IT’S JUST A GAME… [Author: Lums Other Half]

Several stories lately have brought the \’e2\’80\’98it\’e2\’80\’99s just a game\’e2\’80\’99 defense out of the woodwork. This is such a handy little catchphrase, and people that for whatever reason do not care to exercise any self restraint in cyberspace, justify their own actions, look for ways to cheat without any of that nasty guilt, or just generally feel that they are the center of the universe in any of their amusements trot it out early and often. But then \’e2\’80\ldblquote some people are just broken.

This isn\’e2\’80\’99t about the community vs. game argument. Many people feel the social nature of MMORPGs make them more virtual communities \’e2\’80\ldblquote but the word community brings with it a different natural set of expectations and personal rules. True enough \’e2\’80\ldblquote it IS a game as well, but when did we start hanging aside our morals and ethics when playing games?

When I was growing up, games were supposed to do many things. Teach you teamwork, fairplay, sportsmanship, how to lose gracefully \’e2\’80\ldblquote as well as how to win gracefully, discipline, self-confidence, respect for the rules of play (law) \’e2\’80\ldblquote and a host of other interpersonal skills. Do they not teach this anymore? This was all in addition to the activity being enjoyable and for \’e2\’80\’98fun\’e2\’80\’99.

There are many games we play. Can you imagine what a football, soccer, bowling or chess tournament would turn into if common social rules weren\’e2\’80\’99t adhered to simply because they weren\’e2\’80\’99t \’e2\’80\’98in the written rules\’e2\’80\’99? Actually \’e2\’80\ldblquote we don\’e2\’80\’99t have to imagine, there have been riots both on and off the field on occasion over \’e2\’80\’98just a game\’e2\’80\’99. On occasion, people have lost their life over \’e2\’80\’98just a game\’e2\’80\’99. There has been mass property destruction by fans over \’e2\’80\’98just a game\’e2\’80\’99. Suffice it to say \’e2\’80\ldblquote what game really doesn\’e2\’80\’99t matter \’e2\’80\ldblquote some people take their entertainment and commitment to their chosen sport seriously.

Humans are not unique to playing games. Many animals engage in what can be anthropomorphized as \’e2\’80\’98games\’e2\’80\’99 when young. This trains and prepares them for later life. Small kittens (well, all the cat family) have very playful young with hunting games that will train them later in preparation to be hunters. We may be more unique in that our \’e2\’80\’98games\’e2\’80\’99 carry thru to adulthood \’e2\’80\ldblquote and we engage in them more for the entertainment than training value. The truth is \’e2\’80\ldblquote humans never stop absorbing and learning. Any parent can tell you \’e2\’80\ldblquote children tend to learn more when lessons are wrapped inside a game. Throw a little fun in the mix \’e2\’80\ldblquote lessons tend to stick better.

So \’e2\’80\ldblquote what are MMORPG players learning?

It\’e2\’80\’99s ok to screw someone over just because you don\’e2\’80\’99t know them.

Whether you are in the \’e2\’80\’98just a game\’e2\’80\’99 camp \’e2\’80\ldblquote or the virtual community camp \’e2\’80\ldblquote I think everyone can agree that there are other people than ourselves in these worlds. That\’e2\’80\’99s like what the MM stands for in MMORPG. We SHARE these worlds with other PEOPLE. Every one of those little pixilated people we see running about that is player controlled has a PERSON standing right there over their shoulder. True, we usually don\’e2\’80\’99t know them personally \’e2\’80\ldblquote although friendships can form. True, we may not know this stranger \’e2\’80\ldblquote but then \’e2\’80\ldblquote do you usually know the folks sitting around you at a football game past those that might have come with you? I am sure my perception of this comes partially from the fact I\’e2\’80\’99ve never known a stranger in my entire life (something that worried my mother no end when I was very young). A stranger is simply a friend I haven\’e2\’80\’99t met yet. But common social decency says I do NOT mistreat a person simply because I haven\’e2\’80\’99t met them yet. And you know what \’e2\’80\ldblquote I expect that same courtesy extended back \’e2\’80\ldblquote usually it is.

It\’e2\’80\’99s ok to screw someone over as long as it\’e2\’80\’99s just digitally.

