The Socially Anti-Social

Last week Belghast raised an interesting topic. Izlain brought it up on the most recent Couch Podtatoes episode, and I’ve been thinking on it ever since. Has technology made us less social? Are we anti-social these days?


That’s a difficult argument to prove even for those who believe it. We communicate in more and varied ways today than ever. Technology has supported socialization …but a very different kind, just like all media of any given era. Radio changed the amount of speeches and book readings we could attend. TV made theater accessible to even the poor. Placing a computer in every home has also come with it’s bonuses and downsides. We’re learning to socialize in dramatically different ways. It’s not really surprising that we don’t do it in the ways we did even 10 years ago or that it’s impacts on our social lives have been so huge.

Belghast said that the idea of face-to-face communication as the norm is extrovert centric and I think that’s a fair point. I hadn’t really thought of it that way before, but that still seems unlikely. It’d be like saying the human diet is food-centric — it sounds correct, but it’s also a little absurd. It’s well established that humans are intensely social creatures, literally surviving on interactions with other humans. Can we lead rich social lives without coming into physical contact with humans? Guess it depends on how we define rich.

But usually I hear people describe how they’d rather spend their time on the internet than face to face and I can’t help but feel they’re missing something. The longer we’re alone with the internet, using it as a proxy for socializing, the more comfortable it feels and the more uncomfortable we’ll feel in face-to-face interactions. There are literally thousands if not millions of people around the world who know this feeling, and apparently it’s not too surprising. It’s just the times we live in. Studies conducted about how we use the internet and it’s impacts on our social lives show a significant correlation between increased internet use and decreased socialization. I think we’ve adapted to a certain level of anti-socialization. That’s my fancy term for saying “people like to have their cake and eat it too”. We want all of the perks of socializing with people with none of the downsides. A free and open internet delivers this, but in doing so it breaks people down into byte-size for our consumption.

What if you could have all the joys of socializing without any of the discomfort? Well …you can! The internet allows us to communicate in ever preciser doses of social interactions. We can use chat boxes when we don’t want to hear voices, avatars when we don’t want to use videos, pictures when we want to see faces. At no point on the internet am I forced to view (pictures), watch (interaction), feel (emotions) and hear people all at once which is what face-to-face interactions require. I can chose to enjoy the pieces of socializing that suit me and discard all the rest. And that’s exactly what we do on the internet. And that’s anti-social in my opinion.

This is why internet anonymity is dear to us. It is control. I can be precisely who I want whenever I want. People’s perceptions of me will be whatever I want them to be since I control the entire interaction, unlike face-to-face where we’re constantly judged by appearances, sounds and bodies. We love to socialize, and if something else controls how we do it then we’re effectively back to the way things where before the internet. Choosing to surf the net instead of going out with friends on a Saturday night is a perfectly normal choice, but the former is inherently less social than the latter. Still, there’s also really good reason to prefer virtual gatherings to physical ones.

I'm prepared for Games Tourism. Aren't you?

I’m prepared for Games Tourism. Aren’t you?

People are exhausting and it’s not really because any one of us is extroverted or introverted even though that plays a part. People literally place demands on our energy when face to face. We have to talk with them, tapping into our emotions, making us think about their ideas, adjusting to their physical presence …socializing literally requires a lot of energy. So it’s no wonder anyone could feel exhausted after a gathering, going out, party or other social event. There’s nothing abnormal about that. But what’s interesting is that in this technological time people have suddenly noticed the amount of energy that this takes, whereas before we took it for granted. And having noticed, we can now make a choice to save our energy for other things. That’s not a tough decision to make. If I can put that energy to more efficient use while getting the amount of socialization I need to get by, I’ll naturally prefer this method over any traditional way of socializing. Whether that’s healthy or not will, to some extent, depend on the person but what we do know is that too much isolation from other people causes psychological distress — and that’s not healthy. There’s good reason that solitary confinement is used as a method of torture and punishment. We know how bad the effects of loneliness are on people.

