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?

9 Responses to "MMORality"

  1. VPellen

    Can there really be a true sense of morality in an MMO without PvP?

    Morality is based on choice. If you have freedom of how to act, then you have morality. The only reason it seems that games without PvP lack morality is because there’s less fundamental “choice”; The rules say you’re not allowed to act like an asshole, and that you will be evicted from the game if you choose to do so. If you ban people for being immoral, are you really giving them a choice of being moral or not?

    So I guess the answer to the question is “Yes, but.”

    Of course it also depends on how you define “PvP”, but that’s where things start getting really semantic.

  2. Wolfe

    There is on a highly abstract or “deep” level. The example that comes to my mind is guild politics. One guild can be higly moral and strive towards success through “noble means” such as recruiting openly and having a socialistic type of loot distribution system that cares for everyone in the guild, or even helpful friends. A different moral is often seen in guilds who recruit by targetting the most prominent members of other guilds and headhunt them specifically, in some cases such headhunting is supported by promises of loot distribution advantages.

    The guild gameplay is practically a pvp system tho, where one guild fights other guilds over the limited resource of contributing members.

    This type of political gameplay can retain some morality because only a tiny few % of the players understand it well enough, which keeps it hidden from the public eye. Its also complex enough that no common concept of where the design flaw is which stir up the negative emotions.

    (And anyone who does understand it is so heavily hardcore invested that they are resilient enough to not churn the first few times they come across it as a problem.)

  3. Mavis

    Yes, morality is possible without PVP.

    It exists in “A tale of the desert” and that has no PvP.

    It has competition, but not PvP.

    After all a totally immoral character could be exiled from the server. So I suspect morality requires consqueunces that are not auto enforced via the system but arrise from the players. Killing them in PVP is one such choice.

  4. Trathe

    What Wolfe said :mrgreen:

  5. Choice without consequences is no real choice at all. At our root, humans are self-interested. We can talk about altruism, religion, spirituality, ethics, and morality, but the bottom line is that the reason we’re not all out killing each other is because we recognize that there are consequences to such an action.

    We are taught and trained from an early age that killing is bad. We’re taught that killing comes with consequences. We’re taught that killing will result in fire and brimstone…or at least 20 to life.

    But what if we’re raised in a different environment. What if there were no consequences for killing. What if there were no rules. What if might truly meant right. In such a society, our current mores mean nothing. You may as well be a Conquistidor burning idols in “heathen” villages at that point, for all the good the morals of one civilization might mean in another.

    Sure, you can have morals in a game without having to resort to PVP. However, you have to accept a certain level of consequences for inappropriate actions. Whether these are arbitrarily resolved through a Gamemaster style CSR or through some automated game mechanic, provide consequences severe enough and you’ll keep the morals you want for the virtual society you’ve created.

    It’s not choice that creates morals. It’s consequences (and incentives) which matter.

  6. Problem is, Ryan, there aren’t any “evil” characters or “bad guys” that aren’t 2-dimensional jerks in games because there aren’t any in life, and we can only go with what we know.

    Is Osama bin Laden a bad guy? Not to hundreds of thousands of mujahideen, he’s not. He certainly doesn’t think so. Is Kim Jong Il a bad guy? Not in his own mind, twisted to us though that may be. Is George W Bush a bad guy? Or just an easily-manipulated idiot? I know which option his speeches make me favour.

    There are no bad guys. There are only people with different goals. EVE exploits this perfectly. Other games? Not so much if at all.

    Somebody’s going to raise the spectre of Hitler before long. Yeah well, he thought he was saving his people, his country and his race from potential annihilation. Was he wrong? Probably. Was he evil? That’s up to you. Did he think so?

    Almost definitely not.

  7. Very well said, Rich. Most of your points were floating around in my head as I read the responses.

    Great question, Ryan. As I delve deeper into game design, I find myself more and more focused on the political aspects within MMOs.

    Specifically, what I would like to see is more focus on those systems of reward and punishment for immoral players. I’m a big fan of handling in-game issues…well…in the game. For those who abuse other players and ruin the fun of other players, I’d much rather see a game mechanic in place than hitting the old banning button.

    I’ve worked on such as system in a text-based game I used to participate in. Basically, there were mechanisms I put in place to “charge” offenders with crimes, including things like kill-stealing and player killing. Other players with bureaucratic skills actually prosecuted or defended their clients. When there were no player crimes on the docket, I developed an NPC crime system so that players could develop their skills.

    I guess my answer would be yes, morality could exist without PvP. It would just take some creativity on the part of the game developers to replace PvP with something else.

  8. yeah you can have heroes but I always thought you would only be a hero if you saved someone from a conseqence. For example, if someone is fighting a mob and then get in too deep nearby players can either choose to point and laugh or jump in and help. To the victim, if you help them out you’re a hero. But if you don’t help and watch them die- yeah you’re a villian.

    I do love PVP but I think we can force tough morale choices in PVE possibly

  9. Nic

    There is a major problem with this:

    On one of my first MUD’s, I ran across this exact situation. Someone was fighting what I believed to be something that was far above his level. It was a daring fight, but the way it was going I couldn’t see him lasting much longer. I decided to throw my own blade into the fight.

    After it was killed, I thought that I might receive some thanks. Instead:
    “You noob, why did you steal my exp?”

    Turn out he handles these mobs all the time, and I was getting in the way of his grind. My attempt to be an IC hero failed because, OOC, I was a kill stealer and thus, a bad person.

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