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The Devil's Advocate: When Power Diminishes Us

Column By Victor Barreiro Jr. on July 26, 2013

Much like last week’s Devil’s Advocate, I’m not going to be directly talking about an issue that concerns MMORPGs or games in particular. Instead, I’ll be using gaming to further frame the context of some ongoing research at the University of California - Berkeley about wealth and ethics.

The short version of the research: The richer you are or seem to think you are, the likelier the chance you act like a douchecanoe being rowed atop the lava from a douche-cano. Yes, I said almost the exact same douchecanoe joke nearly a year ago. It’s perhaps more relevant here than in a piece about Guild Wars 2. Read on!

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Money on the Mind

As I recently found on the website UpWorthy, there’s a video and article from the PBS News Hour YouTube page called Money on the Mind. In under 9 minutes, we get to learn some startling research. Watch the video below, but don’t worry, I’ll sum up the finer points afterwards.

Are you back? Good. Let’s sum up what’s just been discussed in the video. The points are simple:

1. As the video description states, the research has found that “upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals.”

2. The perception of being wealthier can change our perceptions.of how we became wealthy ("You, like a real rich person, start to attribute success to your own individual skills and talents and you become less attuned to all of the other things that contributed to you being in the position that you're in").

3. The perception of being poor can also change perceptions towards generosity (“If I take someone who's rich and make them psychologically a little less well-off, they become way more generous, way more charitable, way more likely to offer help to another person”).

Rowing the Douchecanoe

In thinking of this article, I had to ask myself: could perceptions of gamers be changed by being poorer or richer in-game than in real life? Since they used Monopoly games as an example in the video of a person being treated as richer than his opponent, I would have to assume that certain aspects of MMO gaming lend themselves to following the same principle as the research indicates.

In this case, it would stand to reason that people who are well-off in the physical world, but are poor in-game are potentially more generous than someone who is both well-off physically and rich in-game.

This may be why elitism occurs in-game or why a vocal minority of people dislike certain balance changes to classes in PVP. When the powerful have power, they likely attribute their success to their skills, becoming less cognizant of how developers gave them the opportunity to shine using potentially crappy balancing. They may also not attribute their victories to a lesser-skilled player being their opponent.

Can you imagine this in EVE Online or in a game with an auction house? My mind boggles at the permutations of people interacting and being kind-hearted or dickish as a result.

Translating Goodness to Games

Can we turn in-game feelings into a catalyst for real-world change? That’s entirely dependent on what further research finds. In the meantime,, there are ways to curb the ability of a game to alter our perceptions of generosity as being a “fool’s game.”

You can be like some players who donate in-game gold to newcomers or teach people how to better understand the game. You could also spend real-world money to support charity events like buying Sarah’s Jenner in  MechWarrior Online. Heck, you can even donate your hard-earned gold to make someone else’s day in-game, spreading the love online and off indirectly.

Perceiving yourself as having some kind of advantage over others and knowing exactly what that idea is shifting in you might make you a better person. You might be more discerning of the changes in you as a person. You might also end up being an egomaniac. Whatever the case may be, just remember: the game world ultimately isn’t real, but the experiences you get from them can change you and change how you treat the real world around you.

Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains The Devil’s Advocate and ArcheAge columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can find more of his writings on Games and Geekery and on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.


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Victor Barreiro Jr. / Victor Barreiro Jr. maintains the the Landmark/Everquest Next and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn columns for MMORPG.com. He also writes for news website Rappler as a technology reporter. You can also find him on Twitter at @vbarreirojr.

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