (or nuts – same thing really 🙂 )

    Going back to your “make em Demons so no one cares what they think…” – I’m reminded of Ultima 6, which did a pretty good job of having you slay “demons” which actually turned out to be, well, not so demonic. There’s still room for interesting choices even there. And again, I’m idealistic enough to believe players do actually appreciate interesting choices.

  11. […] Raph Koster responded to the unexpectedly hyperactive “The Horde, them’s some evil orcs there!” thread on Terra Nova with his own take on why we do what we do in MMOs. Rather than start another blog-de-ron-de-lay, I’ll simply direct you all to my pleading for more insensitivity in gaming, already in progress. […]

  12. Painting everything in just black and white is also very common in action movies. Just think of Rambo 3 for example.

    However, in good books and many good movies the main character(s) change over time. They start the story with diferent feelings and diferent views than they’ll have in the end.

    It would be great to see that happen (at least to some degree) in MMORPGs too. Partly you could see it in EverQuest 1 already. Players working on their faction points. Early in the game they may kill lots of faction X just to “work” on their standing later on to become friend again.

    That’s of course not very ethical either. But it’s a starting point to let a player feel consequences of what he does. Some MMORPGs in development will take another step and give the players choices how to solve quests. Now wrap that up with stories that have a true meaning for the player and not just FedEx or Kill Missions with some more or less random text elements – and some ethical background mixed in.

    If you like to teach the player something, you must first have a story to tell, the player realy cares about.

    Bowen Research had an article a while ago, titled “Can Videogames Make You Cry?“. While I’m not sure that quests in MMORPGs could ever tear the players that much into the stories, in the next 10 years at least, I’m sure if they ever will, we will see a new dimension of MMORPG design and eventualy leave the genocide behind.

    Back when I coded MUDs I loved to fool players around within quests and make them feel they did very wrong with killing that young orc over there in the end – while it looked like a good idea at first. But that’s of course a much simpler task in a MUD than in a MMORPG.

    In Germany we say “ihm/ihr bleibt das Lachen im Halse stecken” – I don’t know if there is something similar in English, the translation may be “The laugh stuck in one’s throat”. That’s something that could help with ethic (and fun after all) in a MMORPG too. Give the players choices and let them feel the consequences. What gives a good reward today may turn back at you tomorrow. Of course not in a game or fun breaking sense, but in a way the player will start to think about what he does and what a real hero should do, or should better not do, on the next quest he takes.

  13. Scott, I’d love to see that more complex take on things too. But I figured I had better offer an out for the folks who really hung up on just the power trip. 🙂

    BTW, I saw you trackbacked saying that this was a response to the Terra Nova thread… while it was in the back of my mind (I mostly haven’t read it, actually), this post really came from reading the referenced book, which I highly recommend.

    Wilfried, Shadow of the Colossus is giving us that “laugh stuck in the throat” ambiguous sense of morality very effectively in a single-player gaming experience right now… and if anything, it demonstrates that it’s not that hard.

    The videogames making you cry was originally a marketing slogan coined by Electronic Arts, fyi. 🙂 The meme refuses to die.

    Also, it’s interesting to compare the jingoistic and absurd Rambo III to the first film in the series, which (while bombastic) does have the nuance that the later ones don’t. Rambo starts out as a soldier betrayed by his own government, tormented by the deeds he has done. How exactly he later ends up a secret agent blowing up rice paddies all over again is one of the sadder examples of sequels missing the point.

  14. I think we all gave up on that thread shortly after it hit the WoW boards and hundreds of furious Horde players posted “AM NOT!”. It was a great article which was sadly far too specific.

  15. I’d like to see the other side (the NPC mobiles) made into the imperial conquerors in a very real way. Several games have had the occasional ‘invasion’ events that involve the admins dropping some spawners in town for a little while. While that can create some fiction, the event is often scripted and there is no way for the players to ‘win’; the invasion is over when the admins say it is over, and remove the spawners.

    I have always imagined a game that would feature as regular systemic events (not as special-occasion narratives) something like the following:

    Somewhere near town, a large camp of orcs suddenly appears. If no one extinguishes the camp, it will grow larger. Eventually, the orcs will have a fortress constructed. Once the walls are up, you might notice siege engines begin to appear. When they reach critical mass, they’ll form lines and ranks and march on town in numbers such that it would take the collaborative effort of a large number of players to thwart this army.

    So far, what I have described has been done before, but it would differ in only this way: If the army is not stopped, the town will be ransacked and burned. That means that the shops, the banks, the travel spots, the social spaces, and all other town functions on which the local player population depends will be gone. Even their secure storage should be taken away and the items deleted (“banks” or housing if the game supports housing.) Make it HURT.. for REAL.

    Then, we have the image of a truly evil enemy, because if you suffer these beings to live, they really will destroy every last bit of hard work that your communities have hitherto built.

    The point is, if you want to paint the enemy as evil, it means more than dark robes and sinister iconography. True evil has to have a way to inflict actual, material loss (or have the potential for it) on the accumulated wealth and power of player characters. Then, suddenly, we’re no longer genociding innocents… instead, we’re desperately struggling to survive against horrible murderous defilers. For me, anything else is just another shape on top of a “noble savage.”

    I’m not suggesting that such an idea would ever work for a commercial MMOG, because the players will whine too much if you make them lose the slightest bit of their time or investment. I present the idea only because I think that anybody who is perceptive enough to see or care about the idea you’re driving at is going to see past even pentagram- and blood-soaked demons straight from the Nine Hells as the mobs who are being slaughtered – as long as all they ever do is wander around the halls of their own home, it’s not going to feel heroic to kill them.

  16. Bravo Raph for summarizing this issue so eloquently. It’ll be with this post I first experiment with that there Trackback feature 🙂

    In any case, I’ve always found it amusing how the West views violence. We accept it as if it just is the way things are, and far more so than we do sex (though I’m not saying anything we don’t already know there).

    The problem I have with its pervasiveness in all games is not that it is there, it’s that it is required and comes without any sort of penalty. There is no indigenous uprising to drive back oppressors. There is no last minute cavalry by a previously insular third party. There is no risk of betrayal nor guerilla/terrorism by folks with no means to otherwise kick out imperialists.

    There is just a long series of momentary blood rushing hacking, sort of a perpetual Big Final Battle against Mordor that only pauses so people can sell their looted orc helms back in Minas Tirith. In fact, and worst of all, we don’t even get the opportunity to justify imperialism by invoking the time-honored resource excuse in most cases (SWG and AC2 stand out here, while SB and PS resources are controlled by other players). Mobs have resources we are told to want, nothing that approaches anything we truly need to perpetuate our own society.

    The saddest part is that this is most prominent in the emergent genre. While the roots are strong in lore and then MUDs, modern MMOGs have been reduced to just the hack and slash components for the most part, with the sum total of all those games trying something different barely equalling the size of a single successful hackOG. Other game genres either feature genocide/sociopathy as a periodic activity, or within some justifiable overarching theme. That’s not even attempted anymore in newer MMOGs. We kill because there’s stuff there.

    I have long argued for games where fighting wasn’t the sole motivation. Unfortunately, fighting games have a lot of appeal in both Western and Eastern culture. It is so accepted that it becomes almost fiscally irresponsible of any medium to large company to not actively consider ample presence of combat and mass mob slaying.

    I’d long for less slaying and more adventuring. I’m not violating any NDA by saying DDO is leaning away from the hackOG experience. Whether it is successful for doing so though remains to be seen. But it serves as a reminder to developers that sometimes what players want is based on what they’ve been given. Games don’t need to be about genocide if they’re fun in other ways.

  17. Ultima Online tried some things along this line, with the Savages vs. Orcs scenario and the liberation of the Gargoyle city from Exodus’ forces. Unfortunately they weren’t set up to handle that kind of dynamic gameplay without halting almost all other development. Supposedly they were working on technology to facilitate that sort of thing, but I haven’t heard if they’re doing anything with it beyond the Champion Spawns (which don’t really move around or threaten any place.)

  18. I think we all gave up on that thread shortly after it hit the WoW boards and hundreds of furious Horde players posted “AM NOT!”. It was a great article which was sadly far too specific.

    I have to disagree about “The Horde is Evil” being a great article. It’s muddied and filled with factual errors. Furthermore, it’s core thesis is, frankly, repugnant: The author claims that because “orcs” are, by definition, evil, all orcs appearing in any work of fiction are necessarily symbols of evil, regardless of how they actually act. Change the word “orc” to any human racial group, and this is obviously a disgusting philosophy to hold.

