This is Bones' Editorials section, in which articles written by my friends and associates may be placed. Bones Dragon


  Editorial Section

So Let's Get Practical... (By Designer Dragon, May 8, 1998)

"Killers may have a right to play the game their own way. They don't have a right to inflict their way of playing to the other groups." - from a posting by Loic Talecaster late last night

"Look dude,, dieing and parting with your stuff sux,, but it's part of the game, live with it.. role play it." - a reply to Loic by Dreadnaught

"If you don't want to get killed, stay in town." - a lot of posts this last week

Lynx hmms... So you're saying you want to randomly kill people?
Arion says "yes! randomly but with the same chances of dying!"
Ack says "we want to be the few... the proud... the outlaws!"
Lynx should note you are probably despised by a great many people, which is hardly helpful.
Ack says "that is the best part about it!!!"
Arion says "that's the way we like it!"
Lynx points out some people have ideas of fun that other people do not agree with, and these people do not have to put up with it.
Arion says "then let them stay in the havens that are usually there... [safe] rooms, the town square..."
- from "The Black Rose Incident", which occurred on Islandia 8 years ago

As one would expect, the last two essays have generated an amazing amount of discussion and controversy in the Ultima Online community. There have been numerous interpretations of what I said, of course; some feel I am acting as apologist for the playerkillers, others feel that their positions have been vindicated, etc. Just to state it clearly: there are too many serial killers in the world of Ultima Online and they need to learn to get along with the rest of the populace--but we don't want to exterminate them completely anymore than we want to make rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, and sharks extinct, because they fill a valuable role in the virtual ecology.

So let's turn to the problems of actually shaping a virtual society. There are a couple of key issues here that present really important problems.

The more things change, the more they stay the same...! Those quotes above, some freshly minted and the other hoary with age, help demonstrate that the issue of playerkilling, of policing the virtual world, is an old one, and that it is more a matter of the psychological approach the player takes to the game than anything else. One thing that is hard to come to grips with in that realization is that it means that playerkilling does not require a combat system. The problems that players wrestle with in dealing with harassment are exactly the same; the difference is the means of exercising power that is used by the aggressor. Consider the following quote from a post made late last night on the UOVault by Loic Telecaster:

[Yesterday's essay] says that without killers, virtual worlds stagnate. But there is an entire class of virtual worlds, MOOs mostly, that don't even implement a combat system, and they thrive. Thus how can it be said that Killers are "necessary"?

Those of you who read the additional links supplied yesterday know that the Julian Dibbell article on "A Rape in Cyberspace" in fact took place on a MOO. The "kill" command was never typed; nobody entered combat mode. Yet it was every bit as traumatic as a repeat playerkilling is to people today in UO. When the issue boils down to the exercise of power, any tools will do. Failing combat, they will use words. Failing words, they will follow you around and interfere in your actions... and maybe, just maybe, if you supply a method for them to get into a political structure within the virtual world itself, they will play politics instead of killing, since politics is after all the ultimate human expression of the desire to exercise power over others. (No offense to the politicians!)

So one key problem to surmount is the fact that changing the medium of attacks will not prevent attacks from occurring. You'll find the Killer on IRC, on a web board, in chat rooms, in Ultima Online, and in muds everywhere--pk switch or no pk switch.

There are other thorny issues to wrestle with. A common call is for community policing--this is a position that I myself have often advocated. But it must be admitted that a virtual community is sorely lacking in one critical concept to be able to effectively police: identity. On the Net, what identity there is is very fluid. Whereas if you identify a criminal in real life, you can jail him, in cyberspace he effectively can become someone else entirely, leaving you holding an empty shell in your jail cell. A mule. A dummy character. An abandoned persona.

And that's assuming you can catch him--for how do you know who he is? One's anonymity in cyberspace, as we discussed yesterday, is a great empowerment. It's also a great problem for those who wish to track the behavior of repeat playerkillers.

Ultima Online originally was designed for full-bore community policing. We made safe towns, and originally supplied no other tools whatsoever. But those who sought to police accurately pointed out that since they could not track those who did evil deeds, the server code would have to. Hence the notoriety system. And now we are moving to a more precise and specialized system, because notoriety's key flaw was that it measured different types of behavior on the same scale, which rendered it highly problematic as a method of identifying criminals. The reputation system purposely tracks only one type of behavior for the purposes of flagging someone as "red," because that way it can serve as a more accurate tool for curbing that one type of behavior. Will it curb all methods of "attack"? No, because it is a specialized tool.

The idea of behavior tracking systems is not new. We of course have the concept of criminal records in the real world. On the EBay auction website, users of the site can award "stars" to other users, and you can get a sense of how trustworthy a person is before engaging in commerce with them. In many muds, people are flagged permanently as "thief" or "murderer" after one instance of thievery or murder.

The key issue behind having such systems is of course, who judges, and who punishes. The quote above from the "Black Rose Incident" is often used as an example of why consensus government fails in virtual settings, and a major reason why it fails is because the social mores of the playerbase are being dictated (or attempted to be dictated) by the game administration, rather than by the playerbase. All forms of compromise suggested by the admins in the incident fail to satisfy both parties, because they are not solutions offered by the parties. A similar dilemma arose in the incident described by Dibbell: in the end, the populace of the game felt themselves powerless, organized a government, and it meant nothing: the final action taken had to be taken by a "god."

It is no accident that in virtual communities, admins are often titled gods, wizards, and immortals.

This is of course an essentially paternalistic structure. One has to ask the very tough question: can an online community ever truly flower if it always has to run to Dad to deal with problems? The reason this is a critical question is because the presence of an all-powerful being is not a philosophical question in a virtual setting. In final analysis, it's the guy with the ability to flip the power switch on the server. In the case of the virtual rape on LambdaMOO that Dibbell described, the head admin came back and adbicated his powers to the populace.

Now, there's clearly a whole can of worms there regarding religion in a virtual setting that I am not going to open! However, the implications in terms of the development of online governments are very interesting and very important. Our challenge is that in UO, we have established what is to my knowledge the virtual setting with the largest scope of possible player actions and activities yet given to people without godlike powers. (On many MOOs and the like, the common player has godlike powers as a matter of course, which is a different big can of worms...!) With UO we--no, more precisely, you, the players of UO, have a unique chance to actually make a virtual world that sustains a virtual government that matters. No mean feat.

