Little Miss Manners, Little Big Misrepresentations.

Interesting set of papers here: http://gamephilosophy.org/ (see “Program”).

But these papers seem to me, largely due to their typicality and associated predictability, though still interesting from afar, somewhat drearier up close.

E.g., there is this one, which is reminiscent of the Twixt situation:

Dual Wielding Morality: World of Warcraft and the Ethics of “Ganking” 
Stacey Goguen, Boston University, USA.
(manuscript)

The argument therein discusses the “morality” of the ganking (“pvping” would be a more neutral description) of a funeral (“player-created event” would be a more neutral description) within World of Warcraft.  The specifics of the event are apparently documented here (reference taken from the paper):

“Funeral Ambushed.” Worldofwar.net. Created by: Scrapples. 09 April 2006. 01 May 2009
<http://forums.worldofwar.net/showthread.php?t=366556&gt;.

Goguen’s argument, as I interpret it, is this:  The WoW game allowed pvping to take place, so that pvping was, basically, okay.  However, the pvpers interrupted real (“non-game-constrained” might be a more intelligible description) sorrow of the players people attending the in-game funeral.  Therefore, according to Goguen, reality must trump the game and…

Unfortunately, as long as we remain in interaction with other people, we never get to fully escape our status as moral beings. (p.9)

Thus:  We are trapped inside our moral-being cage, says Goguen, and the game cannot save us.

In the paper I will soon present at DiGRA 2009, I (once again, potentially tragically) defend the sanctity of the game against assaults such as those Goguen would mount against it.

Obviously, I must muster my strength.  However, let me ask here and now — briefly — these two things:

1.  Goguen seems to assume that the necessity of being subject to our status as moral beings requires us also to be subject to a singular sort of morality (e. g., “be nice to people attending funerals”).  Is this true?

2.  How critical is analogy to Goguen’s argument?  (There is a very compelling story of water pistol play in Goguen’s short essay, for instance. (p.7))

By this latter, I mean to what degree is an in-game funeral critical to our acceptance of our irrevocable moral-being status?  Suppose, for instance, an in-game funeral for Ted Kennedy had been interrupted — same result?  Suppose an in-game political fund-raiser for the Democratic party had been interrupted — same result?  Suppose an in-game anti-pvp rally had been interrupted — same result?

Suppose an in-game REPRESENTATION of an in-game funeral had been interrupted — same result?

***

Goguen does not pay much attention to the matter of representation in games.  I believe how games transform representations is critical to their function as games and their uniqueness as aesthetic objects.

Sometimes, cynically, I also believe that those who ignore the importance of game representations would simply like to control them.  They would like to control the meanings of funerals and pvp and, in fact, the game itself.  Perhaps they feel justified in controlling these representations because they consider themselves moral beings.  I, on the other hand, would like to think that we should (must) have some capacity to question whether or not those who represent themselves as moral beings are, in fact, actually moral beings.

Do we have that capacity?  Is that capacity, in fact, a game?

Let’s all sing like the birdies sing.

In prep for the fall semester, I have removed this blog’s open comments feature.  All comments now need to be moderated and approved.

Too bad, really.

Open comments are the way to go, and that is the way this blog has gone for a long, long time.

However, when all the online comments you receive are unmoderated and anonymous (while, simultaneously, all the comments you send are not), then things get a little lopsided.

When anonymity is used to smear and hide and oppress, what are you doing to do?

Too bad, really.

My daughter sent me this one…

http://xkcd.com/386/

***

Yeah, that’s about right.

wat u gonna do

re The Ethics of Computer Games

In The Ethics of Computer Games (2009), Miguel Sicart makes an interesting argument.

But that argument is different from mine.

Let’s set the stage…

Players engage in unethical actions in computer games because those actions have meaning within the game for the player-subject. Killing the prostitute after having sex with her [in Grand Theft Auto] is the most rational  approach: the player gets her energy level topped up, and she recovers the money. From the perspective of the game, it is an action that can be beneficial for the game experience. Furthermore, it is not compulsory—only players who voluntarily explore that possibility will be exposed to it. Similarly, the acts of violence in Killer 7 are only meaningful to the player of the game, and they are so because they represent the challenges that have to be solved in order to progress in the game.  (p.196)

Sicart builds his argument around what he calls “ludic phronesis.”

