Confessions of an MMO Anarchist, or why chaos is better than order in online societies
In a post from last Friday Mr. ThatAngryDwarf wrote about a conversation he had with myself and Arolaide on the Zombie Invasion in World of Warcraft. In his post he good-naturedly called me an MMO Anarchist, and after some consideration I think he’s right. In fact while reading his post I was somewhat struck by how my very strong “small-p-political” beliefs in social democracy and the common good often go right out the window as an MMO player. So what’s the deal, me?
One of the reasons I have gravitated to the MMO genre is because I find people to be fascinating. I’m endlessly interested in how social structures are formed in new games, or even just how two players will react to the same situation in totally different ways. Game mechanics are important, and certainly I’d be hard-pressed to keep playing a game with miserable mechanics, but it’s people interacting with each other that creates the real long term content.
This probably isn’t a very contentious line of thought until one starts to consider trolls and griefers. If MMOs ideally let people interact with each other freely, won’t some players be caught in the crossfire? Lowbies will be corpse camped to frustration, questers will be deterred from completing tasks by zombified players, someone will zip in and nab the resource node that you quite obviously wanted. These unpleasant events are not something I enjoy being a victim of and certainly not something I try to do myself, so surely I must be in favor of removing them through moderation or a change in mechanics? My answer is: no way, man!
Giving people the freedom to be kind or mean or greedy or charitable is how, in my opinion, great content is made. People, in all their chaotic glory, are the best content of all.
Don’t believe me? Look at some of the more memorable stories to come out of multiplayer games! There was the guy whose character was “kidnapped” in DayZ by a gang of armed bandits. I still remember the name of Biny, the gnome who infamously blew up a packed auction house in Ironforge with raid boss Baron Geddon’s Living Bomb debuff. There’s Fansy the Famous Bard who brought the fight to the “evil” guys on Everquest’s Sullon Zek server, or the guy who killed Lord British in Ultima Online, or pretty much every great story you’ve ever heard about EvE Online.
Every last one of these events is technically griefing. The culprits all interrupted people’s gameplay without their permission. Events like these are also part of the reason I started playing MMOs in the first place. Bollocks to a world and its players that always follows the rules — chaos can make things pretty exciting.
(I should mention that my appreciation of chaos goes exactly as far as the borders of a game. The minute the real world gets involved, whether it’s using slurs or divulging someone’s personal information or threatening to confront a player in person or whatever crazy thing, I’m back to being a fan of the hard line.)
MMOs are too static as it is, with worlds that remain basically the same for years between expansions. Giving players the freedom to be honest and terrible and surprising and delightful … that’s the real dynamic content of a virtual world.