Vague Patch Notes: You are and are not who you are in MMOs

    
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Vague Patch Notes: You are and are not who you are in MMOs

If you’ve never been hit in the face, you’re not really prepared for when someone does it, much less when it’s a fist instead of an open-palmed slap. There’s a sort of misfire that happens in your brain acknowledging that you’ve just been struck in the face, something that sends a hot flame down your arms and clenches your own fists, an immediate message telling you to fight back because now it’s on.

That went through me in a span of seconds. And I did exactly what I want to do in that situation, which was… nothing at all. My hands relaxed from fists. I didn’t throw a punch. I stood and stared at the person who had just struck me.

This might be a surprise to some of you (and it is definitely being shared out of context), but it might especially come as a surprise compared to the way that I play MMOs. In those games, I am a viciously violent little bastard. Which means it’s time to talk about the way our behaviors in MMOs don’t mirror what we do in real life as well as the ways in which they do.

Fiction, for anyone unfamiliar with the concept, is entirely a speculative category. And video games are fiction with a strong element of audience participation.

Here’s the thing about human impulses: For whatever reason, we seem to have been built primed and ready to desire violence as something to witness upon our enemies and irritations. Movies and novels alone are replete with examples of stories wherein the good guy is able to witness violence upon the bad guy, and people like that. The Jedi get to slice up stormtroopers without ever having to feel bad about it because they’re the good guys vs. the bad guys.

As I’m someone who recognizes this as an unrealistic scenario, it might seem odd that I’m willing to engage with this stuff. In real life, I dislike violence. I don’t want to be violent toward others, even when it would be justified in self-defense. But that’s the difference between fiction and reality.

Oh, right, I hate this.

The usual point raised here is that in some way fiction is like training for reality. But I don’t see it that way. Enjoying violent video games is the opposite of training yourself to be violent in the real world; it’s catharsis, subsuming those violent impulses and practicing that emotional state without having to ever deal with it in real life. You might find violence distasteful in the real world, but you still have that impulse because you’re human.

I’m not going to pretend to know why we’re hard-wired to like violence, but it ultimately doesn’t matter. It does seem to just be a part of the human condition. But redirecting those impulses to clusters of polygons means that you’re free of that impulse when it comes to actual interactions. You can essentially put on a violent hat, get the sympathetic rush, and then leave it behind without causing actual harm.

Until you get online. And that’s when things get a bit messy.

There’s a lot of discussion of people who play EVE Online and the assumption that everyone who does so must be a vicious, sadistic jerk who loves nothing more than visiting misery upon other human beings. And that’s definitely wrong, even if that’s the sort of player CCP long spent marketing campaigns courting. But there’s a difference between using games to enact violence against digital foes and real people.

And this isn’t just about PvP. Sociopathy is not a prerequisite for finding PvP fun. You don’t have to be a wild jerk to play Overwatch and have fun shooting the other players on the other team, since that’s literally the way you win in the game. You have to do that in order to play.

But to not just shoot the other side but take a great deal of joy in emoting on someone’s corpse and seeking out one player in particular to humiliate as much as you possibly can? Well… that’s starting to move in a different direction, isn’t it?

Fish.

The thing about single-player games is that no matter how you choose to play them, you are always interacting with nothing more than fictional constructs. You may feel as if the characters are so well-written or just fundamentally sympathetic that interacting violently is antithetical to you, but at the end of the day the characters in Undertale aren’t real. Any degree of cruelty is just a cruelty simulation.

But when it comes to an online game, you are dealing with actual people. The person on the receiving end is a person, full stop. It’s a different environment. And as we have seen time and again, the way you behave toward other people on the internet is the way you behave toward people when you have a lessened sense of consequence.

Does PvP make you a jerk? No. But does seeking out games with open PvP so that you can ruin the day of low-level characters just for giggles make you a jerk? Also no… but it does indicate something about the person you want to be when you have the opportunity.

It’s hard to always unpack some of these elements because it’s easy to get caught up in where the line gets drawn. If you really like economic PvP, for example, it’s easy to start wondering if this is saying something about who you are – especially when I just said that yes, this stuff does indicate parts of who you are when you feel like you can do things with a greater degree of impunity.

But at the end of the day, I think even that might be overextending the lessons you can learn. Video games in general and MMOs in particular are ways of getting impulses out of your system. They’re fictional. You may have some very strong ideas about fairness in economic policies in the real world, but you still have that urge to be prosperous and powerful, so you put that into place when you’re playing a video game and then put it down otherwise.