I say "that matters," because in the end the head admin at LambdaMOO had to take his powers back, and it is back to Dad as usual there. Just as we in Ultima Online had to retreat from the original design of full-bore player policing and add back in greater game admin involvement. But our intent is still clear: this is going to be your world. So if the tools do not suffice to handle the problems of anonymity, lack of accountability, binding to identity, and non-conbat means of attack, we need you to tell us what tools will. Because while we may have built the world, we don't want to be your parents anymore than we want to tell you what Virtues you must follow. That is a matter for your conscience and your free will, which try as we might, we could not take away even if we wanted to. So I look forward to fruitful discussion on the boards of things like townstones, locally defined "laws," methods of supporting player militias and towns in code, etc. It may take a while to come to fruition, but come it will, because despite what some may say, we, the developers are not saying "you're on your own." We're saying that maybe you might want to take off the training wheels someday, because bikes with training wheels get to ride on much more interesting terrain.

And after that, maybe we can see about changing that "just because we built the world" thing too. :)

-Designer Dragon


Who Are These People Anyway? (By Designer Dragon, May 7, 1998)

People tend to think that [virtual worlds] alter how people perceive one another. That gender and race and handicaps cease to matter. It is a noble vision, sure... In truth [they] reveal the self in rather disturbing ways. We all construct 'faces' and masks to deal with others. Usually in [real life] interpersonal relationships, the masks can slip, they evolve and react, and they have body language and cues. [In a virtual world], on the Net, whatever--they cannot. And people see specifically this: what you choose to represent yourself as, and that is more revealing of your true nature than gender, race, age, or anything else... it's not a matter of how we hide, it's a matter of how we are revealing ourselves.

The above paragraph comes from an unpublished interview I gave many years ago now. It came in response to the question, "How do you think virtual worlds affect people's perceptions of each other?"

A tangled question. Many seized on the sentence, "Thank heavens for playerkillers" in the last essay, and used it as evidence that I, or UO, am "on the playerkillers' side." Unfortunately, that's not only incorrect, but a reductionist view of a tangled situation. A better question to ask is, what exactly is the population of an online world, and what social forces drive it?

In discussing the Other yesterday, one word seemed at the center of the issue: Power. The conflicts that arise are there precisely because competing agendas (and often, as in the case of the playerkillers versus the roleplayers , competing play styles) attempt to exercise power over one another. I got a letter from Kazola, proprietor of the Treetop Keg and Winery on Great Lakes, saying that the tavern is not famous for being a target, but for being a roleplay haven first. It became a a target because of that fame. Yet I would still argue that it had the roleplay fame within a narrower segment of the overall UO community than its fame as a "flickering light in the darkness." And it is worth examining why exactly this is so. Why did it become a target just for being what it is? And why was its struggle so compelling?

Richard Bartle, who along with Roy Trubshaw is generally credited with writing the first mud (multi-user dungeon, if you wish to call it that, but let's say "virtual online world" instead) wrote an essay which among designers of virtual worlds is often considered essential reading. In it he classifies players into four types:

  • Those who seek to interact with other people, or Socializers
  • Those who seek to dominate other people, or Killers
  • Those who seek to learn and master the mechanics of the world, or Explorers
  • Those who seek to advance within the context of the world, or Achievers

    Now, these are simplistic definitions, of course, and there is plenty of debate over the exact mix, and whether these are reductions to stereotypes, etc. It is interesting to note that "roleplayers" aren't even on his list, though they are generally considered to be a major force in online gaming--under this system, they are merely a variant of socializers, and the line between in-fiction chatting and out-of-character chatting is blurred.

    The fascinating part of the essay, however, is where Bartle discusses the interactions between these groups. Killers are like wolves, in his model. And therefore they eat sheep, not other wolves. And the sheep are the socializers, with some occasional Achievers for spice. Why? Because killers are about the exercise of power, and you do not get the satisfaction of exercising power unless the victim complains vocally about it. Which socializers will tend to do.

    Further, Bartle pointed out that eliminating the killers from the mix of the population results in a stagnant society. The socializers become cliquish, and without adversity to bring communities together, they fragment and eventually go away. Similarly, achievers, who are always looking for the biggest and baddest monster to kill, will find a world without killers to be lacking in risk and danger, and will grow bored and move on.

    Yet at the same time, too many killers will quite successfully chase away everyone else. And after feeding on themselves for a little while, they will move on too. Leaving an empty world. However, since killers tend to know the world really well, there are not many ways of keeping them in check. From the playerbase, the explorers are the only ones with a real chance, because they know the game better than anyone.

    Among some virtual world designers, the dichotomy is simpler: you have what they term "GoP" players, or goal-oriented players, and you have everyone else: the roleplayers, the socializers, etc. And the conflict is always between these two types. My own preferred metaphor goes back to the work of child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, who discussed the two ways children tend to amuse themselves. One form is the "game," where there is a winner and a loser. It is competitive, and may or may not involve team play. The other is "play," which is non-competitive. It can be as simple as chatting a lot, or it can be building blocks, or (as it often is with children) it can be make-believe-- which is after all, roleplaying.

    You may have recognized yourself in one of these models, and may have recognized situations and events from UO as well. Now, many of the responses to the first essay on the web boards and the newsgroups discussed how idealistic a vision it expressed... and thus viewed the second essay as a reversal. Yet really, the dichotomy of game and play are two sides of the same coin. One does not tend to exist anywhere without the other. Whereas the most idealistic vision of a virtual world, the fully community-oriented one, would seem to be composed of only "play," in fact it would founder. It's in human nature to need both, in one way or another. It's the nature of reality--and therefore the nature of virtual reality as well.

    From a strict in-context perspective, the actions of a killer within a virtual world can be seen as sociopathic: they do not recognize the mores of the society in which they operate. This is not to say that they are bad people-- it has been well-established that interactions in a virtual setting create a level of psychological disinhibition that encourages freer action, less inhibited speech, and perhaps a little less thoughtfulness; this is probably largely due to the intoxicating sense of anonymity that we feel online. One has to wonder what the proper method of controlling people is, when they are generally not bad people, but merely "drunk" on the sense of anonymity.

