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"Thanks for ruining the game for me. Really."
July 8, 2009 11:28 AM   Subscribe

MMORPG Griefing ... for Science! Twixt fought his fellow players in City Of Heroes to win. But he used methods that, despite being legal within the rules of the game, the rest of the community hated. Then the player behind the hero unmasked as Loyola University media professor David Myers, author of "The Sad & Curious Tale of Twixt" (.doc), a sociological study of the unwritten rules in MMORPG's. Not entirely unlike the epic tale of Fansy The Famous Bard.
posted by waraw (204 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Myers was stunned by the reaction, since he obeyed the game's rules.

I hope this does not accurately reflect Meyers true reaction because if so, he is an idiot. It is the equivalent of me saying, "It is not illegal in America to be an asshole and I am always stunned when people dislike me for being an asshole."
posted by Falconetti at 11:42 AM on July 8, 2009 [44 favorites]


WoW Griefing.... for lulz! (YouTube to Serenity Now's "funeral" grieffest)
posted by cavalier at 11:42 AM on July 8, 2009


I was under the impression that part of being a professor was not needing to go online to lawfully cause people to wail and gnash their teeth. This guy is hardcore. 24 hour griefing!

Oh, also. Sociology professor discovers social groups form their own norms, shun those who fail to follow norms, and anonymity breeds idiots. So he ran an experiment which could be summarized in a single Penny Arcade strip. Also, internet rage really matters. Because we see spammers drawn and quartered in public, and online gamers fly to China in serial killer rampages in a vain search for gold farming spammers.

Where do I go to get a tenured position with pay and benefits for studying this stuff and writing it in academic terms?
posted by Saydur at 11:45 AM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


Lots of things are technically within the rules of MMOs, but that doesn't make them advisable. It has nothing to do with "wah, people who don't conform are maligned!"

Because people in WoW are pretty damned impressed with the folks who managed to climb walls and see the Dancing Troll village before the game designer made it impossible. We applaud novelty and audacity.

But- for example- people who kill somebody, and then stand on their corpse, waiting to kill them over and over- that's a dickmove. That's like knocking somebody's lunch out of their hands every day. It's not against the law to dump somebody else's lunch on the floor, but it's not advisable, either.

Shunning griefers has nothing to do with shunning people who are different. It has everything to do with shunning people who are deliberately upsetting other people and stealing all the joy out of playing a game.
posted by headspace at 11:47 AM on July 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


"... Myers likened his journey as Twixt to a "bad high school experience," especially the verbal abuse and rumor-mongering."

So he did something very clearly outside of the socially accepted protocol, was told politely (at first) that it was a bad idea and that he should stop, and continued to do it until the abuse turned nasty. Right. I would be baffled at the other players' reactions, too.

"The professor was disturbed that game rules encouraging competition and varied tactics hardly mattered to gaming community members who wanted to preserve a deeply-rooted culture."

He's upset that they weren't following the rules? But isn't that what he just did with the social rules they had already developed in the game?

I hope I'm missing something, but this just seems... stupid. He 'broke social rules' by killing people in an online game. That's a hostile rule-breaking. The other players were 'breaking game rules' (kind of) by chatting friendly-like. One of these things is not like the other.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


That was an interesting article not the least reason being that this 50+ year old academic is an unstoppable gaming machine.
posted by DU at 11:48 AM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Also, I'm "stunned" that this thread is also trashing the guy. He's a sociology professor. It's an experiment. Explaining how he's violating social norms precisely misses the point. Cripes.
posted by DU at 11:50 AM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


I don't think most people are trashing the experiment itself, but rather his admitted surprise and the fact that he wasdismayed at the result.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 11:53 AM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


05-01-2007 20:26:43 [Tell]Syphris: if you kill me one more time I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding

i didn't read the whole paper did this guy come and kill him for real
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2009 [30 favorites]


Yay for experiments- I'm glad somebody is looking at games and alternate social groups seriously. I just think the conclusions he made are flawed.
posted by headspace at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2009


Saydur:

Where do I go to get a tenured position with pay and benefits for studying this stuff and writing it in academic terms?

A number of schools, I imagine, once you get your PhD. But, that aside, I do think this kind of research is useful. MMORPGs are still an emerging phenomenon, and it is interesting to see what conventional society has in common and what it does not.
posted by moz at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the point of this is that online social rules, depending on the community, can run the gamut from not-too-off-base to really weird. And that indeed anonymity can make people assholes.

FWIW, I was stunned that people were making death threats. IT IS JUST A GAME, N00BS
posted by kldickson at 11:59 AM on July 8, 2009


I actually find the whole thing rather hilarious. There was an off-game area where high level heroes were supposed to battle high-level villains, but they were instead using it as a virtual coffee shop? This guy goes in, kills villains, and shouts things like "Yay! Good guys!" and asks other heroes why he isn't helping them?

That's not griefing. Griefers do not play games in order to achieve the game's objectives. he did, when everybody else has decided not to.

Sounds like he's the only one who stayed in character. If I was a superhero and saw other superheroes chatting idly with supervillains, I'd go on the attack to.

TO THE FIGHT FELLOW HEROES.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2009 [28 favorites]


Contrary to some stereotypes, people that play online computer games like "City of Heroes" aren't adolescent misfits. They tend to be what most would consider mainstream adults.

Hahaha. ZING!
posted by graventy at 12:01 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


"If you kill me one more time I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding."

The chilling text shook Myers two years ago. It served as a telling detail for his ongoing study of social customs in Internet gaming communities.


This would be scary if someone said it in real life, but on the Internet it's just empty rhetoric that is a natural consequence of people being powerless to actually have any effect on the behavior of the people they are interacting with. If you act like a jerk and provoke people in real life, there's a good chance that you will end up getting sucker punched or have your tires slashed or otherwise suffer from some sort of real consequences, even if you don't break any actual laws. On the Internet, the most that can usually happen to you is being banned or getting flamed, so if banning isn't an option then it's inevitable that those kinds of things are going to be said no matter what kind of community it is that you are disrupting.

The study's results dismayed Myers, who in 1984 became one of the first university-level professors to study video games. He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream.

What? He trolled an online community by doing things that, while technically legal, were obviously not socially tolerated even after being asked gently and not-so-gently to stop, and his conclusion is that he was oppressed for straying from the mainstream? That's completely ridiculous. Trolling in the name of science is one thing, but if you're going to draw absurd conclusions from it you've just wasted everyone's time and gotten people upset for no reason.

Also, I'm "stunned" that this thread is also trashing the guy. He's a sociology professor. It's an experiment. Explaining how he's violating social norms precisely misses the point.

I'm not an expert on sociological experiments but it seems like a real life version of this kind of experiment wouldn't make it past an ethics board. Nobody on the MMO signed up to be part of this experiment, and his actions were basically the equivalent of going to large social gatherings and exploiting lax rules to be able to ruin the experience for everyone else. If a professor went to the movies all day and yelled constantly at the screen in order to study people's reactions to it, I would have a problem with that too.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2009 [31 favorites]


if you explore the dialectic between play and punishment one more time I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding
posted by naju at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2009 [41 favorites]


To me it just sounds like he enjoys trolling and is a bit embarrassed by that fact.
posted by lucidium at 12:03 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's an experiment.

Are there not some serious ethics issues with this experiment that would be seruiously frowned upon in most Academic settings? Or does it being online ameliorate them entirely?
posted by Artw at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2009


Or what burnmp3s said.
posted by Artw at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2009


My conclusion: Trolls totally should be oppressed.
posted by Artw at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow, training sand giants in north ro. Wowowow does that bring back memories.
posted by TomMelee at 12:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sociologist observes social customs; thwarts them. Records forms of rebuke.

That’s fine, but the actual details are nothing that would surprise anyone with any familiarity with the internet whatsoever.

this 50+ year old academic is an unstoppable gaming machine.

