Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 05, 2010
 
Evil in multiplayer games

mbp had a very good question in the open Sunday thread, asking "Can nice people role play villains in a hardcore game like EVE or Darkfall where villains really do upset their victims or do you need to be a b*stard in real life to be a b*stard in game?". The important part of the question is the distinction between upsetting victims and "virtual evil". When Edward Castronova once suggested on Terra Nova that only evil people play Horde in WoW, he was greeted with a mix of outrage and ridicule. To misquote Forrest Gump, most people agree that "evil is as evil does", that is an evil person is defined by doing evil acts. In World of Warcraft a player of a Horde character is not doing inherently more evil acts than a player of an Alliance character. Not only are Horde quests more often than not exactly the same do-gooder help random strangers with their errands stuff as the Alliance quests. But also in the cases where the quest text describes evil, that evil is directed towards NPCs, who don't really mind. An orc doing a quest to kill humans is not any more or less evil than a human doing a quest to kill orcs, and in both cases the "victims" are computer-controlled characters with no feelings. Their *role* in that game is getting killed, and as that "kill" doesn't hurt anyone, most people are wise enough not to read too much moral depth into whether the skin of the NPC victim is pink or green.

Even PvP can be done without moral problems, as long as that PvP is consentual. Killing another player's character in a battleground is what both players entered the battleground for in the first place. It is an agreed upon part of the game, and while it might cause some excitement (which, again, is the purpose), it isn't really likely to hurt anyone. It is arguable in how far the same holds true for games with non-consentual PvP.

But in any social environment, even a virtual one, real evil exists as well. That might be very minor, like blocking a flight master with your mammoth on purpose to annoy other players. It might be griefing others by ganking them. Or it might be bigger, like a deliberate action to destroy everything what other players worked for to make them rage-quit the game. In the Darkfall bank heist example, or in various EVE examples, people lied their way into a social structure to destroy it from within. That is evil. And the people doing these acts *know* that their acts are hurting and upsetting real people, not just some computer-controlled NPCs. Evil is as evil does, people deliberately going the extra mile to hurt other players beyond of what is required for gameplay are evil. People that are very nice in real life don't engage in that sort of behavior even in virtual worlds, and often don't even play the sort of games in which it is possible.

Of course on a greater scale of things, the maximum evil you can cause in a virtual multiplayer environment is rather limited. You can upset people, even make them quit the game, and that is obviously not very nice, and points towards a mean streak in character. But compared to causing bodily harm or killing real people, killing or robbing their avatars is small fry. Virtual world griefers are just small, mean bastards, and the very smallness of their evil acts points towards them not being a huge threat in the real world. Griefers bully other people in virtual worlds mostly because they are too small and afraid to bully people in the real world. John Gabriel's Greater Internet Dickwad Theory gives part of the answer is stating that annonymity and an audience are important factors to make people behave badly on the internet. Griefing other players in a virtual world guarantees the griefer a captive audience, his victims, and the anonymity of not being physically present protects him from any negative consequences.

Thus while I would agree that it takes an evil person to do evil things in a multiplayer game, petty acts of griefing in a multiplayer game point more towards the person being a petty jerk than him being a future mass murderer. People who are really nice and just want to "role-play evil" do that in games like Fable or Dragon Age, where they know that their experimenting isn't really hurting anyone.
Comments:
I think it's also important to distinguish between the evil of insinuating yourself into some guild to destroy it, and what people in Eve are very quick to call evil: war decs.

It's a little bit of a gray area, because really both are fully allowed in the rules. But I would say that friendly, well-adjusted people can fly in a PVP-centric corp that looks for fights (fair or not). Of course, the people on the losing end often call the attackers griefers, but... well, they're wrong. The attackers may be role-playing pirates. But then, spies and saboteurs may be role playing spies and saboteurs so... I don't know any more.

I guess it's hard to justify with more than 'It's just how I feel', but wardecing a corp and blowing up their stuff = not evil. Stealing all their goods from within = evil. I wish I knew why.
 
I don't get it. I thought the only evil thing one can do in a *game*, is cheating. Anything within the game's rules is fine.
I don't see why you would call other players evil, just because you don't like the game's rules.

I also never really quite understood the "non-consentual pvp" you talk about. Imo such a thing could only exist when someone kills you by cheating. I mean, if you're playing a game where you can be killed anywhere, just playing the game makes the PVP consentual already since there's no other choice but not playing the game.
 