And that’s good and healthy. It doesn’t mean that you’re trying to hurt people – just the opposite – and it gives you an outlet for impulses you don’t want to indulge in otherwise. Certainly there are people who use these things as a cover or a mechanism for indulging in nastiness, but it’s not an automatic correlation.

If you’re thinking that this feels a bit contradictory, that’s because it can’t help but be that way. We’re talking about things that are broadcasts from the parts of our brains that we might not always be proud of. I’d sure like it if my brain didn’t get a dopamine hit out of fictional violence, but there’s not much I can do about that other than make sure it’s being directed and dealt with in ways that don’t actually hurt anyone.

But that’s kind of the point of video games, after all. We get to explore these ideas and wishes in a way that remains resolutely fictional and unreal. Sure, there are story reasons for all of it, but no matter how many Imperial soldiers I cut down in Final Fantasy XIV, I haven’t hurt any real people. That’s a decent compromise.

Sometimes you know exactly what’s going on with the MMO genre, and sometimes all you have are Vague Patch Notes informing you that something, somewhere, has probably been changed. Senior Reporter Eliot Lefebvre enjoys analyzing these sorts of notes and also vague elements of the genre as a whole. The potency of this analysis may be adjusted under certain circumstances.

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kjempff

Games and in particular online games are ways to act on impulses or act in ways you wish you could in real life. That goes for bad things and good. It is sometimes the opposite of what people are in real life, and sometimes it isn’t at all … but for some, if their behaviours in games had no consequences in real life then they would also act it out in real life – So does that makes them bad people?
In a world without consequence, those kind of players would be the first to become bad, but as long as we have consequence they will not. However, it only takes a group so large and with enough conviction to reduce consequence of bad things enough, and then we have .. The inqusition, nazis, civil war scenarios, political/religious prosecution, it is always just around the corner.

Good and Evil are artificial constructs of not choosing one side and therefore being labelled the opposite… Human evolution made us seek the safety of groups and protecting against other groups, which are then labelled evil in order to strengthen our own group. This is why humans are forever in conflict, and some million years of evolution can not be changed easily, however much our logic brains try to convince us otherwise.

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texyFX

the basic theory and therefore the further “conclusions” of this article have been falsified by (the world most influental) Neuroscientist Joachim Bauer (Freiburg) – Freud was wrong, this articles basic assumption is wrong.

violence is not an urge like sex or food: there is no “hardwired” violence (as this article claims).

violence is the result of social conditioning and abuses the fear system (which, according to Naomi Eisenberger) is activated exclusively by external triggers.
like social exclusion, humiliation or poverty the human brain reacts via activation of the pain system, which therefore results in aggression.

in an interdisciplinary study Bauer diagnosed unequal distribution (of wealth, influence etc.) in a relation on homicide and the Gini-Index. violence is the result of social inequality and therefore socially produced and does not have a direct biological reason (like hunger).

before domestication social exclusion was a death sentence, so (post)modern humans react to unfair discrepancy in distribution (of wealth, influence etc.) with aggression (to explain the relation between homicide ratio and poverty/wealth).

humans primary evolutionary trait as social animal is empathy (mirror neurons, Joachim Bauer proved lovesickness as actual (and not imaginary) physical pain), empathy is “hard-wired”.

but the introduction of domestication changed the social environment into a pre-capitalistic society defined by property. this neolithic economic revolution installed social segretation: a caste system, aka class warfare.

Social Darwinism lead to further violence against their own kin, humans fought over resources, influence and ideologies. so explicit (and not internal) moral systems were invented to control the socially produced escalation of aggression (=violence).
but only led to further conflicts, cuz fear is a great instrument of power.

and since Capitalism is now perceived as a law of nature, its inherent aggression (cuz capitalism is a system of hostility, rivalry and exploitation) is seen as natural.
violence is not, it is socially produced, conditioned and executed.
also Niklas Luhmann proved (aoens ago) the basis of Darwins theory of evolution wrong. cuz nature is NOT hostile, but delivers every means necessary to survive. if nature would be hostile, humans couldnt survive.

so again, for the mental health of every human being: violence is not a natural, biological urge, but a social construct, esp (post)modern violence (like Guantanamo or medieval Inquisition) is the result of rough social discrepancies, which result in fear, which then continues in aggression.

so what does this (not so new, cuz 2011) insight pschoanalytically mean for the identity issue of this article? symbolic (or virtual) violence is used as a channel for fear, which is then justified as non-invasive and consensual violence – a violence that is ok, cuz it doesnt hurt physically.
it does, as virtual environments r perceived as natural ones. it is ofc not on the same experience niveau as direct physical aggression, but is perceived as similiar, the brain reacts to virtual environments similiar as to physical ones.