I think communicating face-to-face is still important, it doesn’t matter if you’re introvert or extrovert. There’s a reason we’re born yearning for a human touch and a human face. Those yearnings are part of what make us human. The internet isn’t yet mature enough to make that less important. Today we’re adapted to the current technology, we’re used to it’s demands and perks. In this case, I can chose to socialize via the net instead of in person. Either way, I still always chose to connect with people, which says a lot about what we really want. No one wants to be alone, we prefer to spend time with people, even when we chose to do it over the internet introverts and extroverts alike.

I'm personally looking forward to this. I suspect the movie The Surrogates has a special importance to humanity a warning.

I’m personally looking forward to this. I suspect the movie The Surrogates has a special importance to humanity …as a warning.

And that’s why VR is going to explode all these concepts of introvert and extrovert! Those same people who call themselves introverts (me included) will be the first with virtual avatars, walking through Janus or going to VR travel agents …and they’ll do it so that they can see other avatars and be in their presence. I personally want to see how extroverts react to this, because I have a feeling they’re less likely to embrace it than the same introverts who prefer the net to real faces. We love being around people more than we care to admit.

I enjoy being alone and I love being in the company of people, the former more than the latter. Before I married I was spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet. I remember feeling crazy some nights being alone. Some part of me enjoyed the silence, but some other part of me felt it wasn’t enough, the feeling of something missing and not in the “I want a partner” sort of way. It wasnt’ loneliness or unhappyness, it was just the feeling of something …missing. A bit off. One way or another, I found excuses to be around people I enjoyed or went out to meet new people to enjoy, even though I still spent the majority of my time alone and even though while in the company of people I didn’t tend to interact with them in any way at all. I need to experience the presence of people. I found the balance for me and I suspect everyone finds that balance for themselves. I think it’s a very strange idea that life can be rich without the strong presence of people, even if it’s just a handful of essential people. That’s tough to imagine because in some ways people are what make my world feel large and full of possibilities.

A really unfortunate side effect of the internet age is that while trying to spend our energies socializing more efficiently, we’re objectifying human interaction. In our minds, we now have Human Interactions in nice little packages of varying sizes and shapes which we can go to the internet and “shop” for. Feeling anti-social? Turn off the social media or ramp up my inner-troll (consequence free!). Want to feel voices around you? Hang out on Twitter. Need someone to talk to? Open Skype and pick any of the dozens of impossible numbers of “friends” on your list and strike up a conversation. We didn’t aim for this state of affairs, but when you think about it it’s all kinda anti-social because we’re just looking for pieces of others, the pieces we’re comfortable with. We want the perks of interacting with people without actually interacting with people. Socially anti-social.

In this crazy age of cyborgs we view each other less and less as necessary and I don’t like the idea of people becoming unnecessary to one another, so I tend to think that at some levels, internet socialization is harmful. But I suspect many of us think that. We just don’t know where to draw that line or at what point we’ve crossed it. At what point is preferring the company of virtual people anti-social? Can we really socialize with pieces of people? How we understand the word socialization is changing, but so are we.

I’ve rambled on enough here. This subject is endless, like the droves of billions of humans around the planet. We’re not in a danger zone yet, I don’t think. But when people say that the internet is making us anti-social, I suspect they feel that the line between socializing and anti-social is being blurred or crossed for them. They’re afraid, like many of us, of people forgetting people and I think that’s a healthy and well-founded fear to have.

What I Want (from “New” MMOs)

Blaugust 7th

To put it bluntly, I want something new.

And not just 1 new thing. I want 90% of what I experience to be new. New doesn’t mean giving me a new coat of paint. It means using something other than paint altogether.

When I reflect on my MMO history I’ve noticed that every time I lose interest in them is when I realize that their features are too much like what I loved about WoW. The thing is, I don’t want to play WoW. It’s difficult to appreciate game features that you feel have been done already, and done in a way that you already love. Moving to a new game means seeking new experiences. And you can’t have a new experience by doing the same thing.