    Ideally (yeah, back to those pesky ideals), we bring them to an awareness of the virtual community they are disrupting, whilst at the same time still permitting people to (in final analysis) exercise power over one another, because people tend to seek status and power, and it's an important mechanic we cannot do without.

    To boil all the high-flown stuff above down into simple premises: we must have playerkillers in UO, because the world would suffer if we did not have them. But they also must be channeled, so that their effect is beneficial, and not detrimental. And they have to learn to act within the context of the "play" space, and not perceive UO as just a "game" space.

    In other words, a lot of it is about education. And most roleplayers have a story to tell about the time they first introduced someone to that form of play, and the way in which the former killer or hack 'n' slasher tentatively started trying out new waters, and eventually discovered that "hey, this roleplay things isn't all bad!" They may not become true roleplayers, but they may also adapt their play style to conform more to the virtual context. The mud designer and theoretician J C Lawrence terms this "functional roleplay," where behavior patterns of those who do not roleplay are conditioned by the presence of things like social systems, reputation systems, and other "channeling" devices.

    It's largely about perspectives. The issue for the killers is whether they will gain the wider perspective and cease to be "virtually sociopathic." And the issue for the socializers is whether they will recognize that the killers are a part of their society too, and not always a bad one.

    The thorny issues that then remain are the nitty-gritty of virtual community building: how do we govern in a world of anonymity? How do we police, and who polices, the players or the game administrators? What sort of punishment is appropriate for virtual crime? What sort of punishment is even possible for virtual crime? The answers to these questions that the UO community seeks out will shape UO for years to come, because they are questions that we the designers must ask of the players--no tool we give to players will work unless players take it up. And it could be that not a large enough proportion of players are ready or willing to take them up. But with the formation of governments and militias, we already see that the UO community is "self-aware"--aware of itself as a community, and therefore implicitly asking for tools to define its own society.

    In the end, being a "killer" or a "roleplayer" is just as much a mask as the character one chooses to play online. It reveals something about how the player perceives UO, but not necessarily about their actual nature. (As a classic example, not all playerkillers are 13-year old boys, as popular legend would have it. What makes a playerkiller is a perspective on on the world, not an age.) As designers, our role is to juggle the often conflicting perspectives.

    The answer to "who are these people anyway" is better phrased as "who am I, in this virtual reality?" And until a player can answer that well enough to understand their motivations, they may not even be playing the way they really want to. The Greeks put it as gnothi seauton--Know Thyself. If you find these simplified classifications of player styles to be confining--make your own. UO is both a play space and a game space, and that is at the root of all the most wonderful things about it, and also at the heart of the most painful issues it faces with virtual community, playerkilling, and the like. "Giving up" and targeting only half of that equation is not a fruitful approach, in the long run. Only education, self-knowledge, and an awareness of others is.

    And education, self-knowledge, and an awareness of others sounds a lot like the process of growing up. Hearkening back to yesterday--something is being born. But we do have to teach it how to walk. More on that tomorrow.

    -Designer Dragon


  • Things fall apart (By Designer Dragon, May 6, 1998)

    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

    Forgive me if the quote is inaccurate--it's from memory. It was written by William Butler Yeats, an Irish poet, and people have been quoting it ever since.

    The latter line may hold some resonance for those players struggling with the issues of harassment and playerkilling in the virtual setting. It's a difficult problem, to say the least. "Where," players might ask, "have the Virtues gone?" This is, after all, Ultima Online.

    By now most gamers have heard the story, of course. Richard Garriott, after making Ultima III, felt that his games were lacking a moral center. And so in Ultima IV, he made the central storyline of the game be about a simple moral structure: eight qualities he found admirable and which fit well within the fantasy setting.. The Virtues. And ever since, Ultimas have been about ethics, which is a large part of what makes the series a landmark in the history of computer gaming.

    Yet UO does not directly support the Virtues, at the moment. Why is that?

    For an answer, I thought I would dig up a design document I wrote back on September 13th, 1995...

    Setting implications

    The setting statement implies that the regular course of the Ultima games is the aberration in the normal course of events. Normal worlds in the multiverse do not get set under the caretaking hands of a Time Lord, therefore they do not manifest such recurring forces as the Avatar and Lord British and the Guardian and all the other characters who make up what we know in the regular Ultima sequence.

    (The "setting" referred to is the fact that UO is an alternate shard from the regular canon Ultima universe. Within the canon Ultima universe, the Time Lord sends Avatars, of course, who serve as examples of the Virtues. The other shards, as those who have read Sherry the Mouse's book may know, are mere shadows that may or may not someday reunite with the main universe. However, they are not receiving that paternalistic intervention from outside...)

    Instead, the normal world is composed of daily power struggles, of ethical dilemmas without clearcut answers, and clearly have a lack of guidance from outside. There is no ultimate authority like a Time Lord sitting out there to tell the inhabitants of these other worlds exactly what course of action is the best.

    Granted, the instruction of the Time Lord till now has been essentially that the "corrrect" course of action is often not the one that comes immediately to mind; in that sense, the regular Ultima series is a gradually developing course in ethics, beginning with simplistic good and evil (Mondain, Minax, Exodus), to the notion of 'absolute' virtues in a rather Aquinas-like philosophy, and from there towards the notion of ethical relativity that manifests in U6 and later episodes. Thus the regular Ultimas develop the concept of ethical behavior gradually.

    The goal then for the setting and theme of Ultima Online is to recapitulate this development on an individual basis, permitting players free rein to behave as they prefer--but also to incorporate the notion that has been implied in all the mainstream series: that ethics and governance are essentially the same subject. That what is proper ethical behavior on the part of the individual, i.e. the governance of one's impulses and desires, is also proper behavior for those who seek to govern others. Thus it is that Lord British becomes the exemplar of behavior in Ultima Online, rather than the Avatar, for in the normal course of human events, people do not develop into the sorts of external forces that the Avatar is in the regular series.

    In Ultima Online, the underlying game mechanics do not only reward behavior that considers the good of the many, they demand it. The game's basic principle is that of governance and conservancy. The role of the player seeking to continue the thematic impulse of the Ultima series is therefore that of governance--the process of developing into someone in the game context who seeks to emulate Lord British's goals of equitable governance. The system poses irreconcilable ethical dilemmas just as any ecological system must, and the player will simply have to navigate these as best he can.