In my opinion, being able to pull of heists is an important part of open-ended games. As long as it is within game mechanics (no cheating), seeking to achieve personal gain at the expense of other players should be an option. Of course, such acts will give the player a bad reputation, but infamy is perfectly healthy in open-ended games. Upon witnessing deeds akin to those you describe in your post, I wouldn't say "evil", I would say "out played".
 
For me it depends on the game. In dikus I try to be helpful considerate and a pleasure to play with.

In Eve, pen and paper rpgs and larp I vary according to which character I'm playing. I genuinely believe the dark side of Eve enhances the game for everyone and is no more "evil" than breaking an agreement in Diplomacy. If you thought your new director wasn't going to run off with all the cash you simply don't get the game.
 
But in any social environment, even a virtual one, real evil exists as well. That might be very minor, like blocking a flight master with your mammoth on purpose to annoy other players.

Most people who block something don't even know about it. They got their with the Blizzard uber-mount and then effectively block something, because the mount is so absurdly large. My guess is that just a minority blocks stuff to annoy other players.



Killing another player's character in a battleground is what both players entered the battleground for in the first place. It is an agreed upon part of the game, and while it might cause some excitement (which, again, is the purpose), it isn't really likely to hurt anyone. It is arguable in how far the same holds true for games with non-consentual PvP.


The same holds true for players who play on a server/game that allows non-consentual PvP. They know that they play on such a server and therefore agreed to be forced into PvP situations.
Whining about it causes more 'evil' than just accepting it. And playing in-character.


And the people doing these acts *know* that their acts are hurting and upsetting real people, not just some computer-controlled NPCs.

The perfect MMORPG makes it impossible for me to distinguish between PCs and NPCs. Since the perfect one doesn't exist, I try as hard as I can to ignore the difference.
A human warrior is a human warrior and if he is in horde territory for a 'quest' it is my duty to hunt him down. Full Stop.
If he resurrects nearby (stuipd mechanic from an immersion pov), that's not really an excuse. He is still in horde territory!
Blame the machanic, don't blame me for playing along the WoW-lore!

People who are really nice and just want to "role-play evil" do that in games like Fable or Dragon Age, where they know that their experimenting isn't really hurting anyone.


No. Just no.
I want to play my MMORPG in-character. It's an RPG, damn it.
Undead in WoW are often quite evil in lore. I demand the right to act in-character when I play them!

Besides: Killing other players can be considered a good act depending on the pov.


What I miss in this entry of yours is immersion, Tobold. You don't even mention it!
In my opinion it is at the center of a good (MMO)RPG.
 
While I pretty much agree with your analysis I do think that some games blur the line between what is required for the game and not. I even think there is confusion between what is consensual and what is not.

Take the case of the Pirate who podded you all those years ago in EVE. From his perspective he may have been playing the game exactly as intended. Piracy is after all a well known feature of EVE. He could perhaps argue that you "consented" to being ganked merely by choosing to play a hardcore PVP game. From your perspective on the other hand he was being evil - causing you a good deal of personal pain for relatively little reward in return.

And then there was the recent game of Solium Infernum so excellently recorded on Rock Paper Shotgun. Those guys really got into the spirit of that hell based game - stabbing each other into the back at every opportunity. Reading the blogs I would say they got so wrapped up in that game that the did actually get emotionally involved and some people did get upset. Yet there is not sense of the players being really evil - they type of play they exhibited was entirely in keeping with the the game required.
 
While you're right that doing evil things to NPCs in WoW doesn't cause any feeling of guild, I think that this is due to the weak writing and generally low immersion of the game. I wrote about my issues with evil acts in RPGs here: http://procrastinationamplification.com/role-playing-is-hard/

I see no general rule that. Would prevent mmo npcs to nfeel as rweal as those in sinngle player games.
 
A good point earlier. Is betraying someone in a game of Diplomacy or Junta a sign of evil too?

(I don't agree with your thesis that infiltrating a corporation in EVE to destroy it is in any way evil. That's consensual PvP too. And one of the attractions of those games is that it gives people who would enjoy doing that but don't want to, you know, be criminals or assholes in real life a chance to practise those skills in a consensual environment. )
 
Blizzard solved this nicely. You can choose if you want to or endure evil. Just go play on a PvP server.

As for single player games I tried to be the super evil guy. But I don't find it to be much fun. I usually end up helping all civilians while being mean to the criminals.
 
An interesting topic, Tobold, but I disagree with your conclusions.

"People that are very nice in real life don't engage in that sort of behavior even in virtual worlds, and often don't even play the sort of games in which it is possible."

