Sympathy for a Griefer?


If you’ve ever wondered what happens when PhD meets MMO, here’s an interesting read for you. It’s a far cry from carebear Professor Syd, but I find this bit of research interesting just because it differs so much from my own outlook on the game world. A couple weeks ago, ran an article on Loyola professor David Myers detailing his experience in the MMO City of Heroes / City of Villains. This article links to a draft of Meyers’ own academic paper on the subject, “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt,” which is the most thorough treatment of the matter. Normally, I support any and all research about online games, but for some reason, this one pushes my buttons. I’m not the first blogger to comment on the matter. In fact, I think that many of my thoughts are in agreement with Spinks’ excellent article.

The “Experiment”

Myers, who has since left CoH/V, had been an ordinary player of the MMO for some time when NCsoft, the developer, introduced PvP to the game. I’ve never played CoH/V myself, but from Myers’ description, gameplay seems to be almost exclusively PvE. A new world PvP zone, Recluse’s Victory, changed the game for Myers’ character Twixt. He decided to PvP in the most aggressive manner available, and in the process of winning at all costs, well, he attracted a bit of criticism. As I’ve never played CoH/V myself, I have to abstract from a description, but it seems that Recluse’s Victory had several captureable nodes for each side, similar perhaps to the Alterac Valley towers. There are also a mix of NPCs in the zone, including some unbeatable guard-like creatures called drones meant to protect the two “safe zones” where players spawn. To a WoW player, this probably sounds like good fun, right? The Heroes beat the crap out of the Villains, and vice versa, and everyone has a grand old time. However, according to Myers’ claims, all he (and his avatar Twixt) wanted to do was force people to PvP in the PvP zone. That sounds perfectly rational, as far as it goes.

However, Twixt did not routinely engage others in “true” PvP. His preferred technique was to enlist NPCs in his cause, and as such, win battles without struggle. Twixt chose to learn an ability called teleporting, which I see as analogous to the Death Knight’s Death Grip. He used this skill to move enemies a short distance–right into the drones, which would instantly kill the opposing player. Because a death to a drone counted as a PvE death, players would incur what is called XP “debt.” Now, I am not quite sure what this is, but it seems to cost people a good bit of time (like re-leveling) before they can advance. Indeed, Twixt PvP’d in a PvP zone. However, the manner in which he did so would certainly be termed, in WoW anyway, an exploit. As a result, many players grew angry at Twixt and vented their frustrations in chat and on the CoH/V forums.

What is Real PvP Anyway?

As generations of games and their players have defined it, PvP is, at its core, a one on one engagement between two players of equal potential though perhaps not equal mastery of the game mechanics. At its purest, PvP is a duel of honor, evoking very consciously, and with a great deal of nostalgia, the chivalric tourney or ritual hand-to-hand combat. I will say that PvP combat, while it may be supposed to resemble, say, the showdown between Hector and Achilles, reminds me much more often of Peter Jackson’s chaotic Battle of Pelennor Fields (except that usually I’m one of the pitiful orcs on the losing side). In any case, PvP often does not seem very honorable to me. It reminds me, rather, of the very real butchery that occurred on the battlefield and off in the historical Middle Ages. Our nostalgia for chivalry is based mostly on idealized forms of art rather than actual history–and so one might say that “chivalry” achieves one of its fullest expressions in video games.

As for me personally, I’d rather not be involved in PvP, honorable or no. I play on a PvP server, but I don’t actually PvP anymore. I used to like Alterac Valley back in Classic, but I didn’t raid then, and it was the most exciting endgame option I had. I don’t love it when I get ganked while doing my daily quests. However, I shrug it off, knowing that the technique is perfectly fair in WoW. At the current time, I play Syd as a pacifist. I find it better for my blood pressure not to retaliate against gankers. I’m a healer–of course they can kill me if they like. I usually take the opportunity to get away from the keyboard for a while. When I come back, the ganker has always been gone.

The Developers’ Responsibility

I don’t think I could work up any particular hatred for the numerous horde players who have killed me as I’ve gone about my PvE business. Some of them have even used techniques similar to Twixt’s by waiting until I engage an enemy mob to start their attack, thus enlisting the game environment against me. I think that the reason I can’t muster any fire over this has to do with WoW itself and Blizzard as a company. We play an actively maintained game with integrated PvP. When there are PvP balance issues, Blizzard addresses them. Some of us may consider their response too slow, but the fact remains that the “gods” of WoW listen to the pleas of their suppliants. For an example that offers an instructive parallel to Twixt’s story, think back to the Zombie Invasion event that preceded the release of Wrath of the Lich King. For that time period, we were supposed to turn people into zombies, kill NPCs, and interrupt the ordinary business of buying, selling, and leveling with our zombie disease. Many players got a hateful response like Twixt did when they attempted to participate in the event as intended, taking over cities and killing with abandon. What did Blizzard do? They recognized that the community, as a whole, disliked the event and ended it after three days. Some complained, but I see it as a wise move, even though I, in very atypical fashion, had a bit of fun being a zombie. The point is that Blizzard recognizes the importance of players’ customs–and also players’ safety–and adapts their game. I have heard scattered stories of people being g-kicked for overzealousness with the zombie event, but by ending the event when they did, Blizzard protected both the pro-zombie and anti-zombie factions.

I have no sense that NCsoft maintains CoH/V in such an active way. Thus, the community of CoH/V is left to fend for itself and make its own rules. Even CoH/V’s forums are maintained by players and not NCSoft employees! What a difference from the WoW forums. In the world of CoH/V, the gods are absent or hostile, Hector and Achilles are six feet under, and players are left to deal with the “deviant” Twixt on their own. At least from the players’ perspective, Twixt is a griefer. In their opinion, he kills people using unfair tactics, in a manner that leaves them handicapped and with no opportunity to fight back or take revenge. In short, Twixt is cruel. It doesn’t surprise me that many responded with vitriol. Most of these comments were your typical “f-you” sort of things, but Meyers received at least one death threat.

What are the Rules?

Myers insists that he “played by the rules” when others refused to. He cites examples of duels of honor within RV, collaboration between Heroes and Villians (who, incredibly, could talk to each other while inside the PvP zone), and farming within the PvP zone as instances of players violating the rules. Now, I am an avid gatherer of herbs in Wintergrasp, and I don’t think I’m violating anything–after all, why would there be Lichbloom if I’m not supposed to pick it? It seems to me that, at once, Myers has both a broad and a narrow definition of game rules. It’s certainly idiosyncratic. As I see it, Twixt abides by two principles:

1. Anything that is possible to do within the game mechanics is fair game.
2. Any custom that the players establish is not a rule.

To address the first, I’ll return to an old topic of mine, that of exploits. It’s always hard to tell what the developers intend or do not intend. In my previous article, I reflected on several cases in WoW in which players were banned for “exploits” that were possible within game mechanics and not covered by the EULA. If Twixt were a WoW player, he would risk a permanent ban. The Blizzard developers actively track and eliminate exploits. Twixt’s drone technique would certainly be deemed an exploit if it existed in WoW, for the simple reason that it gives the victim no chance to react before he is annihilated. In WoW, small changes are made all the time to the battleground and arena environments in order to make for “fairer” play. Moreover, Blizzard has made it abundantly clear through their banning practices that players are meant to keep to the spirit, not just the letter, of game mechanics. Pushing the boundaries often results in a ban. I am usually sympathetic to players who receive bans for deviant behavior. Why can I not muster the same level of compassion for Meyers?