That did tug at my suspension of academic disbelief. (because he was going it alone, not because of his age)

on preview: Sounds like he's the only one who stayed in character. If I was a superhero and saw other superheroes chatting idly with supervillains, I'd go on the attack to.

I've played around with CoH. There's definitely combat in the PvP zones, but it tends to be consensual, perhaps because there are PvC missions there, too. So I'll be flying along and get a msg inviting me to single combat or the like. Though I've just up and attacked heroes there, too. But if my opponent sent me a msg saying: "Can we do this some other time?" I'd likely back off, because: a) it's a game, and b) I stopped thinking that ruining someone's day was fun when I turned 12.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


I have to wonder how he became so "unstoppable". If it was through sheer skill, whatever. If it was through a broken gameplay mechanic, which I suspect it was, then it was just asshattery.

I mean, CoH is an MMORPG. It doesn't really rely on split-second reflexes, and amazing accuracy. The skill is in figuring out how to build the character, and learning teamwork. If the guy was regularly taking out 20-30 people of the same level completely on his own, then that points towards using a broken mechanic. People were probably getting angry because everyone knew the game was broken, and that using that particular feature would get really boring really quickly.

It'd be like writing an article about how people get angry at little kids using aimbots.
posted by fnerg at 12:06 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


The Slashdot discussion on this is pretty interesting, with commentary on players rarely holding up their side of the role the whole time: Which is why I and most people playing online don't "roleplay". Its hard, its usually not that fun, and most people who try fail completely at it and become worse players, in the community sense, than those that play it as a mere game. Like TFA.

Also, he's been a long-time griefer, using a seldom-used power called “Teleport Foe” in PvP by warping enemy players within range of insta-kill guards near his own side’s base. This nets him no points, which is also part of the game.

On his own blog, he states that his work was something of a "breaching experiment," intended to "examine peoples' reactions to violations of commonly accepted social rules or norms." He stopped playing back in Nov. 08, and the first comment is from "YourMom" who says "Fuck you Twixt!"
posted by filthy light thief at 12:07 PM on July 8, 2009 [11 favorites]


if anyone says "Metafilter: I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding" I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:09 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: I will come and oh shit man OC I was just kiddin man put down the kniffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff
posted by cortex at 12:10 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


This guy seems like a garden variety socially-autistic computer geek (you know, the "Infinite Oregano" type), it's only interesting because he's (sort of) a sociologist.
posted by 445supermag at 12:11 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Just empty rhetoric that is a natural consequence of people being powerless to actually have any effect on the behavior of the people they are interacting with.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


In my experience, Sociologists are just people with autism who managed to get college degrees.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:12 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


FWIW, I was stunned that people were making death threats. IT IS JUST A GAME, N00BS

And Professor Dicksworth was breaking the rules, as a social experiment, for FOUR YEARS. He makes it so the game is not so much fun anymore. He's not a lot different from spawnkillers - wait for someone to appear in the right area, and kill them before they can retaliate.

Yes, that's playing by the mechanical rules of the game. But you are still a dick, because the game just got less fun for the person who was regenerated and killed.

I've played around with CoH. There's definitely combat in the PvP zones, but it tends to be consensual, perhaps because there are PvC missions there, too. So I'll be flying along and get a msg inviting me to single combat or the like. Though I've just up and attacked heroes there, too. But if my opponent sent me a msg saying: "Can we do this some other time?" I'd likely back off, because: a) it's a game, and b) I stopped thinking that ruining someone's day was fun when I turned 12.

QFT.

Maybe because he's not of the "internet age," the internet worlds and unofficial rules are actually foreign to him. But you'd think that after 4 years of playing, he'd understand as much as most teen-agers do after a similar amount of time playing a game.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


That’s fine, but the actual details are nothing that would surprise anyone with any familiarity with the internet whatsoever.

Common sense != truth, anecdotes are not data and it's good to get numbers rather than rely on "familiarity".
posted by DU at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2009


Also, he's been a long-time griefer, using a seldom-used power called “Teleport Foe” in PvP by warping enemy players within range of insta-kill guards near his own side’s base. This nets him no points, which is also part of the game.

Holy crap. That's what he's doing. That's nuts.

I built a character with that power. It's nice for removing henchmen one by one (which I assassinate) from a group so that I can then stand half a chance of taking out the leader by myself. But the game has certain zones set around important game areas -- hospitals (player respawn), public transit stations (map to map movement), etc.., and these are guarded not by tough, but as noted above, insta-kill laser dudes. They zap you once and you're gone, no matter how tough you are. They are an intrustion of a necessary game mechanic into the fantasy world. Using it to kill players, over and over again, should be a bannable offence.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:16 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


He set up his 'experiment' in such a way that he got the result he went in seeking.

In fact, when the other players didn't treat him badly enough, he deliberately ramped up his annoying-ness until they treated him 'shockingly badly'.

I'm, like, totally stunned and stuff.
posted by rokusan at 12:20 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


HYPOTHESIS: Showing goatse to people will pwn them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
MYTH: CONFIRMED
posted by Damn That Television at 12:22 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


For those not catching on: there's no rule on MeFi that forbids you from correcting someone's spelling. And you have probably seen people do it, from time to time. It's "within the rules."

Now imagine that there was a MeFi user who entered each and every thread and did nothing but add comments correcting typos in other comments. Every thread you ever read. Every typo or spelling mistake anyone ever makes. Every time.

How long until this user is (a) called out (b) made fun of, (c) hated, (d) banned?

I hypothesize it'd take a lot less than four years to reach (d).
posted by rokusan at 12:22 PM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


Using it to kill players, over and over again, should be a bannable offence.

I'm not familiar with CoH, but shouldn't they be patching this?
posted by Artw at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2009


Holy crap. That's what he's doing. That's nuts.

I built a character with that power. It's nice for removing henchmen one by one (which I assassinate) from a group so that I can then stand half a chance of taking out the leader by myself. But the game has certain zones set around important game areas -- hospitals (player respawn), public transit stations (map to map movement), etc.., and these are guarded not by tough, but as noted above, insta-kill laser dudes. They zap you once and you're gone, no matter how tough you are. They are an intrustion of a necessary game mechanic into the fantasy world. Using it to kill players, over and over again, should be a bannable offence.


Actually, that's the lighter half of what he was doing. The other half was watching two people fight until one of them was significantly hurt, then using Teleport Foe to teleport them in front of a gathering of non-instant-death NPCs. Bam, they kill the guy, and since it wasn't a "drone" or a player doing the killing, they accumulate experience debt, which is the game's penalty for non-PVP deaths.
posted by kafziel at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2009


rokusan - Thats four or five users we have already.
posted by Artw at 12:23 PM on July 8, 2009


if you explore the dialectic between play and punishment one more time I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding

Hot. Can you wear thigh-highs when you come to kill me?
posted by rokusan at 12:25 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


That should probably have been a colon rather than an n-dash, art.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:27 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


From the guy's blog:

The important part is that the socially transgressive play was, simultaneously, game rule compliant. That is, I did not choose to be socially transgressive; I chose to be game compliant. The socially transgressive part came, unwanted, with the territory. Don’t you find it odd that social rules contradict game rules rather than reinforce game rules? What’s up with that?

Games are (were, maybe) a unique and important formal aesthetic category. Without games, we would be less. Inside CoH, we are less.


Yep. Autistic computer geek.
posted by fnerg at 12:28 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


How do we cut off this guy's funding? You know, for experimental purposes.

This is how we deal with griefers.
posted by Xoebe at 12:31 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wow, kafziel. I am more impressed by how well he was able to use the game to be a giant douchebag than anything else in this experiment. I'm sure other people tried (this is the internet, after all), but he won.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:31 PM on July 8, 2009


He's a griefer. You get a penalty for being killed by NPCs but not by PCs. This guy would take people out of PvP battles with other players and teleport them into NPCs so they would die. This didn't net him any points either, since he didn't really defeat anyone.

