If you run that world, that's on you.
March 14, 2017 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Raph Koster, celebrated game designer/creative director (Ultima Online, Star Wars Galaxies) and author (A Theory of Fun for Game Design), discusses the ethical obligations of creators toward their online communities at this year's Game Developers Conference.

Very much worth your valuable time if you participate in any online community, gaming or not. (No transcript yet, but I'm sure one is coming soon.)
posted by longdaysjourney (24 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
PDF of the slides.

Additional essays re VR/AR are linked at Koster's site.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:23 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


This is very, very important.

Having participated in the early MUDs and social software of the past, I agree: these are problems that anyone who has been paying attention would instantly recognize.

Thanks for posting.
posted by Freen at 7:07 PM on March 14


Around 18:00 he mentions this Village Voice piece on sexual assault in a MOO in 1993, just for reference.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:11 PM on March 14


I really wish a transcript was available, as most people aren't going to sit through an hour long talk. I had to post it though - Koster says something valuable every five minutes in this speech. And god, how I wish some woman with Zuckerberg's ear would send it to him.
posted by longdaysjourney at 7:12 PM on March 14


The discussion of how the early promise of online spaces was the ability to take on a persona was interesting. I'm not that old, but I do remember how anonymity was the expectation in a way it is less so today, thanks in part to push back against trolling and in part to companies' relentless efforts to be able to tie their marketing to actual identifiable people.

The distinction he draws between allowing anonymity *and* requiring persistent identity is crucial, and one I haven't seen articulated so well before (well, except for how well it works here on MetaFilter). Food for thought.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:22 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I have been listening to this and thinking how it intersects with tabletop design. That leaves out a lot of the technological bits, but not the sociological, and what we do when we build tools.
posted by geek anachronism at 7:47 PM on March 14


Ultima, not Ultimate. I should know. :)
posted by Lord_Pall at 7:49 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Ack, apologies, can't believe I missed that Ultima typo; will ask a mod to correct.
posted by longdaysjourney at 8:50 PM on March 14


I found something about the talk as a whole off-putting, and I think it's that he's coming at these questions from a very, for lack of a better word, statist position where the game designer / god holds all moral agency and users are like evil children who in the absence of appropriate incentives commit random violence against each other. I mean, he spends a fair bit of time talking about building technological systems of control, about creating a panopticon that will allow ever-watching moderator-gods to swoop in and dispense summary justice at the moment of any transgression, about making users sign a code of conduct every time they log in, about stripping the moderator-gods of avatars so that instead of human beings they will seem like the omnipresent force of law itself, about recording what the moderators themselves do so they will likewise be accountable to an even higher echelon of power.

What is never mentioned: interacting with the community as people to decide what that code of conduct is, to decide what the standards of moderation should be, to elect moderators.
posted by Pyry at 8:57 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


What he seems to be prescribing, above all, is awareness and thoughtfulness.

We have been fabricating this layered world, mostly unwittingly. Collectively, we've seen enough, now know enough, to start having this conversation broadly, to plan intentfully and proactively, in contexts far from the "games" that provided a forum for this talk.

I agree Pyry, peer-generated standards and rules are a valuable+interesting tangent. Hopefully that's a direction those in the room and watching this video will explore.
posted by angelplasma at 10:05 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


This is the guy who was in charge of UO, correct? The MMO that allowed assholes to kill newbies on site? The MMO that didn't "get religion" on grief free playing until Origin started hemorrhaging subscribers to Everquest? Unless he states unequivocally that players have a right to not be attacked by other players, he's learned nothing.

I'm talking about RPGs, of course, not FPS. Ultimately, no pun intended, people aren't going to pay 15 bucks a month to get repeatedly killed by other players. Nor will they pay 15 bucks a month to hide out in the safe area and not enjoy access to the full game, because most of the good stuff is in pvp areas.
posted by Beholder at 11:41 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


users are like evil children who in the absence of appropriate incentives commit random violence against each other.

He's been doing this a long time. I think he has the measure of his audience.
posted by Leon at 3:27 AM on March 15 [7 favorites]


What is never mentioned: interacting with the community as people to decide what that code of conduct is, to decide what the standards of moderation should be, to elect moderators.

A non-zero number of those community members consider part of the fun to be to fuck everything up for everyone else.

One of the problems that some communities, online and off, have is that determining standards is left to the community, including people who forcefully advocate for no standards, with lots of shallow arguments that hide behind generally agreed-upon ideals. These people usually manage to win because they slowly force out everyone who disagrees with them until they get a majority.
posted by Merus at 4:28 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Ultimately, no pun intended, people aren't going to pay 15 bucks a month to get repeatedly killed by other players. Nor will they pay 15 bucks a month to hide out in the safe area and not enjoy access to the full game, because most of the good stuff is in pvp areas.

You obviously never played Lineage, so let me tell you about it. After leaving the newb area you could be murdered basically everywhere in the game. Here is the kicker, to go from level 49 to 50 (in the earlier days anyway), every single percent of experience took three hours of solid hunting to get. Every time you died, you would lose between 5 and 9 percent of your level xp, so if you kill someone you just took a minimum of 15-27 hours of their life away. It was a very popular game.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:22 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Having been on staff in an MMO for a few years:

Small gaming communities of dedicated players -- for instance, back in the era where you literally had to pay dollars per hour to connect, and on a busy night there might be almost 100 people logged in -- can be partially self-policing, though it's a bit fragile at times.

