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r1ft Gaming Blog

A mirror of my gaming blog at r1ft.com. The jaded game designer turned corporate lackey. Feedback is always welcome.

Author: Daedren

The Morality of MMO Development, Part 2

Posted by Daedren Wednesday April 30 2008 at 8:11AM
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The original post is here: http://www.mmorpg.com/blogs/Daedren/042008/1588_The-Morality-of-MMO-Development

 

I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank many of the readers here for their thoughtful opinions on this subject. The reason for making this second thread is to continue the discussion on the topic, one that I find very interesting and important in our world of MMO's.

Addressing a couple comments:

 

whistlelock- Mon Apr 28 2008 4:58PM Delete

Your question, distilled down, is it right to provide an addict with their addiction addresses the symptom and not the sickness.  People use the games as escapist material- but why?  Why do they need to escape from anything?  For me it's not a question of right or wrong about the mmo- but a question of why.

 

What do the players need to escape from?  Have their lives spun so far out of control they need to go somewhere that they can control?  Some spot in their lives where the rules are clearly laid out, as opposed to the "real" world that has unknown rules that are ambiguously laid out?

 

This is good question - one that I think about often - but I think that it's a whole other ballpark in subject material. You are correct about my question ultimately being "why"? - but I'm almost afraid to tackle the subject, lest I anger people. People get extremely defensive when you try to turn their hobby - gaming - into some sort of evil creature and classify it as a true addiction or sickness.

Does that make it any less bad? No, not at all. If anything, the general gaming populous' reluctance to address the issue says a lot about the problem at hand; that it may well be a problem, a true social sickness, that needs to be addressed. I'm no doctor, though, so my judgment comes only from a personal point of view that may or may not be skewed. I'm not even sure I agree with this prognosis yet.

The issue of control is the key factor I believe; an MMO, with it's complex rulesets and such, can be learned and adapted to with relative ease in comparison to other more complex issues like real life. I agree that it can be a sort of "safe haven" to people, a familiar place in a time of despair, which may or may not be the reason for a global escapism mentality that we're starting to see. Perhaps the question needs to be pointed back at society; should we be asking "why has society driven these people away into virtual worlds?" - is it society's fault? What's the reason behind it?

 

faren_rathe- Mon Apr 28 2008 5:22PM Delete

Anyway loved your dissertation! Morality itself has to be worked through and defined by the individual, with Good Morals being defined as those that benefit the whole of society. But ultimately we're not really talking about society, are we? We are asking if you love what you do, if you can live with knowledge that you could have benefited as many as you could possibly hurt, and lastly if you have achieved what you really wanted to achieve.

As the addict I say enjoy what you do, use it to provide for you family, and leave me with the choice, be it to be entertained, escaped, or addicted, which ever fits my needs and desires at the time.

 

 

JB47394- Mon Apr 28 2008 7:30PM Delete

The responsibility of game developers?  It's the same as anyone's; act for the best interests of the individuals in the society that you belong to.  For you and me, that means everyone on planet Earth.  Unfortunately, in a world dominated by the thinking of relative morality, nobody agrees on what 'best interests' are anymore.

 

I suppose this, in a nutshell, is what I was asking: is the world - is our society - a better place with another MMO? Most would agree that no, it's not really - but it's not much worse of a place either. Oh, and by the way, the game is going to be made with or without moral-policeman Daedren on the job. Could I help make the game a more positive and less unhealthy-addictive experience? No small task.

 

Azmaria- Mon Apr 28 2008 6:52PM Delete

Echoing what has been said before me, morals are up to the person considering them.  While I've always been a personal fan on Darwinism and letting people suffer (or prosper) for the choices they make, this doesn't sit well with a lot of people.  This is not to say, however, that I don't have empathy; I just think that people need to learn from mistakes or those mistakes will constantly be made again and again.

 

This is the outlook I've always had on life in regards to MMO playing. I figured that in some weird example of natural selection, the MMO addicts would be less social, resulting in less real sex or relationships, resulting in far fewer offspring. This means that those truly addicting to gaming won't, for the most part, will be washed out of the gene pool eventually.