    World of Warcraft is actually fairly good at not forcing the players into the role of imperialist conqueror. Most of the sentient enemies are either soldiers engaged in active hostilities with the players’ side or servants of demonic forces. (c.f. Raph’s comment about demons with no agenda other than eating souls.)

  19. I would tend to categorize MMORPGs as a “be a hunter/gatherer for a day” game, more so than a genocide game, although hunter/gatherer societies include plenty of clan warfare and payback. If players could actually eradicate all the orcs, then the game would be about genocide. But, since orcs keep popping up again, they’re merely a resource to be utilized, like wild game or wild fruits/berries.

    The hunter/gatherer game makes sense to me since humans spent millions of years living that way. There’s an evolutionary need to fill that is otherwised filled by sports, deer hunting, and trips to the mall looking for bargains.

    More comments: http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/ProblemSolving.htm

  20. The tools utilized by the players are undeniably hunting and gathering. The targets, as generally portrayed, however, are not animals. In fact, we get a lot of resentment from players when we make them hunt animals because “it’s not heroic enough.”

  21. I have the feeling that MMORPGs in particular follow archetypical storydesign in their grand setting, perhaps contrariwise to their complexity elsewhere.

    As in universal stories there is something good and evil, essentially the “others” are the evil while your own people are the good ones. Since they are the “others” they will have interests which are opposed to “ours”.

    I think this one is even older than germanic tales and religion. In history, people often (at least) named their own tribe “humans” (in their language) and the others therefore something else (non-human).

    Perhaps “the others” are part of the nature which presented rather hostile to early humans. Their lives was as it seems affected by figthing against nature in some shape or form, against weather and creatures, it was a struggle to survive.

    So first, we recognize something as “different” then as “not us” and end up with giving the group attributes which are only rather seemingly more friendly than thousand years ago.

    In MMOGs perhaps these factors of such universal stories about something “obviously” evil in combination with rather simple set of possible actions create the gameplay of robbing and slaying orcs.

    Of course evil in fiction share a common pool of things which are considered negative in order to make the recipient align easily with the good guys which seems to be the way stories are told (to make them entertaining?).

    I think the interesting thing is that “realistic” multiplayer games (other than tabletop games which are rather abstract) are a media form where the alignment of the recipient is not nessessarily pre-determined.

    For example I have asked myself if it is a good idea to allow players to align with the empire (in Star Wars Galaxies) which is obviously a kind of space nazi organisation.

    So closing the circle, in Lord of The Rings and other stories (such as Star Wars) which tap into universal stories about good vs evil, the evil is predetermined as “the evil” therefore the herores do what they do in the sources, they fight it, because THEY™ want to kill them (and therefore us recipients), so we must be first. Therefore its okay when tenthousand die when the death star explodes.

    I think the US politics work that way as well 🙂

  22. Any better cite for that George Washington quote than the “Lies my Teacher Told Me” book? Google claims that quote belongs to a French priest named Gay. Everyone should just make their own joke here.

  23. What then, is a premise like Eve classified as? Sure theres a plethora of “war” options, but I can pretty much assume there are people who have NEVER fired a gun or gone hostile on anyone, yet are filthy rich or highly respected. Its about scope. If you build your game to be a loot whore, Monty Grail ala WoW, your players will do just that, PVE. Forever.

    Build a game like lets say SWG (in its heyday at least, not nowadays) or perhaps something a little more closer to home like DAOC, people will roleplay alot more, they can attune themselves to the story.

    Scope I guess, and also vision. No one has any these days and if they do, publishers make sure to suck it out quick smart.

  24. Loewen cites

    Nash, Red, White and Black, p63
    Jennings, Empire of Fortune, p3
    Horsman, Manifest Destiny, pp32-36

    and references Leon Festinger, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance.

    He doesn’t, alas, provide a primary source.

    A quick search shows it to have been a fairly common phrase, though…

  25. On the other hand, I really do agree that context is important. I’m more than a little curious as to how players would react to being told they were at war with a living culture, with full evidence of that, instead of merely killing random bags of XP. I suspect most would simply shrug and kill the child mobs along with the adult mobs (or maybe bypass them if children give less XP) but a few might start to think about the dilemmas involved.

    We certainly *could* create worlds with a contextual reason for the (sadly seemingly inevitable) conflict within them; the questions become (a) would that effort be appreciated?

    The players react in the way the design tell them.

    If this context is just a backdrop and if the gameplay consists in just the child mobs handing less xp, the players will just relate to that level. Because the game-world knows and reacts just to that. The same basically happen in WoW, where you can kill unharmful critters.

    (Raph said this with the “we see past fiction” comment)

    But if you actually give a REAL consistence to this (for example by letting the players join the orcs as a faction and protect them by fighting with other players) then the players will take advantage of that value.

  26. Yes, but I meant something a little deeper than that.

    In most games, if you kill orc children or whatever, there’s no penalty. Orcs is orcs.

    Now, someone may come along and say “hmm, killing children is bad, let’s put a penalty on that. Say they lose Rohan Mothers faction if they kill kids.” The problem is it’s still game’y. There’s nothing like in real life, where eventually you’d earn the distaste of everyone who’s heard of your child-slaying deeds. In short, there’s no social outcasting for “evil” behavior. In fact the games to date really *reward* evil behavior. In UO, you could spend a few hours harvesting trees for lumber, or you could spend a few minutes harvesting the people who have been harvesting trees for lumber. (There’s some sap involved, and it didn’t come from the tree.) Unsurprisingly, lots of folks chose to harvest the harvesters. It’s quicker. And the penalties, although there, weren’t crippling enough. (But if they do become crippling enough, then the players have the complaint of “playing the bad guy isn’t a viable option”…)

    Really, the main problem is that we’re expecting too much from a too limited social model. The best we’ve come up with in MMOs to date is the somewhat brutal feudalism of games like Eve and Shadowbane.

  27. I would tend to categorize MMORPGs as a “be a hunter/gatherer for a day” game, more so than a genocide game, although hunter/gatherer societies include plenty of clan warfare and payback. If players could actually eradicate all the orcs, then the game would be about genocide. But, since orcs keep popping up again, they’re merely a resource to be utilized, like wild game or wild fruits/berries.

    If the orcs were just wooden crates and my spells a crowbar, I wouldn’t feel anything at all in constantly breaking them.

    But the game worlds have “depth” because they were rendered as humanoids with a life and a culture. Even though they reappear with the same frequency as a crate, they are still presented as an “enemy”. Most have no more empathy for the orc than they would a crate, but there’s a relationship set up there with Orcs. Because crates don’t fight back.

    Orcs are programmed to defend and attack and exhibit some element of “aliveness”. As such, repeatedly destroying them is different from crushing crates, regardless of how they respawn. The sense of conquest is there, though it gets dulled as the slaughter goes on. At THAT point, yea, orcs become little more than crates. But it says something that not only do these games require this sort of behavior, they requiree so much of it we become dull to what we’re doing through iteration.

    In my opinion, anyway 🙂

  28. Really, the main problem is that we’re expecting too much from a too limited social model. The best we’ve come up with in MMOs to date is the somewhat brutal feudalism of games like Eve and Shadowbane.

    Yes, but it’s still the same problem: unexplored possibilities. Or shy attempts.

    If you consider here Eve and SB a tiny step forward, it’s because noone tried to do something more. And if Eve and SB have that “little more” it’s because they offer *gameplay* nodes that encouraged and valorized some new elements.

    This is why the “roleplay” becomes more solid and widespread. It’s just more enrooted with the mechanics instead of just a backdrop.

    So, again, my point of view is that you should find some practical gameplay hooks to realize that potential concretely.

    From my point of view “gamey” isn’t a weakness. It’s the obligatory way. At least in this context.

    (coherently with all I wrote recently about level up mechanics and quest systems I also think that these ideas would be easily doable in the context where I put them.

    If questing is about the progression in a story and is completely detached from artificial mechanics, like xp gains and other out-of-character motivations, then you can start to bring that “content” where you want and “reward” or create “nodes” around those moral values. Or whatever you choose.

    It’s just about giving relevance to those aspects in the game. But *gameplay* relevance, as in practical mechanics, choices and relationships. Not just “fluff”.)

  29. EVE is basically unrestrained capitalism at work, more so than it is feudalism, I think.

    Ironically, while the pen-and-paper RPG industry has moved well beyond the original wargamer-ish “fight tactical battles, kill monsters and take their stuff”, successive generations of MUDs/MMORPGs have moved more and more towards the kill-and-loot forms of play. Indeed, PvP as it is ritualized in WoW is a superb expression of dehumanizing even other players — they are the enemy, you cannot even communicate with them, and their death has no meaning except for the farming of honor points. For that matter, the very word “farming” expresses how much we’ve stripped the meaning out of killing either villains or other players.