    Given these implications, the game mechanics of Ultima Online must include a mechanism to reward players who successfully survive and continue to succeed, by granting them greater powers to govern others. Building castles, etc, is a possibility. Then again, the truest simulation of this may in fact be to simply let those with enough money build and gain power, and let their own natures or roleplayed natures determine their fates (hated tyrants or benign despots or enlighened rulers?). The design issue becomes whether this is an overt enough statement of the thematic underpinnings of the world.

    Fairly lofty stuff for a design document! And of course, it has that assumed notion of players exercising power over one another. In its crudest form, this manifests as playerkilling.

    For the last few decades, the academic world has been paying a lot of attention to the notion of the Other. That is to say, that poorly understood and perhaps incomprehensible being or beings that is not of our own tribe. There is a lot of turgid writing going on analyzing the work of writers who deal with issues of cultural conflict, such as Bharati Mukherjee, or Chinua Achebe. You might have heard of this latter fellow--you may have read his best-known book, Things Fall Apart, in high school.

    Achebe's novel deals with the issues of what happens to an African tribe when its values begin to contact those of Western society, and what sorts of compromises must be made. It's a great read, in part because it crystallizes a sense of loss for the culture which is being overwhelmed and diluted. Yet at the same time that it is a novel about the Other (and in his novel, the Other is us, really--the Western, computer-literate Net-surfing UO-playin' types) it is also a novel that creates a stronger sense of identity for the lost culture than would have otherwise existed.

    This is because, as any visual artist can tell you, if you want something light to stand out, you had better put it against a dark background. And in cultural terms, the Other is the perfect dark background. It is somewhat ironic that in order to convey to readers the African culture which he saw as vanishing, he selected a book title drawn from an Irish modernist poet.

    Which brings us to the Dracul and Kazola's tavern, or the similar events that are occurring in Oasis with the reorganization of the player militia to denfend against organized attacks. (You knew I'd get to UO at some point, right?). What makes us fear the Other is the exercise of power, or the potential for it. Yet what we use as a yardstick for our own identity as a culture is very often our difference from the Other. From the enemy. From what we do not wish to exercise power over us. The last paragraph of the call to arms from the Sonoma Oasis Militia is particularly telling and eloquent in this regard:

    It is the idealistic goal of most citizens of Oasis that one day the city will need few active guards, and the spotlight will rightfully fall on our tavernkeepers, smiths, tinkerers, seekers, innkeepers, chefs, tailors, beggars, alchemists, mages, bards, rogues, librarians, scholars, rangers, miners, assassins, diplomats, and tamers--ALL of whom currently exist in Oasis but are frequently overshadowed by conflicts with those who would attack us. To approach that state, however, we need to continue to surmount substantial challenges...

    Oasis seeks to defend its culture from the Other, and what's more, it is coming together, and becoming a stronger entity because it faces those challenges. Kazola's tavern is famous in UO, not for being a roleplayer's tavern, but rather for being a flickering light of a roleplaying tavern that struggles against the forces of darkness.

    So thank heavens for the Other, and thank heavens for the playerkillers. For without them these places would not have acquired the sense of cultural identity that they now have. Bonds have been formed by struggling against a common Other that would otherwise have been cheaper, and easily earned. Cultures define and refine themselves through conflict. What's more, you can measure the strength of a culture by people's willingness to fight for its survival.

    So we come full circle to the Virtues. Oasis and Kazola's (and the Councils of Virtue, and Rivendell, and the City of Yew and...) are expressing the Virtues. They are just doing it without the training wheels. Unlike the standalone Ultimas, UO is not an open-book quiz.

    The Ultima series was ready to make the leap from leading to allowing players to lead. To go from difficult ethical choices on paper to difficult ethical choices in reality. The question to ask is whether the players it attracted were ready.

    You may each have your own answers for that, but I am optimistic. Right now the fledgling societies within UO are rambunctious, rough, occasionally cruel and callous, sometimes gloriously civilized. But they are indeed the sign of things being born, and of people following the Virtues on their own and not because the game makes them do so.

    How did that poem go? "What rough beast slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" I bet we'll find out together.

    -Designer Dragon


    A Story About A Tree (By Designer Dragon, May 5, 1998)

    I'd like to tell you a story about a tree.

    This tree grows in a different virtual world than Ultima Online--one of the many text muds that exist on the Internet. It grows in a Garden of Remembrance, and the ground around it is littered with flowers and boxes of chocolates and pieces of paper with heartfelt poems written on them. And there is a plaque there as well--"In memory of Karyn," it reads.

    The story I'd like to tell is the story of that plaque and that person, someone I never met.

    Karyn first logged on to that virtual world quite some time ago. She was from Norway. She kept coming back, and brought friends with her--some of whom did not speak English very well, but for whom she served as an interpreter. She made friends. Eventually she ran a website all about that virtual world, and posted on that site pictures of herself, where all could see she had a lovely smile.

    As her ties to the world grew, she started a guild. She called it the Norse Traders, and with a lot of hard work, she got it off the ground and developed it into one of the most popular and well-known guilds in the game. It was a merchants' guild that also adventured together, and pretty soon the folks involved had made good friendships.

    In March of this year, some of those friends started to notice that they hadn't seen Karyn in a while. You know how it goes in the online world--people don't leave, they just fail to show up, usually, and you never know what happened to them. But in this case there was her website to go to. So people went looking for Karyn.

    A day later the news filtered out across the bulletin boards, via emails, and eventually onto the welcome message when you first logged in: Karyn was dead. She had died in a head-on collision while test-driving a new car. And it had happened two months before, in January, and none of us had known.

    Her parents knew that she had friends on the Internet--they didn't quite understand what she did online, or who those friends were, but they knew that there were people out there somewhere who might want to learn the news. It took them some time to find her webpage, and to learn how to put a message up. But they did it, and they attached news items about the car crash, in Norwegian.

    The outpouring of grief on the virtual world was immediate. People who had not logged on in months heard about it from the game's email newsletter. A memorial service was organized. And eventually, a Garden of Remembrance was created, and a tree planted in Karyn's memory. Players made the pilgrimage to the garden in order to leave tokens of their grief. Code was changed so that items left in this manner became permanent parts of the world.