On Empathy

There are very complicated forces at work here. On the one hand, we have Twixt, a self-styled video game rebel. I usually celebrate rebels. For a contemporary example, I really loved the movie Bruno. I’m still not sure whether certain parts reinforce homophobia, but I will say that I laughed and clapped through the whole thing. I like Sacha Baron Cohen’s ideological project, though I will be the first to admit that his personae of Bruno and Borat can be downright predatory. Do I laugh because I agree with Cohen’s politics? Does a part of me think that Cohen’s targets are fair game? I have to say, though, that at times I sympathize more with Cohen’s victims. Many of the people depicted in Bruno–Ron Paul comes to mind–conduct themselves with relative dignity. Sometimes the joke returns on Bruno to the detriment of Cohen’s political message. Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. I think that it is the sense of give-and-take in the Sacha Baron Cohen films, along with their not-so-hidden agenda of advocating for social change, that makes me like them. It’s easy to like an utter fool like Bruno, even though I would call many of his stunts cruel. It’s very hard to like Twixt.

What Twixt Doesn’t Understand

I was so interested by Myers’ research that I corresponded with him in his blog comments. Sadly, he’s now closed them down. It always seems that intellectual conversations have to end once I’m finally learning something from them! In our give-and-take, what impressed me the most was Myers’ inability to understand what happened to him. There’s a sort of forced naiveté to his tone that surprises me. In the blog comments, I expressed my sympathy for the death threats Myers received, but I also tried to explain to him why players were so angry. To most people who play MMOs, the rules of custom and social interaction matter. They are not there to “experiment” with the virtual world. They are there to live in it. To them, their community is very real. I understand this, because I do not play for research–I play for fun. There is some doubt in my mind as to what kind of gamer Myers was. In his paper, he represents his time in CoH/V as an experiment in deviant behavior. Oddly, in his comments to me on the blog, he says that it wasn’t an experiment at all–just the way he played. I’m puzzled by that, though I realize that for a professional publication, it might be advantageous to represent one’s actions purely as research. In his paper, Myers says that he tried to breach known social customs while working within the rules of the game–all to prove a point. It seems though, that he greatly regrets the hostile response he received. It seems that he neither wanted nor expected the unfriendly response of other players. On this point, at least, I feel sorry for him. He seems–to me anyway–like the little boy who kicks down another child’s sandcastle and then is very surprised when the second boy (or girl) punches him in the nose. Of course, the punch is the greater offense, but it does not mean that the first child did not also feel genuine hurt. At the core of it, Twixt is a bully. Now, he’s not a very harmful one in the grand scheme of things, but he is a bully nonetheless. I guess he expected his opponents to run away crying instead of socking him in the nose.

It’s all the Developers’ Fault, Redux

I’m pretty well-known for criticizing game developers. In fact, it seems like all I do is protest against Blizzard’s policies. In this case, I’m about to lionize Blizzard (I know, check to see if hell has frozen over) and lambaste NCsoft. I may hate the tone that Blizzard developers take when they address their community, but I have to give them credit for actively maintaining their game. The way I see it, it is the developers’ responsibility to provide a safe gaming environment for all. The developers ought to have both protected Myers and undermined Twixt’s influence on the game world. If I were the developers, I would have taken the following steps to solve the Twixt dilemma.
1. Shut down the ability to chat across factions. It seems incredible to me that a game would allow for such venting of rage. There is a good reason that no one has invented a loudspeaker that could project road-rage inspired comments into the next car.
2. Permanently ban the players that threatened Twixt or started malicious rumors about his real-life pursuits.
3. Get rid of the drones. Twixt’s technique strikes me as an unintended use of game mechanics. Meyers calls it “exploring system potentials,” and I call it exploit. Only NCsoft knows for sure, but what is certain is that the developers could have created peace in their game world by getting rid of these things or making them weak enough to allow a player to escape.

Does Twixt have a Place in the Virtual World?

Meyers eventually quit CoH/V, worn down by what he saw as harassment. It didn’t occur to him to change his behavior, and I still don’t think he understands the response he got. Case in point: Meyers was surprised when his Heroes guild kicked him. This “sudden and unexpected expulsion” came about when Myers, logged onto a Villain alt known to his Heroes guild members, turned his droning technique against a member of his own guild. Who would do this and not expect someone to be upset? Now, Myers might say that guilds are “against the rules” as they are not officially talked about in the EULA. What guilds usually do is make the world nicer. They give a person friends and allies. They try to inspire loyalty. The code may be unwritten, but it is nonetheless a code. I will also note that, as a former GM, a g-kick does not qualify as harassment–it’s not harassment to disapprove of someone’s behavior or to dissociate oneself or one’s organization from them. Once again, Myers comes off as incredibly naive. If he wanted to gank members of his own guild, why not do so on an anonymous alt? He just can’t understand why others are angry at him. So, not only will the bully kick down an unknown kid’s sandcastle, but he will do the same to his brother’s. I have a younger sibling myself who was a holy terror as a child. As an adult, at least he understands why it was not cool to play “shark” and bite me in the swimming pool. As adults, we’re great friends and can laugh about such things, though I have to say, if he walks near the edge of a pool I’m definitely pushing him in. Myers can’t understand why the game of “shark” is only fun for the shark. Twixt plays to win, and he plays for science, but he doesn’t play to understand human beings. As such, his place in the virtual world grew smaller. He laments in his paper that he was the victim of “ridicule and the threat (or actuality) of social ostracism.” Eventually, he was forced into being a lone wolf–the only shark in an empty swimming pool. While I might feel a bit sorry for him, I will assert that he should have expected this consequence from the outset of the “experiment.” I do think he had a right to play as he did, at least until such time as NCsoft decided to curb that playstyle, but at the same time, he should have recognized the simple principle that actions have consequences. Very few people have the determination to continue ganking, or biting others, or kicking down sandcastles so far past the point when others disapprove the behavior. It must have taken a good bit of single-mindedness to accomplish it. One of Myers’ detractors, cited in Myers’ paper, says quite eloquently: “It’s almost like he’s an NPC, and if you consider him in that light everything makes a lot more sense.” Maybe so.

Is Meyers’ Research Dangerous?

I am always sensitive to the representation of MMO gaming in the press. My worst fear is that some popular news outlet could get wind of this story, and without understanding a thing about MMOs or their communities, conclude that gamers are vicious, deviant, and homicidal. I would counter that humanity itself is rather vicious. From my knowledge of history, I conclude that we, as a species, work much more often toward the greater evil than the greater good. I see human history, fundamentally, as a tragedy. Despite attempts at peace, empathy, and progress, we so easily devolve into violence. Perhaps Myers experienced some of that violence, about which I am regretful. I would say, though, that in my experience MMOs are no more violent–and sometimes less so–than real life. Maybe I am colored by my own experience, but for every hostile idiot, there are about a hundred carebears in the game world. I don’t know which category to place Myers in. He’s certainly not an idiot, but he is a bit hostile–even to me in the blog comments, though of course, I could have simply misunderstood the tone. What bothers me about Myers is that he is fundamentally unable to appreciate that other players might define the purpose of the game differently from him, just as they are unable to understand his play style. Myers has a very sophisticated set of academic rhetorical strategies to justify his view. The other players involved only have the textual violence of “f-you” tells and posts. However, the failure of understanding is on both sides.

54 thoughts on “Sympathy for a Griefer?”

  1. I think I will refer to you as Carebear Professor Syd form now on

    As for the article. He was exploiting and from my point of view exploiters suck

    A while ago you could grab the flag in Warsong and hide in the walls or jump up to place on the level map were no one could reach you. In AV you could flag cap from far away for awhile. In AB or EOTS you could exploit out of the gates early.