There’s a valid point to be made that in MMOs, players are the dynamic factor that keeps things fresh. That’s true, but let’s ask ourselves: How do people behave in your super market? Is it different from how they behave in the supermarket in the next town over? How about at diners: do people not behave the same way from restaurant to restaurant? And driving: it’s slightly different in Canada than in the USA, but mostly it’s the same experience isn’t it? While people can make the same old things have a different feel, it won’t make the experience of doing those things feel new. It’s like eating red gumballs versus green gumballs. It’s still a gumball, just with new color and slightly tangier.

When I say I want a new MMO, I mean it in the most basic sense of the word. New. Something I haven’t seen or something I haven’t tried. Some may say “that’s impossible! Nothing is completely new!” and I’d say I’m not asking the impossible. I’m asking for the basics not the extremes, and the word “impossible” is an extreme. Let’s take for example a wind turbine, those gigantic fans towering over the Earth which are used to generate wind energy. There’s a similar looking device in my bedroom. It spins just the same, has the same basic visual design, but these two items perform completely different functions and operate on different energy. It’s true that the design principles are the same, but the execution is radically different. The wind farms are something genuinely new. They’ve taken an old concept and created something new in this sense. I want something new from MMOs.

As the years pass I’m starting to believe that this “something new” won’t come. The industry at large is better at copying than it is at creating. Such is the nature of a capitalist economy. But that doesn’t mean that something new is impossible. I plan to still play MMOs when I’m 70 so there’s still time for me to experience something new. I just wish upcoming MMOs were actually bringing something fresh for players instead of mixing the gumballs in with the chocolate drops, or adding Canadian roads to American intersections, or forcing the fan in my room to run on wind energy. If you think these examples sound bizarre, this is how I experience so-called “new” MMOs, which tend to be frankensteins composed of varying pieces of older games. I don’t think these games are awful for trying. I just don’t find them interesting enough to buy them or lay down roots in them.

Widstar is a game I think was rather fun, but not enough to spend $60 on and recently there was discussion about players like me, who think the game is good, but who can’t be bothered to play it. Guild Wars 2 and The Secret World were MMOs I heavily anticipated and I wound up playing neither, though I at least bought the latter. Warlords of Draenor is, oddly, more appealing to me than Elder Scrolls or Wildstar, even though they’re probably better. My foundational MMOs are Star Wars Galaxies and World of Warcraft, though. So experiences that feel too similar to those make me rather default to those games for my MMO cravings than to these “new” ones. I suspect that’s somewhat the same for all of us on some level. So when will we get an MMO which really brings something new? We won’t even see it coming, tbh. Oh, I’m sure there’s still plenty of joy in the current batch of MMOs. I don’t discount their value, fun factor, or cool features. Those are all true and I respect what they do.

I just want something new.

Scree Tags: #blaugust #mmorpg #gamedesign

Getting Younger

Blaugust 6th

There’s a talk I can’t wait to have with my children when they’re out on their own. It’ll be about how it feels as a kid to only ever get younger, and never grow older.

Those of you who are of my generation know this feeling. You hit about 25 before you start to realize you’re no longer getting young. Geting younger is that feeling of always growing up, always getting better, feeling stronger, feeling infinite. Because for the first 25 years of your life that’s exactly what was happening. You were growing, physically, and you could feel your strength increasing, see your talents developing. For 25 years (or more) you feel like you’re ONLY getting better.

But then one day you wake up and your back hurts. Or you hurt yourself and you don’t bounce back in a day like you used to. Or you get sick and you really need to lay down for a week before you strength is back. This is when we realize we’ve finally stopped getting younger and started getting older.

