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The Curious Case Of The Poorly Behaved Professor

When someone talks smack to you in a PvP match, you might ragequit out of the game, or call your guildmates in for retribution, or make furious posts on your server message board, or something similarly dramatic.

When a “new media professor” gets talked smack to, he contacts the media.

The study’s results dismayed Myers, who in 1984 became one of the first university-level professors to study video games. He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream.

Myers’ ‘straying from the mainstream’ involves using a seldom-used power called “Teleport Foe” in PvP by warping enemy players within range of insta-kill guards near his own side’s base. Note: this is a fairly standard design problem – the power probably should be disabled within a given range of said insta-kill guards to guard against this sort of griefing. In short, Myers was exploiting a poorly designed PvP mechanic (in a consensual PvP zone, mind you) and attracting the ire of PvPers for so doing, thus attracting the sort of rhetoric you’d expect – if you manually switched the game from its default preference of not being able to communicate with players on the other side.

So – let’s see if we have all of this straight:

  • He entered a PvP zone
  • He figured out a flaw in the game’s mechanics and how to use it to his own advantage
  • He manually activated the ability to receive tells from other players
  • ???
  • HIS HUMAN RIGHTS WERE VIOLATED

Game community leaders only intensified their efforts as Twixt became more entrenched. They turned to out-of-game venues such as message boards to punish him.

When Myers took a break from the virtual world and went on vacation for a couple of weeks with his wife and daughters, players noticed his absence. One player started a discussion thread that claimed Myers had been banned from the game because he had called a fellow player a “n—-r.”

Another posting claimed Twixt was a convicted pedophile.

Then members of those boards, in another threatening tactic, launched campaigns to discover and publish Myers’ real identity and address.

Myers reported the abuse to officials at NCSoft, the game’s publisher and moderating entity. They acted appropriately, he felt. Players delivering extreme messages tended to do so just once, and Myers assumed it was because the company punished them. Company officials didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“But the abuse was so widespread they couldn’t completely stop it,” Myers said. The company, he noted, had no right to police out-of-game forums.

The link in the story, to Myers’ blog, leads to the following cathartic cry:

While some might find heroic potential in their online play, I must confess, here at the end of my CoH/V journey, I do not. I find rather something closer to despair that the individual must eventually, inevitably, be forced to succumb to the great momentum of the zerg, the irresistible press of the mass. We may call that mass and that zerg consumers, or players, or simply people, but each of those in aggregate I now see as primarily and most fundamentally an important and perhaps insurmountable threat to individual freedom, creativity, and hope.

OH. THE. HUMANITY.

Oh, the lies.

The article makes it sound like “magically transporting other players to a robot firing squad” takes some kind of skill. It does not- even a non-PVP player like me could sit around and do that all day if I wanted to be as scorned as Twixt. In the game it is generally considered cowardly since there is not any actual fight or skill involved. Yes, it is technically within the “rules” but is not considered sportsmanlike or honorable. If what this article claims is true, it wasn’t Twixt’s “skill” that kept him alive, it was his ability to hide behind the robotic skirts of the zone drones.

His “experiment” seems to be to test the hypothesis that if you behave like a jerk in a video game, people will treat you like a jerk. Shocking, groundbreaking work there. GG Prof. Myers.

He was abusive to other players, and as was stated above, using Teleport Foe to port enemies in front of the zone drones (who make sure that the exits are “safe” for players still loading said zone.) He might have noticed that the game didn’t give him any credit for those “kills.”

Also, he had a tendency to “kill-steal,” that is, waiting for other people to get an enemy down to very few hit points, then porting said enemy away from the people fighting it, an into the drone’s range.

Neither of these methods is very fair. Sure, it’s *legal* to take credit for your coworker’s accomplishments, but is it ethical? No.

All he did was prove that if you act like a jerk, people will always treat you like one.

I’m actually a CoH player who PvPed both with and against Twixt (I am not any of the players named, and my verbal interactions with Twixt were quite limited). I’d like to clear up a few things that seem to be missing. Note that I am, in no way, discounting the seriousness of death threats, but maybe a little more understanding of what really took place will allow people to relate better to the frustration.