  2. I’ve seen a few references to Myers’s experiment, but this is the best article I’ve seen about it. Thanks for writing and posting it.

    One note about the drones: it seems odd that simply getting too close to a drone would activate it, and my immediate response, thinking as a dev, would be to impose a condition that required hostile action for the drones to activate. Myers’s tactic would be neutered completely.

    On the other hand, at least the last time I visited a goblin town in WOW, if you’re flagged for PVP and someone else attacks you, the goblin guards will attack you as well. This can easily be used for griefing in a similar context, since there are places in the goblin towns that are inaccessible to the guards, and Blizzard has done very little to contain this. So I’m not sure it’s true that Blizzard’s response would be as strong as you’ve said…
    .-= Chris Anthony | Duct Tape and a Prayer´s last blog ..Okay, we’re back =-.

  3. He should have played Shadowbane. That type of behavior- even backstabbing was encouraged as it was a “game of houses”.

  4. Personally, I love it. I think that game mechanics should be used – it’s creativity on the part of the offender. Of course this only rings true if the exploits are actively fixed like Blizzard does with things like Yogg etc – but still. It’s clever when you read about it.

    It’s also odd the level of ‘social’ rules put into place that we consider to be actual rules. For example.

    Pre 3.1 you could steal a node while someone else was mining it. Un-ethical and cheap? Sure. Within the rules? You bet. Changed in 3.1, no longer an issue. But I know I always used my shift-loot so I could ‘hold’ the node indefinitely if I needed to.

    Fishing nodes – just because you cast into it first doesn’t mean it’s yours.

    PvP happened in a PvP zone – Oh Novos!

    The list is endless, but you see rants and rages against them on the realm forums all the time. If you’re getting ganked by running near something, stay away from it.

    Of course, XP losses suck. I’m glad WoW doen’t have those.
    .-= Adgamorix´s last blog ..Tanking and threat – and a DPS rant =-.

  5. Did he actually claim to learn anything?

    In an experiment, one would expect, oh, a ‘results’ section.

    I’m also baffled that someone who seems to think that they’re a scientist would be astounded that they got a reaction opposite to their action, whether it be ‘equal’ in his eyes or not.

    Personally I think he’s either incredibly naive or, more likely, simply deceitful…

    … after all, if he didn’t expect anybody to react, why perform the ‘experiment’.

    It seems more likely that this experiment was simply an excuse to allow him to engage in whatever behavior he enjoyed. He could then use that to excuse himself of any kind of responsibility for his actions.

    Coincidentally, there are guidelines in organizations like the APA about inflicting misfortune on your test subjects, especially unwilling ones. Basically, it can be unethical to go around torturing people in the name of science.
    .-= AnkiOfDraka´s last blog ..Ulduar Logs =-.

  6. I really struggled with writing this article.

    I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t like Twixt very much in my guild.

    I’m not sure that what he did was illegal. I do think crying about it in an academic paper is a little much–mind you, I’m an academic too, so I’m not intimidated by a PhD. I know that one can get any number of degrees and professional accolades and still be wrong about some things.

    My take-home message is that I’m very glad to be playing a game in which this sort of situation is impossible. I think that if Booty Bay ever became the “it” zone for PvP, Blizzard would at the very least monitor player behavior and make whatever small changes seemed helpful. After all, I’ve been playing long enough to remember the days of pitched battles at Crossroads and Southshore. The battlegrounds actually came into the game–at least partially–as a response to the disruption that disorganized PvP caused.

    I am not so excited now about NCsoft games now that I know how little maintenance they do. I still intend to try out Aion, but I doubt it will be much more than a lark for me as I’d rather play a game with active developer presence.

  7. @Anki: Meyers is a social scientist with (I think) a communications background. His research is not at all quantitative, so that pushes him more to the humanities end of communications.

    As such, he didn’t have a marked “results” section. By reading his concluding paragraph, one might guess that what Meyers claims to have learned is that MMO players are extremely conventional and vicious. I think you can see why I have such a problem with that conclusion.

  8. “he tried to breach known social customs while working within the rules of the game–all to prove a point.”

    This is what I don’t get, this is something that merits funding as “research”? As someone pointed out, it is no different than a Sacha Baron Cohen movie, or any episode of Tom Greene, or any of the other “we’ll hide a camera and try to embarrass / anger someone” shows. There is not much to learn that we don’t already know since we’ve been doing it for decades: people don’t like it. wow really? He didn’t know that?

    Syd edit: I’m not going to allow any abusive comments about Myers the person. Sorry!

  9. Well, Myers conclusion is a horrible conclusion to draw.

    I don’t think it’s fair of him to lay that judgment at the feet of gamers.

    I love the “Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total F-wad” theory. Nothing about gamers there, just the assertion that, if the person is protected by anonymity, that they often act more like a jerk than they would without that anonymity.

    I think it’d be fair to say we should all be a bit nicer to each other online, and that we should understand that the temptation with anonymity is to behave in ways we wouldn’t if we had to be accountable for our actions.

    But I think it’s dangerous of Myers to imply that this is some behavior that’s exclusive to gamers. It’s not.

    I also think there’s irony in Myers pointing the finger at people for behaving like an F-Wad when he provoked that behavior by acting like an F-Wad.

  10. I’ve mostly wrote what I think of the Twixt-issue:

    I’d just like to add that your “let Blizzard solve it” attitude is frightening. Who do you turn to with real problems? God? Government?

    I think the players (including Twixt) should have solve their issues one way or another. I have no support for Twixt as he gained nothing from his PvP technique (which is very common for DK-s in city attacks). Twixt did what he did for “fun”, instead of any kind of ingame profit (gold, honor points, achievement, gear). Very ungoblinish.

    However the others were completely unable to adapt to the issue. After you wrote the perfect reaction to gankers (get away from the keyboard for a while. When I come back, the ganker has always been gone), how can you “understand” their reactions. You know that the hordies have every right to kill you while picking lichbloom. Twixt have equal right to death-grip anyone to drones. One can pity and laugh on him (and all gankers), one can fight back, but anyone who whines and runs to daddy (game operators) is a crybaby.

    You are better than a crybaby.

    PS: “There is a good reason that no one has invented a loudspeaker that could project road-rage inspired comments into the next car.”. There is such system under development They expect increased safety from it.

    Don’t you find it weird that I preach you about solving problems by talking about it?

    PS2: error in your text, Twixt did not killed his guildmember as villain alt, he killed his guildmember’s villain alt.

    Syd edit: no links please in comments.

  11. I feel for both sides in this issue.

    Just as it is your “right” to have fun in the game in your way, it is also the offenders “right” to have fun in his way. Just because both ideas of “fun” are different doesn’t make one right and one wrong. How would you feel if it suddenly became unacceptable for you to farm for items and made it to where you HAD to PvP or nothing? You would be upset and probably complain to the powers-that-be; maybe even take matters into your own hands.

    This is what is happening here. One person’s fun is not the same as others. Does that make him wrong? I wouldn’t think so. In life, and in games, there are winners and losers. Someone has to enjoy victory and someone has to sit on the side and watch them celebrate. Sure, we could make it to where we all win, but then winning wouldn’t be fun.

    Sometimes your fun has to be sacrificed so that others can have a turn to have fun. That’s life; in-game and out.

