|This is Bones' Editorials section, in which articles written by my friends and associates may be placed.|
PvP versus Non-PvP (August 4, 1998)|
This is actually an e-mail that was sent to me, so I'm quoting it here in its entirety. I'd be curious to see how some of these ideas will work out in other games. I can certainly see the pros and cons of both sides of the argument... So anyway, here it is:
Hiya Bones :)
The Man Behind the Curtain (By Designer Dragon, May 11, 1998)|
Ask any old Usenet hand: things have gotten worse. There's more people. And they are ruder. They are cruder. They flame more. The signal-to-noise level has been falling for years now. And it's all your fault.
"Yours," that is, assuming that (as is statistically likely), you're not one of the old Usenet hands yourself. Chances are you aren't--the explosive growth of the Internet has meant a shattering of the old sense of community that used to exist. Once upon a time, the Internet was the playground of the few who had the technological savvy to reach it, the fortune to be somewhere that offered access, and the knowledge of its mere existence. In other words, an audience that was extremely selective: generally highly educated, and working in either academic or high tech fields.
These days of course, these folks are feeling very much pushed out of their old playground. Now that the cat is out of the bag, the Internet is forever changed. Many of them are looking forward to Internet 2 as a salvation, but the fact is that the sense of small, insular, familiar community that those people knew is forever gone, simply because people will know about Internet 2. Cyberspace is no longer a well-kept secret. And that means really fundamental changes in how the Internet community evolves.
Back when Robert Heinlein wrote today's opening quotation in Take Back Your Government!, his manual on practical politicking, he probably had no idea that someday they would be quoted in a discussion of virtual communities. On the other hand, he probably would have been tickled to see the book used thus. Old hands in cyberspace have been quoting Heinlein for a long time; his libertarian politics found a friendly reception among the well-read science-fiction readers who populated the early Internet, and it's not uncommon to see quotations from his writings as Unix messages of the day or the like.
The thing that led to the frustration many old-time Net hands had with the arrival of the mass-market Internet is exactly what Heinlein is describing: the personal touch. In general, human beings tend to react better to personal contact than to impersonal interactions. We'd rather talk to a real person over the phone than to a machine. We'd rather get a personal letter than a form letter, and failing that, we'd prefer a form letter that at least pretended to know who we are. And when we are not known, we are psychologically disinhibited, and act out more freely. To maintain tight community, everyone must be known.
This, of course, flies in the face of the inevitable anonymity that the Internet provides. Distrust is therefore rampant. And it creates a real problem for the administrators of a virtual community as well, because they are in a position worse than "might as well be a movie," as Heinlein puts it. You see, they are supernaturally powerful. And if there's something that we tend to fear and distrust more than someone we don't know, it's someone we don't know who has power over us.
This dilemma isn't going to go away ever; when it boils right down to it, we're always going to have someone out there who has the power to turn our virtual world (which we may well have come to value deeply) off. And that's assuming that no in-game administration is required. But of course, it is.
But it does mean that the in-game admin faces a bizarre problem. He is exercising power that the ordinary virtual citizen cannot. And he is looked to in many ways to provide a certain atmosphere and level of civility in the environment. Yet the fact remains that no matter how scrupulously honest he is, no matter how just he shows himself to be, no matter how committed to the welfare of the virtual space he may prove himself, people will hate his guts. They will mistrust him precisely because he has power, and they can never know him. There will be false accusations galore, many insinuations of nefarious motives, and former friends will turn against him. It may be that the old saying about power and absolute power is just too ingrained in the psyche of most people; whatever the reasons, there has never been an online game whose admins could say with a straight face that all their players really trusted them (and by the way, it gets worse once you take money!).
There isn't very much that can be done about this, particularly as your virtual world grows. Many a mud has found that the feelings of intimacy and of trust faded as the playerbase grew, just as those early Netters found their once-civil newsgroups devolving into endless flamewars. But it does mean that admins must at some point relinquish the role that they once held among the playerbase. When the game is small, they are able to talk one-on-one, soothe hurt feelings, resolve problems using personal judgement, and adjudicate delicate issues such as one player's accusation of cheating against another. But as all large companies know, as government knows, and as online worlds are coming to learn: the bigger you get, the harder it is to know your audience that well, and the less trust they will give you. And the problem becomes exponentially worse over time. The only solution is to not put your admins in the position of judging unverifiable facts, or else they will abdicate all pretense of fairness. They will, in fact, be acting unfairly, because there is no way of knowing the circumstances.
What does this have to do with practical matters? Well, let us consider this list of possible actions that a Killer might take against another player in UO if it had no combat system at all, or did not allow player versus player combat.
