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.

Author: Jessica Cook

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15 Comments

  1. The problem I have with this is repetition. I agree that these kind of things are very cool, the *first* time it happens.

    The hundredth time, not so much.

    But repetition seems to be innate in computer systems. It’s very hard to have something happen only sometimes. It really seems to be all or nothing. And in that case, I vote to err on the side of nothing.
    Rohan´s last post: The Pandaren Starting Zone

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    • I’m not quite sure which side is represented by “all” or “nothing”, but I think you’re coming down on the side of order over chaos.

      And while I certainly respect your opinion, for my part I find that a hopelessly boring vision. My fellow gamers are capable of great unpleasantness and great delights.. I can handle the former in exchange for the opportunity for the latter. :)

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      • Chaos isn’t chaos if it doesn’t change. The auction house being blown up by Geddon’s bomb is interesting the first time it happens. (Or more accurately, the first time you encounter it.) It’s a change from the everyday routine.

        But if a Geddon bomb is going off in the AH every 15 minutes, it ceases to be unique and interesting, and just becomes the new normal, the new order. Only a far more annoying order than existed previously.

        And in my opinion, the people who do these kinds of things are also the type of people who “take the joke too far”. Or they will have imitators who think it’s hilarious to do it over and over again.

        I just don’t see a reasonable way to get disruptions like this to a reasonable level. It seems there is only two choices: either no disruptions; or a continuous barrage of disruptions.

        Given those two choices, I would chose no disruptions. The ideal, a low level of disruptions, just does not seem possible in MMOs.
        Rohan´s last post: The Pandaren Starting Zone

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  2. Hear Hear! I the mmo world definitely needs a little more chaos injectediintothe experience . We are more dynamic then any other type of content which lends itself well to holding off that stale feeling.

    I also think, with the option of being bad it makes the good actions far more meaningful be it the person that doesn’t steal your node when your fightingor the ewhite night hanging out in a Lowbie zone to deter pk’ers
    J3w3l´s last post: Casual Sandbox?

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    • J3w3l, I could not agree more that the ability to choose one’s behavior makes choosing to be nice all the more meaningful! I actually had a big bit about that in my original post, but I took it out to be more succinct.

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  3. I agree!

    Give us the tools to make someone take off their Daily Quest blinkers. Make people pay attention to the game! Then give us consequences, so that we can’t just use those tools on a whim.

    The fact that this kind of chaos is a *really* hard thing to balance shouldn’t stop it from being a design goal.

    Like using snowballs to knock friends off cliffs, and having them die from falling dam…. Oh wait forget that one.

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    • Ha! That’s a great example — some of my best WoW memories with the Cats involve Sema being the world’s biggest troll.

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  4. Most people simply aren’t hardcore enough to play in a full on “grief” environment. Sure, they may THINK they’re hardcore, but soon they get beat down and corpse camped, and leave to never return.

    For the record, I don’t think I’m hardcore enough, I have a day job already!

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    • I should specify, I’m not arguing in favor of a griefer’s paradise. I’m arguing for a virtual place where people have the option to grief, and the option to shun griefers from in-game social structures. (Think of the “ninja looter” list that everyone knew about on old Vanilla WoW servers.)

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  5. See, I’m with Rohan here. The first time I got caught by Living Bomb in Ironforge or Hakkar’s blood plague in Stormwind it was funny and interesting. Setting up Lifegrip chains to pull someone off a cliff is funny, because it doesn’t actually work and the setup was a seven char Goldberg machine. The first time I get ganked because I accidentally flagged up is totally my own fault. Even the first stages of the Zombie thing were cool.

    The problem is time and reasonable limits. The Zombie thing killed the entire game for me for I think almost a week? At least it felt that long. Because it WAS EVERYWHERE and IT NEVER STOPPED. And it was all about how many times an asshole (or group of assholes) can ruin your day, and that’s not anarchy, that’s being a selfish bullying dickbag.

    The reason why the SWTOR zombie event was so much more successful for me is because when getting blown up on the fleet quit being fun, you could opt out. That’s a successful way to run a world-changing event without destroying the only happy fun relaxy game time some people get, which is what griefers were doing to me in WoW. Yep, you can kill level 10 quest givers every time they respawn, effectively preventing someone else from even playing the game until you personally decide you’re done! Congratulations, you’re a jerk.
    Aro´s last post: Raising a gamer

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    • “a week… IT NEVER STOPPED”

      “And it was all about how many times an asshole (or group of assholes) can ruin your day, and that’s not anarchy, that’s being a selfish bullying dickbag. ”

      Some people found it fun to take on a different role in this temporary event. That’s not being a selfish dickbag; that’s playing the game, in a role that the developers intended. Without those players the event would have been nothing at all.

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  6. Funny how FFA sandboxes keep tearing themselves apart. Go Anarchy! Keep trying, some day, it’ll work…

    Me, I’ll be over there in the other game(s) where mechanics do exist to tilt people in the direction of long term cooperation or altruism. Just as evolution in real life also involves a cooperation counterbalance to self-centered profiteering.

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    • Well.. enjoy your people simulator I guess? :P

      In my opinion, cooperation borne from not having a choice to be selfish means very little in a virtual world.

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      • That, and the niggling detail that cooperation isn’t altruistic when it’s motivated by some extrinsic reward. One might make a convincing case that systems with these sorts of motivators are more favorable, but calling the behavior they engender altruistic is not at all accurate.

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  7. Well I think what most people miss when they complain about griefers is that the games nowadays are built around griefing not being possible. We as players just don’t have the powers to punish griefers, as in kill them as well or ban them from social interaction through a ninjalooter thread in the official server forums.

    A griefer nowadays found a hole in the system and exploits it, but can only be stopped by “authorities”. And those authorities are just slower than players could be.

    I believe that, given measures to deal with griefers, we as a community could and would deal with those kind of people in a way that really discourages griefing altogether. And that gives behaving nicely a whole new appeal.

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