in this article violence is disguised as a natural urge (which it isnt), to justify itself, cuz it is the socially conditioned channel to fight back. games r a part of the educational system of class warfare. (GET THIS INTO UR HEADS)
games train to reproduce the capitalistic values: the winner(/maker) mentality and all of its issues. in any competition there must be losers, so what does society do with all those losers, that feel ashamed by not winning the society wide contest of class warfare?
class system gives created virtual environments, where everyone may be a winner, but RL gamers r usually seen as losers, cuz the attend auxiliary school – a further intensivation of segregation.

there r many constructive channels for depression, fear and anger, (which in this context r a byproduct of class warfares perfomance society, aka capitalism) but the most optimal one is understanding. to understand the system of violence that corrupts humans.

human revolution reached a crossroad, as earths ecosystem will collapse (climate change) and the global society amasses kill counts that succeed WW2, while the Gini-Index (aka social discrepancies of wealth and influence distribution) escalates: the rich get richer, while the majority lives in poverty.

we need to fight back against any violence. but not with violence, but with kind ratio, we need to develop a new self-understanding as society and individuals.
cuz this capitalistic system of violence is made of and BY individuals, we all r responsible (remember WW2, the descendants of the 3. Reich r still held responsible for the atrocities of their ancestors) for Syria, Irak, poverty, hunger, exploitation etc.

many will refuse this global responsibility as nonsense, but any part of any system, no matter the influence, is integral to given system and therefore responsible, no human can deny this social obligation reasonably. we may argue on the volume of our share, but not on the fact.

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texyFX

ps. good news? cuz when aggression is not a biological urge, but a social product, everyone can overcome it and its triggers. (to overcome the triggers means to be free, cuz as proven, triggers for violence r external. IMAGINE BEING FREE, what freedom really means – in contemporary society its the Janis Joplin freedom (Me and Bobby McGee): freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.)

every change starts with an insight, then the initial step is already done.

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Bruno Brito

I thought about responding this but…eh.

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Castagere Shaikura

I think it has a lot to do with when and how you were raised. I was born way before people had a PC in their house. I learn to talk and be social with real people. Not people on screens. In MMO’s you have a lot of anti-social people that really never learned how to deal with real people. This younger generation coming up that never been without a gadget to their face is going to be the scary ones.

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Arktouros

I mean I grew up in a time without having gadgets to my face and I assure you me and others like me were just as much of a nightmare to people back when Ultima Online released than people are today.

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Castagere Shaikura

First of all, UO was known for its ass holey. In fact, it was part of the game just like it is in Eve Online. In games, I played back then you were surprised when you ran into an ass.

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Snacky

Thought provoking article. Thanks, Eliot.

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mosselyn

I can’t really relate to this. I mean, I understand what was said, and don’t necessarily agree with it, but it’s very different from my personal experience.

Perhaps it relates to the extent to which your real life enables you to express your personality/desires/feelings. I feel very comfortable with my “real” self, and very comfortable with being that self in front of other people. I don’t feel a need to “let it all out” when playing games because it’s pretty much already out there.

That’s not to say I’m exactly the same in games as IRL. I think I’m slightly more helpful and generous in games because it doesn’t cost me anything. (How’s that for a shameful confession?) I know I let myself be less assertive in games because I don’t feel the same need to stake out a place for myself.

I get as annoyed as anyone else IRL, but short of someone being physically aggressive, I don’t feel this pull towards violence you speak of. I cannot see things like griefing as anything but anti-social behavior. If you can’t empathize with the other human being behind that virtual character, there’s already something wrong with you. I guess I’m glad you can let it out in a virtual environment, but, um, yeah…about that.

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Anstalt

Personally, I’ve never really viewed “violence” in video games as actual violence or a substitute for real world violence. Sure, the graphics and animation dress it up that way, but in reality it’s just puzzle solving.

Now, where PvP comes in is not in imitating violence but in giving us competition. PvP allows me to WIN against other people, as well as practice losing with grace.

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EmberStar

My overwhelming experience with other players in PVP situations is that they don’t care if they win… as long as you lose. And they’re utterly incapable of losing with grace. (Or *winning* with grace.) If they beat you, they’ll teabag and corpse camp until you rage quit. Bonus points if they think you may have quit the game for good. If you beat *them* you’re a cheating hacker who cheated and they are SO going to report you for hacking!