I have acquaintances who play EVE and one in particular is the head of a corps that prides itself on the infiltration and sabotage of other corps. He is a very intelligent, charming and likeable guy but very much enjoys playing EVE because of the risk, the subterfuge and the "thrill of the con", if you will. None of it is exploiting the game nor is it cheating.

I do agree, however, that it might hurt or upset the people who are conned but the other players are playing the game where that's allowed. To complain about it seems churlish. Real world sports example: I (used to) play rugby. The extremely physical, full-contact nature of the game means that people can get hurt. If you're not prepared to risk tackling or being tackled hard, or risk bruises, the possibility of cuts, sprains and even broken bones if things go very badly, then don't play the game. But does the fact that I would not hesitate to hit someone hard in a tackle with my full (6'2", 100lb) body weight mean that I'm an evil, violent thug who likes hurting people or does it instead suggest that I'm a very physical, very competitive risk-taker? (Rhetorical question! I'm sure there are more than a few people who might believe the former assertion.)

This is not to say that there aren't some people who play any game who aren't vindictive minded, petty little bullies who grief to cause intentional upset. Level 80s camping the Crossroads to repeatedly kill those who can't fight back, for example. Hunters who used a particular exploit to get enemy characters to inadvertantly flag themselves for PvP (as happened to me once in a starting zone of all places). But don't judge the people who play within the rules by the same yardstick as those who play outside of it.
 
Is betraying someone in a game of Diplomacy or Junta a sign of evil too?

Oh, Junta, I loved that game! But I do know a couple that broke up over a game of Junta. And I think that shows where the problem is: As long as players only have a relationship which is strictly in-game, and the game is all about betrayal and killing each other, they don't mind if exactly that happens. But guilds in MMORPGs don't work that way, they also have a side to them which is a personal relationship between "friends". It is that betrayal of friendship to gain an advantage in the game in that particular example which is so hurtful to others, and which I consequently would say is evil.
 
But guilds in MMORPGs don't work that way, they also have a side to them which is a personal relationship between "friends".
Except when they don't. There's plenty of guilds that do have their bubbles, keeping their in-game and out-of-game behavior separate, and the bubble isn't used only in MMORPGs. There's FPS clans, sports teams, wrestlers, politicians and other actors. Playing Hannibal Lecter does not make Anthony Hopkins evil.
 
Being part of a NWN2 heavy roleplaying community, I would have to say that it does take a certain personality to play an evil character. This is a community that has permadeath, and some people have the same character for years (my NWN1 character was 7 years old when the last server went offline). Evil in these worlds is difficult to do convincingly, and has to be much better than just acting like a dick.

Confidence is the main thing. An evil act might come back to bite you years later so if your unsure of yourself, you won't survive. You don't need to be a bastard in real life. The most successful 'evil' characters in this communities history have been played by very nice, friendly people.

Then again, NWN2 is D&D so it is a very different style to an MMO where being evil generally just means your a jerk. In this community you gotta have smarts to really pull of an evil character.
 
Tobold, I couldn't disagree more.

I play free-for-all PvP games and yes, I will do everything in my power to disturb whatever activity a enemy faction player is doing.

The fact that the player is there is a tacit agreement of the rule set. I will kill a player and if he starts whining I will kill him again and again. When I'm on the receiving end of the deal I will congratulate the player who killed me and either I try to get "revenge" or if he is that much stronger I'll go to someplace else.

Even killing enemy faction NPC's is fair game. Don't like it? Tough. As far as I remember in WoW you get notifications when such things happen so there's no reason that other players should not respond to the call.

This is how I play and regardless of what you may think I am not a "evil person" nor I am a psicopath and I don't think I'm an aggravating jerk. I just play a game to the full extent of the rules and don't bith about it when the oposing faction does the same. Of course blocking NPC's and such is plain dickery but even then I would blame more the devs for allowing it that the 9 year old for finding it amusing.

In short people should be aware of the rules of the game they are playing. Even in EVE you are wrong in your assertion. Espionage and betrayal ARE part of the game. Infiltrating a rival corp IS part of the game. And you should not be so quick to judge players who go all the way.

And In your view do players who only play PvE are nice persons and all? Because I've met complete assholes in different games I played that went out of their way to avoid PvP but enjoyed being dicks to other players...
 
And In your view do players who only play PvE are nice persons and all?

I never said that, you are turning one of my phrases around. I said nice people don't play games in which you have to be evil to succeed, and in which there is a high likelyhood to be victim of such evil. That doesn't mean that evil people can't play PvE games too. And as the "block flight patch with mammoth" example shows, the petty evil jerk might even enjoy the fact that in a PvE game he can't be attacked for what he does.