Then of course there is the popular argument that this is cyberspace \’e2\’80\ldblquote it\’e2\’80\’99s not REAL. Ummm, excuse me \’e2\’80\ldblquote I am VERY real, every person online is VERY real. The medium I choose to interact with you thru is just as \’e2\’80\’98real\’e2\’80\’99 as if I sent you a letter \’e2\’80\ldblquote or picked up the phone. If you are in the camp that truly thinks cyberspace isn\’e2\’80\’99t real \’e2\’80\ldblquote how do you feel about getting harassed in the mail or on the phone? You aren\’e2\’80\’99t face to face with that person either \’e2\’80\ldblquote it\’e2\’80\’99s merely thoughts being conveyed in a non face-to-face manner. The fact that the world and interactions are thru a digital interface and therefore somehow don\’e2\’80\’99t count is rationalization at it\’e2\’80\’99s best. Here\’e2\’80\’99s perhaps a better example that may hit home. Banking is done almost exclusively electronically in this day and age. Yes, we may still carry paper \’e2\’80\ldblquote but banks themselves do the majority of their business \’e2\’80\’98on line\’e2\’80\’99 by transferring information thru bits and bites. You pick up the phone one day to call your bank (gee, electronic communications again \’e2\’80\ldblquote see how far threatening to blow up the bank gets you cause \’e2\’80\ldblquote you know \’e2\’80\ldblquote you aren\’e2\’80\’99t face to FACE with the teller) \’e2\’80\ldblquote you KNOW you have money in your account but somehow now it\’e2\’80\’99s empty. The bank representative on the other end of the telephone tells you \’e2\’80\’9cSorry, I cannot help thee with that\’e2\’80\’9d \’e2\’80\ldblquote and you are expected not to be concerned since it\’e2\’80\’99s just electronic information you know \’e2\’80\’98not real\’e2\’80\’99. Yes, I realize it has an equivalent in real world paper money and time invested to earn \’e2\’80\ldblquote so do things earned in these \’e2\’80\’98games\’e2\’80\’99. If my chosen entertainment is X \’e2\’80\ldblquote and I invest time in X doing Y \’e2\’80\ldblquote I expect my earned rewards to be respected as my property to use as I see fit and as outlined in the rules of the game. If the game says I can be stolen from I won\’e2\’80\’99t like it, but I can accept it. If you use an exploit to steal \’e2\’80\ldblquote you have breached the rules and yes \’e2\’80\ldblquote I expect something to be done about it. You\’e2\’80\’99ve taken much more than electronic pixels and data \’e2\’80\ldblquote you have taken my time.

The it\’e2\’80\’99s not real camp usually tells folks that bring up these annoying details that they are somehow living in a fantasy world \’e2\’80\ldblquote or are out of touch with reality. Truth be known \’e2\’80\ldblquote who is the one really out of touch? Someone that includes a digital domain as part of the whole of our current existence and realizes there are people at the other end of the connection, or someone that conveniently excludes it to justify actions that their core self knows as wrong in any other setting? As someone recently pointed out NASDAQ is entirely electronic \’e2\’80\ldblquote if you think it\’e2\’80\’99s ok to steal or manipulate THAT game \’e2\’80\ldblquote the Feds will soon educate you differently.

It\’e2\’80\’99s ok to be an ass if someone isn\’e2\’80\’99t in punching distance of my nose.

Grief players love to use the rationalization of \’e2\’80\’98it\’e2\’80\’99s just a game\’e2\’80\’99 to turn loose all their antisocial tendencies. They say \’e2\’80\ldblquote but I\’e2\’80\’99m really a nice guy in RL, and turn into perfect assholes online. When it is observed that such desires and tendencies do not spring forth full grown from a vacuum they get quite upset. They are also at the forefront of the \’e2\’80\’98it\’e2\’80\’99s not real\’e2\’80\’99 crowd, and therefore justify their actions to themselves.

No matter how good a roleplayer you are \’e2\’80\ldblquote no matter what your online persona is, it comes from YOU. You can\’e2\’80\’99t make a silk purse out of a sow\’e2\’80\’99s ear \’e2\’80\ldblquote if the raw materials aren\’e2\’80\’99t there, they aren\’e2\’80\’99t going to manifest magically in a digital media. With the occasional exception of someone else scripting (like a movie or a play) what we do online is extremely revealing of our true inner self. Who and what we would be when the normal social mores aren\’e2\’80\’99t present. This presents two options \’e2\’80\ldblquote as an opportunity for positive growth, or an opportunity to wallow in base instincts. While this may not turn anyone into a criminal, or a mass murderer \’e2\’80\ldblquote it\’e2\’80\’99s really not psychologically healthy in an immersive longterm environment. This is especially critical when it comes to younger players who are still all the more impressionable and forming their worldview. Especially in \’e2\’80\’98games\’e2\’80\’99 where direct head to head competition is not the prime or sole focus. I won\’e2\’80\’99t debate here about the psychology of FPSs like Quake \’e2\’80\ldblquote at least in Quake everyone is there FOR THE SAME REASON. That is not true of MMORPGs.

Anything goes as long as I don\’e2\’80\’99t get caught or stopped.

Those that maintain it\’e2\’80\’99s ok if the rules let me do it are relying solely on the letter of the law, not the spirit. This is especially true of exploiters. This is totally abdicating personal responsibility to what developers are able to foresee and prevent in hard coded rules. Unfortunately \’e2\’80\ldblquote the developers of these are still human, they really aren\’e2\’80\’99t Gods. As humans, they are going to miss things. If common sense and the spirit of the game says I cannot walk thru a wall \’e2\’80\ldblquote but somehow I find a way to \’e2\’80\ldblquote the only thing stopping me is my own personal ethics and sense of fairplay. To many in this medium \’e2\’80\ldblquote they justify their actions as acceptable because the game mechanics allowed it.

People bemoan that these worlds are static, that they have no real impact on them. I humbly submit, we all DO have an impact. We impact each other thru our interactions both good and bad. We can make another\’e2\’80\’99s time a little more enjoyable, or a little more miserable.

So, the next time you log onto your favorite MMORPG take a second to consider what you may be learning \’e2\’80\ldblquote but perhaps more importantly \’e2\’80\ldblquote WHAT ARE YOU TEACHING?