And with that comes thoughts of our legacy. Who we used to be, who we are. Who will we become. Suddenly we realize that getting older means eventually leaving this place and we concern ourselves with leaving our mark. No more looking at tomorrow as an infinite promise, something that youth uniquely allows us to envision. When you’re a mature adult you realize that truth of the words “tomorrow isn’t promised”. You see for yourself that your physical strength isn’t increasing, that you’ve peaked and all you’re doing now is maintaining as best you can. Your experience makes the world feel like groundhog day, the same thing over and over, never changing. You don’t see new things as much as you used to. Everything looks like a copy of a copy. You start to wonder what the hell is going on and where did the World of Ever New Horizons disappear to.

But I found a fountain of youth years ago. People.

People are a bottomless pool of optimism. They show you that things go on, even infinitely. They make you stronger, give you energy, and give you the will to go on. This is especially true of loved ones and even more so of your children. To this day I remember two very distinct mes: the person I was before I met my wife and the person I am now. The former has been consumed by the latter and that gives me new life, more youth, a means to see everyday as new. Just as I did in my youth.

My children make it easier to envision what growing older will look like. I see myself in them, all of them. I remember me at their age. Some memories are painful and inspire passion to be an even better father, and some are light and I can vicariously enjoy their new experiences of the world without worry.

Relatively speaking, I’m still very young but mentally I’m no longer the youthful me. Yet I don’t feel older either. I’d say I’m floating fluidly in that space in between and all of my days ahead are still shimmering with the excitement of my youth, but with more familiarity and knowing. I’m looking forward to seeing the hairs on my head turn white. My wife is too.

Getting older is weird, but oddly comforting.

Scree Tags: #blaugust #gamertalk

The Simple Life

Blaugust 2nd 

Why are so many gamers, especially those who consider ourselves part of the core RPG community, so drawn to medieval settings?

Is it the simplicity of life we imagine took place?

Sure, being a peasant with an overlord isn’t all that romantic. Yet the world was large. There was the ever available opportunity for adventure  …right? That’s what we all think. Medieval life isn’t anything pleasant to dream about, but maybe we find some of those same unpleasantries in our modern, high-tech world. Maybe we crave a world that’s easier to understand. Our medieval fantasies put that world within reach.

Is it the magic?

There’s a strong association between medieval life and magic. Literacy was literally considered magic. Writings on sheets of thin objects called paper were spellcraft. It seems absurd to us today, but we treat them like a throwback in Zelda or Dragon Age. Is this why there’s always princesses in need of rescue? Is this why some warrior knight is on the cover of all our favorite RPGs (or dragons)? What’s the draw?

Is it the game?

Games are well structured simulations. All the parameters are finite and understandable. The rules are all known. The object is clear. Your abilities are all that stands between you and success. OMG if real life were this simple! If all the rules could be known and the object clear. It’s probably not that medieval settings are attractive. Maybe it’s just the entire concept of games that’s attractive and the medieval setting is simply familiar to our generations. It’s a setting used in all fiction a bazillion times a year. The simple life. I don’t think I even know what that means.

I wake up very early mornings, grab my favorite kid and have a hot cup of tea. We sit on the porch eating usually bread or fruit, enjoying the California sun and light breeze. She can’t really speak English, but she talks to me. And I’m her dad, so I know what she’s saying and we have this conversation for a while. Until my other two babies join me and remind me that their little sister can’t talk. They half believe me when I tell them I know what she’s saying. Dad is always tricking them, you see, so they can never be sure I’m not telling the truth. Those mornings are the only part of my life that’s simple.

Scree Tags: #blaugust #fantasy #life

Game Guys That Straight Guys Would Date

So back in like February I watched a video by Smosh Games on their “Why We’re Single” series – a super awkward video for the clearly uncomfortable, straight guys in it – where they talk about male game characters that they would date. It was a funny video, but also really interesting to see how these men picked their dates.