  12. @Yunk: If it makes you feel better, I doubt Myers got much if any funding for this project. MMOs are a new area of research, and right now they are in sort of an ad hoc sort of phase as far as work on them goes. I have a professor friend working on a book on MMOs. The quantitative and case-study based research is coming, don’t you worry–it will just take some time for a few major books to get out there. Academic publishing is s…l….o….w.

    Humanities/social science professors often fund their own research or work out of very small general grants. I always end up paying a huge portion of my research trips, conference fees, etc. myself. We are not bringing down the huge grant $ like certain hard science projects can.

  13. His idea of fun, however, seemed to be “I press a button and you suffer XP loss”.

    His fun was only achieved when he was given an easy victory that caused hardship for another player.

    Then, afterward, he’d taunt them using the in-game chat.

    I just can’t find a way to respect that.

    And, as I read more on this, I can’t find a way to respect the man.

    He claimed in a video interview that the only thing he felt stopping another player from murdering him when that player said “kill my character again and I’ll kill you for real” was opportunity.

    So, he honestly believes that someone would come kill him?

    I think that’s either naive or dishonest.

    Lots of people are capable of SAYING they’ll kill or assault someone. I suspect everyone has said it. “That guy cut me off in traffic, I could just kill him!” or “I should kick your butt!”

    But that doesn’t mean that the only thing stopping them is opportunity.

    And I think it’s again, either naive or dishonest of him to assert that.

    And I think it’s a shame that, with his degree, he may be seen as credible.
    .-= AnkiOfDraka´s last blog ..Ulduar Logs =-.

  14. > However, the manner in which he did so would certainly
    > be termed, in WoW anyway, an exploit.

    No. In WoW, forcing your opponent to aggro the guards hostile to him is, and always was, legit.

    When will WoM staff finally learn to tell exploits from tactics?

  15. meh, he’s a true beat down geek with a small penis.

    “in the name of discovery and research”

    he didn’t learn a thing except he found a way to beat up on people.

  16. It’s instructive, btw, to read the paper he wrote. I’m not saying whether anyone did or didn’t.

    First, what AmIBroken said. What he did was not an exploit. Many people tried to report him, and none of them got him banned. If the people running the game didn’t ask him to stop doing it (much less ban him), it’s certainly “legal”

    Personally, I have no problem with what Twixt did. Again, it’s useful to read the paper. Many people used this particular pvp zone as a place to gain influence, or money, because of a social norm of not attacking people there.

    Imagine Alterac Valley, except no one actually tries to win or kill anyone else. They continually kill monsters in there for gold instead.

    Now this was a particularly good place to gain influence because, apparently (and I haven’t played the game, just discussed it with my friends who have) you can somehow control mobs in there and make them pets, and have them aid in your farming.

    Now, Twixt comes in to all of this and decides to actually play the game. And of course people hate it, because now they don’t get their free money. But remember, the point of this zone in the first place was to pvp! People are getting more money than they’re “supposed to be” by using the elements of this pvp zone to their advantage.

    Now who’s exploiting? The person who’s playing the zone as intended, or the people who are farming money in it due to a social agreement?

    This is slightly separate, but my feeling is that if you are playing a competitive game (pvp, pve for speed, whatever), you play to win. You use the rules to your advantage. see . I feel that in a rules based system (such as any computer game, any board game or card game, etc) that you should be free to do anything the system allows.

    If the developers don’t like what emerges, change the bloody rules! Be that fixing bugs, or changing mechanics. This is how games get better.

    Banning people, or flaming people socially, for following the rules of the game simply leads to people being confused and not knowing what’s going on.

    Yes, it’s a social game. There is a community. But don’t blame people who are following the rules of the game for doing what they can to play as well as they can.

  17. I’d like to put forward a few clarifications of some points in your post, as well as my comments on your suggestions. I play both games, and I see a few common misconceptions that other MMO players tend to have about City of Heroes based on their experience with other MMOs.

    The ability that Twixt was using is Teleport Foe, which has higher range than any other ability usable against opponents in the game. In fact, it is possible to push the range of Teleport Foe to be near perception range – If you blink, you can be caught by this before you have any hint that there’s another player near you. I’ve used similar tactics in PVE to soften up targets I need to take down (Knocking the enemy off the roof of a skyscraper takes a fair chunk of their health off, but it also reduces the rewards for defeating that enemy). TP Foe CAN be interrupted, but the range issue make this problematic at best.

    XP Debt doesn’t actually cost you earned XP – instead, it reduces the rate that XP is earned by 50% until the debt is paid off. The debt is reduced based on the percentage of the damage that was done by enemy players. Combined with the above note, what Twixt was doing was making kills for no reward, while causing the people who he killed to suffer for it. Understandably, this annoyed people.

    The Development Team of the “City Of…” games is actually one of the most hands-on in the industry when it comes to communicating with the player base, and they readily take suggestions from the Player Base. In fact, the next major update and paid expansion contains about 90% of the community’s ‘wish list’ between them.

    With regards to your suggestions for changes to City of Heroes…

    1. Cross-Faction Chat. WoW’s cross-faction chat block is understandable, due to the fiction of having no common languages (Despite the amazing number of characters who can speak to Horde and Alliance characters equally well…). This fiction doesn’t exist for City of Heroes – Heroes and Villains speak the same language. Additionally, City of Heroes has four types of zones – Hero Only, Villain Only, PvP and Co-Op zones. Banning cross-chat would ruin one of the things that makes City Of… fairly unique – the ability for Heroes and Villains to team up to fight an external threat to both sides. And, as the trump card, Hero/Villain banter is a signature of the genre the game is emulating.

    2. I have no argument about banning those who threatened the player, but I don’t support bans for threats against the character – those are perfectly in-genre.

    3. I’d only modify the drones to have it that being killed by Drones doesn’t incur XP Debt (I’m not certain if they do cause XP Debt now – I’ve stayed well clear of the enemy drones). Other than that, they serve a vitally important function within the game world (Both PVE and PVP) – designating areas where players can take a break from the action in (relative) safety – notably Transport Hubs and Trainers (The training interface replaces the entire screen, which would otherwise leave you open to attack without being able to respond).

    The basic thing to take away from this study is that if you keep trying to piss people off, you shouldn’t be surprised when people get pissed off at you. (And if he’d tried this in Warburg, the Free-for-all PvP zone, I have no doubt that his own faction would have taken him down for this behavior)

  18. @Elindor: Thanks for explaining CoH/V a bit. Myers doesn’t go into any detail about the game mechanics in his paper, which is understandable as it’s written for an academic (i.e. non-gamer audience).

    I can’t say this alters my opinion, though. Hero-Villain chat might add flavor, but it leaves open an avenue for abuse of others. I think it would be worth it to close that down.

  19. @Crutches: interesting points, but I go to Wintergrasp to PvE only. I’m there either to pick flowers or kill the NPC bosses. Should someone try to stop me–permanently, not just for a few minutes–from PvE-ing in the PvP zone?

    I get killed all the time in Wintergrasp, and I don’t care in the least. But that’s WoW, and our customs say that ganking is perfectly fine. I can also go right back to picking Frost Lotus without penalty.

    I have a feeling no one would have been angry at Twixt if he were just a ganker. Using the drones, as Elindor states, made it a much more punitive death for the unlucky Villain.

  20. *shakes head* Obviously he doesn’t belong in social environments if he doesn’t understand that causing a negative impact on others will result in reprocussions. by doing X, Y results the article and ‘experiment’ would be better if it had been conducted and viewed as a sociology effort looking at the customs and mores of online gaming communities when those customs and mores are challenged.