I define ludic phronesis as the moral wisdom that is developed as players experience games, which is used in evaluating the actions and dilemmas players are confronted with when playing and when being members of the community.  (p. 112)

“Ludic phronesis” appears similar to what I have earlier called on this blog (Suits’s notion of) “lusory attitude.”  According to Suits (and me), this attitude separates the game from the real world, based on the game player’s voluntary acceptance of what would be, without that acceptance, arbitrary conditions of performance and play.

Sicart, however, does not wish to separate the game world from the real world.  He wishes, as is the current fashion in game studies and analysis, to preserve the real-world “learning” that takes place during game play.  Ultimately, he believes that games are tools for teachers.

Based on this desire and this belief, Sicart chooses to conflate games and simulations.  In fact, his argument hinges on it.

the presence and importance of computer power and simulation capacities are relevant for understanding the ethics of digital games… (p. 16)

I prefer to make clear and important distinctions between games and simulations — based on the different ways these two different aesthetic forms use representations.  In brief, my argument (forthcoming in Play Redux) is that simulations are bound by reality and convention, and games — fortunately for us all — are not.

From my point of view, the game exists in a liminal state that does not merely, as Sicart suggests, allow us to experience the unethical in order to ponder its real-world relevance.  Rather, the game exists in a liminal state in which objective and explicit game rules have the same moral authority as more subjective and implicit real-world values.  In other words, the values of the game do not merely refer to real-world values, they question, doubt, and, within the boundaries of the game rules, replace those values.

In Play Redux, I try to demonstrate how this is a more profound (and more accurate)  position than Sicart’s.

The big lie: Let’s blow it up.

This is about a message that has appeared over and over again, posted on anything that Google can reach.

When you read it below, how many of you out there will have already seen it?  More than a few, I bet.

It’s a message that was being used as an indication of how Twixt played inside City of Heroes.  In effect, it’s a message calling me a liar.   It’s exactly the sort of supra-game, rumor-mongering. anonymous attack that plagued Twixt during his time in-game.

The first time I saw this message, a “Paul G” had posted it on my blog — after having copied it, I believe, from the CoH forums.  Because it was so obviously untrue, I thought it was nothing more than an attempt at play — and I responded in kind.  Then, after finding it quoted and taken as gospel around the web, I realized its more devious nature, and I gave it a more serious response (though brief, since, at the time, my attention was elsewhere).

It’s a fairly long message, so bear with me; and like most well-constructed lies, there is some truth to it.  But not much.

Let’s blow it up.

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).

Actually, I believe this much, though Twixt played for a long time, under many different circumstances.  So, many players might make this claim.  And, if that claim, like this message, is posted anonymously, there is little I can do to refute or confirm it.  I have noticed, however, that most of those who criticize Twixt’s play most harshly are those who have never competed with Twixt inside RV.

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,

Death threats = bad.  Got it.

but maybe a little more understanding of what really took place will allow people to relate better to the frustration.

Amen.  Let’s go.

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,

Here the message uses the “firing squad” description of npcs taken from the overly dramatic Times-Picayune newspaper article.  That article was written by someone who has no personal experience with pvp inside RV.  NO player inside RV — EVER — referred to npcs in this way.  It is misleading to do so.  At the time Twixt played, npcs in RV were very trivial opponents.  I’ve addressed this in greater depth (toward the bottom) here.

he would give the other character debt.

It’s impossible for Twixt (or any other character in CoH) to “give” another character debt.  Characters only get debt inside RV when they are killed by npcs.  If you don’t want to be killed by npcs, then you certainly don’t have to be.  There are areas in the zone where you are perfectly safe, where no one — no opponent such as Twixt — can touch you, ever.  There are also plenty of areas in the zone — about half — where, even though Twixt might be able to kill you, there are no hostile npcs.

In fact, it is very hard to kill characters in RV at all.  The game design has long been slanted toward defense and the ability to run away.  Even if you are engaged by multiple npcs, for instance, if you know what to do (which is basically no more than run away), then you can run away.  It’s trivial.  And, importantly, these choices are entirely under your control.  Despite the claims of those who are defeated, there is no “insta-win” in CoH/V.