However, if the problem doesn't lie on the genetic level (which I don't think it does) - and it's a social problem - the escapist mentality could actually spread. For example, if I have two children, and I am a MMO addict, it might be more likely my children end up being like me. This is a logical conclusion. After, their children will be like them. Eventually, though we'd have to take into account laws of averages and such, we're looking at exponential growth of this escapist society. People will just stay plugged in to their cybernetic uplink instead of dealing with the real world. Enter the Matrix, I suppose. ;)

 

Loke666- Mon Apr 28 2008 7:51PM Delete

Almost everything is addictive. It should be the users choice whatever or not to use an addictive product (Television is an addictive product for once, sugar another one).

Do you really thinks a guy that works at Guiness feel bad about people that get drunk? Not likely.

 

 

I'm not sure if I agree with this. What about the people that work in the Opiate fields? Or the people that cut the product or make Crystal meth? Surely they know what their product is being used for. Generally, these people are considered "bad people". Why? All they do is pick a plant, refine it, whatever, and sell it to people that have the free choice to by their product. How are they any different than someone who makes cigarettes or sugar? Or someone who makes an addictive game? No one is putting a gun to any of those buyers and saying: use my product or die.

 

JB47394- Tue Apr 29 2008 4:39PM Delete

Daedren: "I know quite a few people, mainly my MMO buddies - who don't feel right if they don't spend X amount of hours in front of the computer a day."

Psychological distress can certainly manifest itself in physical conditions.  Simple conditioning can lead to physical responses.  The classic example is Pavlov's dogs.

Daedren: "I can't truthfully tell myself that the world would be a better place with another MMO."

Certainly not another of the type we see today.  Consider that MMOs are vehicles that permit people to interact and it is those very people that are part of the community that we're interested in helping.  Will Wright is using games in an attempt to educate, as are other developers.  What if an MMO did something as simple as putting links into the game that permitted players to find out more about an object from the web?  What if games operated solely on voice, requiring people to get to know each other?

I understand that each of those examples is a drastic departure from the traditional escapist and self-indulgent environment fostered by MMOs.  We don't want reality to intrude.  But perhaps that's what a healthy MMO is - a game that lets real people interact using game pieces that they could never hope to interact with in the real world.

I think that the important thing to keep in mind is that you really are interested in doing good.  If you keep your eyes on that goal, then you won't end up working on Grand Theft Auto XI, and you might just figure out how to make a billion dollars by bringing MMOs into the mainstream of the world's entertainment - instead of being a tool for escapists.  You can pursue a lot of social agendas with a billion dollars.  Especially when it is earned from worthy efforts.

 

This is an excellent point that I think should be highlighted. An integrated "wiki" function in the game for real objects is a good idea; teaching things such a real survivalism and combat or military tactics might be another. It's given me something to think about in this regard.

In the end, though, as a developer - I often wonder if gaming and digital escapism is the answer at all. What sort of long term social problems are we looking at if it's ran by people that grew up inside a virtual world instead of the real one? Would a child that was introduced into these environments at an early age - say 6 or 8 - function at the same level, socially, as one of their peers who did not?

Anyway, I'd like to continue the discussion on the topic for those interested.

 

 

JB47394 writes:

Daedren: "In the end, though, as a developer - I often wonder if gaming and digital escapism is the answer at all. What sort of long term social problems are we looking at if it's ran by people that grew up inside a virtual world instead of the real one?"

I don't know, but we're going to find out.  We've never gone down the road of making the virtual an important part of our lives, so we'll inevitably go down it.  We'll do it until we find out what the problems with it are.  Then a new generation will have learned one lesson (that it will not succeed in passing to its descendants).

Subtle problems will stay under the radar until they pile up and start to make people unhappy.  Then the studies will start in an effort to find out what the problem is.  Then the lawmakers will step in with Plans to solve the problem.

When all the while, all we needed was humility, respect and a bunch of other virtues.  But we don't teach those things to our children, so we will continue on the rollercoaster of history.

Meanwhile, most of the people will have their hands up in the air, thinking that it's a great ride.  Half of the time.

Wed Apr 30 2008 11:06AM Report
Daedren writes:

Hi JB47394.

First, let me say that I really enjoy your responses. It's nice, as a writer, to actually look forward to some good feedback or discussion on a topic. Thanks for reading and commenting on most of my stuff; the good and the bad!