One more comment on your "tacit agreement on the rule set" remark: Why do I repeatedly get comments from readers asking me to play EVE? I do *not* agree with a ruleset that includes ganking and betrayal, neither tacitly nor otherwise. So shouldn't people rather advise me to stay away from EVE?
 
You also don't agree with everything Blizzard does, still you play WoW.

Many things are very well done in EVE. Just like many things are very well done in WoW.

It is, of course, your decision to just not play EVE - especially since you have tried it out some years ago. Still, you cannot expect everybody to know that and shouldn't be surprised, if you signal interest in WoW economics and some reader suggests you try EVE.

EVE is more than just blowing ships of other players up - although that can be made a major part of it by you. Stay in high-sec space and the PvP is practically gone.

As I already wrote before, I cannot stand the GUI of EVE, the RMT and the basic skill-up system.
That's why I stopped playing it. An EVE done by Blizzard would certainly be a dream come true for me.
 
Yah, I'd say that the responses to this item tend to prove the point. Other than DraconianOne, whose post is thoughtful and makes some good points, most of these replies are along the lines of "if I can do it it's not cheating and only cheating is evil".

I'd disagree with the use of the word evil though. The petty mean spirited jerk description is moe appropriate.

Sorry, but being a dickwad is being a dickwad, even if allowed by the rules.
 
EVE is more than just blowing ships of other players up - although that can be made a major part of it by you. Stay in high-sec space and the PvP is practically gone.

Don't you see the how your and Wyrm's statements can't both be true at the same time? You are saying that yes, I could play EVE without PvP, and enjoy the various economic aspects of it. Wyrm says that if I play EVE I do tacitly agree to getting ganked at some point in time. As far as I know how EVE works, I think Wyrm is technically correct: While staying in high-sec space would *reduce* my chance of being ganked, it doesn't eliminate it. I've even read stories of how experienced players trick newbies into being attackable without repercussions in the newbie zones by getting them to pick up some "free" loot floating in space which flags them for PvP or something. And once I get shot down and complain about it on this blog, everybody would just say "you signed up for this, you knew what the risk was".

Yes, I know what the risk is of a game which has non-consentual PvP. No, I refuse to sign up for that risk. Besides, while the economic system and the buy orders of EVE are nice, there are looooooong boring stretches of endless space flight or mining in that game as well. Not to mention legal RMT. Come back to me once CCP releases "Trammel EVE".
 
Don't you see the how your and Wyrm's statements can't both be true at the same time?

I see. The problem is that this is a comment section and we need to keep the comments somehow short ;)

In high sec you are safe. As safe as in WoW PvE Servers. Wyrm writes about lowsec space.I played EvE for several months and haven't been blown up - or even attacked once in high sec.

To argue that some jackasses can trick you is .. come on Tobold !

In WoW some jackasses invite newbies into raids. Then they leave the group and the newbies cannot complete quests anymore.

Some players enable their PvP tag on PvE servers and jump in front of monsters, hoping that the newbie targets them and flags himself.

I read that. Such things never actually happened to me. And they didn't happen in EVE.


Besides, while the economic system and the buy orders of EVE are nice, there are looooooong boring stretches of endless space flight or mining in that game as well.

That can be problematic if you come back from work and want actions. Agreed. EVE is more about long term fun than about instant satisfaction.

There is the idea that a game should to some degree be work, because there cannot be satisfaction without work. No light without shadow.

You wrote about similar things some days ago .. It is a different topic ;)
 
Besides, how to these two quotes from you can both be true?

1) Oh, Junta, I loved that game!
2) I said nice people don't play games in which you have to be evil to succeed, and in which there is a high likelyhood to be victim of such evil.

Are MMOs different in that aspect?
 
And what pray tell is "evil"? We need to define the term before painting acts with that brush.

One assumes a player is acting badly because he/she does not abide by our assumed rules of the field. Is mob-stealing evil? Only if we assume people should share and not compete for mobs.

Acts themselves are not evil, only the intent behind them is. Without knowing what the other person's true feeling and motivation is behind their actions, it is impossible to deem an act itself as evil. Even your example of slaying the flight master -- such a thing might be done for laughs(inconsiderate perhaps, yes, but hardly evil), or strategy (raiders don't want people flying in or out), or challenge (I wonder if I can beat that guy!) or even boredom (click click, just whacking stuff, click click). None of those reasons is "evil" yet may be perceived that way by those with different expectations of play.
 
But what is it about being killed IN A GAME (sorry for the caps but I can't stress this enough) that is so horrible to you?

I hate being bested in Darkfall but if it happens, it happens... No biggie...
 