1) Twixt’s actions in PvP translated to an investment of time. By teleporting (the action described) villains into a row of firing squad computer-generated enemies, he would give the other character debt. This debt would impede the character’s ability to gain experience by cutting it in half for a certain period of time. Thus, anyone who suffered from what Twixt did would pay for it by having their progress cut in half the next time they got the opportunity to play. A full portion of debt could take upwards of 3 hours of nonstop play to be worked off.

Imagine you go play miniature golf. Directly in front of you is a group of 10 children who have no idea what they’re doing. You are unable to skip past them, and as is allowed, they refuse to let you pass. Due to this inconvenience, you only get to play 9 holes (or 4, if you’re only on a 9-hole course). Would you be frustrated? I sure would be. They didn’t break the rules, but they hurt the fun of my outing by specifically robbing me of the time that I had dedicated to accomplishing my goal. It’s not much different than traffic, bowling balls getting stuck in the lanes, people talking during a movie, or any other issue that would rob an individual of their free time. The individuals causing your frustration may not be breaking the rules, but they are affecting your enjoyment.

2) Twixt’s account of what took place in the PvP zones he visited just plain isn’t accurate.

People did chat because many of the players had played together prior to the release of City of Villains (CoH was released in May of 2004 while CoV in October of 2006). Most of us already knew each other. However, that didn’t result in a lack of fighting. Many times, Twixt would simply teleport people from battles already in place to his computer-generated death squads. He’s presenting the situation as if he was the only one using the zones correctly when, in actuality, he was just the only one manipulating loopholes to allow him to generally be mean to other players. That’s the biggest reason why he was despised.

3) Twixt commonly made fun of players he killed.

He did not simply say random hero-supporting things, he oftentimes bragged openly after using his computer-generated helpers to kill someone. Like any other competitive situation, bragging and talking trash will earn people talking back and becoming more upset. He worked to goad individuals into becoming angrier at what he did.

He mentions the forums as a place where people speculated about parts of his life, but he seems to have left out where he posted kill-logs from his time spent in PvP zones. He posted quite frequently on those boards, and he went out of his way to fuel the hate that developed for him. Professional athletes who do such a thing are widely derided by the media and fans. Twixt worked hard to generate hate, he was not simply an innocent victim.

4) Twixt died. A lot.

Twixt perfected his method of generating debt for other players by dying a whole lot along the way. Statements like, “But no one could stay alive long enough to defeat Twixt…” completely misrepresent what happened.

5) Twixt’s research plays a role by examining another realm of society, but his results are predictable.

It’s not surprising that people get upset when you’re mean to them without reason. On an unmarked curb, it’s legal for me to park 5 feet away from the cars in front of and behind me, but it’s simply rude to do so. If I did so directly in front of hundreds of different people who were looking for a parking spot, it’s not unreasonable to think that these individuals would be angry with me. I would say that’s completely predictable. It’s also not unheard of for such individuals to threaten others in such a situation. The fact that the anonymity of the internet allows such hotheads to go more extreme with their threats shouldn’t exactly come as a shock to anyone either. Thus, while I think research into the societies of online communities can be interesting, I don’t think Twixt’s can be classified as such.

It’s a shame that Twixt is the face of the CoH PvP and gaming community. He presents a very one-sided tale that some folks, such as the writer of this article, have apparently bought into entirely. A whole lot of good takes place in that community, but apparently, writing about that just wouldn’t sell a book.

Wow. Given all that, Myers’ quoting in his blog of the infinitely far more insightful study of PvP motivation, “Bow, Nigger“, seems more than a little ironic. Unless Myers intentionally set himself out to be the racist jerk in question as a “thought experiment”. Given the state of academia, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Of course, given the defensive howling about how no one was talking about how he was WINNING THE DAY FOR THE SUPERHEROES in his Twitter feed, it seems he’s more worried that his incredible PvP skills are being maligned.

As a designer, I immediately saw this as a game design flaw. Myers was exploiting a flaw in City of Heroes’ PvP zones. Simply disabling Teleport Foe in a given range around insta-kill drones would solve the problem elegantly, and result in much less drama (and research papers). Leaving the exploit in results in drama. In this case, the drama happened to reach the mass media, because one of the participants had a particuarly loud megaphone.

Sadly, Myers has a way to go to meet the benchmark of mass media coverage of wounded academic pride. But give him time – he’s pretty hard core and willing to bend the rules to do what it takes. Just like a true superhero!