But before I talk about their choices, let’s talk about mine. That only seems fair, right? What male game characters would I go on a date with …

…its taken me months to come up with these names, not because it’s so damn hard, but I had truly never considered this. And now I’ve been considering it ever since I saw this video. The more I thought about it the more it made absolutely no sense that I hadn’t asked myself this question before. Why? Because I’ve definitely had conversations with friends, usually when sitting together around a party game or some similar situation, about guys we think are attractive. It isn’t an uncommon thing to talk about among men. More on the homoerotic overtones of male bonding another time.

Adan looked something like this. Those eyes!

Adan looked something like this. Those eyes!

So who? Who would I go out with? This may seem a little vain, but I’d date the character I made in Dragon Age Origins. He was a rogue, dual daggers. What I liked about him was that he wasn’t afraid to tell people to fuck off, but he was also the most risk taking best friend my party could ever have. If anyone was in a tight spot, Adan would switch plans in a heartbeat for them. I’m a sucker for loyalty. For those wondering, Adan was a brown-skinned male at about 200 lbs, with short dark hair and brown eyes. I wish I had a screenshot of him, but I bought this one on Xbox 360 and I don’t have the machine any more to pull pics from.

Shadowrun-DragonfallThat’s an easy one though. What about other characters I haven’t made? Dietrich from Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall.  I like how he carries himself like a wisened veteran, he’s super loyal, and his attitude is awesome. I also think the shamanic runes on his skin look pretty hot. He also strikes me as someone fun and cool to hang out with. I really enjoyed his company while playing the game.

prisonerPrisoner Johnson in Prison Architect is growing on me as well. His story makes me want to give him a hug.

The Smosh Game hosts’ picks weren’t any more interesting than mine, really. But that shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. We’re all a little weird when it comes to attraction. What I found interesting was how they made their choices.

ezio-assassinscreed2-4Lasercorn picked Cloud from Final Fantasy because he’s a great fighter, he dressed-up “convincingly” as a woman once and he’s got an airship. He also picks Ezio from Assassin’s Creed pretty much because he’s a well-equipped fighter and he’s smooth with the ladies. He talks about how Ezio would take him out to any restaurant he wants. He picks his dates based on how successful they are and also sees himself as assuming a traditionally feminine role in the relationship (where Ezio does the pursuing and wines and dines him).

Nathan-DrakeSohinki picks Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series and very shyly tells us that Nathan Drake is hot (“no homo”). He admits he likes cuddling and Nathan seems like he’d be a great cuddler. He also picks Prince of Persia …because Jake Gyllenhal plays the prince in a movie and Jake is hot! He picks his dates based on how they look and how good they are romantically (kissing and cuddling). I really got a kick out of him picking an actor over the character itself. Nice touch.

poisonJovenshire picks Poison from Street Fighter strictly for her looks. He calls her a he/she the entire time he describes how attracted he is to her body. He also picks Snow from FF13 because he thinks Snow kinda looks like a cute girl. Jovenshire picks his dates based pretty strictly on how they look.

I think the video’s great and if you haven’t seen it, entertain yourself. It’s funny and it’s guys being as honest as they’re able on a show that airs to a large internet audience. I think they did pretty good with it, but even I felt awkward seeing how awkward they felt about making these choices. There are some problematic things going on in the video for sure, but overall I took it as guys trying to have an interesting, if awkward, conversation about homosexuality. And for where they are with this in their personal lives, they did great.

If you were to date a game character of the same sex, who would you pick and why?

Cynical Gamers

This month’s conversation leftover: Player Rights. I think it all comes down to how gamers see one another. I have a very small sampling to make any guesses on, but let’s say some responses chipped away at my usual optimism. Not to worry, it’s replenished each morning.

There are those who probably think I’m very cynical because I see games as very meaningful. They think that because I enjoy dissecting games, picking them apart, finding out where they fail (instead of only where they succeed as is the custom) that I think games are just terrible baddies that can’t do anything right. Worse, I’m someone who thinks that games should be “serious” at all, over-reading them, over-interpreting them, placing meaning that just isn’t there, etc. Really cynical stuff.