    Classic MMORPG gameplay is pure juvenile power fantasy. Moreover, the stories that are told within them are essentially ones of near-senseless warfare and/or brutal exploitation. However, it’s really, really easy to write those quests. “They’re encroaching onto our lands” or “They have something we want” are instant excuses for the slaughter of countless foozles. (To be fair, they’re also excuses in tons of other computer games.)

    Writing a game about the anthropologist visiting the orcs, on the other hand, is vastly harder. You need to dream up a coherent, vibrant, society that it’ll be exciting to learn about, and come up with interesting mechanics for doing so (and probably spend plenty on the art to make it come alive). You need a cast of fascinating characters, with engaging stories that players — lots of players, in an MMO! — can participate in. You need a way to make that character interaction feel meaningful and alive. And oh yes, your content production costs have just gone up, because it takes vastly longer to generate an hour of meaningful exploration content than it does to generate an hour of killing foozles.

    Note that this also involves moving away from the model of MMORPG-as-opiate.

    That said, we’re likely getting closer and closer to the limits of the potential squish-the-foozle audience. There’s undoubtedly an audience out there for thoughtful, humane, “literary” games — indeed, quite possibly a vastly bigger audience than the existing squish-the-foozle audience. Yet, in almost ten years of MMOGs, including the much more diverse Asian markets, I can’t think of one game that fits that description.

    Are no studios pitching those games, or are no publishers funding those games?

  30. […] Just MAYBE. At least according to Raph “Too Smart For My Own Good” Koster: […]

  31. Little late to this one but one thing I’d like to comment on

    “I’m more than a little curious as to how players would react to being told they were at war with a living culture, with full evidence of that, instead of merely killing random bags of XP. I suspect most would simply shrug and kill the child mobs along with the adult mobs (or maybe bypass them if children give less XP) but a few might start to think about the dilemmas involved.” -Scott

    I did this once in a LPMud. I built a living city and surrounding region. The npcs had homes and jobs that they went to and fro from. They shopped in the market at certain times. They farmed fields. They paired up and if a pair survived long enough a little npc baby would be born and start growing to eventually become an adult.

    Well that was the plan. No baby -ever- made it long enough (1 hour paired to produce, 4hrs to grow up and move out) in version 1. People killed them just because they could. They got off on killing children. Even after I coded in anguished cries of the peasants, pleading mothers, horrible descriptions of the helpless children. If anything the killing increased exponentially. There wasn’t even a real reward for killing the npcs. Very poor loot. Pittance xp.

    Version 2 had an army. Oh and instant deleveling on deaths if the army caught you and killed you. Permanant loss in fact.

    Yeah the kids grew up after that. But it took that final step (the deleveling) before people would stop committing genocide on the npcs.

    The area was meant to be a social construct. A home town for the pcs to come, buy/sell/chat. There were inn’s with games like darts/checkers/cards etc. But no, in the end it was all about the murdering.

    “People are broken.”

  32. This may be true of “classic” MUDs, but it’s not of pre-classic MUDs. We didn’t have character classes or character races. There was no class system but meritocracy, and no-one was colonising anything. It was only when the switch between the British (choose your own path but you don’t know where you’re going) and American (you know where you’re going but you have to follow our path) styles of role-playing came about that we saw the beginnings of this movement.

    I don’t know enough about the Far Eastern virtual worlds to know if they have the problem or not; they almost certainly don’t have the same cultural reasons for having either of these two approaches.

    Richard

  33. […] Raph Koster – The evil we pretend to do Why are most MMOs about genocide? (tags: mmorpgs raph_koster gaming) […]

  34. Richard, yes, you’re right, that’s why I cited Diku-style muds. Interestingly though, that was made in Denmark, aggressive colonialist empire. 😉

    I do think there’s a degree of cultural stuff to it. When I look at the Asian MMORPGs, most of what you kill in the anime-style ones are cartoony anime monsters, not represented as civilizations.

    And of course, the Korean MMOs were early to pioneer the whole realm vs realm/group vs group thing that makes WoW and DAoC not examples of this phenomenon.

  35. Of course, mass-slaughter happens because combat is the dominant sub-game in most MMORPGs. If combat is the main part of the game, and the most fun part (for most people), then players will naturally want something to kill. Correct me if I’m wrong, but pre-classic British MUDs actually included puzzles. Take combat out of WoW and there isn’t too much left to do.

    I suppose I’m suggesting that if you give players a sword (and nothing else particularly interesting to play with), they will spend all their time killing. Maybe MMORPGs are stuck in a blood-filled rut because they haven’t produced a sub-game that’s more appealing to the mass-market than combat. (Which says something about designer creativity, technology, and/or human nature.)

    A month ago I noticed an interesting single-player game and sent a comment to Mud-Dev, but it got bounced back a few times because the mail server was down. I forgot about the mail, but just remembered it now. It’s relevant to “ways to impliment sub-games other than combat”:

    ….

    I just noticed “Wild Earth” on GameSpot… http://www.gamespot.com/pc/adventure/wildearth/screenindex.html. Basically, it’s a single-player game where characters travel around, sneak up on african wildlife, and take snapshots. (Or at least that’s my interpretation given the limited descriptions.)

    A humorous MMORPG concept occurred to me… Instead of basing a world off of kill monsters to get loot, to kill more monsters, follow Wild Earth’s lead: Take photos of monsters, sell the photos(?), to get better camera equipment, to take more photos.

    Some extra features include:

    – While in africa, tourists must buy the most appropriate souvineers for their relatives, and/or send postcards.

    – Griefing is accomplished by getting your character’s image into other people’s photos (I knew someone in university who always liked to get in photos), by scaring away the wildlife, or leaving McDonalds bags lying around (strategically placed to get into other people’s photos).

    – Avoid food poisoning, lost luggage, missing the tour bus, etc.

    – Of course, don’t get too close to that hippo or your character ends up in hospital, with his camera broken.

    – Resource allocation (time and money) are also important. After all, transportation and film cost money.

    On the semi-serious side: I can easily imagine a sub-game of photo-taking that’s more fun that standard MMORPG combat. Players have to worry about shadows, framing the photo, exposure, subject motion, the right camera lense, taking the lense cap off, filters, dirt specks on their lenses, chosing the right developer, etc.

    ….

    PS – Upon re-reading this E-mail, I realized that the photography sub-game is one of the few sub-games that CANNOT be reasonably implimented in a text MUD.

  36. My general and pre-college grasp of the entirety of history, specifically things like racism, genocide, and Other Bad Civ-level Things suggests that the basis isn’t necessarily an actual aversion to the thing itself, but instead an economic heuristic.

    From what I know of Hitler, for instance, the rise of the German War Machine was an economic stimulus against the backdrop of the depression caused from a loss of World War I. The Jews were a convenient scapegoat for the loss of jobs, and were subsequently blamed as the root of all evil, and thus required extermination (though it began with shutting them out of government institutions, ostracization, making them low-class, etc.).

    What this suggests is that the reverse phenomenon is possible: raise the economic baseline to one where all really are equal, and they will be. One of my friends describes MUDs as having a ‘genocidal economy’, and from that, I take away this: The best way to make money is to kill others.

    You can cite EVE as a counterexample, but from what I know of EVE, it really IS a step above the standard MMORPG.

  37. This is interesting but again, it´s entirely due to the fact that precedents have been set, markets have been found and no-one has the sheer marketing clout or power to push harder. Also it´s in large part down to the use of licensed properties.

    Put it this way, and we´ll take Raph´s baby, SWG, as an example. Players taking the Rebe side will quite happily stay in one place and slaughter stromtroopers for hours on end. This is the act of a sociopath or at the very least a mass-murderer and yet, those players easily call themselves “heroes” purely because the established license has dictated that the Empire are the Baddest Evillest Bad Guys Ever and therefore, nothing the Good Guys do can possibly be bad.

    The same extends to all virtual worlds with an existing fiction – unless the have a good reason not to be, people are bastards. They don´t even need an excuse.

    Partly this is because of Mike´s assertion above – to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. To a player with a sword, every NPC looks like an Orc.

    This is partially resolved in worlds like EVE because of the non-biased world formation and the relative lack of NPCs. That Amarr ship is far likely to be a player who can and will kick your ass than some lowlevel NPC. EVE is not much of a game for the committed mole-basher.

    And yet, as long as we cater to mole-bashers above all, this must and will remain the pattern of online games – kill, loot, rinse, repeat.