Plus, entry into RV is limited to player-character levels 40-50.  At level 50, you get no debt no matter what you do.  Doesn’t matter.  And there is NO game-required reason for levels 40-49 to set foot in RV.  None.

All game goals — badges, loot, etc. — are as equally available to players at level 50 as they are to players at level 40.  For this reason, almost all toons in RV during Twixt’s play were level 50.  The only game-related reason to be in RV prior to level 50 is to power-level your character.  And this only works, of course, if no one is trying to kill you.  In RV, however, things — like Twixt — do try to kill you.

This debt would impede the character’s ability to gain experience by cutting it in half for a certain period of time.

In a worst case scenario, there would be a 50% reduction in xp gained for a limited period.  But, you still gained xp and your character still progressed towards the next level (unless, of course, as most characters were, that character was already at level 50).  Also, enhancements — somewhat rare — could diminish this penalty below the 50% level.

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.

This is an outright lie.  If it took any player 3 hours to work off single death debt, that would have been the world’s worst CoH player.  It would take 10 minutes — tops — to work off that amount of debt.  And that’s if you weren’t trying to work the debt 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.

I really do not know how to respond to this miniature golf analogy.  This seems a much more relevant example of what the players inside RV were doing to Twixt than what Twixt was doing to them.  For other analogies, see here and here.

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

This is a lie.  What I’ve claimed was and is accurate.  I have the logs to prove it.  There’s nothing more I can say — other than maybe put up or shut up.

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.

“Chatting” is a gross understatement of what happened.   Certain guilds (supergroups) and other socially connected cliques of players in CoH could totally dominate and control the RV pvp zone for their own benefit; they camped that zone and refused to allow others, non-guild members, random players, Twixt, to play either the game as it was designed to be played OR to participate in their farming schemes.

For instance, it was very common practice for players with multiple accounts to use two or more characters, heroes and villains, to monopolize the heavies within the zone so that they could only be used for farming — with little risk or interruption.  Whether there was RMT involved in all of this, I don’t know.  But the practice of these farming individuals and groups inside RV was totally consistent with gathering loot for RMT.  They farmed the zone for their own benefit and harassed any who dared interfere with this process.

However, that didn’t result in a lack of fighting.

Another lie.  The “fighting” that occurred in the zone among the farming groups was on the order of  “you kill me, Ill kill you, you kill me again.”  This appeared to be done primarily to gain pvp badges without the risk normally associated with achieving those badges.  The same players who monopolized zone resources also controlled and regulated these false fights — harassing and chasing from the zone any who would disturb them.

Many times, Twixt would simply teleport people from battles already in place to his computer-generated death squads.

Again, there are no “death squads” inside RV.  There were, in isolated pockets, large groups of npcs that a single level 50 character could easily farm for loot.

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

I’ve heard this accusation many times before, and I am still waiting to hear what “loopholes” Twixt manipulated.  This accusation is a lie.  I’ve dealt with it previously here.

to allow him to generally be mean to other players.

In this case, “mean” is used to label any sort of play that interrupted farming, RMT, leveling characters for sale, or practices so similar as to be identical.  The players who did these sorts of things were not — are not — stupid.  They were/are perfectly willing to hide their activities under whatever politically correct shield is available to them.  If, for instance, it benefits them to be “nice” and for their opponents to be “mean,” then those are the labels they use.  If it benefits them to be the “majority” (even if they are not), or, if it benefits them to be a “community” and for their opponents to be “griefers,” then those are the labels they use.  Based on my experience, this labeling strategy is very effective.

That’s the biggest reason why he was despised.

Twixt was despised — by those who lied and those who were persuaded by their lies, which was most.   He was admired — and lauded — by others.

3) Twixt commonly made fun of players he killed.

Another lie.  I’ve addressed this directly here.  NEVER did Twixt taunt an opponent he had just killed.

He did not simply say random hero-supporting things, he oftentimes bragged openly after using his computer-generated helpers to kill someone.

See the link immediately above.

Like any other competitive situation, bragging and talking trash will earn people talking back and becoming more upset.