Actually it gets even worse than that. There are gamers who believe that everything is fine in games, there are no problems whatsoever, games aren’t perfect, but they are as close to perfect as they will ever get and we need to accept them as such. Don’t protest, don’t bring up the unpleasantries: today’s games are the best of all possible worlds. This is it! Enjoy it or leave it alone!

These are the real cynics. These are the real pessimists.

These gamers often hold gamers and their developers to a very low standard, one that’s achievable with ease. We are at the low bar of gaming, marginally higher in some cases than we were 20 years ago and in others worse off than 20 years ago. By discussing the ways that games can be far better, I’m less cynical than these gamers. I believe games can absolutely improve and I want them to. I think talking about their weak points, their failings, and their strengths are all statements of faith. Because I believe they can be better, I feel they’re worthwhile to bring up because without those kinds of critiques they can’t do better.

The Cynical Brit isn’t actually cynical. His willingness to rip games a part is his optimism that games can do better, and his unwillingness to accept a lower standard.

Some might call this game snobbery, but that’s also being cynical. Think of it this way: suppose there are a group of starving people sitting on the right and on the left is a circle in which farmers occasionally drop morsels of food from their vast surplus. A piece of food gets tossed in. Some of the hungry eagerly pounce on it, smiling and dancing, grateful they might live to see another morsel get tossed into the box and calling the farmer kind and awesome for sharing a few morsels from their vast surplus. Some of the hungry also take the food eagerly, but they resent the farmer while still others take the food, but they make sure to let the farmer know that they can do much better. Those vast surpluses can be shared and people need not starve at all. I’m picking on gamers in this particular instance, but the analogy applies to the larger capitalist world we live in. There are those who defend the farmer and those who call on them to live up to their responsibility to the starving. Where do you fall in this analogy?

Analogies are never perfect, and they’re not supposed to be. In no way am I saying that optimists are always right in their ideas, but I’m definitely saying they are right to be optimistic and gaming deserves such critics – can’t do better without them. We should always try, always do our little part. There are some cynics among the starving and there are some optimists. The difference between the two is that optimists try to see solutions in which no one is unduly deprived, while cynics believe we are already living in the most perfect of worlds. Which group do you belong to?

This post is asking gamers one thing: don’t be so cynical. Of course games can be even more awesome. Of course developers can improve their methods. Of course players’ rights are important. Admitting any one of those things doesn’t deny any participant said things because this isn’t a zero sum game. We’re not suddenly evil just because we can afford to improve. Games are instantly terrible if they have failings and shortcomings. And one gamer seeing room for improvement doesn’t mean every gamer needs to see that same thing in order for it to be valid. We each have unique experiences in this life, and that means we’ll see things from those unique perspectives. A guy like me doesn’t think of the failings of communications tools until a gamer like Simcha points out there are major shortcomings in-game communication. These unique perspectives are what make improvements possible. When we make room for improvement, we add just a teeny bit more awesome to our gaming futures.

The Rare and Awesome PvP

EDIT: Major edit 🙂 This was scheduled to publish for some time, but recently the NBI had the Talkback Challenge. One of the topics happened to include PvP and I should have edited this to reflect that. So I’m doing it now.

Arcadius has a strong piece titled “Blame the Game Not the Players” in which he explains why he believes MMOs don’t get the PvP and PvE mix right. There’s a nice little discussion going on there, so please join us at his blog if you want to chime in!

Joseph Skyrim responds to Arcadius’s article and also provides a list of links to others who have been writing about it.