    Since his ‘experiment’ does not actually look at the established mores of the community and then go into the ‘experiment’ and results I have a hard time with it. His article comes off as less naive and more deceitful. He wishes less to find insight and understanding at the results of his actions and more accuse his detractors of wrong doing.

    Perhaps more than anything he is a reminder that just because you are behind a screen, unseen by your fellow players your actions do affect others. Actions speak louder than words, don’t be surprised when you act like a jerk people treat you like one. (and just to be snarky) He just needed to learn the golden rule; send him back to kindergarden 😉
    .-= Lenelie´s last blog ..Life in the Geek Lane =-.

  21. @ Syd I’ll have to disagree with you about shutting down chat. I understand you haven’t played the game and I think that influences your ideas about the chat. Having played both CoH/V it really is in the comic style to do so. I don’t think it is appropriate to sacrifice the feel of a game because a small group abuse it. As Elindor stated it would have far more reaching impact than this incident.
    .-= Lenelie´s last blog ..Life in the Geek Lane =-.

  22. @ Lenelie: fundamentally, MMOs are an entertainment product. As such, and like any other commercial product, they need to keep their consumers safe.

    It’s just like safety standards for an automobile. I think that preventing potential death threats (even one) is the company’s responsibility, especially if they have an easy way to do so. I realize that hero/villain chat usually enriches the game. There’s too much rage potential in a pvp game to let that go on.

  23. @Sydera: No I don’t think farming in Wintergrasp is wrong. But you also accept the penalty for doing so… that someone can come and gank you at any time. You’re not saying that they shouldn’t gank you in a PvP zone

    XP debt is punitive, but it’s also a part of their game. It’s something they put in for whatever game design reasons they put it in (risk/reward, etc). The point is that it’s part of the game, the rules are stable, fixed, and knowable.

    People know that they will suffer XP debt if killed by the drones. To me, that’s part of the risk of playing in the zone. Imagine that Wintergrasp had powerful Alliance/Horde specific characters running around, and if you were killed by them, you suffered armor damage. Now imagine DKs running around death-gripping you into them. What do you do?

    –Move to a different area to farm your lotuses? Possible
    –Take off your armor and keep farming anyway? Possible
    –Kill them back? Possible
    –Get a group of DKs together to deathgrip them into comparable mobs? Possible

    Get angry and scream death threats at them? Possible. Unproductive, stupid, doesn’t help you get frost lotuses. But possible.

    Another example, this one actually happened to me. In BC, I was AE farming mobs (the Demon Hunters) on the steps at Black Temple, a favorite paladin pastime. There is an elite mana draining mob that paths around up there that you avoid.

    So I pull 20 mobs or so, and I’m fighting them. I’m horde. An alliance mage comes in on a flying mount, agros the elite mob, drags it to where I’m AoE tanking 20 mobs, and flies off. The elite mob drops agro on the mage, and since I have consecrate down, I get agro on it, it kills me.

    I rez up, run back. He’s mid pull, with a bunch of mobs in a blizzard. Well, I do it right back! I mount up, drag the elite through his blizzard, fly off. It kills him.

    I then log over to an alliance toon, and I tell him “Hi, I’m Crutches. We can do this killing each other thing all night, or we can split the camp. Your choice.”

    He was quite amenable.

    Now let’s go back to the CoH/V situation. Imagine you’ve just been killed by Twixt. We’ve already established that, while it’s a dick-move, it’s not an exploit. Also, we know that communication doesn’t work, he wants to PvP, and he’s doing so within the rules, even if he’s breaking social norms. What are your options?

    –Gather some guildmates and ruin his night? If that helps you in some way
    –Try to kill him yourself? If you can.
    –Try to continue farming, and stay out of the range of those drones? Maybe, I don’t know the terrain of the place
    –Go farm somewhere else? Possible, probably best

    Get angry and yell at him that he’s a douchebag and that you’re going to kill him in real life if he kills your toon again? Possible, but unproductive.

    I’m not trying to say that getting angry about it is wrong. Getting angry is “within the rules.” 😉 It’s just not useful. Get on with whatever you were doing, and stop getting mad at people who are playing within the rules of the game.

  24. As I read his article and this discussion, it all comes down to two things. First, how does one define the “rules” of a game? One of Myers’ (and Crutches’ it seems) assumptions is that the mechanics of the game are its rules. He doesn’t just stop there, he goes on to say that existing mechanics are “intended rules” as if game designers were some sort of infallible deity. I think this is an unreasonable assumption. To understand why requires a sense of how game testing works. The Herculean ideal of testing any version of software is to throw every conceivable data input at each and every aspect and moment of the software. Game testing in its ideal form, would be exhaustive in its scope. It is simply impossible for the current generations of games to be fully tested. It is only through large, wide-spread usage over time that complete testing can happen. In part, this is desirable. Developers want to encourage creative play. Intentionality of the rules or mechanics is only negotiated through dialogue with the developers. While it is possible to say that if I can do it, it was intended as a rule, this is actually not the case. It is more accurate to say, if I can do it, it is possible. I can never be sure it was intended short of some sort of dialogue with the developers through forum posts or subsequent revisions/patches. The question of what should I do it is a different one and takes us into the realm of ethics.

    Second, Myers’ subsequent spin on what happened to him depends on a very shaky equation between the game world and the real world. On the one hand, he defends his actions by saying that he was just playing in a ludic world, and then on the other, he makes some very nasty accusations about gamers’ real-life ethical dispositions. But he can’t have his cake and eat it too. Let me use a real life hypothetical example to illustrate why this is the case. If one defined the “rules of life” as simply what is possible in the world, then it is possible for me to kill someone in the sense that biologically speaking, I can take a knife to someone’s heart and end their life. The physiological/biological mechanics of life allow this conduct. I might even be able to do so as a means of realizing my desires and aims as fast as possible. Perhaps this other person was up for promotion before me. By killing him or her, I ensure that I will succeed as fast as possible. However, is this conduct “right” or “permissible” just because I can do it? As soon as you read this example, your likely response is that, no it’s not. You might even feel the heat of self-righteous indignation while considering the possibility. However, someone arguing in the style of Myers would say that the indignation one feels is merely social conditioning kicking in. His argument about in game conduct is that social rules are inferior to possible mechanics and we shouldn’t take them seriously. We should do whatever is possible to realize one’s goals, be it PvP or promotion. The question then becomes if social rules are so automatic and inescapable the real world, why should he be so surprised to find the same thing in a game world? Does it make sense to discount them in the virtual world if virtual worlds are, in Myers’ argument, simulations of real world societies? And more crucially, why should we discount social rules in virtual societies when Myers has been able to turn his experience into a research project precisely because behavior in virtual worlds has, in his mind, something to tell about behavior in the real world? A more nuanced view would be that virtual societies both are and are not like real ones. Theorizing this peculiar situation is where the work lies. Virtual worlds don’t have real life consequences. People act differently when their real identities are mediated. At the same time, social conventions in a game are collectively negotiated over the life of the game. There is not the same weight of historical and cultural conditioning behind them. Does that make them any less real?

  25. Meh nvm I wasn’t really trying to be abusive, just marvelling at his inability to understand other people’s feelings

  26. @Briolante: It’s interesting to me that what you say echoes a lot of what I believe, and then we draw different conclusions from it.

    Regarding development, testing, and the impossibility thereof: I agree that, especially in games on the scale of MMOs, and with the amount of complexity that interaction with thousands of people brings, it is impossible to test everything. As a former game tester, I know well that people will find things that we missed, if only because there were a few of us playing for a couple months, instead of millions of people playing for years.