They could kill the victim's pet. They could kill the victim's intended target mere seconds before the victim gets to. They could steal all the loot off of the corpse of the victim's target before the victim gets to. They could release a tame dragon near the victim. They could stand in front of the victim's desired destination, blocking access. They could do all of this without even saying a word, so that the issue of verbal harassment never arises.
You see, it is axiomatic that as your virtual world becomes more malleable and more versatile, that players will find more and more ways to, well, screw each other over. What's more, there are thousands of them for every one of you. You will not be able to keep up with their ingenuity. (A designer should never underestimate the amazing ability of players to come up with new means to do each other harm). UO happens to have features that because of their newness and uniqueness, open up more ways for players to do harm to one another via indirect means. And as virtual worlds develop, matters will only grow worse--consider the day when you get the ability to dig trenches
In a world without any playerkilling, you as the victim actually have no recourse whatsoever except an admin. Who is someone you don't trust, cannot know if you made up the situation (consider how most of the above actions are extremely difficult to detect via automated means), and who is going to have to take one person's word over the other.
This is not a situation in which admins are likely to become more trusted. And it effectively renders admins useless as judges of human behavior as the game grows.
Growth is never an easy thing to cope with. And the new breed of virtual spaces are facing issues with scale that are new, and often new solutions are required. In yesterday's essay I spoke of the traditional administrative model for a virtual space as essentially peternalistic; this isn't meant to serve as an insult against those who inhabit the space, but rather to describe a system whereby groups are essentially governed via the charismatic personal contact of an authority figure. Just as in the real world, this system falls apart once larger bodies of people need to be governed or administered or taken care of. There is a reason why we evolved away from a tribal structure in the real world as our cultures grew; the same will--and must, really--happen in virtual spaces like Ultima Online.
At the last player lunch, a fellow told me that he was fascinated by how UO had recapitulated European history from 800AD to 1200AD in six months of existence. He commented on the parallels between marauding bandit gangs, the enclaves of feudal systems building secure spaces and leaving the wilderness to the less civilized people, the eventual overcrowding as villages covered the available building space. He also shrewdly guessed the character of our next set of changes based on historical precedent: house ownership and limits.
We, as humans, have been here before, over and over and over again. Just as the Internet grew and Usenet habitues no longer knew every poster; just as tribal leadership gave way to more organized and (yes) less personal forms of government; and just as Heinlein's book on politics is now sadly dated (when was the last time a precinct worker rang your doorbell?), virtual worlds are now getting large enough that older solutions to administration no longer function. The importance of personal contact has not diminished in the least; but the difficulty of providing it has grown, and will continue to do so. Many of the choices made in UO regarding playerkilling toggles, safe worlds, and the like were made in light of this fact.
This doesn't mean, of course, that players cannot start ringing doorbells themselves. As the overall administration grows more distant, the local one becomes more important. And, in many ways, more powerful, as it understands its local circumstances and may obtain the power to modify its local laws. This was the point of Heinlein's book--that politics that matter are actually at the local level, and this is where you can make a difference. You do not expect your nation's leader to fix your streets or solve the local bank robbery--that is what the City Council is for. And in UO we are embarking on the experiment of exactly that: providing local empowerment to the playerbase. Perhaps Enshu Ponfar's City of Yew does not see itself as a symptom of the sweep of history--but by these lights, it is.
In the end, it boils down to the fact that the best government is the one that you can trust, which will be the one you know personally: the people close to you in your virtual community, who are held accountable precisely because of community ties. Your best government is going to be each other, because the man behind the curtain isn't going to know you any more than you know him. Consider what Heinlein said:
An adult is a person who no longer depends on his parents. By the same token a person who refers to or thinks of the government as "They" is not yet grown up...
There have been many skeptics on Usenet about these essays; Heinlein also says, "Don't argue with a hard case." But for those now posting about townstone systems and methods for player militias to jail offenders and the like--hang in there. If we keep recapitulating European history at this rate, we'll be at the Magna Charta soon--and won't that be interesting!
In the meantime, consider a quotation by a different author, Heinlein's longtime colleague in science-fiction, Isaac Asimov. It may as well apply to playerkillers, who are as we've discussed those who "don't get it," those who fail to see it as Real. "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." And who else are playerkillers but those who are socially incompetent in this new virtual community?
A Community Cookbook, or How to Make Your Guild/Town/Roleplay Group/Tavern Stronger
(By Designer Dragon, May 8, 1998)|
In all the talk of what a virtual world administrator or designer can do or cannot do in terms of setting the tone and enforcing etiquette within a virtual community, we've sort of left behind the community itself. So today, let's talk about things that you, your friends, your township, your roleplay buddies, or your guild can do in order to be become a stronger (and more fun!) virtual world community.