    What we need is a game where combat is a secondary fcus at MOST, and preferaby as far down the list as it is in our modern lives or at least the lives of our recently close ancestors – in other words, i think it´s long past time we all moved out of the Dark Ages.

  38. Ironically, while the pen-and-paper RPG industry has moved well beyond the original wargamer-ish “fight tactical battles, kill monsters and take their stuff”, successive generations of MUDs/MMORPGs have moved more and more towards the kill-and-loot forms of play. Indeed, PvP as it is ritualized in WoW is a superb expression of dehumanizing even other players — they are the enemy, you cannot even communicate with them, and their death has no meaning except for the farming of honor points. For that matter, the very word “farming” expresses how much we’ve stripped the meaning out of killing either villains or other players.

    I would be glad if you could read this because it describes how fun, consistent and “deep” the PvP was in WoW before they added that horrible Honor implementation.

    It was so much better when there wasn’t any “reward” attached to a kill.

    Note that this also involves moving away from the model of MMORPG-as-opiate.

    That said, we’re likely getting closer and closer to the limits of the potential squish-the-foozle audience.

    And you are definitely an optimist.

  39. Oh, and to reinforce my point, a quotation from Bart Stewart’s paper posted here:

    “If your game is about exterminating all living things as quickly and as often as possible, then you’re probably not in the market for an advanced economy.”

  40. I always thought that the most fun I had in DAoC’s RvR (outside of the bgs) was before RAs.

  41. […] Terra Nova: The Horde is Evil terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2005/12/the_ho… posted by majcher at 2005-12-31 09:27# <majcher> okay, ed, you just lost me, there.<majcher> raph’s response <majcher> “The dressing of classic MUD gameplay is unrelievedly classist, strongly colonialist, and carries more than a hint of racism.” […]

  42. I always thought that the most fun I had in DAoC’s RvR (outside of the bgs) was before RAs.

    What was the point back then?

    In WoW it made sense because you still have conflict (the PvE zones are shared, so alliance and horde mix together), but in DAoC you can still only interact in the frontiers, where you go SOLELY to kill the other faction.

    The fun part in WoW is that you had the choice to attack or just mind your own business. I was even helped in a few occasions doing quests.

  43. The thing is, unlike WoW in DAoC there’s a three-way war going on, so I was fine with that. I don’t know what it’s like on other servers but IMO RAs really damaged realm community. Instead of RvR being about defending your realm it became PvP and single groups going out to maximize rp gain.

  44. I’m with Scott, the model is too simple, but that’s becase its purpose (much like the purpose of whoever started the crap in this thread) is to be exciting and attract attention and controversy.

    And let’s not even pretend anybody ever did HUNTING well in a mmog, or that that goony Deerhunter game didn’t make a lot of money, or that all this overly cerebral crap about George Washington’s Rationalizations about what amounts to a simple failure of communication and inadequacy (that nobody wants to take “credit” for) are useful for ANYTHING.

    The idea that freakin’ amish folks like the pilgrims were genocidal maniacs or imperialistic or something is pathetic.

    I think I’m still noticing a trend to avoid the roots of everything because its “too dirty” and unappreciated, but you can’t keep building on to these houses of cards without fixing their foundation in survival, its like listening to the logic of Serial Killers.

    Sometimes I think WOLVES and GORILLAS have a better understanding of social behavior than you guys, being social and the benefits of working together for survival insteada killing each other is not some lofty and unnatural human concept, the fact that we do kill each other so much isn’t a result of our genius, but a result of our weakness.

    The hunter is a hero to starving village, the shoemaker is a hero to all the folks with blisters in their feet, the farmer isn’t committing imperialistic genocide against his cows and plants, and the cook and poet is not the first artist in town.

    Its funny that anybody is surprised our simulations suck, intelligence and the kind of understanding and abilities required to model all these complex things in a way that isn’t full of our sad little rationalizations for our weaknesses is not some kinda default we’re all born with, but I like drive-in monster movies, too.

  45. Raph:

    This boils down to the uncomfortable notion that our games are about genocide and grave robbery because we want them to be. They come from a tradition, after all, a tradition of mythic literature that by and large isn’t all that politically correct.

    I’m all for creating deeper game structures that will give more meaning to constructs like “orcs”. But I think it is approaching the problem somewhat backwards to think that this comes from a desire to repeat colonialist tales.

    The main reason I have for thinking this? Colonialist tales don’t sell well and I have no reason to think that anyone actually does want these stories. I am not always happy with our culture, but even in watching what I find to be fairly generic Hollywood schlock I consistently see the message that the rebel is the good guy. Political correctness is alive and well in generic action flicks. I haven’t seen any piece of fiction sell well with a pro-colonialism message. Correct me if you can come up with some good examples.

    Which leads me to believe that we don’t want that message in our fiction and colonialist tendencies aren’t in our games because people are interested in that as a narrative material. It is in games because we want games where we get to repeat combat events frequently in order to progress. Or at least, you and I don’t, but the mainstream audience tends to. And it isn’t seen as meaning colonialism because ….. meaning is defined by gameplay.

    Scott:

    The problem is it’s still game’y.

    Meaning is defined by gameplay. Or that’s my thesis anyway. I think it won’t have meaning unless it *is* gamey.

    I’m torn on a subject like this. On one hand, I can’t stand fiction that is basesd on tired cliches and doesn’t dare consider characters that are grey rather than black or white. To the extent that I can’t even really get into Star Wars or Tolkien anymore.

    But yet this sensibility isn’t triggered for me in an MMO because it is the gameplay and not the accompanying text that interests me and gives my play meaning. I don’t care if I kill 1,000 orcs, not because there isn’t good flavor text but exactly because orcs are set game challenges that have no other meaning for me. I don’t specifically think that they need to have meaning to me, but if they do it will come from gameplay and not a long treatise on the honor and tradition and family values of orc culture that, were I to find, I would ignore as it has no gameplay significance.

  46. Angus:

    The idea that freakin’ amish folks like the pilgrims were genocidal maniacs or imperialistic or something is pathetic.

    Actually, the majority of the folks who landed with the Pilgrims weren’t pilgrims. They themselves didn’t kill lots of folks, but they did merrily move in on nearly emptied villages (the result of smallpox and other diseases). And, as noted, they did rob graves.

    Sometimes I think WOLVES and GORILLAS have a better understanding of social behavior than you guys, being social and the benefits of working together for survival insteada killing each other is not some lofty and unnatural human concept, the fact that we do kill each other so much isn’t a result of our genius, but a result of our weakness.

    Very few games currently demand survival…? And there’s also multiple chocies on how to survive generally.

    The hunter is a hero to starving village, the shoemaker is a hero to all the folks with blisters in their feet, the farmer isn’t committing imperialistic genocide against his cows and plants, and the cook and poet is not the first artist in town.

    Yeah, but we don’t tend to see any of that replicated well in the games either.

    StGabe:

    I think it is approaching the problem somewhat backwards to think that this comes from a desire to repeat colonialist tales.

    I don’t think it has anything to do with wishing to repeat colonialist tales… don’t confuse the settings with the behaviors in what I am trying to convey here. I am saying that the game behaviors are ones that match colonialist behaviors.

    I agree that meaning is defined in part by gameplay. But I don’t agree that all of the meaning is defined by gameplay.

    I also think that given a game about repetitive combat, that there are certainly ways to couch it that don’t convey the colonialist sort of mindset.

  47. […] Raph on The evil we pretend to do […]

  48. I wrote about this a bit in an entry on my blog entitled The fantasy of online games. The reason why the enemies are walking bags of advancement is because that perpetuates the fantasy. Having moral issues takes away from the power fantasy, and this reduces the current audience’s enjoyment.

    I mean, let’s be honest here. Diplomacy, cultural understanding, and all that isn’t the type of “fun” normally associated with our games. I think we’d really need to look for a completely new audience in order to make a game like that fly. Of course, most of us know the costs and problems of doing such a thing, and how the people with the funding would rather clone a success than risk attempting for a larger success.

    As Amberyl pointed out, this would be much more expensive to make, too. Just having the ability for meaningful conversations means that we have to hire actors. (The current trend of player “enemies” being unable to talk to each other is an attempt to limit griefing opportunities that happen when someone insults another player, so we can’t really rely on players to create this type of interesting content.) Of course, we can ask the two games that have talked about hiring actors how well that has worked. (I’ll save us time: it hasn’t.)

    So, we go back and refine our combat models and appeal to the same audience, just as we have always done.

    Depressing, ain’t it?