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

and I’ve NOT experienced that. With that group in ESO, they killed folks and moved on to the next objective., no time to gloat or shit talk unless they were engaged in kind.

The only time I think it ever really got personal with those folks was if someone was juiced up SPIN 2 WIN and just being jerks.

Otherwise, the killing of the other players was just a part of the objective or taking a keep or a tower or something.

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EmberStar

I don’t like PVP, and go out of my way to avoid it. So my experience with it has been almost exclusively when PVP experiences come looking for *ME*. High level characters (or groups of them in areas where they can’t have a level advantage) taking advantage of any tricks or flaws to force people to accidentally PVP flag and then kill them before they even realize what just happened would be one example.

Failing that, invading a low level area and killing all the NPCs. Not as a way to draw out high level players to counter attack, because the instant anything like a fair fight appears they bail. No, it’s entirely about making the entire zone unplayable for as long as possible, with the bonus of insta-ganking anyone who gets frustrated enough to take a swing at them.

Ruining the day of players who couldn’t possibly fight back *was* the objective.

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Anstalt

Luckily, my experience of MMORPG PvP is extremely different. Sure, there are the occasional asshats who love to teabag randoms and gank lowbies, but they’ve been very rare for me.

Most of the time, its been consensual, just lots of players who enjoy a challenge, searching for a good fight and having a laugh. Teabagging and that sort of behaviour generally only happens when you are mates with the other player, often when you’re both on voice chat so you can have a laugh about it with each other. Tends to increase the fun and amusement of PvP, rather than detract from it.

One of the other things I’ve always enjoyed about MMORPG PvP is it’s the place where I do the most roleplaying. Sounds weird as PvP is not something usually associated with roleplaying, but a surprising amount of players get stuck in. More players tend to act out the personalities of their characters in PvP, it’s a hell of a lot of fun! I’ve led so many suicidal charges when playing my orc reaver in lotro, despite it being, well, suicidal! Because that’s what the character demands!

Of course, this is all consensual.

If you’ve been playing a game where PvP can be forced on you when you don’t want it, that sucks. I would never play an MMO that didn’t have PvP, but I always want it to be consensual.

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Bruno Brito

Bear in mind, most PvP toxicity comes in the facets of PvP that are less controlled. While structured PvP does have toxicity ( lord knows it has ), it’s still less than the dickwad gankers that teabag your corpse on gankbox games.

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Arktouros

In controlled PvP environments most of the “toxic behavior” is usually people handling frustration poorly. Like in Destiny 2’s Crucible often times if I’m tea bagged it’s because I’m using some sort of weapon/class combination that’s considered “cheap” and frustrating to go up against. If they manage to kill me they vent this frustration in the only way available to them by tea bagging my corpse letting me know they are upset or at the very least express displeasure at my tactic/weapon choices.

In Gankboxes it largely varies between just fucking around (‘haha lets go kill the beach Bobs’) to strategy of trying to rile people up into bad decisions. I mean I’ve teabagged my fair share of corpses in my day and it’s entirely to frustrate that opponent. As discussed at length people handle frustration very poorly generally and it cause them to react badly which I can usually then use to my advantage.

Once you know what these things are and why they occur they become far less upsetting over all in the moment because chances are good that’s the reaction they are going for :)

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styopa

“For whatever reason, we seem to have been built primed and ready to desire violence as something to witness upon our enemies and irritations. ”

Because it’s a necessary and successful survival reflex honed by millions – if not tens of millions – of years of evolution, not the last half century or so of milquetoastery (in the West, at least)?

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

I like my milquetoastery. With honey.

Turing fail
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Turing fail

If by “milquetoastery” you mean refraining from World War III, then I’m with Camren. Nukes and bio-weapons turn our survival skills into extinction paths.

That being said, we’re always honing our killing capabilities somewhere, just not at large scale and in our own territories. Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria come to mind as prime testing grounds for Western military hardware and tactics.

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styopa

“Nukes and bio-weapons turn our survival skills into extinction paths”

Well that’s the conventional wisdom, but actually (admittedly, statistical sample size of 1) with nukes and bio weapons, we have IN FACT had the longest span of great power PEACE ever in modern history. I know it’s far more fashionable to wring our hands and moan about the dangers but at least insofar as our single timeline’s experience holds, atomic weapons have led to the most sustained peace….ever.