Twixt was barraged with obscenities, harassment, and lies — which gave me the opportunity to determine what was and wasn’t considered an appropriate level of “trash talking” inside RV, and to act accordingly.  While some of this talk did seem to be approved by NCsoft and judged by their moderators as a normal part of the game, much of what was directed at Twixt, specifically, was not.  Indeed, this sort of anonymous post that I am discussing now, filled with lies that question not only Twixt’s play but my reporting of that play — calling me a liar — could be, under very similar (if not identical) circumstances, defamatory.  It is my suspicion that, because players are allowed to break game rules with impunity inside the RV pvp game (indeed, inside MMOs, in general), because these players are protected by their anonymity and by game companies interested in revenue more than propriety, these players now seem to believe that they can get away with the same sort of thing in real life.

He worked to goad individuals into becoming angrier at what he did.

A lie.  Unless, of course, this refers to Twixt’s insistence that the pvp game inside RV be played according to the rules of that game.

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.

I have not “left this out.”  I’ve referred to this many times, including in my paper.  Posting the kill logs, as I mentioned in the paper, was a last ditch effort to confront the lies and distortions of Twixt’s play with the facts.  As the paper notes, that attempt was a failure.

He posted quite frequently on those boards, and he went out of his way to fuel the hate that developed for him.

A lie.  Twixt posted extremely infrequently as Twixt.  It was only in (approximately) March of 2008, for instance, that Twixt posted the kill logs.  This was after more than a year of play in RV.  Prior to that, Twixt, as Twixt, posted nothing on the forums.

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.

Professional athletes — particularly minority athletes — have long been exposed to harassment very similar, in some ways, to the harassment  Twixt received.  I mentioned in the paper the parallels between Twixt’s treatment and the treatment of minorities by a dominant culture interested in suppressing, among other things, the creativity and skills of those minorities.

4) Twixt died. A lot.

Twixt died a lot because he played a lot.  He died much, much less than did his opponents.  I have given objective evidence that documents this.

Twixt perfected his method of generating debt for other players

See the comments above regarding the importance of “debt” inside RV.  Twixt’s goals, as I stated many times, were “kill vills, win zone.”  He did his best to accomplish those goals.

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.

This is partially true.  If players had no intention of trying to achieve the rules-based game goals, then they could stay alive forever.  There were plenty of techniques and strategies available to ALL players within RV that could keep those players safe from attack.  On the other hand, if those players tried to accomplish game goals, then Twixt opposed them — and defeated them.  Those players then died much more often than Twixt died.

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

My interest has long been in games, not game players.  I became interested in game players inside RV because they prevented me from playing the RV pvp game — not because I was interested in their (I believe demonstrably false) claims that they represented a sacrosanct online “society.”  Hiding behind this label of a game “society,” by the way, is then similar to hiding behind the label of “being nice.”  The players harassing Twixt were “nice” only when it suited their purpose to be so; likewise, they were a “society” only when it suited their purpose to be so — and in name only.  My observation was that “mob” would be more accurate than “society.”

It’s a shame that Twixt is the face of the CoH PvP and gaming community.

I played a game and wrote about that experience.  In fact, I would still like to play that game, but I am prevented from doing so by those players who would control who does and doesn’t play inside RV.  I continue to believe this is unfortunate for us all.

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,

My conclusion in the paper was that this “community” is self-serving.  This means that it will do “good” to preserve its status; it likewise means that it will do “bad” to preserve its status.  The treatment of Twixt is an example of the latter; I would not be surprised if there were also examples of the former.

but apparently, writing about that just wouldn’t sell a book.

Twixt is not the subject of the book referenced in the newspaper article.  You can read a little about the topic of that book here.  I suspect that book will be of very little interest to those CoH/V players, who, after many years of play, still do not have a good understanding of the rules and mechanics of pvp play inside RV.

Just a brief shout out…

… to the CoH/V Fightclub Police.

Go, go, good team!

***

Two years ago today, it had been a slow week.  (Leveling up on Infinity, as I recall.)

***

2007-INSIDE RV   1-Aug  2-Aug  3-Aug  4-Aug  5-Aug       
Twixt deaths       1      0      0      0      0       
vills killed
(no drones/npcs)   3      2      6     13     10       
turrets taken     47     51     25     68     76

Four types of game-related bloggers.