  49. “You humans have ruined your own lands. You’ll not ruin ours!”

    (Sorry, had to.)

    The whole genocide thing has crossed my mind on numerous occasions, actually. Personally, I find it a bit unsatisfying. Quantity over quality. Whack-a-mole.

    I’m not sure I’d use the word “imperialism,” really. Imperialism implies not just the taking of things, but the taking of land, and the subjugation of others. Only some of our games involve territory, and none of them involve subjugation — only killing. There is nothing like India here. It’s all slash-and-burn. Pure extermination.

    I don’t fantasize about being the Orkin man. It doesn’t feel very heroic to me. It’s just one of many not-very-heroic feeling things that happen in these games, though. Going on a dragon raid with 100 of my closest friends in DAOC doesn’t feel very heroic, either. What the heck mythic hero brings an entire army to fight a dragon? But, I digress.

    Amberyl echoed what I often say about killing in games: It’s easier to program an AI that kills than one that has a meaningful conversation. No matter how good we programmers get, this will ALWAYS hold true. We can’t throw technology at the problem. The designers have to carry the ball on this one.

    Anyway, have some hope. There’s no genocide in A Tale in the Desert, last I checked.

  50. Tess wrote:

    There’s no genocide in A Tale in the Desert, last I checked.

    Unfortunately, ATitD has barely done better than the latest incarnation of M59, numbers-wise. (And nowhere near as well as M59 at its peak.) Trust me, this isn’t anything to brag about. So, unfortunately, I don’t see anyone rushing to clone this model anytime soon. (But, kudos to Andy Tepper for having the guts to make the game and hopefully follow up on it.)

    More thoughts.

  51. The non-combat MMORPGs also include:

    – ATITD – As mentioned above.
    – Second life
    – Forget-the-name – It’s about fishing. Listed in MMORPG.com.
    – I think there’s a golf MMORPG.
    – Uru Live (now dead) was an attempt.

    None of these haver particularly large numbers of users.

    As far as MMORPGs that have combat but where the purpose is not to kill everything in site… (Raph wrote “I also think that given a game about repetitive combat, that there are certainly ways to couch it that don’t convey the colonialist sort of mindset.”) Eve Online has been mentioned. It appears as though D&D Online and Hero’s Journey might be emphasing, “Completing the quest is more important than killing the monsters.”

    Does anyone know of others?

  52. This is an interesting direction to go off of the Terra Nova discussion of evil and the Horde, and one more productive to my own cast of mind, certainly.

    I think however there’s some other complexities to consider here.

    First is that combat in MMOGs doesn’t just deal with genocide/warfare against sentient Others, but also simulates or textually represents hunting non-sentient animals (for food or other harvested goods). Also one is killing non-sentient pests or menaces to communities (e.g., rats and so on).

    If you think of the mobs that players kill in a DIKU-descended MMOG, at least half are animals of some kind, I think. To take World of Warcraft, for example, if I’m questing in the Hinterlands as a Horde player, I’ll be killing: trolls (sentient Others), slimes/oozes (pests), gryphons (animals, but represented in-game as a gesture of warfare), owlbears (half-sentient animals, hard to know how to add them up), wolves (animals), elves (sentient Others), turtles (animals).

    The problem in the case of either warfare or hunting is that MMOG worlds are non-consequentialist worlds. The only consequences of action appear as persistent effects within the player, and those effects are largely about empowerment and accumulation. The only place where those effects have world-persistence in mind is in reputation, and even there it’s about sheer numerical models of numbers killed or quests completed.

    To be consequentialist worlds even on a simple level (e.g., I’m not talking here about magic future technology where we have fully emergent designs for persistent worlds that respond in unplanned ways to player actions) we’d have to have far fewer players, far bigger worlds, and responsive spawning models & closed economies.

    Right now players breeze by killing creatures and enemies in their thousands because players are crowded in their thousands into very small topographies and surrounded by non-naturalistic spawning. You can’t have enemies be perceived as other sentients until they appear in meaningfully finite numbers, respond in meaningful ways to being killed, and where players are far and few between inside very large spaces. You can’t think about what it means to kill animals for resources until there is a finite supply of them; if there is a finite supply of them, there have to be very few players inside extremely large worlds, or the worlds get stripped barren in a matter of seconds.

    Moral dimensions to play that synchronize with game content can’t emerge in synthetic worlds that lack consequences. It doesn’t matter if you get rid of killing and make all quests be conversation trees. There wouldn’t be any more moral dimension to play in such a game, not as a something enabled by and working within the content of the game. There’s always a moral dimension to play in terms of relations between players and behaviors that are made possible by the mechanics but not represented in the content, but killing enemies can’t become morally meaningful rather than just game-mechanical until there are consequences that flow from it–that the enemies disappear, that the enemies reorganize and annihilate one’s own communities, that the enemies sue for peace, that the stakes for a player are comparable to the stakes for an NPC (e.g., permadeath).

  53. Responding to a number of previous comments:

    MikeRozak: There are at least two mainstream games out there that utilize photography. “Pokemon Snap” is essentially a landscape-on-rails where you photograph a collection of Pokemon. “Beyond Good & Evil” is essentially an FPS that utilizes photography.

    Cael: The range of properties that would potentially make good MMOs would be dramatically expanded if mass genocide were not the theme of most MMOGs. Licenses can potentially cut both ways.

    Abalieno: You disagree that we’re reaching the limits of the squish-the-foozle audience? I think we are. There’s definitely room for growth (especially if you don’t require subscriptions), but sheer, raw, population demographics can show you the limits of that audience. This is not to say that there’s not plenty of money to be made catering to this audience, but there’s also a giant pile of potential money being left on the table because thus far nobody is very good at catering to other audiences.

    As to the relative unpopularity of the games that are currently not squish-the-foozle in orientation:

    AtitD: No marketing, hard to get into, minimal graphics.

    Second Life: Crossed the 100k mark recently, I believe, and growing rapidly. (Also, when you’re talking about social worlds, don’t forget that the graphical chat “worlds” number their users in the millions. There’s an audience there for sure.)

    Shot-Online: Doing well in Asia, as far as I know, and has some interesting potential. (Don’t forget that Golden Tee, with networked golf tournaments, is right up at the top of arcade machine sales — there’s definitely a market out there.)

    Uru Live: Faced such significant technical issues that it effectively never launched in a meaningful manner.

    Asia has already clearly beaten out the West in terms of introducing a diverse array of MMOG concepts — to considerable success, as, say, Kart Rider in Korea shows. Will this continue? Only publishers know, presumably.

  54. […] Amberyl on The evil we pretend to do […]

  55. I never minded the evil races or the merc-fighter types strip-farming everything they could run down that was carbon-based… in some contexts that might even be good roleplay for that class.

    What always made me wince was watching the sylvans/elves/druids/rangers, all the nature’s wardens types, doing the same darn thing. You don’t have to fix everyone’s quest progression, but figuring out a way for nature’s protectors in your mythos to benefit from, say, actually protecting nature would be a good first step.

  56. PS: The argument assumes that it would be possible to identify standard MMOG farming of goblin-style mobs would be identified with genocide by a rational person. It could as easily be that the games have not risen to the level of being able to make NPCs that trigger those kinds of moral judgements. Given our seemingly almost infinite capacity to anthropomorphize anything, it’s hard to imagine if the goblins didn’t display a more obviously human range of activities, etc., that these kinds of moral reflexes wouldn’t start kicking in among more people.

    The analogy would be a potential employer who shows you to a room full of Barbie dolls, and offers you a reasonable hourly wage to rip the heads off them looking for… I don’t know, say uranium or something. Sure, the Barbies look human, but I doubt that would prevent anyone who needed the work from committing Barbie genocide without qualms.

    Now, if the Barbies started running away or begging for their heads when you entered the room, well then I figure it would be a little harder for people to do the same work. More complex NPC algorithms could well lead to emergent humanity. At least it’s never really been tried. It is probably too early to talk about a MMOG-player’s penchant for genocide.

    And no, in this one thing (unlike so many other current MMOG dilemmas) I don’t think experience from text MUDs, etc., counts. It’s the visual triggers that, more than anything, will ultimately stay our hand.

    You quote Las Casas… but even Cortez and Pizarro had to deal with the Papal bull that declared the inhabitants of the New World were of the human species (having passed whatever real-world Turing test analogue had been required). That’s why before each slaughter they had to push a priest out front to offer the heathen a theoretical chance of conversion first. MMOG NPCs are nowhere near the level of being mistaken for members of the human race, and are being treated accordingly.

