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Transgressive Behavior

The curious case of the poorly behaved professor continues, as in his blog, he poses the question – was his CoH’s character’s behavior in violating social norms while remaining within the letter of the game’s rules “worthy of wrath”? I’ll let you remain in suspense as to how he’d answer that… oh, wait.

I can only note that all the things Twixt is accused of doing in descriptions like the above are simple, mundane, and easily mimicked in-game things that really aren’t much fun and really aren’t in the spirit of the game rules at all – game rules that Twixt championed and for which he was universally reviled; one can only wonder, if doing such simple and mundane things indeed encompasses the Twixt story, why there is a Twixt story at all?

But lets talk about something else.

So if you picked “he didn’t answer but immediately changed the subject”, you win! And what does he talk about? Why, the cavail heard from people called upon their bad behavior in online games since online games have existed – it’s the developers’ fault for allowing it to happen!

Game rules are prohibitive and paradoxical; social rules – most particularly the ones I observed in CoH — are authoritarian and static, inhibiting game play. With social rules in effect, the CoH game becomes less a game and more a society. There is less play and more politics.

The CoH game designers – and other mmo designers — seem to have largely abdicated their responsibility to design a game in favor of providing a sandbox for players to use as they wish. This may be good for game designer jobs, their blog readers, and their pocketbooks, but it is not particularly good for their games.

Well, I guess I was told. But in this awesomely compact non-sequitor of finger pointing, Myers explains neatly how little he understands the subject he purported to study. Something that almost any MMO player understands quickly enough – that MMOs tend to be both ‘games-as-directed-play’ and ‘games-as-sandbox’ or ‘games-as-community’ – the ancient “games vs. world” argument in MMO discussion, raging for decades, that Myers seems to have missed in his haunting of Recluse’s Victory merrily PKing. For someone who literally wrote a paper on the impact of online community behavior, this is… breathtaking. In his comments on the blog piece, Myers goes further:

The problem with the “meta-game” is that frequently that term is used to excuse all manner of bs exploits and advantages that not all players have equal access to.

This is precisely why the “meta-game” is sport games like football, for instance, is so closely monitored (salary caps, no taping other team’s practices, etc.) and codified.

Without the essential characteristics of a game — this includes the rules characteristics I mentioned early in this post — the meta-game is meta-bs. With those characteristics, it is a big game which, yes, we can call a meta-game if we wish to.

The very point of an MMO is that it is less a game and more a society. Without that society, an MMO is simply a game with particularly long and somewhat dumbed-down gameplay. If a designer ignores that society, s/he is ignoring the social connections that make an MMO unique. This is also not particularly good for their games, their continued employment, or their pocketbooks, although it may give them more time to update their blog.

But let’s talk about something else. Namely, the original topic that Myers skipped – was his behavior ‘worthy of wrath’?

The very act of asking this question is itself transgressive. “If I violate the social norms of a community I inhabit, while remaining within the letter of its laws, should I be condemned?”

Oddly, in the Times-Picayune article, Myers implies CoH players themselves are transgressive, by violating the social norms of the community *he* inhabits – making harassing threats. He admits in the original article that NCsoft responded to them appropriately – yet still takes the position they should have done more, by creating an environment where he could violate the norms of a community, and the community could then… respond? If it were just a game, of course, it wouldn’t be an issue, because Baldur’s Gate 2 NPCs rarely if ever smacktalk.

But it’s not, and there’s the issue. It’s a community, and one Myers derided and taunted, and then was shocked, *shocked* to learn that the community derided and taunted him in turn. And of course, Internet anonymity being what it is – and something any basic student of online gaming would be familiar with in picoseconds – much of that derision and taunting violated the norms of *his* community. Which he (properly) appealed to the authorities (NCsoft) who (properly) acted upon it, as he himself stated. At which point he then… wrote a research paper describing how, when faced with transgressive behavior, an online community will react badly. Again, this is not news to anyone who, say, has been on Xbox Live for more than 10 minutes.

Myers even implies that my previous blog posting was transgressive, since I quoted at length the commenters to the Times-Picayune article who had first-hand experience with his research methodology – the “anonymous wall of mob”. Well, if that’s the case, let’s go to the source himself. What does Twixt have to say about Twixt?

See for yourself. Let’s do some research!

First, we discover that what’s on offer is a considerably scrubbed version. The account has a post count of over 650, and only a small fraction of those are available. Odd coincidence that. The vast majority of these posts are years old, from before Issue 13’s PvP nerfs last December, which Twixt took great offense to:

The devs can take my jump away
Can take my speed, tp, and play
But here I root and stand amazed
That they don’t also take ur phase.

Shortly afterwards, in a common affliction of bored Killer archetypes, Twixt apparently gave up on the game and out of boredom, just decided to, well, be a dick.

Screw this – PVP sucks. I’m coming back in here to farm and gank the noobies, but if you think Im gonna stand there and slug it out with little to no chance of fleeing insurmountable odds, you must be dinko.

However, a pre-scrubbed version of Twixt’s transgressiveness is still available online, and requoted below in case it falls prey to another odd coincidence. The entire thread is a fantastic summation of the reaction to Twixt by those who encountered him, and contains the following response from the “droner” himself:

1. Twixt windup doll says…

* base is safe
* get moar phase
* hoho
* get moar vills
* vengence weenie alert!
* hoho
* always die when you leave, gives the other side hope
* watch the language kiddies
* hoho
* lag, adjusting

2.

01-03-2008 10:34:37 You have defeated make love
01-03-2008 10:39:02 You have defeated make love
(dozens of similar killshots deleted)
01-04-2008 22:30:39 You have defeated Mr MentaIity
01-04-2008 22:32:23 You have defeated Paul Radbot

3. Elf Stalker who? Never heard of him.

Yes, it’s hard to see why anyone would take offense to such a prized member of the CoH community.

For more background, you can go to Myers’ paper, Play and Punishment: The Sad And Curious Case of Twixt. It contains the following helpful explanation of droning:

Since RV is a two-faction (heroes vs. villains) game, there are safe areas within the zone where heroes and villains can enter and leave the zone without fear of being attacked. Protecting these safe areas (“bases”) are security drones, which, without recourse, vaporize members of the opposing faction and transport them back to their own base on the opposite side of the zone map. There is no game-imposed penalty for getting droned, nor is any reward given to a player whose opponent gets droned.

Except… that’s not right. The entire reason Twixt’s opponents were so enraged by his “droning” was that, unlike death to PvP opponents, death to NPCs imposes an XP penalty, which in CoH/V can be fairly punitive. Myers is wrong here on a very key point – not only is there a game-imposed penalty for being droned, it’s one of the most punitive penalties in the game.

So either Myers deliberately lied about this impact to justify his own case, or he didn’t fully understand the rules – the game rules, not the community rules – of the online community that he was studying.

Whichever option you choose to believe, both are… well, fairly transgressive.

(Late ninja edit: some have said that, at least as of now, deaths to drones do not impose XP debt. However, while this makes the above quote far less black-and-white a mistaken assertion, given that Myers as Twixt gleefully often did the same maneuver into NPC mobs which do, the larger points still stand.)