    Throughout all the events, however, there ran a common thread. People could not get a handle on feeling grief for someone they had never actually met. They could not quite understand feeling a deep sense of loss over someone they "just played a game with." When describing their loss, they had to resort to "I once formed a party with her and we went into a dungeon." They couldn't quite express the feeling that a member of their community was gone.

    And it was that sense--the Norse Traders had fallen apart since January, and now they knew why. Because Karyn, the person at the center of it, was not there. In a very real sense, they came to realize that the strange unease they had felt about hearing of her death with a two-month time lag might have originated in the fact that the loss to the community was actually felt when she stopped logging in--not when the news finally came.

    In the end, that garden and that tree served not only as a memorial to a well-loved and much-missed person, but as a marker of a moment, a moment in which the players of an online game realized that they weren't "playing a game." That the social bonds that they felt within this "game" were Real.

    There's a children's book, The Velveteen Rabbit, about a stuffed plush rabbit which desperately wishes to become Real. And in the end, the love of the little boy whose toy it is makes this come true.

    In the end, the social bonds of the people in a virtual environment make it more than just a game. They make it Real. Sometimes it takes a moment of grief to make people realize it, and sometimes people just come to an awareness over time, but the fundamental fact remains: when we make a friend, hurt someone's feelings, suffer a loss, or accomplish something in an online world, it's real. It's not "just a game."

    Ultima Online was designed with a basic philosophy in mind: that we were providing an online world, one that could live and breathe and develop in new and unpredictable ways. We wanted to provide scope for players to develop online communities in a way that no other online world had done. It is amazing and gratifying to see some of the results today: volunteer police forces, roleplayer taverns, small-scale Olympics, and fledgling forms of government. And yes, sadly, a few places where funerals have been held, for in any community of this size, there will be losses.

    The thing that we should never lose sight of is that we, by participating in this new sort of community, are breaking new ground that will undoubtedly prove important over the next decade, as the Internet acquires more significance in business, education, socializing, and other areas outside of gaming. The dilemmas that players of UO wrestle with every day in the form of how reputation should work, what to do about harassment, etc, are the key problems of virtual reality for the next several years. And we are only able to tackle them because you, the citizens of this virtual Britannia, are more than just players--you are a self-aware community that reaches beyond "game" and into the Real.

    I am not going to let anyone tell me that the Garden of Remembrance isn't Real, or that the grief we all felt over Karyn's death was not Real. And I hope that UO players aren't going to let anyone tell them that their experiences within UO aren't Real either, that it's "just a game." It may be for some people, but we all know better, don't we? For Karyn's sake, and also for our own.

    -Designer Dragon


    UO Attitudes (By Fallo, May 3, 1998)

    I just have a few comments I'd like to say about Ultima Online in general. I am doing this off the top of my head. Whenever I set out to do something like this, it often ends up being quite long. I hope this time, it doesn't end up like that.

    Begin Rant

    Well, today, I was in Britannia seeking to fulfill my unquenchable thirst for knowledge. What I found was quite distressing. I had apparently all but forgotten about the demeanor of the typical Britannian. It's odd how most people are quite antisocial and often downright rude in reaction to such a simple gesture as a greeting.

    This is something I had started noticing quite early on in the development of this game, but I had forgotten just how bad the problem was. Quite simply, I am utterly amazed that a game of this quality and calibur is a magnet for some of the most poorly adjusted people, socially speaking. Then again, maybe it's not so amazing. It is people like that who certainly need a fantasy world in which to escape.

    I remember hearing someone mention something about UO. I don't remember who it was, but their point was that the game isn't about OSI. It's about us, the players. Well if that's the case, why does it seem that so many of the players who aren't completely devoid of the social graces seem to blame OSI for the actions of the socially inept group?

    We are quick to call UO a "virtual community" ("virtual" words, like all buzzwords, really annoy me). But we are just as quick to forget that communities are highly complex entities. There is no quick fix, no instant cure or wonder drug, to remedy the highly complex problems that manifest in communities.

    I won't try to compare the notion of action vs. consequence in UO vs. real life, nor will I try to argue how UO service costs might compare to taxes in real life, and what we might expect from "society" as a result of paying them, etc, etc. We all live in different places. Our specific experiences are all different. But it's probably accurate to state that life is perfect for very few of us.

    So my question is, why are many of the otherwise "mature" UO players so quick to blame OSI, as well as practically everyone else under the sun, for the various problems that they experience in UO? How can we expect a new virtual community to develop answers to problems that continue to plague modern communities? Why are these players so quick to throw their hands in the air and "give up" just because they have a "bad UO day"? Isn't giving up in that fashion just as immature as the actions of the various people who seem to be exhibiting in-game antisocial behavior?

    People seem to want UO to be "virtual paradise" (there go the buzzwords again). They want it to be a place where hoards of items are safe, houses are divinely secure, thieves are punished with instant death, and murderers, as well as their families, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and high-school sweethearts are tortured and subjected to a fate worse than death.

    Well, sadly, the world doesn't work that way. Sometimes houses are broken into. People are robbed blind in broad daylight. Some people are evil, even murderers. Others are simply rude. This doesn't mean that as a society, we accept such behavior. But it's a part of life, and we learn to take the steps necessary to deal with our problems.

    In the game, some people enjoy playing good guys. Others enjoy playing bad guys. Some even like playing good guys and bad guys. What's wrong with that? I have played heroes before. I have also played thieves and murderers. I got a kick out of vanquishing evil. I got a kick out of robbing people blind. I even got a kick out of playing a murderous villain. That's what the game is about.

    One word that has surfaces lately in regards to this game is "role play", affectionately known as RP. This is one of the most laughable terms to surface in UO, in terms of the ways in which it is used. It is used to describe characters who have primarily non combat-related skills. It is used to describe players who enjoy playing their characters in towns, particularly the newer, player-created areas. It is used to describe the function of seers as a means to provide more activities for players to engage in. It is even used in a derogatory fashion by some players to describe other players who are incomprehensible to them, in the sense those other players are not constantly walking around swinging their weapons and hurling energy bolts at others. Why do they stop and talk? Why do they wear ringmail?

    It's even become an excuse used by some players to take out their angers and frustrations on other players. What I mean by this is that when characters are killed, it is now fashionable for the players to complain that the "PK's" were not even "RP". I haven't quite figured this one out. To explain what I mean, here are some examples of typical conversations between players and their characters, prior to and during a fictional combat sequence.