From the paper:
Similar hero-villain collusions also occurred during “fight club” competitions within the zone. These were friendly fights with passive spectators from both factions watching the event. Twixt again interrupted these friendly competitions whenever it was advantageous to do so, regardless of any protests or social rules governing otherwise.
And after this he is surprised that there are social pressures against his activity?
posted by demiurge at 12:32 PM on July 8, 2009


Common sense != truth, anecdotes are not data and it's good to get numbers rather than rely on "familiarity".

I agree, but this was not an experiment, and Professor Myers said so himself:
I agree, this study is not really an experiment. I label it as a “breaching experiment” in reference to analogous methods of Garfinkel, but, in fact, neither his nor my methods are experimental in any truly scientific sense. This should be obvious in that experimental methods require some sort of control group and there was none in this case. Likewise, experimental methods are characterized by the manipulation of a treatment variable and, likewise, there was none in this case. This is, of course, explained in the paper in the following paragraph….

“Online role-playing games are rules-regulated according to hardware mechanics and software code. While Garfinkeling normally requires some sort of social rules-breaking (in order to clarify the rules of rules construction), a similar Garfinkeling procedure can be practiced within online games simply by adhering to the objective rules of the game – or, the letter of the law, as it were – in contexts where game rules are verifiably distinct from prevailing social orders and etiquettes.”
In short: I'm playing with an existing system where the hardware and software rules are distinctly different from the social agreements, then intentionally ignoring social rules, even though I have nothing to count as the "normal state" of the game.

Yes, he started as an "outsider," but he has to make some assumptions, rely on anecdotes, and use common sense as alternatives to his actions.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2009


It's en dash, not n-dash, AZ.

**teleports AZ to MeTa**
posted by box at 12:34 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe he didn't kill villains for points, but to rid the world of evil. WHAT KIND OF SUPERHEO KILLS FOR POINTS?

Everything he did smells like satire to me. I;m sure it wasn't, but that doesn't preclude me from enjoying it as such.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:35 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


The important part is that the socially transgressive play was, simultaneously, game rule compliant. That is, I did not choose to be socially transgressive; I chose to be game compliant. The socially transgressive part came, unwanted, with the territory. Don’t you find it odd that social rules contradict game rules rather than reinforce game rules? What’s up with that?

The important part is that the socially transgressive living was, simultaneously, physics compliant. That is, I did not choose to be socially transgressive; I chose to be physics compliant. The socially transgressive part came, unwanted, with the territory. Don't you find it odd that social rules contradict physics rather than reinforce physics? What's up with that?

Says the guy who upon entering town, stole a car, crashed it into a coffee shop and proceeded to urinate on the barista.
posted by Axle at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [19 favorites]


Where were the game developers and mods during all of this? Seems to me that if a bunch of Carebear PvEers wanted a spot for neutral chat and if few trolls/sociologists were ruining that they should have modified the game to accommodate both groups.

In the real world, when the community makes a consensus about what social norms are acceptable they create rules and consequences for violations. In MMORPGS, there exists social norms and rules, without the ability for the community to enact salient consequences. There were community attempts to do so, like camping him and sending raids to get him. But these aren't long term solutions to community problems. Game developers should work as a sort of oligarchy that uses game code to put these rules and consequences into stone to create solutions that benefit the entire community.

Sure some things fall through, (wow funeral pvp raids) but most of the time good games update to reflect the needs of the community. It seemed that he was teleporting people into a non-neutral PVE spot for them to be killed. That seems like a exploit, they really should have patched that.

Sometimes I really wonder about how video game worlds can translate into real world research. In my research I've found that there is a major disconnect between current sociological research on video games and how video games exist now. So frequently I find that the literature takes a topical approach or just misses the point by shoehorn video games into stale theory.
posted by JimmyJames at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm pretty sure comics have already explored this phenomenon. Combat between heroes and villains is often non-lethal, and when someone willing to use lethal force shows up, their fellow heroes/villains (respectively) will usually say, "whoa, holy shit." So yeah, if he's all about the roleplaying, then I can imagine his fellow heroes not being too pleased.

Then there's the whole thing where they didn't volunteer to be part of his "experiment," but really the whole incident points to the developers restricting "teleport foe" to the battle areas. It just flat-out should not be possible to teleport foes to an insta-kill area.
posted by explosion at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The blog post that filthy light thief linked to adds a lot of the details that the article leaves out. For example, he was unsurpisingly used the usual escalation tactics of trolling to rile people up, which doesn't fit with his own "just playing the game" story:

He did not simply say random hero-supporting things, he oftentimes bragged openly after using his computer-generated helpers to kill someone. Like any other competitive situation, bragging and talking trash will earn people talking back and becoming more upset. He worked to goad individuals into becoming angrier at what he did.

He mentions the forums as a place where people speculated about parts of his life, but he seems to have left out where he posted kill-logs from his time spent in PvP zones. He posted quite frequently on those boards, and he went out of his way to fuel the hate that developed for him. Professional athletes who do such a thing are widely derided by the media and fans. Twixt worked hard to generate hate, he was not simply an innocent victim.

posted by burnmp3s at 12:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I saw this explained really well somewhere, and I can't remember where it was, curse my failing brain. I'll try to paraphrase, but I may get some of it wrong.

Basically, this guy was an active troll on the forums, taunting more or less constantly. Despite the claims in this article, he got killed a LOT, a lot a lot, until he figured out one of the cheaper exploits in the game.

I gather that the heroes-versus-villains PVP is kind of a long football-ish sort of field, a linear playing area, although much larger. At the very ends are sets of insta-kill death robots as guards, perhaps to prevent spawn camping. You're not supposed to go there as a member of the opposite team - you don't need to for whatever the game actually is. (capture the flag, maybe? I don't remember the post saying.)

So this guy figured out that if he sat in his base on his side, he could teleport enemy players to where they'd be instantly swarmed and killed by the robots. This is considered a very cheap tactic, and is hardly ever done. It's much worse than a player kill.

Kills by players are no big deal. You just resurrect, dust yourself off, back to playing. But if you're killed by an NPC, you incur 'debt' -- your experience accrues at half speed until you pay off your debt. This slows your leveling a great deal, and players try very hard not to die because of it.

So this guy wasn't just killing people, he was actively inflicting a penalty on them that they couldn't avoid. He was stealing hours of time and effort from them. So of course they were furious, and this guy is a dick in exactly the same way as he would be if he was stealing money from them.

He's inflicting an unavoidable penalty, costing other players hours and hours of time, taunting them from his relatively safe position near the unkillable robots, and then devoting yet more hours to taunting on the forums. He's doing his absolute best to make people furious, and then he's wearing the shocked-and-saddened face that they actually get furious. "It's just a game!" he says, but he carefully omits that he was costing them very real time out of their very real lives.