  57. Heh, that chance of conversion was highly theoretical — it was delivered in Spanish, generally not translated, and it was offered once. It also carried with it a pretty hefty threat, as I recall… I’ll have to look it up.

    You’re correct that our emotional triggers do not perceive this as genocide. Then again, they often don’t in real life either, and there’s countless examples of ways in which those triggers have been subverted by authority. Arguably, the game structure is doing that task in this case.

    Also arguably, we should be able to identify it intellectually even if we don’t emotionally.

  58. Sure, but now you’re just reprising the Milgram experiments, aren’t you? If an authority figure reduces an act of possible pain infliction so that the subject can press a button and never have an idea what will result on the other side of the wall, no one minds pressing the button. But at even the beginnings of indications that the button is inflicting pain (moaning, pleas to stop, etc.) the subject’s psychic resistance to obeying the authority figure grows… not as fast as most of us would like, of course, but it still grows.

    The designers of MMOGs to date have reduced the act of killing NPCs to the equivalent of simple Milgramesque button pushing sans any consequences, and players are responding accordingly. The most likely way to bring that emotional identification back without completely voiding the kill-to-advance concept would seem to be to make NPC behaviour more complex, ie, to give the action at least some kind of perceivable negative consequence (Early-UO-style zone depopulation, powerful NPC avengers, non-zerosum faction aggro, etc.). Not simply with the intent of rewarding non-genocidal behaviour, but to make the NPC groups recognizably more human and start triggering people’s emotional buttons, as well.

    Of course, then you need to offer an alternate equally fun, ethically-sound advancement path, or the concientious will just stop playing and you *will* be left with a world full of sociopaths. But as the best implementations of crafting seem to have shown, simply offering an alternate kill-free path by itself is not enough when there’s still that room full of Barbies to behead.

  59. Agreed.

    Oh, and here’s one version of “the Requirement.”

    I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not do it, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and in every way that I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and to his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves… The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me.

  60. Maybe a solution is to remove the geoncidal factor of the games. why have free roaming NPC’s to be slaightered by the thousands for loot and gold?

    perhaps a balanced quest system may work better in upcoming mmo’s where instead of just kill/loot/repeat you have to apprehend criminals, break a racket, assassination? You could also move onto NPC protection missions, escort/chaperone missions. Protection of a settlement for x amount of time?

    I particularly liked an earlier comment from Big Mad Adrian about the camps that spawn and grow if not culled and removed in a timely fashin which could lead onto invasion of player populated areas and permanent loss of structures and items. This reminds me very much of the assassination completed in EVE online where a corporation lost somewhere in the region of 30 Billion in game credits in a perfectly legal heist. give people a reason to defend territory instead of roaming aimlessly slaughtering and pillaging for their loot.

  61. If we just flipped the current design of MMOGs so that NPCs begged for their lives, cried, accused the player of being a murderer and so on, that would be a bad case of using MMOGs as an experimental vessel to mess with players. It would also be politically and morally shrill and obvious, the way that some “political” games are. It would take as a given the proposition that Raph starts with, that combat in a MMOG world *is* genocide. I can think of a game design that would confirm that axiom, but what would be the point of playing? You say, when you logged in, “Ok, I get the point” and then either log off or decide to act like a sociopath, as Bruce R observes.

    So it’s not just NPC reactions to combat and death that would need tweaking into emergent form. You’d need game-world consequences as well.

    Against de las Casas, I’d offer the social and historical world described by Richard White in his The Middle Ground, a book about frontier contact in the Great Lakes region between various Native American societies and European traders, travellers, and settlers, before the formal annexation of that region. What White notes is that it was not a social world dominated by either side, that they worked out mutual rules and practices in communities built around contact (towns and such). This was not a nice world–there was interpersonal violence and occasionally violence between larger groups. But the violence largely stayed within the informal constraints that had evolved, or attempts were made to limit the consequences in various ways.

    This is like a lot of situations where violence is possible. What constrains people in many cases is consequences, interpersonal and social–and sometimes those constraints get overriden or ignored because a person feels a pressing need (or wild impulse) to commit violence anyway.

    So if in a MMOG, major collective violence disrupted economic production, for example, with concomitant impact on all players in a given region; or a player who murdered was effectively exiled to the wilderness (yes, I remember the early design stages of SWG), or NPC groups actually moved to get away from violence (or organized serious reprisals for it) and so on, then we’d have something that wasn’t just a bad experiment–because in all those cases, you might still judge as a player that violence was worth the cost (or act the uncaring sociopath with a certain brio).

  62. Several good replies which I think are saying what I am saying: meaning is derived from gameplay. I think you are trying to link morality to flavor text and graphics in a way that doesn’t follow. I think that we could say that most characterizations of morality attempt to study consequences derived from actions taken in the world. Colonialism won’t exist in games until players are actually subjugating real people and taking over access to game assets/space.

    And such subjugation and abuse could take place in a virtual world that was otherwise completely uncharged with meaning. It could be a world where avatars are simple polygons and there is no backstory whatsoever but where some players are able to remove other players entirely from play or otherwise virtually enslave or conquer in a meaningful manner. It could take place in a game that had no violent actions whatsoever. For example, as ATitD was in beta (and I didn’t play it after release) it was feasible to do just about anything with laws. This could include banning players from the game or simply creating such huge taxes on gameplay that it was essentially impossible for them to play (while I’m not sure how far Teppy would have allowed this to go, there was definitely the potential to subjugate through the in-game practice of law creation). And in many such economic games it is possible to “war” through economic means, monopolizing useful resources, undercutting other sellers, etc. You don’t need actions that are animated as violence in order to have the potential for one group of players to mistreat or even subjugate another. Animating an act as combat is must skinning a game with a certain familiar action sequence — it doesn’t imply moral content no more than skinning the same action with knitting animations would imply a dearth of moral content.

  63. StGabe, although obviously a significant part of meaning derives from gameplay, taking that position at the extreme “ludist” side rather than acknowledging the blend between the narrative and the game seems, well, extreme to me.

    It is to essentially deny the power that narrative holds. And although gameplay itself has undeniable power, to say that narrative is subservient to it is reductionist.

    Consider that today, many people play games purely for the narrative, the dressing, the context in which deeply familiar gameplay is placed.

    To state that “Colonialism won’t exist in games until players are actually subjugating real people and taking over access to game assets/space.” seems to deny depictions of colonialism in strategy games such as Civ, or the point of view espoused in games like Hidden Agenda.

    Your position is often taken by game players as a defense against the cultural critique that the rest of society performs on game content. It’s the “They see a power-up” argument; but its flip-side is the Tetris example.

    I think we can agree that both gameplay are narrative (speaking in general here) have the ability to depict consequences and thus morality. As you say, a world completely without narrative could depict it, and there are plenty of narratives that depict it without any gameplay.

    I don’t buy the argument that just because both narrative and gameplay are present, that one of them must therefore lose its power.

    Note that at the same time, I am not taking a fully narrativist point of view here either. The post stated,

    I can hear the reaction already. “It’s just a game.” “That’s stupid.” “We’re just pretending.”

    I’m more interested in why exactly we pretend this way.

    The fact that we could have an abstract gameworld that didn’t have this narrative at all, and yet we keep choosing this narrative is what interests me. And I do think that it impacts on the gameplay as well, because the narrative actually opens up new gameplay that we don’t pursue, by and large.

    Tim, the well-documented accomodations that were reached in colonial North America, ranging from the everyday life in cities like Chicago to the isolate enclaves that lived life native style whilst supporting populations made up relatively equally of red, black, and white (such as the Seminoles in Florida) all offer powerful examples of a more interesting gameworld, in my opinion. Many of the effects you cite did actually manifest in UO.

  64. Well my workday has begun, but to comment quickly:

    While I agree that narrative has a power, when I read a book, or play a single-player game, I don’t agree that it has much power in the world of an MMO. I won’t deny that graphics and narrative context provide a lot of flavor to games. Colonialization or Civilization both use the colonial themes to provide interesting backdrops to their games. But it is only through in-game sets of actions and consequences that these various games really embody anything even narratively analogous to the moral issues of colonialism. And even then there is a very clear rift between moral issues and these games. That I invariably play the role of conqueror in these games has little moral content outside the context of the game.