    "Hey Fallo, there's an Ettin up there. Let's get him!"
    "Ok. Here, let's cast RA so we're ready."
    "Good idea. There he is!"
    "There's an ogre over there, too. I'll cast energy bolt on it."
    "Damn, the ogre's running away. I'll go chase it."
    "Good. I'm almost done with the Ettin."

    That was an example of some pretty typical conversational material during an encounter. Does that qualify for "RP"? Who knows. The language may not be archaic, but other than that, it's a pretty believable setup, in terms of what people might say. Now look at this one.

    "Hey Fallo, there's someone up there. Let's get him!"
    "Ok. Here, let's cast RA so we're ready."
    "Good idea. There he is!"
    "There's another guy over there, too. I'll cast energy bolt on him."
    "Damn, this guy's trying to recall away. I'll get him."
    "Good. I'm almost done with this one."

    Now, suppose that was another group of people attacking player characters. The language looks quite plausible, still. However, this time, these happen to be people murdering other people. In fact, the people they are murdering could well be citizens in good standing, rather than the hostile creatures that were killed in the first example.

    Many of the PvP encounters I have seen and participated in have progressed much like this one. So, what's the problem? Are murderers supposed to throw down a glove before attacking another human? Are they supposed to engage in some cheesy, side-show dialogue just to be legit? In my understanding, during the medieval era, the roads were quite dangerous. They were full of highway robbers. These people killed and robbed to survive. It seems quite unlikely that they would have issued any formal challenge, warning, or even a peep, to let their victims prepare themselves. I bet they simply rushed their victims, killed as many as they could, grabbed as much loot as they could, and if there were too many victims left, they probably tried to run like hell. Sound familiar?

    In the context of UO, if these supposed "RP" "PK's" went around (the cheesy, side-show dialogue type), how many of us "RP" victims would stand around and wait for the challenge? I bet we'd be reaching for our recall stones!

    When our characters die for anything, it is annoying. It is like this, because we have goals for our characters. Setbacks mean that the time we had hoped to spend moving forward with our character development must be spent regaining what we once had. But isn't that development too? We seem to be so attached to "stuff". If we are truly role-players, why can't we separate our characters' desire to maintain their status and belongings from our own desire to simply portray the characters, for better or for worse, and have a good time doing so?

    One thing I must stress there is "for better or for worse". Nobody's life is perfect. We go through good times and bad times. Why is it no longer fun to portray a character who is currently going through bad times? We can draw off of our experiences playing our characters. Why can't we draw off of the lessons learned during bad times?

    Perhaps most troubling to us is not merely being killed or set back. It is when we are beaten by another player that brings out the worst in us. This is another phenomenon that is puzzling. I admit that through all the experiences I've had playing UO, never before has my heart raced while playing this game as it has when I've been involved in PvP combat. I think the whole idea of "losing" to another player is so terrifying to some people that they don't even wish to consider "competing" with another player for fear of losing.

    The only area where there is some room for argument over the behavior of others is in the sense of online "abuse". Yet, this idea seems quite strange to me. Why do we have to let ourselves be bothered by other players? We can leave the area. If we don't wish to leave, we can ignore them. If ignoring their spam is too difficult, we can put them in our ignore list. We can attack and kill them if we wish, albeit with potential in-game consequences.

    We've all heard about various incidents where foul crimes have been threatened, including rape. While rape is one of the most deplorable crimes known to man, we really don't have too much to worry about in UO. The dev team didn't design the interface in such a way as to make that action possible. The same anonymity that "protects" the instigators also protects the would-be victims. They don't know who we are, nor can they truly hurt us. The only other issue is the actual language that's being used. Well, there is a speech filter provided if we don't wish to be exposed to certain words. In any case, the game box clearly warns of the mature nature of the in-game content and the recommended minimum age of the players.

    So, my recommendation is let's each try to do as much as we can to make the game better for us before we complain about what everyone else is and isn't doing to make the game better.

    Oddly enough, I sincerely believe that we do this because of the visibility of the UO staff. What other games have real-time, online, official customer support personnel, as well as player volunteers, ready to assist players whenever they have trouble? How many games have lead designers as well as staff who are willing to spend a considerable portion of their personal time interacting with players on a personal level in the game, on the message boards, and during live internet chats?

    I have a strong feeling that if this were not the case with UO, our often harsh criticisms would not be so directly and personally aimed at these individuals. Funny how the more visible members of the UO dev team are known to provide public support for various fan-based internet sites, yet the proprietors of these same sites aren't even willing to give them the benefit of the doubt when they have in-game troubles. Instead, they use their newly established forums to make personal attacks against these people. Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?

    We hear so much negativity about the game. It always seems that the people with the loudest voices are the most disgruntled. Many of these people seem to be disgruntled with life in general and aim their steam right at whatever is occupying their attention. Interesting how a game can occupy people's attention for so long, yet they complain about it the whole time. Funny how people sue a company for making a game when they continue to play it. If it's a game it's supposed to be fun. If it isn't fun, don't play. End of story.

    So with that, I have a challenge. I challenge each person reading this to send in an email of support to OSI. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, or anything long. In truth, you might not even get a reply back, because support is no doubt swamped with many people who are complaining. But if you play the game and have fun, why not give them some words of encouragement to let them know that there are some people out there who actually support what they are doing and have the guts to publicly admit it. Sure, UO isn't perfect, nothing is. But it's a game, and it's damned fun. Who knows, maybe these letters of support can be used as testimonials in the lawsuit, so that the various litigious players can't make the argument that everyone feels as they do.

    End Rant

    Ok, so I see the "not long" thing went right out the door. But still, I wanted to say that. My main concern is that we spend too much time being critical of the UO dev and customer service teams for their efforts and not enough time applauding the tremendous work they've done.



    On Notoriety in Ultima Online, or "y r u das?" (By Fallo, Dec 21, 1997)

    I have been the gamut of notorieties in UO, from neutral to dread lord, up to lord. I have never made it past lord for a good reason that I will mention briefly. My experience with the notoriety system in its current form has been everything from frustrating to amusing, and it has given me some insight into the human condition (or at least confirmation of my worst fears). This is a bit of a rant (and a ramble, I admit), but I would like to first share some of my experiences with the system in its current form to justify my opinions. Afterwards, I make a few suggestions as to possible modifications to the system to make it provide the type of feedback that it was probably intended to provide, not to mention the type that many players feel would be helpful. I warn readers: this one isn't for the faint of heart. It is rather lengthy, and resembles a dissertation more than a commentary, but if you have real concerns about the notoriety system, there is some information here that I believe could be of real benefit.