I'd call this much closer to sociopathy than sociology.
posted by Malor at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2009 [30 favorites]


This reminds me of how angry people get when I do nothing all day but ride crowded elevators in Manhattan and shit my own pants constantly. Drippy, horrible, disgusting feces running down my pants, the results of the most disgusting foods (and often non-foods, like birdseed and sometimes just trash water) that I constantly shove down my gullet to replenish my ammunition chamber, so to speak. All the while, eating and shitting among the privileged and the captains of industry, the fetid smell causes others to recoil as if struck... some even vomit, unable to withstand the bombardment. And whenever anyone points it out, I simply say "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was AMERICA. I thought this was LAND OF THE FREE" and then I write down my results on a clip board and shit some more.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2009 [29 favorites]


I think it's interesting that the actual game rules were never changed in response to his actions. Having read his paper I didn't see any reference to why the rules were never changed or if there was a discussion of a rules change. Does anyone have any insight into this?
posted by tinatiga at 12:39 PM on July 8, 2009


I think astro zombie nailed it. This guy is an aspie for sure.
posted by empath at 12:41 PM on July 8, 2009


I assume everybody is autistic until I find out otherwise. And I never find out otherwise.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:42 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think eve is an interesting case in how griefing behavior can become the new norm. When goonswarm joined the game, the broke pretty much all the established norms of fair play and sportsmanship, but through sheer force of numbers and persistence, they're now the dominant culture of the game.
posted by empath at 12:44 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


filthy light thief, I'm not sure how even the most assholish stuff in an online computer game that in no way has any bearing on reality except sapping away an individual's time (I cannot comprehend how any individual takes something such as World of Warcraft or City of Heroes or EVE Online seriously enough to issue a death threat unless maybe they're getting paid for it, which I doubt anyone is). I can see someone saying 'hey, you're being an asshole and making the game not so fun for the rest of us', but disseminating personal information and making death threats? That's just fucked up.
posted by kldickson at 12:47 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no sympathy for anybody involved in the dispute between Twixt and the CoH community.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2009


Lots of things are technically within the rules of MMOs, but that doesn't make them advisable. It has nothing to do with "wah, people who don't conform are maligned!"


well, it's partly that. as I understand it, part of what he was doing was engaging not only the narrative of the game, but an actual advertised feature of the game (specifically, of the City of Villains standalone expansion): the ability to go fight people of the other faction. it wasn't just that you could do it in a sanctioned arena, but that villains could raid the heroes' city and vice versa. it was built into the game as a feature, but the community had jointly decided to nullify that feature, outside of the developers' intentions. this is, I think, worth studying as a phenomenon.

the rest of his griefing, I don't know. but actually going and fighting villains as a hero... I think it's interesting that people have communally rejected that. same thing with faction fighting in WoW. people react to seeing an alliance guy with pvp on in a horde zone as though they'd just seen the worst thing anyone had ever done in a game, ever. obviously there are various reasons for this (high level toons just wailing on noobs, for instance, being frustrating for everyone but the high level player), but still: it's part of the game. and not one that just slipped through the cracks, either. it's built in: on purpose. factions, and the fighting thereof, are actually a selling point of mmos. the idea that the community has managed, mostly successfully, to eradicate it from play almost entirely without help from the developers, is interesting.
posted by shmegegge at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Astro Zombie, maybe he just thinks people who play these sorts of things need a bit more of an offline life.

'Cause I think the ones who get this upset about a game need more of an offline life.
posted by kldickson at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2009


And that's why you are a supervillain.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:50 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


To be a bit less flippant, I'll tell an MMO story of my own.

Quite some time ago, I played an MMO called Ragnarok Online. The first of the major Korean MMOs to have a server in the US, a very shaky game at first. It was possible to attack monsters that other players were attacking (Kill stealing, or KSing), and take items from other players' kills (Looting). This was highly frowned upon. Usually, this resulted in profanity, retaliation with the same activity, or simply going to another area. There was no PvP at this point in time.

Things were remarkably laid back at first, although the increase in population made things a little less stable. Then, two international groups joined in. First, there was an influx of German players, largely due to a popular German gaming site advertising the game. Second, there was an influx of Thai players.

The German players were disliked early on, but not reviled. A few English speaking players knew a bit of German, a few German players knew a bit of English, and there was some communication. The German players were largely insular, and while they broke social norms a fair bit at first, most players quickly learned the norms and were generally accepted. There was some insulting of German players as a whole before they adjusted to the community, but it was largely defused with communication, either across the language barrier, or from norm-adjusted German players to the newer players who did not understand such norms. English speaking players and German players still had tension, but it had become relatively peaceful.

The Thai players introduced raging xenophobia. There was a bare minimum of communication, few Americans could speak Thai, few Thais could speak English. The community broke norms at first, and there were insults hurled as before. However, with minimal communication, there were not many to teach norms. Beyond this, what communication there was largely consisted of players who only understood the obscenities that the other side hurled, encouraging further griefing. The animosity grew constantly, particularly as tensions rose due to the game becoming almost completely unplayable over time due to those who used programs to auto-play the game, or bots. While bots were spread between countries, Thai players were blamed for the bot outbreak, as they were already deeply hated. At the point that I left the game, Thai players were still considered the scourge of the game. The phrase "555", which I believe is a Thai equivalent of "lol", used as a taunt to English players who were the target of griefing, was enough to get most level-headed English speaking players to explode in rage.

From what I heard, only the implementation of pay-to-play (Korean MMOs are notorious for surviving on micropayments, spending money on exclusive in-game items) and the creation of a separate server for Thailand managed to defuse the situation.

What does this mean? Aggression encourages further aggression, communication can defuse aggression, teaching outsiders to follow norms can provide a productive solution, and trolling on the internet pisses people off, whether it's a forum or a video game.

I suppose there is more value in stating the obvious than I think, since it may not be quite so obvious to those who haven't played these games. Even then, a study and book by a university professor feels like overthinking a plate of beans.
posted by Saydur at 12:53 PM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


I will come
And kill you for real
And I am not kidding

EVERYONE HATES YOU
U are a major sh--bird
I hope your mother gets cancer

Yay, heroes
Go good team
Vills lose again

Now I am become Death
The destroyer of worlds
And I am not kidding

That's it, man
Game over, man
Game over
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:55 PM on July 8, 2009 [14 favorites]


I think it's interesting that the actual game rules were never changed in response to his actions...

The revenue stream on CoH is so low it doesn't have active development staff assigned to it anymore?
posted by nomisxid at 12:58 PM on July 8, 2009


rokusan said:

Now imagine that there was a MeFi user who entered each and every thread and did nothing but add comments correcting typos in other comments. Every thread you ever read. Every typo or spelling mistake anyone ever makes. Every time.

How long until this user is (a) called out (b) made fun of, (c) hated, (d) banned?


This was actually done on kuro5hin. Somebody wrote a bot that replied to every single comment anybody posted with a spellcheck summary. Even on K5 it only lasted a few months.
posted by localroger at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


There's griefing by players and then there's griefing by designers.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:00 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


[...]

That's it, man
Game over, man
Game over


snap snap snap snap
posted by jquinby at 1:01 PM on July 8, 2009


His whole paper could just as easily be titled "Why No One Talks To Objectivists At Parties"
posted by Damn That Television at 1:02 PM on July 8, 2009 [20 favorites]


I can't believe nobody's done any of that goddamned annoying zombo or zalgo or whatever text.
posted by jbickers at 1:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Guy who acted like dick gets treated like dick. This is today's academia?
posted by jamstigator at 1:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


...villains could raid the heroes' city and vice versa. it was built into the game as a feature, but the community had jointly decided to nullify that feature, outside of the developers' intentions

No - CoH/V PvP is purely consensual. There is no access to PvE zones of the opposite faction, not has there ever been. As has been pointed out by other posters, the Prof was an unskilled player, who used the cheapest tricks available to get kills, and gloated about it on forums. That's why he got abuse, unsurprisingly.

The revenue stream on CoH is so low it doesn't have active development staff assigned to it anymore?

No, it's still doing pretty well: since NCSoft bought the game out from Cryptic there's been more development time assigned to the game than for a couple of years. It's just that PvP is such a minority part of the game it doesn't get much attention. The guy couldn't even manage to grief a genuinely active PvP community. I'd have loved to see him try this kind of thing in EVE.
posted by Bodd at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, this has about as much scientific validity as Zimbardo's experiment (aka "hay guyz lets do random shit and see what happens lol"), and Zimbardo is famous.
posted by Krrrlson at 1:08 PM on July 8, 2009


How come no one else had (or at least used) the power to teleport him to the robot firing squad? What's up with that?
posted by Mister_A at 1:10 PM on July 8, 2009


"But Myers likened his journey as Twixt to a "bad high school experience," especially the verbal abuse and rumor-mongering.