    I’ve long ago given up arguing that a game shouldn’t be judged on its graphics. But that doesn’t mean that I think that graphics directly create meaning in a Virtual World. And I really don’t think that the narrative structures of these games are much more than a certain flavor of graphics. A game could indeed have very interesting narratives that I could be interested in and engaged in. But these narratives are really just internalized short stories or novels in a virtual world if they don’t somehow attach to the world through gameplay. They still have no meaning, other than passive enjoyment. And ultimately, I’m just not that interested in them because I can find far better short stories and novels in this world. And because the meaning of actual world-influencing gameplay is vastly superior. Ultimately I find an over-emaphsis on narrative to just get in the way of the virtual worlds I want, worlds that don’t have to try to distract players with internalized short stories but instead realize meaning through gameplay providing interesting actions that players can take which match to interesting consequences in the world of the game.

  65. Funny how we can agree on so much yet disagree on other things so much. 🙂

    I think that the rift isn’t as big as you think — more, I am positive that the rift is completely unapparent to a large segment of our society today (mostly, those who don’t play lots of games). It may be that this is an old fuddy-duddy position on my part.

    I also disagree that “I invariably play the role of conqueror in these games has little moral content outside the context of the game.” I don’t think it speaks very much to your morality, however. I think it does say a lot about the designers, though. Games provide models of reality; always choosing to model the same thing says a lot about those doing the modeling.

    Now, if there were tons of choices, and yet you still only chose certain models, then that would say something about you, I think. Not necessarily something about your morality, however.

    Lastly, I think we’re very much in accordance on the sorts of virtual worlds we want. I think I am suggesting that selecting different narratives might help us down that road.

  66. I agree some of those effects manifested in UO. I think that for me this is why I have some nostalgia for “Dreadlord Days”, not because I have a hankering to be a bandito. Going back earlier in the thread, it’s why I would say the problem with UO’s initial implementation, or any contemplated closed-economy synthetic world, would be not so much with the flawed human nature of the players, but the small size and large populations of the gameworld. Imagine a population of players the size of two or three dispersed villages in a gameworld the size of half a continent, with NPC communities five or six times the size of any player community, and capable of retaliating against a player community in devastating ways. If the players in that world suffered permadeath (or serious penalties for dying) and if players could fight each other, I think suddenly almost everyone would become extremely responsible in their uses of violence–and those who did not would be ruthlessly subject to the will of the larger community.

  67. […] Raph Koster – The Evil We Pretend to Do […]

  68. Interesting post, (Im a lurker here btw, Ive never posted) However I would recommend the following books for referance:

    Guns, Germs and Steel (currently very popular, however goes to the heart of your concern about the motives behind why as a pastime we choose this form of gaming construct)

    Modernization (A rather older book, but well on point as to the forces which enable the construct to be popular in westernized society)

  69. Also it just occurred to me, perhaps these concerns are exactly why a MMORPG set in an Old West setting would not fly in today’s society. But would it have (if possible) been popular in 1950’s America? (c’mon were just playing Cowboys and Indians right???)

  70. I actually have a whole riff on applying Guns, Germs and Steel to MMOs. 🙂

  71. Implications of narrative in game design are, as you state Raph, a question of good and evil when you come to the core of the moral issues.

    The question here is: Can a game design really dictate if a player will be good or evil.

    I don´t think it can. Not by the way the story is told or by the setting or by anything else. Because the deciding thing is the perception of the player himself. No one will really for a continued time and consistently do things that he himself perceives as evil.

    Even the worst dictators, killers and every other evil person you can think of will not have seen themselves as evil. Hitler, for example, will certainly not have perceived his actions as evil. It was something he HAD to do for the greater good of all (this is not to excuse hitler- the whole world sees his action as evil, and is right about that, but that just proves my point about personal perception)

    There are several methods by which people since the dawn of humanity have bend the morale for themselves:

    I have to kill these orcs for the greater good of us all. The way may be evil but the goal is good.

    Its us against them: First comes the family, then the village, the tribe the nation. Everyone else is not seen as ‘us’. Its ‘them’- alien. It doens´t help the tribe, family to extend morality to aliens. So it´s simply not done.

    It´s important to kill these orcs because otherwise much more evil will happen. Doing an evil thing is a must because much greater evil is prevented by this

    Killing these orcs is revenge and fair justice for the evil things these orcs have done.

    To come to my point: Regardless of the way the story is told or the setting the player will always bend the morale so that he can perceive himself as good. He has plenty of opportunities to do so and mankind has a long tradition and training in this. Narrative can only provide basic orientation. It cannot change the perception a player has of his character.

  72. Is it genocide if they don’t die?

    After all, the players never ‘die’ in most of these games. They go back to rez. Why do we assume the orcs, firbolgs, space coyotes, or whatever die? Indeed, they don’t — they ‘respawn’, even the ‘named’ ones, often frequently. So the game worlds are really a sort of Valhalla in which no one ever ‘really’ dies. Much like certain plains Indians, it’s not about killing, but counting coup. The ‘dead’ get up when the battle is over, say ‘Good show, mate!’, and prepare to fight again.

    On another note, to the person who described the baby-killing frenzy on an old MUD….this reminds me of many arguments I got into about classic UO (Hi, Raph! Remember me from the sadly departed UO2 mailing list?) Expecting players to do anything but kill, kill, kill if there’s no consequences which matter in the *real world* — such as delevelling, which costs player’s REAL time — is folly. Games like UO killed a lot of my real-world political idealism. (A week in UO at release would turn Gandhi into an authoritarian fascist…)

  73. […] Raph Koster, one of the designers behind the Star Wars: Galaxies MMORPG, has a really excellent post up on his blog: We shape the player experience by the verbs we provide. Right now, the only way to interact meaningfully with our fantasy worlds is at the edge of a sword, and through the barrel of a gun. […]

  74. […] Industry vet and SOE bigwig, Raph Koster has posted a new editorial on his personal blog site. ‘The evil that we pretend to do’ poses the question: ‘ ‘Why are most MMOs about genocide?’ A heady topic to be sure, but Raph is always worth a read.  (source: mmorpgdot) […]

  75. Can a game design really dictate if a player will be good or evil.

    I think the answer is “no.” But it can certainly dictate whether a player pretends to be evil, whether they are rewarded for pretending to be evil, and whether the pretend evil is acknowledged as such or not.

    Lizard, yes, of course I remember you. 🙂

    One could argue that the respawning behavior is actually trivializing the genocide, rather than undoing its depiction. 🙂 But again, I am more interested in why we choose to pretend this way, than I am in establishing virtual orc slaying as actual genocide. The question I posed was “why do we pretend this way?”

    If you take cowboys & indians, the ways in which that game was played are hardly just an innocent reflection of childhood play. The metaphor in which that game was wrapped was the result of a strong cultural propaganda initiative that was consciously engaged in by numerous authorities. It was perpetuated by a media that chose easy outs rather than the complexities of real life. The play ended up being a pale reflection of genuine atrocities. Today, it’s not only politically incorrect, it outright looks wrong to us. So why did we play that way? There are underlying reasons.

    It may be that we cannot get a clear enough picture of ourselves to assess why we pretend the way we do in our current worlds. It may be that in fifty years, some cultural historian looking at the genesis of the medium might have some answers.

  76. […] Raph Koster has updated his blog with an entry entitled The evil we pretend to do. Here’s a sample:Why are most MMOs about genocide? I can hear the reaction already. Its just a game. Thats stupid. Were just pretending. Im more interested in why exactly we pretend this way. Lets look at the facts: the classic Diku model is rife with intriguing cultural assumptions. Among them: * Theres two broad sorts of people depicted: conquerors (real people) and victims. * Among the real people theres the heroes, and the serfs. * Among the heroes and serfs alike, there are what get called races but are really species; but these are treated in terms of gameplay less as races and more as a well-disguised form of job choice. * The victims are generally portrayed as intelligent beings who are native to the places where they live. * The primary purpose for existence of these beings in the world is so that gold may be mined from them, experience obtained, and the heroes may climb higher in their civilizations hierarchy. * These beings are slaughtered by the thousands with no care for consequences, and indeed, there is an endless supply of them. * The victims are generally portrayed as ugly, stupid brutes. More… […]

  77. Interesting point about UO, I used to actually work as a “counselor” in game, one of the more fascinating aspects of that game was the “Jail” we used to throw not the so called evil “Dread Lord” players(I think that was thier title if I remember right) but the socially mal-adjusted players who went around cities harassing people by verbally assulting them (not killing them in pvp) more often than not.

    So you cant make a player be “good or evil” per se (this will be one of the fundamental flaws ( I’ll gladly point out the funtamental flaws of other games from a power gamers perspective as well :)of the new LOTR game, no pvp and one sided), only ensure the game mechanics support the “jailing” of socially irresponsible players. Otherwise “good” is really a “point of view”(-Palpatine AND Obi Wan were moral relativists you see!!!)