The first thing if of course communication. If your guild doesn't already have a web page, a bulletin board, and an email newsletter or mailing list, you are missing out on the most important factor in building community ties. A very good tactic is to choose the person who is always first with the gossip and put them in charge of running the newsletter. The great advantage to a newsletter or email list is that it isn't passive--it seeks out the community member and it draws them in.
Make a point of showcasing the contributions of members in whatever forum you have, be it web page or newsletter or in your in-game tavern. If you have a regular who is a good roleplayer, encourage them to put their stories in in-game books you keep laying around the tavern. If you have someone artistic, try to get a new character portrait on your township's web page every week. Song lyric recitals in the taverns or in the town square can be great events and you can also make them competitive, if you wish. Until such a day as UO supports compising music and drawing pictures within the game (which is indeed a design goal), you'll have to do this externally, but you can still provide pointers to web pages from in-game books and house signs.
If you're maintaining a web page, it's a great idea to build up more than just a roster. A roster in itself does not present your group to others very well. A roster wih character histories--be they RP histories or not--will create a shared history for the group, and help newcomers get into the context of the community. If you want to foster this, try giving out awards within your group for the best profile or best addition to the "group history" that week. So much of the great roleplay in UO is told only in ephemeral media such as the web boards, when it really needs to be building up and enriching the context of the world. (Hey you guys over on the Crossroads of Britannia Tales board--do you make a point of making an in-game version of each of your poems and stories?)
And of course, once there is a stronger sense of a group to belong to, some form of "tribal marker" helps a great deal. UO guilds picked up on this very early, with color-coordinated outfits. Now the guild system supports displaying guild abbreviations over the name as well. Make use of both of these as much as you can--even if it is just a single spot of color on one small piece of clothing--because they serve as instant identification of friends and foes alike. If you wish to go further, create ritual greetings, passwords, etc, the equivalent to "secret handshakes."
You definitely need to have functions of leadership within the group. But as UO groups differ significantly in organization and in type, I can't really describe too many specifics. One of the great joys of UO is seeing the different social structures that have developed. Whatever structure you end up with, however, it is important to somehow mark out the people who have leadership roles. The guild system allows for the use of titles, of course, but for those groups not suited to guilds, perhaps an item of clothing that only that one person usually wears could serve as an identifier. A great way to discover leadership potential is to ask people to help with the recruitment and mentoring of new members.
It's really important for your group to have a mission statement, a code of conduct, a reason for being, and a method for resolving conflicts. A lot of guilds fall apart because of unclear chains of command, differences over the core philosophy of the guild, and other such problems which can usually be avoied with a strong leadership structure and a strong group identity. You do however also need to make sure that your structure can evolve. Provide mechanisms for your members to change the rules.
Something that is extremely valuable, as those who run Fight Nights know, is periodic events. If you have a guild that plays regularly, or a tavern that is open every night, and you're not doing something like this, you are missing out on a great opportunity. Some of the perfect things to do:
Alongside this, rituals are very important. UO guilds have come up with some really great initiaion rituals in the past (staged lighting of candles in order in a dark room, inspection of uniforms, ritual speeches...). But there can be many more forums than just that. Consider the Beefeater rituals at the Tower of London, with keys presented at a certain time and so on. There are things like that that can be done for townships, and so on. Be sure to have a ritual to confirm the new mayoralty once an election is over! And if you are able to this far, try having crafting guild initiations in your town when a community member reaches some skill mastery goal that they had been working towards.
A very important ritual if of course holidays. Celebrate them! Don't feel that you should be limited to only the real world ones, either. There are some holidays defined in UO that show up as events on the calendar. But you are not limited to observing only those.
Nor should you, even if you are diehard roleplayers, only acknowledge in-game events. A birthday is an opportunity for a rite of passage too--throw a party when someone's player gets married, has an anniversary, or has a birthday. Give in-game gifts as well as your best wishes out-of-game. Any roleplayer worth his salt can come up with a fictional reason that can coincide with the real world date.
These are just some ideas for ways to make your particular group stronger. As your group, guild, town, tavern, or whatever grows, be sure to publicize its existence, and send in your events and major news to the news sites and to the official Events Calendar. The strength of virtual worlds lies in the interaction, and people need to know about you to interact with you in any meaningful way. Start up webrings of like-minded sites, and if you can, offer to host character pages for group members. And form ties with other groups both on your shard and elsewhere, as you may be able to share ideas and resources.
It takes some work, but you'll find that the ties you form are very real, and that the fun factor goes way, way up. Enjoy.