Friday, March 12, 2010

Gold, entitlement, and morality

As I mentioned in the previous post, Tobold the tauren shaman of Single Abstract Noun is now level 20. What I didn't mention is that he has 851 gold pieces in his pocket, having earned 1,092 gold over his live already, starting from nothing, and with no outside help. That is something I *am* proud of. But I also realize that this is just me having unusual goals in World of Warcraft. Some people care for fast leveling, others care for achievements, I like to earn gold. And one of the reason why I'm planning on earning some more gold with that character is that I plan to go dual spec at level 40, plus buy an epic mount, so by then I need to have over 1,000 gold on hand.

Suzina from Kill Ten Rats started playing World of Warcraft in a more conventional way. She reached level 40. She wanted to have dual spec. She didn't have 1,000 gold, nor the experience with the WoW economy to know how to make 1,000 gold fast. So she bought those 1,000 gold for $10. And I can totally understand her. The *less* you know about the WoW economy, the more seducing the idea of buying 1,000 gold at level 40 for your dual spec becomes. Hey, it's just 10 bucks. Hey, I really should have dual spec at this level to have one spec for soloing and one for groups. Hey, you can't expect me to grind lots of green mobs to earn that gold. Hey, you can't expect me to wait another 20 levels for the dual spec while I get the gold together.

But of course the other players in the game don't see it like that. A friend of hers put Suzina on ignore after she told him about her purchase, and not all of the comments on her blog entry are sympathetic either. Other players are likely to make a connection between gold buying and their accounts being hacked, although nobody actually has good data on how much of the sold gold is from hacking, and how much is from farming. It is obvious that there *is* farming going on, which proves that *not all* sold gold is from hacking, but I don't have any idea about the percentages, whether it is 10% hacked and 90% farmed or the other way around. Would you say that buying a used watch is evil, just because there is a chance that the watch might have been stolen? But in any case, bought gold is tainted by that association with such dubious business practices like hacking or scams.

Other players also see buying gold as cheating. Now a Google search on "cheat codes" gets you 26 million results, which tells you that cheating in video games is very widespread. But while most people think it is okay to cheat in a single-player game, cheating in multiplayer games is frowned upon. Even in a game like World of Warcraft, where players are not in direct competition against each other, buying gold to get ahead of other players isn't acceptable to everyone. There is a clash between two different senses of entitlement, the new player who thinks he should be entitled to everything the game offers at his level, and the veteran player who thinks he should be entitled to more than the "n00bs".

In the end there is no easy answer. There are a lot of good arguments why you shouldn't buy gold in a MMORPG, but there are also a lot of good arguments why that action could be regarded as relatively harmless video game cheating. The kind of people who are talking about RMT in morality absolutes are all veterans of the game, whose view is influenced by knowing people with hacked accounts, and whose idea on how difficult it would be to earn 1,000 gold on your own is necessarily different than those of a new player. If we could remove the strawman argument of "all gold is from hacking" from the discussion, and I can only advise everyone to contribute and install an authenticator, we could maybe feel a bit more sympathy towards people like Suzina.

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