The professor was disturbed that game rules encouraging competition and varied tactics hardly mattered to gaming community members who wanted to preserve a deeply-rooted culture.

He said his experience demonstrated that modern-day social groups making use of modern-day technology can revert to "medieval and crude" methods in trying to manipulate and control others.

"If you aren't a member of the tribe, you get whacked with a stick," he said. "I look at social groups with dismay.""



This does not read like an academic study - this is agenda-driven and personal.

He also seems disingenous (being surprised at a negative reaction to intentionally acting like an ass) and woefully uninformed about the medium he is trying to study (taking a death-threat in an MMO seriously).

The world of online games is a rich one for sociological study, but this dude is a wanker.
posted by sloe at 1:11 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


About a decade ago I helped run a relatively lightweight text-only roleplaying game. it wasn't huge -- we measured the number of connected players at any given moment in the dozens, not the dozens of thousands. But it's always interesting how the challenges we had to work through as administrators reappear over and over.

Simply put, creating a rich, immersive roleplaying experience for people in a multiplayer computer game is nearly impossible. Usually, you settle for 'good enough.' On top of that, enforcing immersive roleplay -- explicitly preventing people from doing things that are socially or thematically unacceptable -- is a tremendous amount of work. In most cases, community norms are relied upon to enforce what's acceptable rather than explicitly coding those things into game mechanics.

Ironically, most of his 'YOU GUYS AREN'T PLAYING RIGHT' complaints -- heroes and villains were chatting with each other in a coffee shop, etc. -- are no more or less realistic than any other thing inside the context of a simulated world. The X-Men had the Hellfire Club, where good and evil mutants could let their hair down and interact in a sort of demilitarized zone.

The underlying complaint he has seems to be, "If an action is allowed by the game engine, it must by definition be part of the social norms. And if something is not allowed by the game's social norms, it must be explicitly prevented in the game engine." The man's never attempted to build or run a game: I will put $100 on that bet here and now.
posted by verb at 1:12 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think it's interesting that the actual game rules were never changed in response to his actions. Having read his paper I didn't see any reference to why the rules were never changed or if there was a discussion of a rules change. Does anyone have any insight into this?

Seems like this would be a case where, if you change the rules, you end up potentially unbalancing something else. Teleport Foe has valid uses, such as pulling enemies from mobs, and NPCs kill what they're scripted to kill. If you change the rules, you end up with potential headaches all around.

For example, let's say you decide that Teleport Foe should work only on NPCs.

* You're nerfing a power that occupies a slot in the character build. In other words, you are reducing a character's overall effectiveness in a small, but not insignificant way.
* Will you nerf this power everywhere? Or just in certain zones?
* If only in certain zones, how will you communicate that mode change to the player?
* You must ensure your fix works -- that means time and money on QA and staging servers.

Moreover, this PvP zone was apparently open only to high-level characters -- a fraction of a fraction of your currently active customer base, which in CoH's case probably numbers about 10,000 active players (with thousands more inactive, or rarely active). They are a vocal minority of influential players, but a minority of a small overall number, nonetheless.

MMOs make their money by creating a subscription-based product that runs by itself, with a low marginal cost. In an ideal world, you have a skeleton crew of customer service and a few guys to press the reset button on the servers.

In the end, I bet not addressing this was merely a quick cost/benefit analysis.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:14 PM on July 8, 2009


Sometimes Griefing is productive.

I played Shadowbane from beta. Yea, they launched it too early to compete with SWG, and then it sucked, but whatever. Years later I was still playing with my boys and girls, rocking teamspeak.

See, we played on Test Server. That meant that twice to four times a year the world wiped clean and we could start over. Shadowbane is open PvP, minus newbie island and a couple safeholds. City building, city destruction, all within the realms of the game.

When SB launched it was huge. Large following on the asian servers too. And then there was the gold dupe that wrecked the game economy. Crash-to-desktops, dupes, and a couple notable exploits pushed thousands of people away from the game. Still, test was great because we could level 1-75 within just a couple days, often within 6 hours if you had your powerleveling toons geared up.

Then they closed the asian servers, and the chinese players came to test. Prior to that, a 20 person guild was a big one. Dozens of 20-ish person nations existed. Maybe 100 toons guilded, but each person had 5, or 10.

But then the Chinese came.

And in SB, (to prevent offset hacking, so I'm told), all text was rendered as graphics...images. Anyway, the asians and their symbols weren't native to the US clients, and as such every time someone would OOC or SHOUT something, it would cause just a moments lag on every US computer. The thing though, was that the chinese players weren't 20 man nations. They were 150-300 man onslaughts. And they'd all shout. All the time. And their names were symbols we couldn't type in, so we couldn't ignore them, and we couldn't turn off the channel because we needed it for battle.

But they were also horrible at the game. I mean, awful. I had a couple characters of note...Daizy, Roastbeef Curtains, Nancy Reagan ok Drew, Pvnk as Fvck...and our guild had maybe 10 active players a night. 10 of us could routinely hold off groups of 20-50, sometimes more. Many nights I ran my human huntress around them mines, killing entire groups solo, receiving hate /tells in asian characters. And they'd come back, and I'd kill them again.

It was our only defense. We had to pester the hell out of them. Camp outside their towns, kill their guards. Burn their mines. Make them come and fight, and not give them a chance to regroup, to repair, or to do anything.

Eventually Ubi made them take US names, so we could /tell them "Boo!" right before we popped out of sneak and began the pwnination. Sometimes we'd make fun of their language. "Hey You! House House Dragon Squiggle Funny Hat!" Sometimes I'd spin around them as they tracked me, knowing their arrow was spinning too. Sometimes I'd pick a big scary meat player and wait till he sat down to pop him, then just bleed him. Or pick an attack skill without a hit roll, and bleed him for 4 pts a tick so he couldn't hide. Or track up to an invis player, then drop an AoE insta-hit and un-hide him, poison dot him, bleed him, snare him, nuke him, and then hide...watching him die slowly as I sat, invisible, next to him.

God I miss that game.
posted by TomMelee at 1:17 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Phillip Zimbardo's experiment is famous not because of the results, but because it showed how little it took for people to start treating each other badly. These were randomly selected college students, not people with thousands of years of conflict behind them. It's famous because nobody ever told them to start abusing each other. They just gave them some titles, some roles, and let them go.

OTOH, this guy's study illuminates nothing, and tells us nothing we didn't already know.
posted by fnerg at 1:20 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


You know, I was giving this guy the benefit of the doubt, but that link to his last blog post where he quit the game? He logs on and griefs people for old time's sake. I'm not quite sure he has a study here -- more likely he has an excuse he's trying to write for just getting a kick out of griefing. And thumbs down for the CoH developers for being unable or unwilling to address a perpetual griefing scenario.

I guess he also had me when, er, I thought he was a sociology professor, but no, he's a new media dude pretending to be a sociologist? Oooookay there.
posted by cavalier at 1:22 PM on July 8, 2009


shmegegge: "as I understand it, part of what he was doing was engaging not only the narrative of the game, but an actual advertised feature of the game (specifically, of the City of Villains standalone expansion): the ability to go fight people of the other faction. it wasn't just that you could do it in a sanctioned arena, but that villains could raid the heroes' city and vice versa. it was built into the game as a feature, but the community had jointly decided to nullify that feature, outside of the developers' intentions. this is, I think, worth studying as a phenomenon."

Well yeah, that is pretty interesting, and it would have been worthy of study. I'd like to see some sort of article — it wouldn't need to even be a rigorous sociological study — that looked at the issue from the side of the developers, and then from the perspective of the users/players, and tried to drill down to where the disconnect occurred. Frankly I think a lot of people would be interested in that, because anticipating users' wants and needs is sort of a major component of software (not just game) design, and the game designers here obviously failed to anticipate something about their player community.