I think people are getting open pvp games confused with outright evil.

Lets take a WoW PvP server for example. You sign up and understand you can be killed/kill anywhere. It isn't evil to kill someone else in Outlands. That is more or less part of the game. In one way or another you can defend that action.

Going to a newbie zone and butchering people 70 levels below you would be evil. There is no benefit to your realm or yourself for killing them. You get no honor from the kill.

In EQ (yea I like to use that alot) Trolls and Ogre's would sit outside SolB and block the entrance so people couldn't get in. A PvE server with people being jerks, aka evil.

I think in EVE, Darkfall, AoC PvP servers and MO the line is more vague. Just killing someone isn't evil. Killing someone for no reason and no profit would be. However killing someone in an enemy guild no matter what the level difference is isn't evil either.

Each games has different rules which dictate what would constitue evil. In a PvE game just being an annoying jerk is considered evil and in an open PvP game it takes much more to be considered evil.
 
Are MMOs different in that aspect?

I would say they are, in as far as you are building up long-term relationships with others. A board game has a better defined beginning and end, with the rules clearly explaining if lying and betrayal are part of the game.

I didn't see that written on the EVE Online box. A new player stumbling upon a helpful other player who tells him among other helpful tips that he should put his money in the intergalactic bank for safekeeping has no warning that this bank might be a scam.
 
A new player stumbling upon a helpful other player who tells him among other helpful tips that he should put his money in the intergalactic bank for safekeeping has no warning that this bank might be a scam.

Which could happen on any WoW server, too. Invite new player to guild and ask him to put his 3 silver into the guild bank, then kick him. However, just like in EVE the new players don't have any meaningful amounts of money.


A board game has a better defined beginning and end, with the rules clearly explaining if lying and betrayal are part of the game.

I consider this a valid, but weak point actually. Everybody who is older than 16 knows that other people on the internet can be jerks.
Actually, especially the very young generation might know this even better than us :).
You don't trust a stranger on the street, you definitely don't trust the stranger on Facebook and, well, you don't trust the unknown guy in your new MMO.
 
I think this is one of those discussions that boils down to personal social taboos. It is wrong to break the rules of a game, no reason to argue that point any further imo.

However certain activities within the game can be construed as evil, even though the game allows them. The problem is everyone has a different, even if insignificantly different, boundary as to what is unacceptable behavior. In the greater sense of a social network you can’t be your own special snowflake because you won’t fit in. No matter how much you do not want to, you have to be another cog in the wheel or face the label of outsider… or evil depending on how society chooses to label your actions.

Just because something is indeed possible in a game does not make it socially acceptable. If something is not socially acceptable then one could argue it to be evil, depending on the infraction and again where your boundary and the agreed upon boundary of the social network lies.

That is why every game, every server, and every community around the world has a different view on what is right and what is wrong. One culture finds it acceptable to sacrifice people while others deem even the smallest animal to be worthy of worship.

Society around you chooses what is evil. Case and point most serial killers do not consider their actions to be evil. The person corpse camping you or ganking a lowbie uses the mentality of “it happened to me too” or “welcome to PvP” as justification for it. No one, or really very few people, say “hey this is wrong but I’m gonna do it anyways”.

Sorry for the long post.
 
In which I attempt to defend Griefing...
-Serial Ganker (sid67)
 
"But I do know a couple that broke up over a game of Junta. And I think that shows where the problem is"

Tobold, just no. Really.

If they broke up over who does the dishes would that make washing dishes evil?
 
I agree with that article about Horde being evil and Alliance being good. All the Alliance races are good by definition, with the exception of night elves, who can be viewed as neutral.

What you do in a virtual world does depend on your own personality, morals, and goals. Killing innocents for rewards in-game shows that one is willing to forgo their morals in thought.

That is dangerous. It seems that you, Tobold, downplay the significance of what people do in "fictional" worlds. The argument of pixels is quite underplaying. You could say all living material is made of emotionless atoms, so what does it matter?

Although indeed killing an NPC in-game has no affect on the NPC, as they do not feel pain or have purpose, it does affect your own psyche. Choosing to play as an evil character in a social setting means you must have some desire to be evil or wicked.

Otherwise, why would you? It has a huge impact, and it is disturbing that many find there to be no association.

A good example of this would be the choice of playing a game where the player is a good guy killing demons, or playing as a demon killing innocent people. This choice would be dependent on the person, and could warp one's own thought.
 
The basics for evil are pretty universal. If your empathy is dampened or damaged to the point where you can treat people like things or even a less than things, then you have evil intent.
 
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