    PS: I commented about the cowboys and indians game earlier, I think (and Ive thought ALOT about it the last 6 months) that a MMO based on the old west WOULD actually work, in fact I think it would be a slam dunk…..

    Now if I could just find a designer to agree with me, I would happily be the games first fanboi lol….

  78. Why do we play at it? Perhaps because it’s better to play at it than do it?

    It is not entirely unlikely that we (as a species) are genetically programmed for genocide — to split the world into ‘my tribe’ and ‘everyone else’, and to want to kill or conquer anyone in the ‘everyone else’ category. But we also have these great big forebrains sitting on top of that hostile, animal, mind, which can suborn and alter that impulse. We can seek to conquer with ideas — religion or politics or economics — rather than with swords. We can change who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’ quickly and trivially, basing not on genetics or location but on ideology. And we can satisfy the impulse vicariously.

    There is a certain sublime satisfaction in knowing you have conquered your foes — whether it is wiping the last piece off a chessboard, staring at a newly-monocolor Risk board, or surveying the carnage at an orc camp. The part of the mind constantly screaming “Kill the Other!” is momentarily sated — so you don’t need to feed that hunger in any other way.

    Also, let’s face it — most of us are pretty powerless in ‘real life’. There’s very little room at the top. MMORPGS offer a ‘top’ which anyone can attain with enough patience, or, if not, at least a very broad second tier. (Not everyone can be in the ultra-leet guilds, but anyone can usually make it to nearly there in most games I’m familiar with.) The ability to exercise power and control virtually provides a very needed relief.

    Lastly, let us not carry some analogies too far. One can easily see the falseness of dehumanizing Indians or Aborigines or what-have-you — the conquered and exterminated people are *factually* human. But a digital orc is not. It is not being ‘dehumanized’ or ‘objectified’ — it IS an inhuman object, a collection of numbers on a server somewhere. To draw too close a parallel between treating a human like an object and treating an OBJECT like an object is folly.

    Consider that this is understood even subconsciously by players. Being killed by a griefer generates genuine rage, frustration, or a desire for payback. Being killed by an orc generates a sigh and a desire to learn to play a bit better (or stay out of that zone, or whatever). There is an intuitive understanding of the difference.

    Now, when there’s some sort of true AI behind these things — not ‘better pathfinding AI’ but ‘HAL 9000 AI’…then we’ve got a moral dilemma.

    BTW, Raph, what do you think of ‘pure’ PVP games like Shadowbane or Planetside, where the majority of the targets are the avatars of actual human beings? Are these more or less ‘genocidal’?

  79. […] This is the blog of an SOE MMO designer Raph Koster… please dont let this prevent you from reading the rest of this post! I found a link to this article on stratics and followed it just as I was browsing the net, what I found was an absolutely fascinating article, but an even moreso fascinating follow-up discussion, which is not only educated but also quite civilsed. If you are interested in MMOs at all, and think that we are only just scraping the surface of this form of entertainment, give this a read, I personally just went post after post, caught up in the discussion… https://www.raphkoster.com/?p=232 cheers, a._________________Burn the land and boil the sea, you can’t take the sky from me. -Theme from “Firefly”. Go watch Serenity. […]

  80. […] Hmm. No, no parallels here at all, nope! […]

  81. I find it hard to take any accusations of genocide in MMORPGs seriously when a mob respawns soon after you kill it. If there were permanent changes in the game, sure, but in a static world the argument seems trite.

  82. Steve, I think you’re misreading what I said.

    I can hear the reaction already. “It’s just a game.” “That’s stupid.” “We’re just pretending.”

    I’m more interested in why exactly we pretend this way.

  83. I haven’t read the whole thread yet, but about the killing of child orcs… why is it that a child orc acts like an adult orc in the game? Players treat it like any other mob (except maybe it gives less xp) because it *acts* like any other mob.

    What if the child orcs squealed in terror and covered their eyes, or ran away screaming and pointing? What if the adult orcs attacking you were clearly doing it to defend their terrified children? What if the little child orc ran to his mother and she scooped the crying tyke up in one arm and attacked you with the other?

    I submit that stuff like this would turn players off of the game. They don’t want to face the ethical dilemmas involved in killing off the parents of a cute baby orc. They want to kill orcs perhaps because of the lingering hunter-gatherer instincts, or perhaps because it feels ‘heroic’ (at least if they are Elite level 55 orcs guarding a Orc Boss), but most likely just because the game design is telling them to. That’s the mechanic–killing mobs for their money and loot and for the ‘experience’ which is required to advance.

    Question: Diablo I and II were enormously successful games based on the same hack-and-slash mechanic and the same randomized loot drops and XP and such. But in those games you generally killed aggressive monsters or demons. You weren’t killing defenseless things, or ‘proto-human’ things, or things that were just minding their own business. What changed between those days and the days of the modern MMORPG?

  84. For what it’s worth two stories that relate well to the “humanity” of orcs in our virtual worlds are: “The Soul of Martha, a Beast” and “The Soul of the Mark III Beast” written by Terrel Miedaner and both collected in “The Mind’s I” edited by Douglas Hoftstadter and Daniel C. Dennett. These two stories do a very interesting job of exploring the boundaries of “soul” and what makes us empathize with other beings, be they animal or virtual.

  85. Raph: I’m more interested in why exactly we pretend this way.

    Well, from a practical point of view, we pretend this way because it’s the easiest to implement on a computer. It’s easy to do combat, it’s easy to do logic puzzles (although there’s little of that in most MMORPGs, as they cater to a mass market), and it’s easy to make a static environment (which means there are no real consequences for your actions).

    From a philisophical point of view, we pretend this way for the same reasons kids play cops and robbers or cowboys and indians.

    But calling what happens in a computer game genocide is an insult to the victims of actual genocide.

  86. […] if (window.showTocToggle) { var tocShowText = “show”; var tocHideText = “hide”; showTocToggle(); } [edit]Stuff to Consider Dicta – Dicta are things we have generally agreed to be guidelines and certainties in our design. [edit]Potential Systems Mitigatable Factors Psionics – Incorporated into the Transitional Vis system. Physical fitness [edit]Good Reading [edit]Raph Koster – Thoughts and Conclusions The evil we pretend to do, by Raph Koster Do levels suck? Part I, by Raph Koster Do levels suck? Part II, by Raph Koster “levels push towards cooperative rather than competitive play” Do we therefore still want skill(s)? Skills, as done in Dragonrealms, are effectively levels in the above sense. (There’s more to Koster’s article than what I quoted; it’s a beginning, not a conclusion.) One of the most salient points is a very succinct reasoning as to why a content race does not and cannot work. Ask Kevin how oten his TrekMUSHs added actual content. I don’t know the answer, but I can make a reasonable guess: almost never. The secondmost salient point is in his conclusion. =P Ethics of Online Design Of note. Ask Michael about this. [edit]Economics Economic Stages of MMOGs (The paper itself) Economics and society [edit]Culture and Creation Constructed Languages (or conlangs) World-Builders On Creating an Earth-like Planet [edit]Unattached References History of Technology (Wikipedia) [edit]Fiction [edit]Histories Creation Story Foundation Stories – Where did the things of today come from? [edit]Why Stuff Works How Magic Works Mindscape – Only if Psionics is implemented [edit]Factbook Data Planetology – Astronomical Data, Rotation Speed, Revolution Time, Axis of rotation, etc. Celestial Bodies – Moons, Constellations, etc. Calendar (absolute) – Seasons, Weather Conditions, Major Planetary Events, etc. Calendar (per culture) – Celebration Dates, Month and Year layouts, etc. Based on above. Cultures [edit]Cultural Idiosyncracies Games Card games Dice games Board games Chess variants Go variants Bluff games [edit]Systems […]

  87. I find the mmorpg experience isnt quite as bad as it is being made out here. sure, in wow players of the other faction are little more than an object of mild amusement or annoyance by ganking. but the game goes on.

    A highly imperialistic (or more precisely feudal) game would be travian, a free browser based web game. There are no npcs to aim your aggression towards, every gain for you is a loss for another person and often coupled with an ingame pm, usually begging or threatening. Often in another language at that(thank you bablefish). Why would a player steal from another player when the resources can be grown? to deny those resources to other players that would have taken them, of course. This is a fevered race to gain catapults, the medival version of nuclear arms, which can hold opponents in unwinnable situations often resulting in people quitting and restarting.

    it is indeed a matter of perception, why would I cause another player so much grief that he has no other sensible option than quit and restart? necissary evil? or perhaps it is basic human nature and therefore fun (for the few at the top, while they are at the top)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.