But he didn't really do that. Instead he just went out of his way to be an asshole for a while (and I don't for a second buy the excuse that it was all just "research," the guy was a griefer plain and simple; just the adult version of the kid who likes stomping on other people's sandcastles) and then he wrote up a weak-sauce sociological paper on it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:24 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


THIS IS JUST TO SAY

I have looted
the gold
that was in
your warsack

and which
you were probably
saving
for ransom

forgive me
the orcs were so mean
and it was soshul
experiment
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:30 PM on July 8, 2009 [21 favorites]


Suppose I went to the local arcade back in the 1990s* where there was a big line at one of the video games (say, Street Fighter II) and everyone had their quarters lined up saving their place in line. This is not according to any law of the nation, nor an official rule of the arcade, yet it is a pretty strong, well-understood social rule. Now suppose I ignored this rule, skipping in ahead of the next person in line and sticking my quarter in the game. If the people there were very nice, they might tell me of my faux pas and either pushing me to the back of the line or letting me get away with it once. If I then proceeded to deliberately break this rule, distracting someone who was second in line at just the right moment and skipping in ahead of them, they'd probably get really pissed off very quickly.

Or maybe I use outside-of-the-game tactics like shouting in people's ears or using a flash camera in their faces at critical moments as distraction. I keep winning the game through these tactics, so I keep that coveted spot, and everyone who comes through has to play with me if they want to play the game. They try to use insults and other obnoxious behavior to get rid of me because the management won't do anything about it.

How long do you think this would go on before somebody physically assaults me? And he's surprised that he gets threats online?

This kind of behavior in reality would never be tolerated as a sociological experiment. That stuff is pretty well regulated in academia (you should see some of the hoops you have to go through these days (in this country) to do even the most innocuous experiments on people). As an ethnographic study, such obnoxious behavior would be seriously frowned upon. It's an unfortunate problem with ethnography as practiced today that anyone can still publish anything they can afford to get published and they can call it ethnography without legal ramification. Fortunately, such stuff isn't likely to go over well with your peers if you do publish crap (either methodological or ethical crap).

Sadly, you move these events online, and suddenly you can get away with a lot more.

Even moving away from the ethics here, it's not terribly convincing as even an informal inquiry of Mythbusters-level validity if he doesn't at least look at what kind of threats those who are regularly successful at winning battles receive. Also, if he wants me to believe that simply attacking people when there's an unwritten rule not to is enough to trigger this kind of behavior, he's going to have to pull it off without being a dick in other ways. I suspect that he hasn't let us in on every kind of dick move he uses here.

On a side note, you'd think that the CoH would fix such a potentially unbalancing move as teleporting people within range of your home's automated system if it's genuinely that hard to survive such a move.

*Why the 1990s? Because I don't know what the social rules are now.


On preview, in response to Cool Papa Bell: I would just ban teleporting people to within the range of those robots. I can see why they didn't think of it when they instituted the robots as a way of keeping people out of the spawn-area or whatever, but I can't see why they would continue to allow an instant-kill move like that.
posted by ErWenn at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


How come no one else had (or at least used) the power to teleport him to the robot firing squad? What's up with that?

It's limited range, and these are big, big zones. Even with decent flight speed, it would take over a minute to cross from end to end. To imagine the one I'm most familiar with, picture about 25 ruined city blocks, some water and several islands. This guy is sitting in his end zone. A guy sitting in the other end zone can't even see him nevermind hit him with a teleport. (I like the idea of teleporting him out of his safe zone, though; I wonder if that would work) This does explain why he wasn't be trashed by groups of villains, though. And teleport foe just isn't that popular a power. I only picked it up as one of two possible prereq's to (self) teleport.

* Will you nerf this power everywhere? Or just in certain zones?
* If only in certain zones, how will you communicate that mode change to the player?


Well, I see where you're going with this, but in fact, the PvP zones have a fairly long list of counter-intuitive effects on abilities. You get the list automatically and it would be trivial to add one more.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2009


JimmyJames: Sure some things fall through, (wow funeral pvp raids) but most of the time good games update to reflect the needs of the community.

And just to follow up on this -- while this incident occurred in a PvP flagged area of the server (WoW at the time had no "neutral" server areas where factions, while not communicating verbally, could at least stand around..), the following expansion to the game featured just such a zone ("Sanctuary") that would have allowed roleplayers the ability to line up grief-free. So, there's that.
posted by cavalier at 1:35 PM on July 8, 2009


Great. So next time I get blasted in CoD 4 because some jackwad teammate of mine is standing in a door or a staircase, part of me's gonna worry I'm yelling at a PhD and will soon be quoted in a useless research paper.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


factions, while not communicating verbally, could at least stand around..

CoH has Pocket D (heh), a club where that can happen. And there are arenas for fights. That doesn't mean that someone should be able to go into a PvP zone and enforce their idea of what should be taking place there without consequence (which would simply have been a beatdown if it weren't for the game mechanic).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 1:38 PM on July 8, 2009


And whenever anyone points it out, I simply say "Oh, I'm sorry. I thought this was AMERICA. I thought this was LAND OF THE FREE" and then I write down my results on a clip board and shit some more.

Tenure is yours.
posted by benzenedream at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


The laws of physics don't prevent me from punching cops in the face. I don't understand why they get so upset with me every time I do it!
posted by NoraReed at 1:39 PM on July 8, 2009


So is the shotty still considered a n00b cannon on {random FPS}?
posted by Artw at 1:41 PM on July 8, 2009


I think eve is an interesting case in how griefing behavior can become the new norm. When goonswarm joined the game, the broke pretty much all the established norms of fair play and sportsmanship, but through sheer force of numbers and persistence, they're now the dominant culture of the game.

Sounds like America.
posted by ND¢ at 1:47 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I am actually a little surprised that he managed to get the plan through a human-subjects committee. Doing research by behaving in ways likely to cause distress to people who haven't specifically consented to be your research subjects? And with no debriefing or compensation?

(I actually expect he just didn't bother, which would be Very Bad.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:49 PM on July 8, 2009


I am actually a little surprised that he managed to get the plan through a human-subjects committee.

He's in the "media studies" department, not the sociology department.

This is first-person journalism, not an experiment.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:50 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


I didn't realize that big international MMORPGs splinter into communities based on nationality, like Saydur and TomMelee mention. When you get a bunch of Westerners together on WoW or CoH, PvP becomes chat and clubs become hearts (except for the occasional troll with a sociology degree). But mix up nationalities, and the games become huge digital wars driven by racism and xenophobia.

That sounds sociologically interesting. And kind of scary.
posted by painquale at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


So is the shotty still considered a n00b cannon on {random FPS}?

Whenever a said weapon/maneuver/technique is complained about in a game that is well-balanced, I tend to think that the complainers are, in fact, the newbs. Skilled and experienced players can defeat obvious use of techniques. It's the whole playing to win article that made David Sirlin Internet-famous.

That said, nothing beat using the Translocator to insta-gib even armored foes in Unreal Tournament. About the closest experience I've ever had of being an assassin in an FPS, since you had to get close enough to hit them and time the teleport just right.
posted by explosion at 1:53 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Geez, a CoH thread and I'm coming in late. Oh, well.

First, a thread on the City of Heroes LiveJournal community in which this is discussed thoroughly.

Executive summary:

1) He wasn't that famous. Many people who had frequented PvP zones on the servers that he listed had never heard of him. That's probably because...

2) He isn't that good of a player. Teleporting other players into police drones isn't just a griefer's trick, it's a n00b griefer's trick.

3) He got killed himself, a lot. That line about how "was too skilled to be run off"? That just means that he switched servers or zones when people started to hunt him down. In other words, he ran away like a little wuss.