    Some time ago, an unfortunate mistake, in which I middle-clicked a scroll, caused me to go instantly from neutral to dread lord. My middle-mouse button was mapped to left double-click. The scroll that I was trying to ID happened to be an earthquake scroll, and I was standing at the bank in Britain, which is perhaps the most densely populated place in the Britannia. At that moment, I was forced to change the entire focus of my gameplay. As I could no longer go into towns, I had to rely on friends to acquire for me the necessities of survival, which were a fishing pole and a dagger, used to provide the wandering healer community with the highly- prized fish steaks. This was a minor setback, as it took a few days to get to the point where I was no longer killed on sight. However, I was treated to an interesting side of my fellow Britannians. People gleefully attacked and killed me, called me a pk (and worse), and were absolutely set against believing any part of my story. There I was, a mage without reagents, equipped with nothing but a fighing pole and a death robe (still white) and yet they got a great deal of satisfaction out of killing me, citing that they were avenging their deaths, or their friends' deaths at the hands of my pk friends. The sad truth of the matter was that they were bitter; bent on finding an outlet for their frustration and a scapegoat toward which to direct their animosity. They were satisfied to kill a person who couldn't fight back, one who had never done them any harm. One who they had never even met. And yet, they claimed that they did it all in the name of honor and goodness. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that most people would consider their actions to be the actions of cowards, who are without honor and don't know the meaning of the word 'good'. Strange that the notoriety system in UO would put them one step closer toward heroism for their actions.

    I remember one day I was taking a stroll through Britain, as I often do, enjoying the sights. I noticed an interesting conversation between a few people that dealt with trust. I don't remember exactly what was being discussed, but for the sake of argument, I will say that one party was trying to sell a horse to another party. The selling party didn't want to transfer the beast without first getting the money, yet the buyer wasn't willing to simply hand over the money without first getting some type of assurance. The seller was trying to explain that she was absolutely trustworthy, because her paper doll noted the fact that she was a great lady. When the buyer inquired what that particular fact had to do with the matter at hand, she responded that it meant she not only HAD not done wrong, but somehow COULD not do wrong. And it was for that reason that the buyer could put his complete trust in her. Trust is something that cannot be demanded, but is built up over time and spread by word of mouth. And in any case, it is certainly NOT something that can properly be accounted for by a byte-sized counter.

    My sister was living overseas for a time. I heard she had an interesting job, and I could not help but succumb to the urge to ask her the usual barrage of questions, including "What is work like?". She would explain to me that it was interesting, but she was on vacation and didn't want to talk about it. I never thought about it from her perspective. This is a phenomenon that anyone who has ever had a broken leg and used crutches can relate to. After a time, it becomes burdensome to explain the same story over and over again. Lately in UO, my character has been dishonorable. People think that because of my 'label', I have to submit myself to the eternal (and infernal) question "y r u dis?". And it is like a pop-quiz. If I answer wrong, I will have to 'suffer the consequences'. They never stop and realize that if I had intended to them harm, I would have been the one to initiate the attack. All people usually get for their efforts is a chance to give me a few more reagents, or some extra weapons to add to my vendor. Once, recently, I was attacked by someone who yelled "wait!" when he realized he was getting the sh*t kicked out of him. I was so shocked by it, that I actually did hesitate and give him a chance to run into guard range. His reasoning for asking me to wait was that he never would have attacked me, had he known it would have turned out so grim.

    I have even heard people discuss, right in front of me, whether or not it would be worth teaming up on me, because I am "gray" and may have some good loot. These facts lead me to ask the question "What is the purpose of the notoriety system?" If it is to give an indication of a person's behavior, in terms of its sociality or anti-sociality, we all know that in truth it has failed miserably. It has failed to provide a deterrent or a punishment for anti-social behavior. UO has a lot of strengths, but it also has weaknesses and this is one of them. One of my biggest problems with UO is that it is highly systematic. Oddly enough, I believe that this was a design goal from the start. It was hoped that this would make it more of a real- life simulation. But instead, it has opened the way for numerous exploits. What is a great lord anyway? Well it depends. Now a days, it is most likely someone who wants one of those "shields". But what does it say about a character deep down inside? That they had the patience to give something to an npc once per 15 minutes? That when that method no longer was effective, instead of giving, they killed a scorpion or completed one of those funny npc quests (Nay, I will not simply give thee a wheel of cheese unless thou dost as I asketh!). My favorite is when people generously "offer" to kill off evil people they see on the road, so that it may help their own notoriety.

    One thing that people are too quick to do is criticize. It is easy to judge, but much more difficult to provide *constructive* criticism. Many people have simply said outright that the notoriety system stinks and therefore should be eliminated. However, there is a reason for its implementation, and up until recently, I have been all for keeping it and perhaps reworking it. However, lately, I have been thinking about good vs evil in Britannia. PKs gather in their guilds and kill any and all trespassers, good or evil, newbie or otherwise. PK hunters gather in towns and go out on expeditions. In these cases, they know who the pks are. They go after people who don't simply have bad notorieties, but who are known killers. In the past, I have focused on good characters, but lately, I have been experimenting with some shady types. It does not fall within my usual mindset, but a role-playing game is an excellent forum in which to experiment with different types of characters, in fact that is the goal of most such games. When I play my thief character, EVERYONE who hangs out in the area where I play him knows that he is a thief. The point is, there is a type of 'virtual' fame (man, I hate buzz words) that has evolved in UO. Notoriety system notwithstanding, people *know* who the notorious pks are. Whether they are dread lords or great lords (through exploitation or otherwise) people still know. They know who the thieves are. They know which guilds represent 'good' and which represent 'evil'. This virtual fame is *real* and works in the game, unlike the notoriety system which does *not* work and was likely implemented for fear that such a virtual system of fame and notoriety would not develop amonst the players and characters. If someone attacks a friend, why am I discouraged to help the friend fight back? Today I went from dishonorable to evil lord for it. I don't mind the notoriety itself, it is easy to get back, but is that the point? When I play, I want to play. It takes too much effort to get high in notoriety, which is why I have never made it past lord.

