Friday, January 11, 2013
The problem with botting
The Nosy Gamer has a list of recent botting and exploiting issues of various MMORPGs. He hope we can all agree that botting and exploiting are bad things for MMORPGs. I fully support appropriate bans for players doing this. But the very fact that bots exist is telling me something about MMORPGs in general, and the frequency of their use about some MMORPGs in particular:
- At least some players are more interested in the rewards for certain activities than they are interested in actually performing that activity.
- The game activities that are botted are mindless enough to be bottable.
Apart from players *wanting* to bot a game activity, which shows that the activity isn't all that interesting, the second problem is bots being so perfectly able at performing those activities, showing how repetitive and simple the things we are supposed to do in a MMORPG are in the first place. Douglas Adams' book "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" contains a paragraph about the electric monk, "a labour-saving device, like a dishwasher or a video recorder. Dishwashers washed tedious dishes for you, thus saving you the bother of washing them yourself, video recorders watched tedious television for you, thus saving you the bother of looking at it yourself". Bots play tedious games for you, thus saving you the bother of playing the games yourself. What does it say about our games if we need labour-saving devices to do those tedious, repetitive, and trivial game activities for us?
Bots can be seen as "proof" that MMORPGs more and more resemble a Skinner Box: Push button, get cookie. Pushing the button is neither fun, nor is it challenging. You only do it for the cookie. And the game is usually set up in a way that you need to push the same button in the same way repeatedly, which is even more boring. So if you can have a bot pushing the button for you and still get the cookie, that is a clear advantage for the player. But at that point the MMORPG has stopped being a game, which is defined as structured play undertaken for enjoyment or education. The decade-old Progress Quest was supposed to be a parody of the MMORPG genre, not a model for future development.
Banning the botters is a first step, but it only treats the symptom, and not the underlying cause. Where we want to arrive at is games that are A) so interesting that we want to play them ourselves instead of letting the bots do it, and that are B) complex and challenging enough that they can't be performed by a simple script anyway. Unfortunately it appears we are rather moving away from that ideal, thus the increase in problems with botting and exploiting.