Tobold's Blog
Friday, May 22, 2015
Outside battery limits

In engineering there is an important distinction of things being either "inside battery limits" or "outside battery limits". On an engineering plan there is often a dotted line showing that "battery limit", which is the border between "the plant" and "the rest of the world". I think that concept needs more attention when talking about games, especially multiplayer online games. The limits are often not clearly defined, and that leads to dangerous situations.

In Canada a 17-year old League of Legends players has plead guilty to a range of charges: "According to what [prosecutor] Bauer told the court, the teen would often target fellow League of Legends players and their families when they denied friend requests or he felt slighted by them over some minor offense. He would retaliate, according to Bauer, by shutting down their internet access, posting their personal information online, calling them late at night, or calling the police to call in an imaginary emergency situation.". To me that is an extreme example of that League of Legends player having stepped outside battery limits. You are supposed to beat your opponent *inside* the limits of the game; stepping outside of those limits is problematic, and in some cases criminal.

There are some games like EVE Online or Crowfall where the developers deliberately obscure the limits to what is out of bounds, and in consequence serious breaches of those limits happen. There is a whole school of thought among some PvP players where it is not sufficient to beat your adversary in the game, it is necessary to make the person behind the keyboard cry. I have been criticized for calling such behavior "evil" because "it is just a game", but I believe that from a certain point onward it stops being just a game and goes outside the limits of the rules of the game. And not just swatting, which constitutes a serious danger to the life and health of the target, but also lesser forms of cyber-bullying, harassment, and humiliation. If the target is a person as opposed to his avatar or other representation in the game, these actions are evil. That they take place because of a game is not an excuse; rather I find it worrying that somebody would be willing to inflict harm on another real person for something as trivial as a game.

I do believe that game companies and developers have a duty to make the limits of their game very clear, and to strongly react to transgressions that step over those limits.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "developers obscuring the limits". I don't remember any official message from either stating that IRL harassment is fine...
Well, they did say "betrayal is fine". That is one of those limit cases which can go both ways, is the betrayal happening between players or between avatars? Same for the "scams are fine" policy, when the scammed in-game currency can be transformed into real money.
I agree completely. A "game" is defined as a ruleset that is wholly knowable and contained within the game. Violating that boundary will get you ejected from the game.

Games that do not hold that boundary as sacred should not be considered "games."

You cannot unilaterally "make up new rules" in a game. Imagine if in Baseball, it was considered "emergent game play" to repeatedly bump someone off the base so he could be tagged out! The integrity of the game would be destroyed and few would play it. The rule in baseball is clear, once you get on base, you are untouchable. Any attempt to circumvent that will get you immediately ejected.

A game must establish those clear boundaries and enforce them. Baseball does, and it's been going strong since.

You might make a case for Eve, but the case of the LoL player, I don't think it's possible to say that they blurred the boundaries.

Where there might be some blurring is in the kid's head in that maybe he thinks swatting is ethically different from physically beating someone up (maybe he does, maybe he doesn't, we don't know). But that's nothing to do with LoL. I bet he's not nice to people who snub him at school either.
Helistar said...
I'm not sure I understand what you mean by "developers obscuring the limits". I don't remember any official message from either stating that IRL harassment is fine...

Let's take EVE for example.

* It took a shit storm for having the Mittani removed from CSM chair (not even banned for a few days!) when he stood drunk on stage and told people to go harrass a player until he commits suicide.

* It took a shit storm of epic proportions and months of complaining and the influence of a very influential blogger and member of the CSM to finally ban Erotica1, a player that took other players in voice comms and bullied and humiliated them. After that, that same CSM member was given grief by a good chunk of the community that supported Erotica1, that he finally quit blogging.

* EVE devs have been known to post 'HTFU' (Harden the Fuck Up) when people are found 'whining'.

All of the above just screams that CCP while not openly endorsing abusive behaviour, they are very much tolerating it.
I don't follow the analogy in item 1 (I suspect any analogy related to an engineering term will fail when subsequently applied to a moral/ethical boundary...) but the remainder is quite sound, and also makes more sense after reading Gerry Quinn's post above.
Tobold, it's not that I at all disagree, it's that I question the point of continuing to talk about it.

There are evil people out there, and they will not change. There are games that cater to those players, because they want to make money.

While I despise games that endorse such behavior, I don't think there should be like some law that restricts them from doing so. If we start to censor game developers on this, we open the door to censorship of more important social issues.

Are you calling for that sort of censorship? That games like EVE shouldn't be allowed to be? Or do you just want to convince people not to play them?

The average psychopathic EVE player isn't going to be reading your blog, and even if they did, nothing you say will make them recant joyfully going after other players' tears.

I just don't see the point of inviting such drama.
"when the scammed in-game currency can be transformed into real money"

Just to nitpick, but that is not the case in EVE Online. Once real-world money goes into the game, in cannot be extracted and become real-world money again by any method approved/endorsed by CCP.
I don't think players who try to cause emotional damage to another person are doing it for "something as trivial as a game." The game is just the communication medium. Similar to people who harass other people into suicide by phone - it's not the phone's fault.

So the issue of responsibility rests largely on the player. If a player, a human being, harasses another person it's not the fault of Eve Online/Facebook/British Telecom.

It does become blurred in Eve because of the issue of leadership. Some people are such sheep. When The Mittani called for that other player to be harassed into taking his own life, dozens of other players rushed right down there to grief him. For a while it wasn't known whether the attempt had been successful until one of the more level-headed Goons managed to have a conversation with him and establish he was all right.

Had he self-harmed who would be to blame?

The grunt who actually got the harassment in? (Maybe he would claim the Nuremberg defence of only following orders).

The charismatic leader who incited a riot?

The games company who have constructed this "sociopath simulator?"

The depressed person who decided to hurt himself?

I think all of them share some blame.
>Had he self-harmed who would be to blame?

This is the wrong question. Trying to apportion blame makes it a legal question. That's the response of someone who does whatever they can get away with and refrains from what will cause them negative consequences. Not someone seeking right action.

The objection instead isn't that such behavior is criminal, but that it's evil. It's a moral judgement about whether an action caused harm, or was intended to cause harm, or was revealing of an improper character.

Taking shelter from responsibility for the results of an act (avoiding the blame) doesn't shield you from censure for taking immoral action.
Such "out of bounds" behaviour is common in other games. The bizzare yoghurt-related mind games of the 1978 World Chess Championship spring to mind, as do sledging in cricket, deliberately setting off fire alarms in opposing football teams' hotels, etc.

The Columbian goalkeeper Andrés Escobar was even murdered after making a mistake in a crucial game.

Now this doesn't mean that such behaviour is acceptable in video games, but perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised when it happens, given the broader "win at all costs" culture associated with competitive sports.
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