Many people, when they try their first MMO, are innocents. Those who aren’t terribly experienced with online play in any persistent sense, who haven’t forged relationships with others using their virtual selves. People who don’t realize that avatars in a massively multiplayer game are our virtual representatives, and that people actually remember who our avatar is.

They are innocent. When a person plays an MMO for the first time, there is no concept of morality or propriety. Many people begin their careers in an online world as amoral avatars. Their actions mean almost nothing to them, and they don’t realize they mean something to others.

In a PvP game, this is a time of rampant killing and random behaviors. In a PvE game, new players to the genre often have no concept of right or wrong, and no idea that there are established rules that they must follow (or elect not to).

They might kill steal someone else without realizing what kill stealing is. They might train someone else with a mob without realizing what training is. They might interrupt someone else’s fun in any number of ways without truly realizing the implications of their actions.

But, after a while, everyone learns of MMOrality. They realize that what they do does matter to others, and that they will be remembered for the things they have done. They begin to realize that their in-game avatar can have almost as complex a relationship with others as they can in real life.

At this point, the newbie MMO player must make a choice: Will they adhere to the implied code of virtual worlds, or at least put on a façade to ensure that their avatar is well regarded? Or, will they knowingly make a name for themselves as a notorious avatar, thriving on their own infamy? Whatever they choose, they are no longer amoral, and will instead become moral or immoral.

Warning: Here’s where I go off the original topic and never come back. That’s about all I have to say about that anyway. Okay, moving on…

This choice doesn’t exist to the same extent as it used to. When you could exploit mechanics to screw other players over, or when games had PvP because PvP was part of what made a massively multiplayer game a massively multiplayer game, being the bad guy was a distinct alternative to being the good guy.

In games these days, being the bad guy is often tougher. Sometimes you need help, or you need to trade with others, or you need to interact in some way with other players. If you are known as a kill stealer, or someone who trains others, or someone who annoys people in chat, or someone who is any way the “bad guy,” the game becomes pretty sucky.

Players now have to maintain a façade, at least with some players, to ensure that they can still have fun. There is little room for evil avatars in most of the MMOs I’ve played recently. There are exceptions, of course, and most of them are PvP-centered games such as EVE (a game I’d be fully dedicated to if I could raise my skills through use in addition to time).

Evil avatars need to be able to band together and take on good avatars, which isn’t always possible in PvE games. In part, this is because most of the “evil” things you can do after discovering that there is indeed a concept of morality in MMOs are banned by a game’s Terms of Service. You can’t exploit, you can’t spam, you can’t do anything to piss anyone off.

And, I am loathe to say it, rightly so. Without the potential for recourse, you shouldn’t be able to be evil. Without an avenue for retribution, the good players can’t fight the evil players without breaking the rules themselves. This is, in part, why I love playing PvP games.

The question I have after posting this wandering ramble of a post is: Can there really be a true sense of morality in an MMO without PvP?

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