Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A game of consequences

So we've been discussing this week the advantages and disadvantages of games either being hard/tedious or easy/convenient. And Hirvox is asking a good question: "To be more generic, do you think that it's even possible to have a good community in a MMO without the "tedious hardship"? And if not, can we at least disentangle hardship from tediousness?"

What I think is that it is impossible to have a good community, both in terms of people treating each other with a minimum of respect, and in terms of people at least trying to play reasonably well, if your actions in the game do not have significant consequences.

While some people some of the time will be nice to each other just because they can, and try to play well, just because that is the game, it is utopian to believe that all the players all of the time will naturally behave that way. So why do veterans remember people in Everquest being generally more cooperative and better players than in World of Warcraft? Because in Everquest the harsh game would just smack you down if you weren't. Play badly in EQ, and you lose levels. Get a reputation for playing badly or being a jerk, and you'll end up on a "black list" of people not to invite into a group, and you can't progress any more. Because the game *requires* people to cooperate and play reasonably well to advance at all, the people not able to do so are quickly weeded out. And yes, that involves hard punishment by the game, and that will be perceived as being "tedious hardship" by those who fail to live up to the standards.

In World of Warcraft on the other side, your actions don't matter. As I was trying to explain earlier, people don't stand in the fire because they are intellectually incapable of getting out of it, but because they simply don't care. There are no negative consequences of your actions. Repair cost are a joke, there is no xp loss, and the huge number of players combined with the option of changing your name and/or server means you can't be blacklisted. Especially as a DPS class, where there are always at least two other players fulfilling the same role as you in the group, you might even get away with playing horribly, standing in the fire, and *still* end up with a justice point reward for killing the boss. You can behave like a terrible jerk to other players, and make inane "anal" jokes in trade chat, and there simply are no negative consequences. It is a fool's paradise. And yet that sort of game is also extremely convenient. As there is no risk, no consequences, you can play how ever you want. Fishing in Northrend at level 7? Can be done! Leveling a gnome without ever killing a mob? Why not? Raiding undergeared? Nothing there to stop you.

In a game with no consequences, there simply is no right or wrong way to play the game. I *know* why I play World of Warcraft instead of Everquest: I am looking for a fun and relaxing game for the evening, and not for a huge responsability and a second job. And as long as you aware which game is which, any choice is valid.

But what you can't do is have the best of both worlds. If you find Everquest too tedious and hard, and do not want to have negative consequences for your actions, then you must live with everybody else also not suffering these consequences. Whatever insult you use to describe them, the guys standing in the fire made exactly the same choice as you did with exactly the same justification. The convenience of jumping in and out the game, a guild, or a group at any time with no consequences cannot be separated from the "the quality of the community". If you want certain standards of behavior, or a certain minimum level of efficiency, you need to accept the "tedious hardship" of being punished for not meeting those standards. Either there are consequences for everybody, or for nobody. You can't have a game where you have complete freedom, but everybody else has to do as you want.

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