Open world PvP (OWP) remains a topic that interests MMO gamers of all stripes. We can’t seem to grasp the precise meaning or purpose of open world PvP except by describing the joy or dread we experience while doing it. Players either hate it, love it, or learn to like it. As game design goes, OWP is interesting to discuss when it comes to gameplay value. Is it truly offering something both as an experience and as meaningful content? Why should games have it? Players seem, by and large, to NOT prefer open world PvP if we look at their activity in-game. I can respect that it is a niche activity, but opposing views tend to posit that it’s the ultimate, pure and true PvP experience. That anything less than open-world is carebear, soft, or somehow not the “real” thing. If this is true, then why do so few players participate (what more proof do we need than the number of PvP servers vs PvE and the size of OWP communities)? 

There are 2 issues which I think affect how the OWP debate stands up:

  • Fairness and consent
  • Community (anti-social behavior, anonymity, poor community policing (priming for good/bad behavior))

Fairness and Consent

The definition of fairness can go as far as in the japanese game Go where it is considered fairer to handicap a more skilled player by granting the unskilled player a stone advantage, because it makes the challenge more interesting for both parties. This Meta-definition of fairness is as far as I know largely absent from videogames. Usually the better Player not only has the better gear and perks, knows all the tricks and exploits but he/she seems even entitled to shame „Noobs“ by calling them out after he annihilated them.

The Troll/Cheater that is breaking the Fairness and having fun despite the fact that there is no skill involved in aimbotting is playing a differnt game than the „honest“ player. He is only interested in getting a reaction out of the cheated player, like playing knock-and-run only to see how annoyed the people can get. – Andreas Ahlborn at Gamasutra

I think this is an important piece of the riddle of fairness in games. Fairness isn’t always achievable. Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be. What matters is that the game is designed to favor fair gameplay.

Open world PvP (OWP) basically gives players the freedom to roam a virtual space and pick a fight with anyone they wish, whether the player they pick a fight with wants to or not, or is capable of putting up a fair fight or not. Many shout from the mountain tops that this is exactly what’s so awesome about OWP. It’s a feature that provides an opportunity to indulge what appears to be a power fantasy. However, as Andreas says, these two kinds of players are playing two different games in this case.

Then, is the real issue in the OWP debate an issue of consent? I think it’s part of it. But then there’s the tough question of what constitutes consent. If I join a PvP server in a game, is that consent to all that follows? When I enter a store do I consent to buying every item on the shelf just because I’m there? Do I consent to buying anything at all by walking through the doors? Of course not. Both extremes are ridiculous. I haven’t seen any arguments that really explore the consent angle because I think many gamers intuitively understand that consent is fundamental to fair gameplay. We like being invited to games, not forced to participate in them. Mutual engagement is the keystone of fairness.

The problem is when “fair” becomes a matter of making sure everyone has the same access to unfair advantages. The logic goes that if everyone can play unfairly, then this makes it a fair game. It’s a good attempt to address the issue of designing fair games.

Well, what about ambushes and other exciting war strategies that one might engage in, such as in games like Team Fortress 2 or Call of Duty? To that I say: Context is everything. These games are purely about combat, where players participate exclusively in violent conflict against other players, no matter what. There is no expectation that a player would not be fighting other players once they join a game. For an MMO, this is very very different. The answer seems to at least depend on the genre.

Any given session I login to a Rift or Eve or World of Warcraft type MMO, I may do any number of things which don’t include conflict with another player. There’s no expectation that I will engage in combat just because I logged into the game. So the question of consent is actually valid in an MMO whereas it’s just about absent from a combat simulator like Dust 514.

Eve Online

Eve approaches OWP by trying as best it can to set up the virtual space as a place where combat is at the heart of the game, similar to what we’d expect from FPS games. The problem, though, is that combat isn’t the heart of the game at all and Eve is nothing like a combat simulator — something which is aptly demonstrated by Dust 514. Combat definitely plays a very significant role in gameplay, but for any given session a player may not even see a spaceship, nevermind engage in combat. The economy is at the heart of the Eve experience. Open world battles, even small ones, are exceedingly rare …and it’s this fact which makes the claims to the awesomeness of OWP feel exaggerated.