    The urge is often to *fix* issues such as this. In fact, the word patch nicely describes the situation. When something is wrong, put a bandage on it. Yes, we all know UO is highly complex, but how often have we seen a smallish update take 2 or more patches to get just right? Sometimes it seems that changes are made quickly, with little regard for the possible side- effects. At this point, it seems the notoriety system is a jumbled collage of ideas, some good and some bad, rules, some known others, not so well, and side-effects. There is no single source of accurate information as to what actions will impact notoriety. The criminal flag is a perfect example. I remeber the patch update that hailed the new criminal flag. I thought when you got a message saying a thief robbed you, it was ok to attack back. Doing so harshly lowered my notoriety. I received all sorts of information from various GMs, everything from "yeah it *should* have been ok" to the very cryptic "no flag, lower noto" from a GM who swore that there was no such thing as the criminal flag. Sometimes you have to know when it is time to let go of an idea. I honestly think the notoriety concept is about ready for that.

    Suggestions for improvements in the notoriety system

    Of course, it is likely that eliminating the system would be considered 'drastic'. That being the case, I have considered other ways in which the problem could be resolved. The UO world is very harsh, much more so than our own. There is almost no law whatsoever, and the only crimes that exist are all equally punishable (by death). No questions, no trial to prove or disprove guilt or innocence. And nothing is forever, not skills, stats, items, not even death itself. One thing that has struck me as being odd is the speed with which everything takes place. Given the proper amount of money, a person can go from little magic skill to great competency or even grandmaster status in a very short amount of time. The same can be said for most skills, in that there is a way to raise them very quicky. The workarounds for this include caps, usage delays, atrophy, etc. This is what I mean when I say the game is 'systematic'. The fact that people can setup macros to train overnight and wake up to an appreciable gain in skills is a little disturbing. The same can be said for notoriety. Changes simply should not happen quickly. I take issue with the whole idea that you can become infamous quickly, but that it takes a long time to become famous. I don't know the average Joe Thief of my real world neighborhood, or even the suspected or accused murderers. Certain people have committed crimes most heinous that have quickly gained them infamy. However, most infamous people take a long time to become so, and most evil people, like everyone else, are completely unknown. The same is true for people who are famous in a good way. Some people perform extraordinary acts and quickly gain great fame. An example of this would be a bold warrior who slew a band of orcs marauding a town. Such a person may come home to a hero's welcome, a town parade, a great feast, and the keys to the city. But for the most part, it takes a long time to gain fame. For these reasons, I think it is wise to permit only small changes in notoriety in any direction over any small period of time.

    There is something peculiar about the way attacking and killing is dealt with. The notion that killing evil is necessary to rise, but simply attacking good is enough to fall is odd. On Earth, attacking someone is considered a crime, but murder is considered one of the worst types of criminal act. To suggest that attacking someone makes you more infamous but the act of doing them in is a mere technicality seems absurd. At least on Earth, giving a few coins to beggars (often, even) is simply not enough to gain any noticeable fame. All it is likely to get you is some regular customers :). At the same time, murdering even a mass murderer is still murder and is likely to get you the punishment that a murderer deserves, not the fame that would be yours in the world of UO. But giving is another 'systematic' way to raise notoriety. It is only used to get one step closer to an order or chaos shield, shop discounts, and to fix bad notoriety. Players never give to npcs because they want to 'help' them. If player killing is what we are worried about, why not allow a means to track it? Why put that in the same formula with the monster kills, and npc giving, quests, and escorts? Having something that gives players an idea of each others' player killing activity would provide that gradually changing indication of a players anti-social behavior that many of us are looking for. It wouldn't necessarily tell whether they are good or evil or who they have killed, but it would at least give players an option to associate with player vs player (pvp) people or give them warning and a chance to escape pvp types if they are not interested in that kind of activity. And it would also limit the heartache and utter frustration that people have for mistargeting a spell, or, in the heat of battle, double-clicking the wrong person. Such a mistake, in its most extreme form (meaning resulting in death) may affect a person's pvp status, but would no longer make them an instant target for the many notoriety killers out there. Such a system could be made to fit in nicely with the bounty hunting system. Perhaps players who get killed could only flag the killer if the killer has significantly more pvp kills. This would discourage players who kill other players from attacking those who are not interested in pvp. Players with bounties on their heads should never have the option of flagging their killer, to provide protection for those who want to go bounty hunting. Other actions, such as stealing, could also provide the victim an opportunity to fight back without fear of having their bounty flag increased. It would still make sense to modify their pvp status, since it shows a character's preferred course of action (fly off the handle, instead of walk away). And then leave all the other actions, the stealing, monster hunting, giving, etc, in the old-style notoriety system to allow for things like npc discounts and virtue guard status. One thing this would also allow would be to require virtue guards to be people who have engaged in significant pvp activity. This would avoid the all too popular "fashion" guards that we see walking around, sporting their shiny, new shields, surprised and even confused when someone of the opposite group makes a challenge to the death.

    One set of quirks that hopefully will also be examined has to do with the number of attacks. The game 'knows' when two people are fighting. Often, when sparring friends, there is one attack. People can move away, heal, and walk back to each other and continue fighting. Same with spells. People can cast spells, then approach each other and automatically go into melee. This being the case, why does it seem that each successive instance of spellcasting lowers notoriety, even when the parties involved are already considered to be fighting? This leads to another point. Sparring should in no way impact notoriety! If sparring is considered exploitive, it is only because of the rate at which gains in skills are made. This is a design issue and not a problem with players' mentality! Sparring is a natural tool to increase combat readiness. Of course, neither of these problems would have analogs in the pvp system suggested above.

    Well, if you have read this far, all I can say is "wow!". But seriously, it is my hope that these issues can in some way be dealt with and that the concept of notoriety, fame, and infamy in UO can be resolved in such a way as to enrich the players' enjoyment of the game, and not merely provide hindrances to their success. Perhaps, one day, players will be able to defend themselves and their friends and protect themselves from thieves and those who would do them harm without having to ask, "but will it hurt my notoriety?"




    = Ed T. Toton III / NecroBones Enterprises / Contact
    (Copyright 1997, All Rights Reserved)