4) The reason why he quit? The developers removed his favorite griefing move, what he calls on his blog "some disappointing game designer decisions". Not only is he an unoriginal griefer, he can't come up with anything else when they take his toy away.

In other words, he either lied outright or grossly exaggerated a lot of the specifics, and apparently didn't mention that, in City of Heroes, getting killed has negative consequences--above level 10, players accumulate "debt" whenever they die; the debt slows down further accumulation of experience points (whereby the character advances) until it's paid off. But he's shocked, shocked to discover that some people have a problem with that. About the only thing that he has going for him is the probability that the people who will count his paper toward his publication requirement probably aren't CoH players.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:54 PM on July 8, 2009 [31 favorites]


painquale - One of the wildest things about playing a lot of Battlefield 1942 back in the day was how every now and then I'd find myself reenacting WWII against actual Germans.
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:55 PM on July 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


I think it could have been a good explanation of the socialization aspect of MMORPGs, how a new player becomes familiar and accustomed to the norms of the group, but instead of rule establishing he focuses on rule enforcing.

By using his own character, one that's been around for two years with "several thousand hours" of playtime, and that is "well known and well situated within the...community" there's no way he could possibly be seen as someone simply unfamiliar with CoH's culture. To the other players, he must have seemed more like a crazy old coot who's flown off the handle and is taking things too seriously.

The response to that sort of person is going to be similar in any social recreational activity: "polite" reminders of the rules, shunning, antagonism, appeals to authority. It doesn't matter if it's little league baseball, a book club, trivia night at the pub, or an online game. He's breaking the (unwritten) code of conduct created that regulate the activity for the best distribution of fun for all, and the rest of the group obviously will try to stop him. All he's done is affirm that, yes, humans respond to willful rule-breakers the same way online as they do offline.

In my opinion, a better way to explore the uniqueness of online gaming is to create a new character and have him engage in these activities from the start. Create a new character, and see what sort of responses are generated with this behavior. What sort of socialization processes will be utilized in trying to teach a newbie that "yes, you can do it, but we don't because it's rude." Will he get similar responses occuring at similar points throughout the experiment, or will the treatment he receives me more or less harsh than it was for his established character? Basically, I think he is missing half of his experiment -- there's nothing with which he can compare his results.
posted by clorox at 1:56 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


explosion - Word. There's a large contingent of Halo players who bitch themselves blue in the face about the plasma sword, reckoning that its one-hit kills make it "cheap." Fuck that - you gotta get within the kill range of every other weapon to make those hits, so it only works if the target ain't paying attention or can't aim for shit. I'm a goddamn Jedi knight with the plasma sword and make no apologies for it.
posted by EatTheWeak at 2:00 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It'd be interesting to see someone do a serious and straightfaced inquiry into the general social meta-gaming concept of "cheapness", really. Multiplayer games with competitive elements all have that notion in common—players can readily (if not unanimously or uncontroversially or even consistently-over-time) identify cheap moves, cheap techniques, cheap strategies.

The Sirlin article that explosion just mentioned touches on this early on, but while Sirlin is arguing from the position of a hardcore competitor, hardcore players are by necessity only a fraction of a given game's player base, and looking at how and why and in what ways common or clashing understandings of cheapness in the broad player base of games develop and persist, evolve and evaporate, could be really interesting.
posted by cortex at 2:06 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think the big problem with this article is that Myers is defining two sets of social rules: the game rules and the community norms. However, I would compare the game rules more with the laws of physics than any kind of social rules, most especially because these rules do not originate in the community, and cannot be changed by the community. When you look at it this way, the dichotomy which he makes such a big deal about disappears completely.
posted by Edgewise at 2:08 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


He's in the "media studies" department, not the sociology department.

Human subjects review doesn't depend on what department you're in. It depends on whether your research has human subjects.

This is first-person journalism, not an experiment.

The distinction isn't his to make. This actually concerned me enough to email Loyola's IRB.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:09 PM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


The CoH/V online society, at least in the mature state of that society in which Twixt’s breaching behavior took place, had a decidedly chilling effect on this variability function. Given the adaptive value of individual play in exploring and revealing system characteristics, the social pressures against this sort of play in CoH/V seem drastically and overly harsh, even unnatural.

If either natural or system laws governing social order in the real world are in any way analogous to the game rules of the CoH/V virtual world, we can conclude that social orders in general are more likely to deny than reveal these laws. It is only through so-called aberrations or “deviant” behavior – in Twixt’s case, breaching play -- that system rules, mechanics, and laws can be made evident and applied most indiscriminately within an entrenched and self-sustaining social order.
I also disagree with his conclusion. Unless he was the absolute very first person to discover that you can teleport people into an instant death or to break up hero/villain "collusion," he cannot truthfully claim that he was "exploring and revealing system characteristics." The culture of the community had already been made aware of these antics, and decided that they were not in good taste. He's not revealing or exploring anything other than the community's reaction to willful breaching of previously-defined norms.
posted by clorox at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2009


Does this guy's institution not have an IRB?
posted by majick at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2009


Halloween Jack: The reason why he quit? The developers removed his favorite griefing move, what he calls on his blog "some disappointing game designer decisions".

That's really, really funny.

I originally thought that his primary motive for griefing was to develop his sociological thesis (even though it's a crappy and obvious one). But it's becoming increasingly obvious that he was just playing the game in the way he liked (i.e. as a dick) and any academic benefits were totally incidental. This isn't scholarly research or even undercover gonzo journalism; it's the autobiography of a troll.
posted by painquale at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


I bet Cryptic Studios regret ever giving this guy tenure.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:16 PM on July 8, 2009


Me: He's in the "media studies" department, not the sociology department.

ROU_Xenophobe: Human subjects review doesn't depend on what department you're in. It depends on whether your research has human subjects.

Me: This is first-person journalism, not an experiment.

ROU_Xenophobe: The distinction isn't his to make. This actually concerned me enough to email Loyola's IRB.


I completely agree with your point of view, ROU_Xenophobe, but I bet you will get an answer from Loyola that is similar to my characterization above. Unfortunately.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:17 PM on July 8, 2009


painquale: I didn't realize that big international MMORPGs splinter into communities based on nationality, like Saydur and TomMelee mention. When you get a bunch of Westerners together on WoW or CoH, PvP becomes chat and clubs become hearts (except for the occasional troll with a sociology degree). But mix up nationalities, and the games become huge digital wars driven by racism and xenophobia.

Sometimes. Famously in EVE Online GoonSwarm, an Anglophone group, joined up with the Tau Ceti Federation (French) and Red Alliance (Russians) to take on Band of Brothers (largely Northern European and Anglophone).

But then EVE has always been different from the other MMOs.
posted by Kattullus at 2:27 PM on July 8, 2009


He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream.

Now, let me explain why using the "@ username" convention here on metafilter is going to get you a quick trip to the front of a robotic firing squad...
posted by quin at 2:31 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I remember once writing a story about a local LAN business that allowed people to play games like Alien Vs. Predator back when fewer folks had consoles or gaming computers. While me and some friends are in there, drinkin' our Bawlz, there are two guys arguing back and forth over the headsets. One of them is camping near a respawn and keeps hitting this same guy every time he pops back up. But while he's a total camping dipshit, he's somehow a desert bloom when it comes to being told that he's a camping dipshit—what really set him off was that the other guy kept calling him a fag. Finally, they go outside, and the one little dude who'd been repeatedly shot just clocks the camper in the mouth. Blood starts spewing everywhere, and they both get down on their hands and knees to find the camper's tooth, and have this weird moment of awkward apologies while they wait for the cops to show up.

I was pretty pissed when the mag spiked the story, spiked in part because one of the other businesses I went to, which was the advertiser really driving the publisher's desire to get the story in, went under.

