"In heaven, all the interesting people are missing." - Friedrich Nietzsche
This week, we'll start with a history lesson. Once upon a time, there was a world in which happy-go-lucky gamers lived in fear. The nerf bat was not their tyrant; in fact, it had yet to grow in power. Patch days were dreadful, but sparse enough to endure the wait. Dragons and other beasts were frightening, but could be defeated. No, the worst enemies facing these gamers were their fellow gamers: player-killers. Eventually known as "PKs" or "reds," these players thrilled upon the hunt of player versus player combat, frequently catching many players unaccustomed to such open combat from their fellows with surprise. Two factions then rose up to challenge the PKs. The first were the Anti-PKs, players devoted to the side of "good" who sought out to respond to PK attacks by finding, hunting, and killing known PKers. The second group were tamer creatures in game, but had a vicious bark: they became known as the carebears. This group wanted PvP to be optional, not mandatory; wanted safeguards to prevent griefing and the loss of hours of game time; and, most importantly, wanted the powers that resided over the game to be the hand that offered protection and justice.
The veteran MMO players among you know that I'm referring to the earlier days of Ultima Online (known as "pre-Trammel" among the community - more on that in a bit). One of the first recognized MMOs, Ultima Online was born in 1997 with an unrestricted PvP system combined with a notoriety system to indicate a characters's ill deeds. A few months later, after discovering that griefing was becoming a little too popular a hobby, an additional balancing factor was introduced to PK characters: stat loss. The world persisted, but one of the three factions, the carebears, were still dissatisfied with the open PvP system that put their "hard work" at risk.
Fast forward to April 2000, and Ultima Online introduces "Renaissance," a large update that offered two worlds: Felucca, which offered the same unrestricted PvP players had become accustomed to, and Trammel, a world in which PvP was consensual - as it was officially phrased, no longer being "at the whim of a potential attacker." This date marked a change for Ultima Online, one which is still argued to this day as the possible cause for the noose around UO's neck. The carebears had won, and had paved a path for future MMOs to provide "safe environments" for their players.
Like many of you, I've been around since the early days of Ultima Online, pre-Trammel. Though not all UO veterans look upon those days kindly, many remember them wistfully - even those that weren't PKers themselves. Now, that same group of players is experiencing (or at least, searching for) their own renaissance. In Mortal Online's pre-launch community, they have found a shelter.
Mortal Online is like Ultima Online in many respects: It offers a sandbox, non-quest driven, fantasy world with unrestricted PvP. In fact, their PvP system has taken after Ultima Online so much, even the CEO refers to his experiences pre-Trammel as a "red" and how MO's system can be developed around the same principles. Over the development time of Mortal Online, the community has rallied around open PvP more than anything else, and has even embraced, for the most part, a stat loss system that provides sufficient penalty in the eyes of the carebears, and sufficient challenge in the eyes of the reds.
Discussions have risen over on Mortal Online's forums about carebears quite a bit, more than likely out of fear that another Trammel will rise out of the mists and history will be repeated. Many community members have begun to rally already against the "carebears," even though that group is a vocal minority, and even question why anyone would want to play a "blue" when playing red was so profitable. And yet, an interesting perspective caught my eye: an open PvP game, especially as a sandbox, needs carebears.
No need to rub your eyes or reread that last sentence: the suggestion really is that a PvP centered game, without carebears, becomes "shallow and one-sided."
Think of it this way: carebears, on a simple level, make sure that the world is rich in lore, worth exploring, and worth spending time in. The difference between a game that you hook up for an hour long fragfest and an MMO isn't simply the time you spend; it's the world you spend it in. An MMO opens up opportunities for all kinds of players: explorers, achievers, role-players, loot and boss hunters, and PvPers. By taking away the richness of the community, you take away the richness of the world. Carebears exist among all these groups, and while they may try to complicate things by insisting on moral enforcement through game rules rather than in-game communities, they also provide that "something more" beyond looking for the next fight over the hill.
Carebears are the characters that, when you get a chance to kill them, earn you easy loot and the satisfaction of a "pwn." More importantly, carebears are the reason that the anti-PK fact exists at all; for what is an anti-PKer but a PK himself under the guise of good? As the saying goes, "One of irony's greatest accomplishments is that one cannot punish the wrongdoing of another without committing a wrongdoing himself." Or, to provide a silly illustration of the symbiosis, the carebear is the damsel in distress tied up and laying on the railroad tracks, while the PKer plays the part of mustache-twirling villain, and the anti-PKer plays the dashing Dudley Do-Right.
All three groups need each other for the game's survival. Take away the carebear, and the anti-PK loses his mission; take away the anti-PK, and the tide turns red with grief; take away the PKer and - well, we've seen the ending of that story in countless MMOs. If Mortal Online, or any other game seeking to bring back the days of red, cares to see the success and popularity that Ultima Online made in those days, then the balance must be struck carefully between villain, hero, and heroine.