1.  The Relativist.

Do you believe in game rules? If you do NOT believe game rules have very important and very unique qualities that make them different from non-game rules — if, for instance, you believe that game rules and “social” rules and, in general, “life” rules are similar enough that you can talk about all these in the same rules boat — then you may be a relativist.

The relativist believes that rules are for the making and that the players are the makers.  Re Twixt, the relativist would disagree that there were any meaningful rules inside CoH/V apart from the rules established by the player “society.”  Therefore, according to the relativist, Twixt broke the rules whenever he did not follow the “rules of society.”  Therefore, Twixt was a cheater.

Here are some important questions for the relativist: What are the rules of society?  Which (of many) societies are these the rules of?  Who decides the rules of society — and how do they decide them?  When players, as the makers of the rules, disagree about the rules of society, how is that disagreement resolved (i. e., are there rules for the rules of society)?

2.   The Hedonist.

Do you believe in game goals? If you do NOT believe that game rules establish objective game goals and the means by which those goals can (and cannot) be achieved — if, for instance, you believe that game goals are basically the same for all games (e. g., to have “fun”) — then you may be a hedonist.

The hedonist believes that all games, regardless of their rules and goals, are intended to please and delight their players and, if this does not occur, then there is something wrong with the game.  Re Twixt, the hedonist would claim that anything Twixt did that impeded the fun of others, directly or indirectly, purposefully or not, regardless of whether it accomplished rules-based goals or not, was not in the spirit of the game; therefore, Twixt was a griefer.

Here are some important questions for the hedonist:
What is your definition of “fun”?  How important is “challenge” to fun (or, using Aarseth’s terms, how important is aporia to epiphany)?  And, when the game players, as the fun-seekers, disagree about what is and isn’t fun, who gets to decide — and by what sort of rules?

3.  The Psychoanalyst.

Do you believe in game scores? If you do NOT believe that the most effective way to evaluate game play is to look at the game’s winning conditions and whether or not those winning conditions have been met  — if, for instance, you believe that play is best evaluated with reference to the outside-the-game intentions of players rather than the in-game outcomes of their play — then you may be a psychoanalyst.

The psychoanalyst believes that different players play games for different reasons, which may or may not be (but most often aren’t) determined by the game.  “Socializers,” for instance, play to socialize; “griefers,” for instance, play to grief; and so forth.  Re Twixt, the psychoanalyst would be unconcerned that Twixt killed X vills, died zero times, and took Y pillboxes per night.  The psychoanalyst would evaluate Twixt as a psychological “type.”  If the psychoanalyst believed Twixt intended “to piss people off,” for instance, then Twixt would be a sociopath (or autistic, or have Asperger’s syndrome — something like that).

Here are some important questions for the psychoanalyst:
What is the basis for the psychoanalyst’s beliefs about intentions?  How does the psychoanalyst confirm those beliefs?  And, of course, if the psychoanalyst says that a player’s intent is one thing, and the player says that it is something else, who decides — and according to what sort of rules?

4.  The Social Engineer.

Do you believe in games? If you do NOT believe games have objective and common rules, objective and explicit goals, and some means of determining whether or not those rules have been obeyed and those goals have been achieved — if, for instance, you believe that games (particularly online games inside MMOs) cannot really be designed or played or even exist — then you may be a social engineer.

The social engineer is sympathetic to the relativist, the hedonist, and the psychoanalyst, but unlike those, the social engineer is writ large; the social engineer is interested in the Big Picture.  For this reason, the social engineer does not usually design games at all; the social engineer prefers to consult (about, for instance, the management of fee-based subscription systems).

Re Twixt, the social engineer would see Twixt only as a minor cog in The Great Social Experiment.  For, even if Twixt cheated, interfered with other players’ fun, and intended to piss people off, that could very well be, in the Big Picture, a good thing.  From the social engineer’s point of view, Twixt-like characters might well serve as a source of drama and interest for other players, or as an enjoyable target for other players to demean and harass.   The social engineer would let the players decide.   And, if anything needed to be done, then the social engineer would let the players take care of it.

Here are some important questions for the social engineer: If players “take care” of things, what do social engineers do?  And, assuming, at some point, there were games, what happened to them?  Also, if the social engineer bears no responsibility for how the game is played the social rules are constructed, who does?  And, most importantly, when players “take care” of things, what sort of rules do they follow — if any?

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