But no, to be clear, I wasn’t talking about WW3 because that’s not what the article nor the quote was about. As Eliot wrote, ‘for whatever reason’ we’re (personally, individually) prone to violence…it’s abundantly clear that until the most recent decades, the idea was that in fact violence DID solve quite a few things, quite well in fact.

Turing fail
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Turing fail

I think we’re actually in agreement, at least partially.

Mutually assured destruction is a factor in why we’ve not followed our aggressive instincts, at least not on a grand scale, resulting in the peace you cite. This may change when one or more sides thinks they can win, or just misinterprets their radar. Human evolutionary propensity towards violence as conflict resolution may lead to extinction.

Violence can resolve disputes, but often leads to future conflicts when the losing side recovers and re-arms.

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styopa

There are ample examples where violence has solved things for the better. Not to take this straight into Godwin territory, maybe we should ask my Jewish friends?

“Mutually assured destruction is a factor in why we’ve not followed our aggressive instincts” yes, and it’s worked better than any other solution besides genocide, really. MAD is merely a reflective upscaling of the most basic deterrent logic in the animal kingdom: A can’t attack B as long as A reasonably believes it has a chance of losing badly. There’s a reason shrews – in some measures the most ferocious predator that exists – don’t attack wildebeests.

The fact that the peace that follows violent resolution is itself eventually broken doesn’t necessarily imply that the violence was somehow a flawed solution, it only implies that peace may, by itself, be unsustainable. Why would anyone believe anything is solved “permanently”?

People seem to have this silly idea that humans are intrinsically peaceful, or that peace is the ‘default’ state. Hell, you only have to watch infants at play with each other to see that’s ridiculous.

camren_rooke
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camren_rooke

I think your peace should be in single quotes.

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Bruno Brito

“Peace” is a strong word.

We live under a mutual state of fear. Fear isn’t peaceful.

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styopa

To you, maybe?
Understand that not everyone is living “in fear”.
And even using your terms, a lack of violence IS PEACE, even if it isn’t peaceful.

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Rndomuser

But does seeking out games with open PvP so that you can ruin the day of low-level characters just for giggles make you a jerk? Also no…

I don’t know what you exactly meant by “jerk” but the way I define it – yea, it kind of does make person who intentionally does this thing a jerk.

I enjoy variety of PvP games, they’re the only types of games which provide a legitimate challenge (because humans can react in more unpredictable ways than any current in-game AI) and long-lasting entertainment for me (any kind of encounter where I have to bash huge dumb AI monster for more than a couple of seconds always bore me, regardless if I have to do it alone or in a group of players) but I never felt necessity of behaving in this way in any of them. Fighting against such low-level player characters is just as boring as bashing the dumb AI monsters. So there isn’t really a good reason to specifically seek out low-level characters (who can’t provide any sense of challenge or danger for you) to kill unless you’re a type of person who only gets enjoyment out of harming defenseless living beings (for example kicking a cat in real life). Which does kind of make you a jerk in the eyes of majority of people.

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Paul

But does seeking out games with open PvP so that you can ruin the day of low-level characters just for giggles make you a jerk? Also no…

+1 to those taking issue with this statement

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IronSalamander8 .

Good article over all but like others I strongly disagree with this:

But does seeking out games with open PvP so that you can ruin the day of low-level characters just for giggles make you a jerk? Also no…

I do agree that you can PvP without being a jerk. I see it in online PvP focused games (shooters mostly) and in MMOs that let you PvP, and while it can bring out the worst in people, it can also be a decent experience if you play with the right people. I’m not a fan of it in my MMO, but it isn’t automatically awful either. There’s a player in GW2 and BfN that, if they’re on the podiums for good performance at the end of the match (and from my experience, they often are), they always use the GG emote, win or lose, and never see them taunt or otherwise engage in bad behavior. I’ve had some decent PvP experiences in MMOs but they’re rare.

But, when you PvP for the purpose of making other people’s experience worse, you are in fact a jerk. One of my main issues with WoW was how much this happened, especially pre-BGs. Having level capped players use stealth to hide in large corpses so you click to attack them instead of looting and suddenly your level 5 is flagged against a skull con, or killing all the NPCs including the flight master so you can’t quest and can’t even leave without using your hearthstone (with its much longer cooldown back then), flagging up and hopping up and down on your bobber when fishing when they’re 20+ levels above you, and so on. All of that is jerk behavior.

For some of us, we can just play another game or character but some of this happened to friends’ kids and seeing a 9 year old playing their brand new Tauren because their parents let them play around a bit, get ganked by some level 60 pally with a craptastic name is certainly jerk behavior.