    However, this not actually the point. It is not unreasonable to assume that developers intend for people to PvP in a PvP zone! Elindor says above that there are four kinds of zone, and implies that several of them (at least Hero-only and Villain-only) do not allow for PvP. It is difficult to argue that something that was chosen by the designers (whether or not to allow PvP in a zone) is not a design choice.

    Did the designers intend to allow people with this teleport PC ability to kill people using the mobs in the zone? I don’t know. However, one great thing about MMOs is that through watching your players play, you can continue to mold the game to the actual design intent during the lifetime of the game.

    The designers knew that this behavior was occurring. They received (according to the paper) many petitions about the behavior, and did nothing. They did not ban the character. They may or may not have changed the game, I don’t know. What I do know is that they COULD have then changed the game, and at that point intent enters the picture again. Whether or not they could have known a priori whether this behavior was possible or would happen, once they know the behavior is possible, the developers can exercise their vision through changes to the game. Therefore, yes, I could argue that we know that it is currently, if not a priori, working as intended.

    But this ALSO isn’t the point. The point is, it’s not the gamer’s job to guess as to the designer’s intent. The gamer’s job is to play the game. The rules of the system are in place, the designer can change them whenever they want. The gamer should not have to second-guess their actions based on what they think the designer intended, especially since, as you point out, it may or may not be possible.

    Regarding your analogy to the real world, let’s take that example. I’m up for promotion, so is someone else. The rules of the game are the rules of the physical world, whatever is possible is possible. Do I kill the person?

    To stay consistent with my previous statements, I will ignore the concepts that you brought up. Is it “right” or “permissible”? The only consideration is will it gain me something in this “game of life”

    The thing is, the world of CoH/V and the real world are not similar enough game systems to compare actions. As a thought exercise, would the societal laws (i.e. conventions, not “game rules”, i.e. physics) against murder be the same if, if I kill someone, they respawn where i killed them 5 minutes later, only slightly inconvenienced? I certainly wouldn’t be put to death for wasting 5 minutes of someone’s time, otherwise there would be a lot of dead telemarketers. (Or maybe I would be put to death, only to respawn 5 minutes later, slightly inconvenienced)

    Killing someone in the real world has more far reaching consequences, and as a result societies, civilizations, and laws have come about that discourage killing. I believe that most of these are as shortcuts for people who don’t understand the long-term consequences of action (another experiment: Ask someone why killing is wrong, and try to get beyond “because it’s bad/evil/against the law”).

    But to actually get to it, no, even in the discussion where the only law is physical law (which I actually believe it is), I don’t kill my competitor. There are a number of reasons, which sound cold, but again I’m trying to remain consistent:

    — If you were my boss, and I killed someone else you worked with, would you still want to promote me?
    — Other people would probably kill me in return, risk of death > chance of promotion
    — I lose anything I might have gained by other association with that person
    — Any of a number of other reasons.

    There’s another argument: What is the “goal” of life? This is even more difficult for us to discern as humans than it is for us as gamers to discern true design intent. What does “winning reality” mean? Who knows. I have answers to what “winning” it means for me, but I don’t know what the design intent was. If there was a design. 😉

    In the game, the goal is clearer. There are goals in the zone. You gain things by doing things. There is a clear winner in Wintergrasp, or AV. There is no way to determine what a clear winner in life is.

    While games are, as you point out, simulations of real life, they usually (because they’re games, and are supposed to be fun) do not follow the rules of real life. Imagine an MMO where death in the game meant you started over, or even had to buy a new version of the game? No one would play. 😉

    The point I’m making is that, making the analogy between the real world and the game world in this way does not work. The cost/benefit analysis is completely different. To say that you shouldn’t kill in a game because you shouldn’t kill in the real world is flawed, there are things that make killing in the real world a losing proposition. Thank goodness, I like life myself.

    Wow I type a lot.

  27. Very good read 🙂 thank you for the enlightening post 🙂 shall try to read up on myers article if possible 🙂

  28. @Crutches, Yes, my “real world” example is completely absurd. I was trying to illustrate a point, namely that Myers argues that the virtual world is just like the real world when it suits him, and then he’ll say the exact opposite if it suits a different point. One or the other extreme leads to untenable contradictions. He doesn’t really think through the relationship between the virtual and the real in a sophisticated manner. What is more, he tries to generalize from one MMO to all MMOs and from a few vocal MMO players to all MMO players. I think his evidence just can’t support the kinds of claims and generalizations he wants to make about MMOs or their players and communities. If anyone spends time playing an MMO or browsing around Nick Yee’s Daedalus project, he or she will realize that MMO gamers are an incredibly diverse bunch of people. And that’s what makes their communities so interesting.

    On the earlier point, I agree with you that ultimately the player should just get down to playing the game and of course PvP should happen in a PvP zone. For my part, I’m not sure Myers’s play style was really PvPing except in the most generic sense. As Syd points out, he wasn’t actually facing his opponents in a fair fight on equal ground, he was just zapping them into NPCs and having the game one shot them for him. While this was possible, it also sounds dreadfully boring and unsportsman-like. Are we really to believe that this is all he did for months at a time? For fun? This makes me wonder if this really was about an “experiment,” a full “exploration” of the “possibilities,” or maybe he just liked having an automatic I-win button. Personally, I’d get bored quickly with that particular “possibility.” It all just makes his playing pleasures sound more like the pleasures of bullying and it’s still hard for me to fully comprehend why he would be surprised at just how much he upset people. His innocent naïveté is suspicious to me, as are his quick accusations about MMO gamers in general.

  29. Nice post, and ineresting commentary. Twixt seem to really have stirred quite a few of us. I discussed with him a bit on his blog as well, but the amount of comments got overwhelming quite fast.

    When discussing Twixt – just keep in mind that he was a scientst. While you can discuss if he was really griefing, if griefing should be possible, if its part of playing – dont use Myers as a example of someone who is simply “getting his worth of the 15$”. Why? Because Myers have to follow more then the game rules. He is a scholar and have a whole range of criteria that should be ahered to when gathering data. From what we have seen so far of his work, he has disregarded those just as he did the social rules of CoH. He could have played the game just for fun, the he would be just another griefer – but he claims he did it for research purposes, and then he is in a whole lot of trouble.

    That he did this without concent, that he continued long after he had gotten inital reactions, that he did not apologize for the inconvenience it had put on other players, that he chose to break the rules himself instead of asking someone who did about it, that all in all that his project design is lacking any kind of ethical consideration – makes this poor research.

    By all means, support griefers – its just a different type of play – but dont support Myers just because you think PvP-at-all-cost is good. He is not a champion of “PvP-at-all-cost -is-good-pvp” (he also dont recognize himself as a griefer). He is simply a researcher who broke a few rules too many.
    .-= Kristine´s last blog ..How to cooperate in Gulch aka. Are you sure your Gulch buddies are the retards? =-.

  30. Pingback:
  31. What catches my attention here is the question of whether this was an “experiment” or not and, if so, what implications that has for Myers as a professional or a social scientist.

    If you’re performing an experiment on subjects, particularly human subjects, and you want to publish it, you have at least at my university to fill out and be approved by the IRB, the Institutional Review Board. One of the reasons this institution exists is because of the horrible experiments (social, chiefly, though some medical) carried out on unsuspecting persons in the past (background of the IRB and the review board protocols here , among other places).

    The extension of IRB review to non-medical studies came after experiments like the Stanford prison research, which was judged to have put undue mental duress on the participants because they thought they were actually torturing people. Critiques of the expansion of the IRB to social science research is, of course, legion: .