Once that level of commitment is gone and the population passes a certain threshhold,

users are like evil children who in the absence of appropriate incentives commit random violence against each other

is completely accurate. There are people for whom the game you have created is not the game they're playing, but rather the game of "what can I get away with? How much chaos can I cause before this account is banned and I just create another throwaway account?" I've seen people spending hours rolling up hundreds of variations of the same sexist/racist/homophobic/anti-semitic/whatever character name and they simply don't get tired of it. And then there are people who do want to play the game, but are sociopaths or simply raging assholes.

There is really very little need for a democratic process among players --- who are customers, not citizens -- to decide the rules. It's like asking a movie theater audience if a few murders are okay, or whether there needs to be a rule against smearing the seats with poop.
posted by Foosnark at 5:49 AM on March 15 [8 favorites]


Ultimately, no pun intended, people aren't going to pay 15 bucks a month to get repeatedly killed by other players. Nor will they pay 15 bucks a month to hide out in the safe area and not enjoy access to the full game, because most of the good stuff is in pvp areas.

EVE Online is doing just fine, and not only can you get murdered by a veteran on day 1, you also face the real consequences of your ship being destroyed and your killer claiming what's left of your cargo.

If they took out non-consensual PVP, I would stop playing EVE immediately, and I bet the majority of the player base would too.

What I'm getting at is that you can't make blanket statements like "letting veterans repeatedly kill new players is bad game design." It's always going to depend on the context of the rest of the game, and who your audience is.
posted by 256 at 7:17 AM on March 15 [4 favorites]


EVE Online is doing just fine, and not only can you get murdered by a veteran on day 1, you also face the real consequences of your ship being destroyed and your killer claiming what's left of your cargo.

Compare the subs to WoW. The numbers speak for themselves. People speak with their dollars. The overwhelming majority of customers want nothing to do with non consensual player vs player combat.
posted by Beholder at 7:54 AM on March 15


You don't need to be the biggest thing in the world ever to have something valuable to offer. And while EVE might not be WoW-sized, it's absolutely in the top ten MMOs for size.

(Also, the aforementioned Lineage actually has a bigger fanbase than WoW.)
posted by tobascodagama at 8:12 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the link to the slide deck. I'm glad people are talking/thinking about this. I fear it won't be enough and that mad marketing and shiny newness will lead to at least occasional doom, but still - this is good.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:16 AM on March 15


I mean, this is the guy who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Avatars back in 2000 and has been advocating this stuff for literal decades now. Just because PVP combat exists and you don't like it doesn't mean there's cause to throw out the very, very good message he's saying.

Further, he's very pro working with the community to develop standards. From the Declaration:

"The code of conduct is the expression of the general will of the community and the will of the individual who maintains the hardware and software that makes up the virtual space. Every member of the community has the right to contribute either directly or via representatives in the shaping of the code of conduct as the culture of the virtual space evolves, particularly as it evolves in directions that the administrator did not predict; the ultimate right of the administrator to shape and define the code of conduct shall not be abrogated, but it is clear that the administrator therefore has the duty and responsibility to work with the community to arrive at a code of conduct that is shaped by the input of the community. As a member of the community himself, the administrator would be damaging the community itself if he failed in this responsibility, for abrogation of this right of avatars could result in the loss of population and therefore damage to the common weal."

I dunno, I could very easily be wrong, but I get the feeling there's a lot of "didn't listen to the talk before commenting" going on here. He directly addresses a lot of these complaints.
posted by Imperfect at 8:58 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Unless he states unequivocally that players have a right to not be attacked by other players, he's learned nothing.

You -really- need to watch the video. Heck, just listen to it in the background, it works as audio.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:36 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


[Fixed typo "Ultimate" to "Ultima" in post, carry on.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:48 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


There is really very little need for a democratic process among players --- who are customers, not citizens -- to decide the rules.

I think you have a remarkable amount of faith in corporations to advance social justice given our current tech landscape of Facebook/Twitter/Reddit/Uber/Amazon/Google.

I mean, he talks about considering how any feature might be used as a weapon by users against users, but I think if you are designing these systems you need to consider another level as well: how your system as a whole might be used as a weapon against users. You should design with the assumption that whatever you build will be acquired and run by Facebook, that it will be infiltrated by intelligence agencies, that hackers with zero-days will leak all your data.
posted by Pyry at 11:48 AM on March 15


I like Koster in general, but especially like this talk. I believe that one of the main points is that if you're designing AR, then you're not just designing for your 'customers' (or least your players, arguably your customers are venture capitalists or advertisers), but you're also designing for the people who are affected by your systems. That's something that nobody seems to want to understand or own. I'm looking at Twitter, and their piss-poor stance towards harassment. I also like Koster's reading list. Prometheus Paradox by Yee, Play Between Worlds by Taylor, and his shorter articles are all essential reading.
posted by codacorolla at 3:24 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


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