I agree with your outlook on the future; we will, indeed, find out. However, I think the reactive approach you're talking about could be a bit dangerous.

In the end - who are we relying on to fix this problem - if it is one? Don't we, as people, consumers, and developers - have a right to do this ourselves? What steps can our generation take in this case?

I think the first step in any of this is to actually find out if there is a problem. I've done some research on gaming addictions, escapism, etc, but nothing that looks like objective research. What we need is real doctors that are qualified to do some extensive studies on this actually find out if it's real. I'll admit that's no small task, one that even myself is hard to get motivated on. Yay, we get to pay a bunch of doctors to tell us not to play games.

I suppose this is where maybe some experts in sociology would come in handy, to find out what the real effects on escapism are on a society as a whole. I think in the past, the "escapists" have always been a small minority and easily quarantined from the normal ranks of civilization. As you might agree, it's getting a bit mainstream, as we're looking at easily 20-30  million people (not sure on the global numbers, just taking a guess) of people that are at least familiar with the idea of escapism via MMOing.

"The rollercoaster of history" - do you mean human nature? Perhaps instead of killing each other, we'll be satisfied with killing virtual representations of each other. Maybe it'll satiate our primal need for violence. Clearly Bush shouldn't have go into Iraq, instead, Iraq plays Horde, US plays Alliance, and we kick their ass in Alterac Valley. ;)

Wed Apr 30 2008 11:32AM Report
JB47394 writes:

Daedren: "I agree with your outlook on the future; we will, indeed, find out. However, I think the reactive approach you're talking about could be a bit dangerous."

It's very dangerous.  I don't endorse it, it's just The Way Things Are.  People have biological instincts, and following those instincts does not lead to an ideal society.  It takes maturity to get closer to an ideal society because a big part of maturity is mastering our simple instincts.

Daedren: "In the end - who are we relying on to fix this problem - if it is one? Don't we, as people, consumers, and developers - have a right to do this ourselves? What steps can our generation take in this case?"

Ah, our rights.  Ask rather what our duties are.

The steps that our generation can take are to educate our children on using their intellect to make decisions, instead of their instincts.  I have other pipe dreams as well.

Daedren: "I think the first step in any of this is to actually find out if there is a problem."

Let's say that you were going to install a new device on your computer, and you want to know if it's going to produce problems.  How would you know if a certain behavior was a problem or not?  Well, you'd know because you had an ideal behavior in mind for your computer.  Something that didn't give you your ideal behavior would be a problem.  Everything else is goodness.

So if we want to know the problems in escapism, we have to know how escapism is advancing us towards our ideal society.

But people don't have a concrete notion of an ideal society.  Such a concept is very much not in vogue these days.  We are told to value other people's differences, and that one social structure is much like any other.  If you did a survey of researchers on the merits and problems of escapism, you'd get every possible answer because the researchers all have their own impression of whether a certain behavior is good or bad.

Daedren: "Perhaps instead of killing each other, we'll be satisfied with killing virtual representations of each other. Maybe it'll satiate our primal need for violence."

Our instincts are given to us so that we can train them to be assets - not to sate them as an annoyance.  If an MMO can help people to train their instincts, then I'm all for it.  Education, cooperation, teamwork and so forth are features of good MMOs.  Personal wealth, power and vanity are features of poor MMOs.

Wed Apr 30 2008 1:41PM Report
grimfall writes:

There's no such thing as a 'primal need for violence'.

There's a primal need to procreate and from that could flow the action of violence.  For example two mountain rams butting horns to prove which is tougher to impress  the female sheep, but there is no primal need to do violence in the human species.

Wed Apr 30 2008 7:47PM Report
KamiKazeTG writes:

The internet, if anything, made me more social IRL not less.

I don't think Game Developers should concern themselves with addiction. It is not their responsibility to hold the hand of a few people that abuse their product. That would be like taking Budweiser to court because their product made someone's family member an alcoholic. You can't force someone to become an alcoholic. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard.

As for kids using the product at 6-8yrs old. I have to ask: Where the fk are their parents and who holds them accountable?

 

Fri Jun 13 2008 4:50PM Report

MMORPG.com writes:
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