    If Myers was truly performing an experiment, he was doing so without the knowledge of those he was experimenting on. He obtained no consent for his experiment, let alone “informed consent.” He obviously did create mental duress for the participants – so much so that many of them acted unreasonably and unwisely. No, death threats are never a good idea. But their actions are a bit beside the point. If he is truly doing research, he should be held to the common academic community standards for such research, which requires knowledge and informed consent.

  32. An interesting change to your other posts.
    In all MMOs, I’ve generally taken a mild stance on griefing and PvP. Those than want to can do so and reap the benefits/penalties, but I’ll go along with my own plans. I agree with your post for the most part.

    Sadly NCsoft’s developer/customer support quality varies very widely betwen their various titles.. although I’ve never played it before, I have heard that L2 is infested with bots and gold sellers and a crackdown on said RMTs would actually cripple the economy beyond repair. On the other hand they’ve been doing a decent job trying to balance out classes and skills in GuildWars, and I almost never see bots or gold sellers in the game. It’s as if NCsoft has given up on some of their older titles, preferring to focus their time and attention (and employees) on their upcoming works, such as Aion (which *does* have a language barrier between the two factions.)

    In several of GuildWars’ PvP instances there’s also something akin to the drones you mentioned, except there’s no Death Grip-type skill… a player hiding within their own base trying to lure other players into range of the insta-kill gets labeled as a coward and a noob, which I think works pretty well.

  33. This is an excellent article! When I first read the research paper on Twixt I was really frustrated (and actually each time I even heard mention of it I was frustrated). I felt his research was flawed because he wasn’t playing as a ‘normal’ player. He was playing as a sociopath with no regard for other people and a complete lack of remorse.

    He could have entitled it with “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Ted Bundy” and received the same amount of sympathy for his character. MMO’s, as in life, have certain sets of social rules that we follow. They normally aren’t written down and our taught to us by our families and peers.

    Maybe if he grew up in a cave, by himself, with no human contact, and was placed in the middle of civilized world once hitting adulthood, could this type of behvior be semi-acceptable.

    You did a great job explaining the other gamers frustrations and it is a shame that non-gamers will see this research and automatically look at the game world in black and white terms, just as his paper was presented.
    .-= Kiki´s last blog ..Eleven Random Tweets Mentioning Overlord =-.

  34. Very interesting, Syd.

    I’m the exact opposite of you in this regard, however. I feel that to have a a fully integrated PvP experience, there has to be constant danger. Ultima Online had that for a while before the introduction of Trammel, and other games like Darkfall and Mortal Online say they will as well. Much of my time in UO was spent griefing people and PvPing and doing the “anything to win” tactics that Myers would have. I scammed people. I had a reputation on there as being a dirtbag, to put it nicely.


    I did it because it was fun. To me, interacting with people is the heart of an MMO, and the PvE component of MMOs has always been lacking. Even in WoW, when I raided, the fun came from my friends, not from the content. I griefed (and hope to do so in Mortal Online, actually) because I knew that it was the only way that I would actually have an effect on the changing face of the game-world. If I killed a monster over and over, it’d respawn infinitely. If I killed a player over and over, he or she would remember me, and potentially go to bed angry or make a forum post about it. I had affected something outside of the developers’ programming, and that made me happy. To me, that’s player created content, not designing missions or the like.

    Was I a bully? Yeah. Was it nice? No, probably not. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.

    You’ve given me an idea for a new post on my blog now. Thanks!
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Television as a Storytelling Medium =-.

  35. Beej, why you think it’s a good thing when you upset another person?

    You seem to indicate that the only way you can make a difference in a game is by upsetting other players.

    What about folks who are helpful?

    Say I answer someone’s question in trade chat, or help someone of the other faction complete a quest, and they go to bed happy, does that have value?

    I’m having an issue with you assigning positive value to intentionally causing another person to suffer.

  36. @ Beej Can I ask you would you do those same actions irl? Are you then deriving your enjoyment and value of the game from being able to be abusive to others in a way you would not do to them in rl due to reprocussions? Are you a bully in real life? What is about potentially causings others distress that you find so rewarding?
    .-= Lenelie´s last blog ..Life in the Geek Lane =-.

  37. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I try my best to behave towards other players in PvP as I would like them to behave towards me. So no laughing, spitting or such. I do enjoy Wintergrasp and just love running around casting Holy Nova on as many hordies as I can.

    I hope the folks playing enjoy killing my toon as much as I enjoy killing theirs.

    BTW: Wouldn’t this as a scientific experiement have needed more participants? Not to mention a control.

  38. @Beej: I actually think its your right to play that way. I could care less though, if people kill me in a game! I think it would be a mistake to assume that griefers have much emotional power in a well-maintained game. Twixt’s effect on people was either overstated or very much a result of the particular conditions of CoH/V.

    However, I would get REALLY REALLY MAD. Like, carebear stare mad, if afterwards you went and published a paper on how violent and evil gamers are based on people’s response to you. Especially if a newspaper did a feature story on you with a very positive slant. . .

    Think of ganking as a contract. Your job as ganker is to piss people off, and in return, your victim’s job is to say “f-you” or get all his friends to come and crush your avatar into little sticky bits. As long as you understand how this works and don’t try to get “revenge” on all the people who told you where you could stick it by publishing an article about it, even a determined carebear like myself would support your right to play in your chosen manner.

  39. About experiments with human subjects: this is waaaaay out of my area, as I work in 15th and 16th century literature (and I’m pretty sure all my authors are dead!) but in humanities, the rules tend to be a bit looser.

    I know several people who included interviews with living authors as part of their dissertation research. All that’s necessary is a consent form.

    However, I believe that Myers is correct in that he does not need consent to cite forum posts. Those are by very nature in the public domain and thus fair game.

    As for his chat logs and whispers? I think the permission he would need to cite them in his eventual book would actually come from NCsoft, as they “own” the characters, the world, and presumably, any player-created content. I’d have to read the EULA but I’m almost certain that Myers doesn’t have to get permission from the individual authors before he can cite them.

    Whether it is, or isn’t, an experiment depends on the methodology. I’m leaning toward “isn’t”–which would make his work more of a nonfiction book based on personal experience. I’ll be watching for it to come out, but it might come from a trade book type press rather than an academic one.

    Besides, dude has tenure. That gives him a little bit of leeway in how he writes and publishes his study.

  40. No, I’d not do something like that in real life, which is why I think it’s okay. But why is that, you ask? Because I use MMOs (and games in general) as a cathartic release, an escape from the everyday.

    No, it’s not nice that I enjoy playing that way, and I do see how there are likely psychological ramifications that lead to justifying such behavior, but I find that I completely separate actions in-game and those in real life.

    I’ve been destroyed in MMOs to where it affected me IRL, and I was okay with that because it happened within the rules of the gaming environment. I put the same blame on others whom I affect in game: put yourself in a position of weakness, and I’ll do what I can to take advantage of it.

    And the reason I find it so rewarding is because I feel as though I have a lasting effect on the game world. I might be able to do that in a positive manner, too, but the negative impact on another player (through griefing, not being a jerk in trade chat) has a more immediate affect that offers instant gratification that I can see rather than simply knowing I did a good deed. Yeah, it’s kind of a jerk thing to do. But I don’t go out of my way to be a jerk socially; I do so within the confines of the gaming world.
    .-= Beej´s last blog ..Television as a Storytelling Medium =-.

  41. Perhaps this is a simplistic attitude, but all this boils down to is MMOs involve playing *with other real people*. This sets them apart from single player games.