There are some 500,000 subscribers to the game. Let’s just forget for a moment that many of those are just players with multiple accounts (exceedingly common in Eve), RMT accounts and bots, and let’s pretend that these 500k are unique subscribers. Let’s even suppose that only 10% of them are the kind of PvP gamers who want that non-consensual, power-tripping, unfair open world PvP experience. Looking through the various killboards, we can see that on any given day some 50 ships are destroyed as a result of OWP, while Eve averages some ~22,000 active pilots simultaneously. 50 per day in a game where 22k pilots are online all at once; in a game that supposedly has the incredibly exciting OWP at the heart of gameplay. That’s not a lot of gaming going on and makes the argument for OWP unimpressive. But where does most player activity lie in Eve?

It all starts with the economy and is a smattering of random activities radiating from there, OWP a favorite among them.

Now I don’t want to get into a circular discussion about chicken or the egg. This is irrelevant, since they are dependent systems in Eve. It is, afterall, a war economy. Everything that can be produced in Eve is produced for the purposes of war. So players spend more time preparing for war in Eve than they do actually battling it out. It’s why the battles in the game are so memorable: there are so few. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; a game in which the world is always at risk of imploding or exploding or being invaded is a monotonous, predictable, boring world where adventure isn’t possible (adventure is precisely the chance that you could do something unexpected). Nothing is exciting when it’s always exciting. Warcraft suffers badly from the constant crisis mode which inspires all of it’s gameplay. So Eve has found a counter balance in this regard. Just because OWP activity is low doesn’t detract from the fact that battles in Eve feel meaningful and epic. It’s just that they’re too rare to support claims that OWP is essential to and better than moderated PvP gameplay.

Moderated PvP, on the other hand, seems to be wildly popular in the MMOs that have it. More PvP happens in battlegrounds and arenas than in the open world in WoW and similar games. When this feature is available in MMOs, players seem to flock to it more than they do OWP.

Alone, OWP provides a very tiny fragment of the player experience, even in a game like Eve where cut throat, power fantasy combat is important to setting the environment for gameplay. Arguments which suggest that open world PvP is essential must then explain how this essential activity is the least likely thing to occur during any given session. The Eve economy could certainly sustain far more combat than happens (hoarding of resources is a bigger issue than resource shortages caused by too many battles). So what’s the reason? Open world PvP just isn’t all that exciting and as content, it’s very thin — this I judge from player activity in that feature.


This has to be the bedrock reason open world PvP in MMOs isn’t very successful. As MMOs strive to build communities which can stand the test of time, open world PvP is everything counter to that because it breaks down the very glue required for community: trust.

A key issue that developers seem to face is how to secure a solid foundation to build their communities upon. Usually, they’ll develop tools that help players manage their communities: guild tools, grouping tools, friend lists, and reporting features are some of the most popular. Probably nothing is as important as the way the game primes players to interact with one another. OWP is one hell of a primer.

It’s really interesting how MMOs seem to be unique in this. Battle Arenas like League of Legends are known for their toxicity, but it’s not an OWP game. It’s highly moderated. Still, it’s a strong example of what game communities can become when unhealthy competition is injected into the mix. I’ll go so far as to say there may not be such a thing as healthy competition, but that’s an article for another day. Even players who enjoy OWP explain their enjoyment based on their ideas of fairness (ex. if you’re on their server it’s fair to kill you). Fairness is important.

Is OWP the devil? No, of course not. It’s one feature among many, but it’s interesting to think about why we like it. As for the argument that it’s “real” PvP or better than moderated PvP environments, the popularity of the feature is low and even in MMOs which want this feature to be the heart of the game have very meager participation rates. Maybe developers can think of improved ways to give players their favorite fantasies without having to live with features many consider to be imbalanced or which produce unfair gameplay. It’s coming, but it may be a very long ways off. Until then, I’ll stay subscribed to Eve.

Or maybe developers can just live with it. Players will always find ways to avoid it if they really hate it, which might include not playing their game.