    If you can’t defeat the boss at the end of Final Fantasy you’ve got no one to blame but yourself and the game developers for making it too hard. You’re up against a series of code and some RNG bad luck. When you play an MMO you’re playing against actual people. They bring their personal preferences, play styles and likes/dislikes to the game. Depending on the flexibility of the game environment they can have great or little effect on the game time of other players. Case in point: cross-faction chat. That is a restriction on player interaction. Imagine WoW without any chat. Imagine WoW with the only inter-player interaction consisting of duel/trade/invite.

    What if WoW (or other MMOs) had an in-game ‘legal system’? EULAs aren’t game rules, the way that Monopoly rules are. The EULA/ToA limits your conduct as a player specifically (e.g. don’t make illegal copies of the game disc), and your conduct as a character in the game very generally (e.g. don’t exploit). These are two *completely different* sets of rules and situations.

    Despite this, rules governing character conduct creep into MMOs. Why? Because we are people IRL. Some examples: you “steal” from the guild bank -> your guild kicks you. You rip someone off in a trade -> they never trade with you again/you get a bad reputation. You ninja loot -> you never get PuGs with those people again. We impose our own unwritten set of rules on the game, and on other players in it, and expect them to abide by them.

    Twixt is a prime example of when someone doesn’t. You’re not ripping off a computer here, Yogg doesn’t know that you’ve ‘exploited’ a game mechanic to beat him. If there was a person on the receiving end, though, they would know that something was ‘hinky’.

    In this sense an MMO is a self-regulating community. Those that do not follow the community’s customary norms and rules will find themselves swiftly ostracized.
    .-= rusquel´s last blog ..Warlock leveling guide =-.

  42. Going back to Anki’s point “Coincidentally, there are guidelines in organizations like the APA about inflicting misfortune on your test subjects, especially unwilling ones. Basically, it can be unethical to go around torturing people in the name of science.”

    While I don’t think that the PvP system is necessarily “torture”, it is unethical if you work at a University to perform “research” without approval of that University’s Human Subjects Protection review board (even for “exempt” status studies, if it qualifies as research with human subjects, you need to have approval from the IRB).

    Outside the domain of “research,” you can do all sorts of things within a video game. However, claiming “I was a griefer in the name of research” is really just wrong on many levels, and I’m honestly not surprised at the backlash.

    While it would have been okay if he had observed the behaviors of other people doing griefing without needing consent from the people playing the characters in the game. Actually going in and manipulating the game environment, resulting in the “subjects” losing experience points or other loss of in-game items, isn’t something I could see as being very ethical.

    There are much better methods to do video game research in a much more ethical manner, and data from what he did is probably not actually publishable in scientific journals (at least, I hope it isn’t!), especially if he did it without IRB approval.

  43. At its core, a commercial MMO is a revenue-generator for a business. For a fee, its users are given access to a reasonably interactive environment that is shared with other users. In a way, it’s like an amusement park, with quests, encounters, and dungeon raids comprising the various rides and attractions.

    If a particular MMO explicitly allowed users to “grief” other users, that would be one thing, but I don’t think it does an amusement park much good for its bottom line if allowed or even encouraged visitors to interfere with the other visitors’ ability to interact with its attractions. Basically, it’s bad business.

    As a paying customer, I would seriously resent any other user infringing on my enjoyment of the amusement park, and I categorically reject anyone’s claim of griefing being a right because of the online, socially interactive nature of an MMO. If it were something I knowingly signed up for (a hypothetical MMO called “Screw Yr Buddy”?), that’d be one thing, but for my $15 a month, I want my loop-de-loop roller coaster without someone leaving an upended ice cream cone in my seat.

    The presumed anonymity of online environments encourages people to believe that they can behave in any way they wish. At the same time, what happens to people online is something that they keep with them after they log off – the constant refrain of “it’s only a game” is nonsense. That dividing line is at best blurry, and more often an arbitrary demarcation.

    It’s probably just a matter of time before some serious assault or murder is committed because of a transgression or an offense committed in an online environment (or has something like that happened already?). Would that be a case of someone with anger management issues “who took things too seriously,” or an instance of an ever-growing list of (insert)-rage that seems to be a continually rising barometer of society’s trapped, untapped frustration?

    Bottom line, it may seem like a game, but as Charlie Heston once said about Solyent Green, “it’s people.” Step on someone’s virtual toes one time too many, and don’t be too surprised if he tracks you down in person to return the favor with interest. So, the methodology and conclusions of this particular “social experiment” seem as a truism as going out into a storm without an umbrella and declaring that rain is wet.

  44. I’ve played CoH/CoV and met a really nice community there. But what the article fails to recognize is that the heroes and villains side are NOT seperate communities. A lot of players play character of both sides on the same server.
    And PvP is more then anything else a brawl between players who often play together on heir other characters.
    So, by turning the Villains against him by unethical play, he was griefing the same players who he plays with as allies the other day.

  45. When I read this article first, I had placed the blame largely with the professor. I will say though that to an extent his analysis of the player community may be right; I know an acquaintance who rolled a Blaster-class character in CoH with the goal of PvP in mind. In this case, she actually did use very legitimate tactics and managed to do quite well, but still got a similar response, though on a far smaller scale; she was not in game long enough to really get involved. In a roundabout way, both his analysis of the community and their analysis of him seem to have a certain ring of truth.

    I will say that what turns me off was his choice of tactics. His reaction seems to be that of somebody who didn’t really stop to think about what he was doing by teleporting enemies off to get killed by guards. To an old-timer, this sounds like the days of MCing in Blackrock Mountain. Technically, it was legal, but it was still a nasty tactic to resort to, since the victim would die in the lava repeatedly and run up a migraine-inducing repair bill. It was less of a problem here, since if you were on a PvE server it was your fault you flagged up. The person doing it has to understand the trouble they’re making for their opponent though. More a question of human empathy than working off the game’s rules to the letter.

    I think that this kind of thing would have been best avoided by action from the developers though, and reviewing this again I’d say that the biggest source of the problem was a lack of attention by the developers. I’m glad to say that in WoW, something like this would’ve probably been quickly dealt with by just making the trick no longer possible. In that regard, the PvP zone itself seems ill-conceived. I know from WoW PvP that people constantly push the limits of rules to find a way to gain an edge. In that regard, it’s like a sport you play in RL. While plenty of responsibility lies with the players to use their judgement and be good sports, a lot also lies with the developers to monitor their rules and make sure they create a fair game. If a tactic is discovered that’s against the spirit of the game, or that’s impossible to stop, the people who made the sport/game should deal with it, in addition to those playing trying to be fair about it.

  46. I would not dare publish that sort of “scientific” results.

    With unknowing and and actually unknown participants you can not conclude to any real world social standarts.
    He may or may not have ben griefing kids, which would not be included in a social testing environment without serious supervision by the universities board members or the appropriate institution in his field of research.
    To conclude on moral behaviour and social standarts without a clearly definded group of players which to analyze, without a control group (social standarts in mmo´s while not grieved for example).

    I think it is infuriating that he conducts “research” on probable minors (children under age).
    As well as harassing a passerby.
    Many mmo´s are a famous pasttime for wide groups of people, including mentally or phisically challenged people.
    Who are experiencing some form of freedom online (we have a paraplegic in our WoW guild).

    I would asume mmo´s are significantly bad for research because of the widespread customerbase.
    You cant really decide wether or not the person flaming you for griefing is of a mature age, or mentally adult to begin with.

    I do hope someone points out his methodic flaws to him.

    Bad Science won´t get us to Mars will it?

  47. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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