Similarly, on Facebook's Scrabble, you can play the two-letter "word" PL. None of the folks I know in real life play it on each other without at least first broaching the topic. Strangers play it on each other as a matter of course.
posted by klangklangston at 2:32 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I bet you will get an answer from Loyola that is similar to my characterization above.

Most likely. I hope that he at least gets advised to strip the userid's from his quotes, though.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:39 PM on July 8, 2009


Cheapness = Blue Shell in Mario Kart. Nothing else can compare.
posted by SpiffyRob at 2:46 PM on July 8, 2009


You are my favorite experiment.
posted by nola at 2:50 PM on July 8, 2009


Cheapness = Blue Shell in Mario Kart. Nothing else can compare.
Nothing's as cheap as a front-runner who can't plan for the blue shell.
posted by verb at 2:52 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, he had a tendency to “kill-steal,” that is, waiting for other people to get an enemy down to very few hit points, then porting said enemy away from the people fighting it, an into the drone’s range.

Neither of these methods is very fair. Sure, it’s *legal* to take credit for your coworker’s accomplishments, but is it ethical? No.


Now that is full on griefer asshat behavior. Where's the science again?

The devs should ban his ass and be done with the whole thing. These types of people will always exploit game mechanics and claim it's okay because if the devs programmed it, it is not breaking the rules. Idiots.
posted by Benway at 2:53 PM on July 8, 2009


Ha! I love when people read pop-sci articles and then get all huffed up by the breathless tone. Phrases like "Myers was stunned by the reaction, since he obeyed the game's rules" and "The chilling text shook Myers two years ago" are classic hyperbolic reporting.
posted by muddgirl at 2:57 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


You read the response of some longtime CoH players here. Some had in fact heard of him, and a few recounted running into him on occasion. Nearly all of them took issue with the quote "But no one could stay alive long enough to defeat Twixt." He was apparently quite familiar with death at the hands of other players. The article apparently misrepresents PVP in the Heroes/Villians meeting place in general. Players argued that, contrary to the article's claims, battles between heroes and villians are in fact quite commonplace, and that what Twixt was doing was inflicting NPC death on people. If you are have ever played WoW, this would be the equivalent of somehow getting the city guards to kill someone in your own faction.
posted by sophist at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2009


"I am actually a little surprised that he managed to get the plan through a human-subjects committee.

He's in the "media studies" department, not the sociology department.

This is first-person journalism, not an experiment.
"

Someone should send a copy of his paper to the Loyola IRB. His commentary in his blog on what constitutes academic research is wrong, and suggests to me he probably did not submit this as a proposal to a review board.
posted by MetalDog at 3:21 PM on July 8, 2009


Halloween Jack: now that's a summary I can believe.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 3:30 PM on July 8, 2009


I didn't realize that big international MMORPGs splinter into communities based on nationality, like Saydur and TomMelee mention. When you get a bunch of Westerners together on WoW or CoH, PvP becomes chat and clubs become hearts (except for the occasional troll with a sociology degree). But mix up nationalities, and the games become huge digital wars driven by racism and xenophobia.

It's not blanket, but yeah, anti-Asian racism is pretty rife in Eve, and US and Russian players have a tendancy towards spectacular nationalism and xenophobia.

That sounds sociologically interesting. And kind of scary.

Sometimes it's kind of funny. Watching some Russian players trash-talk a bunch of American players for being "facists" and "communists" (what?) only to be one upped by an American replying that "If I wanted to hear Russian I'd order one of your women off the Internet".

Of course, then you find out they're all quite serious about the nationalism on both sides and it's a little less amusing, as you say.
posted by rodgerd at 3:33 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Famously in EVE Online GoonSwarm, an Anglophone group, joined up with the Tau Ceti Federation (French) and Red Alliance (Russians)

Don't forget ze Germans. Not that D2 lasted all that long, after an initial strong showing.
posted by rodgerd at 3:37 PM on July 8, 2009


My favorite griefing story from the Penny Arcade podcast: Gabe and his wife would log on to World of Warcraft every Thursday to play with some low-level characters to try out some of the newer classes. Inevitably they would get jumped by some 70th-level jerk who was running around killing "newbies." Gabe and his wife would then log on with their 80th level characters and spend the rest of the evening killing said jerk over and over.
posted by straight at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


Ok, this guy is an ass who would have seriously pissed me off if I'd spent hours paying off debt from one of his drone kills, but this, from the forum talk:

It's ironic that his character picture shows a police drone

pushes the whole thing into absurd hilarity.

It's not blanket, but yeah, anti-Asian racism is pretty rife in Eve, and US and Russian players have a tendancy towards spectacular nationalism and xenophobia.

I don't have a lot of Eve experience, but trying it out a few years ago, I played awhile as a freedom-loving Gallente (at least this is how they're described, and they have elegant looking ships, all very Federation-like), then for a change, decided to go Caldari (I prefer rockets and missiles). So suddenly I'm listening in on Caldari coms all the time, and I couldn't believe the culture difference. It's like all the fascist assholes of teendom had decided to play, and all be Caldari. Am I imagining this?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:02 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Someone should send a copy of his paper to the Loyola IRB.

I already emailed their contact address. Not to get the guy in trouble, whatever limited trouble they could bring to bear, but if he should be getting IRB approval he ought be appropriately advised. And of course, he might not need it, or might have received approval or exemption based on the ultimately trivial nature of any harm the subjects suffered.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:04 PM on July 8, 2009


maybe he just thinks people who play these sorts of things need a bit more of an offline life. 'Cause I think the ones who get this upset about a game need more of an offline life.

Good job telling those nerds what's what, kldickson! Next let's make fun of the homeless!!!
posted by Justinian at 4:27 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


During my two years playing CoH as basically a loner (my time zone made it challenging to be part of an active group), my experiences with my fellow players were almost entirely positive.

When I was a low level player, there was no shortage of players who were willing to help me out, both with game mechanics and leveling. This was, no doubt, at least partially because you could get rewards for mentoring lower level characters, but I never got a "I'm just doing this for the badges" vibe from anyone who helped me.

As a medium level player, I was always able to find four of five other players who were eager to team up for some of the more challenging missions and - aw, man, what were they called? - the really long special missions.

As a high level player, I found that low level players were grateful for whatever help I could offer and genuinely interested in the game and rules of society.

Across the board, people were fun to talk to, friendly and (for the record) totally out of character. Even when I was doing PvP, my experiences were entirely positive. Win or lose, there were hand slaps and "good jobs" all around.

Now, to be fair, I never got involved in the bulletin boards or in a large group, so YMMV.

Based on what little I've read about Professor Myers' interaction with the CoH player base, my immediate and unfair impression is that he was playing CoH during work hours claiming it was "research" and needed to publish a paper about it to justify this.

----

In general, most folks who play MMORPGs - or games like CyberNations, Lunar Wars, what have you - aren't especially interested in role playing. They're interested in socializing, trash talking, and playing the game. The game, in this case, being both CoH itself and "the game about the game" that develops.

Researching how a community of players develops a "game about the game" - the agreed upon social rules within the game world - would be a worthy and interesting paper. Researching how people get pissed off when you act like a dick is of dubious value.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:28 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Myer's article is probably worthless, but this thread has been a fascinatingly layered overview of MMORPG culture--thanks everybody!
posted by yoink at 4:35 PM on July 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


It's like all the fascist assholes of teendom had decided to play, and all be Caldari. Am I imagining this?

Caldaris have two advantages; one, their starting mem/int scores are highest, which means they will train faster in the long run. Two, relatedly, their home system is the biggest trading hub in Eve. So yeah, you end up with a Barrens chat scenario if you roll Caldari.

IIRC the race imbalance is much less of a big deal now, after they changed creation to grant you ~800k skillpoints at the start, but before that Caldari was well-established as the min/max race of choice, and as a result the game's population clustered there.
posted by mek at 4:43 PM on July 8, 2009


This reminds of the controversy over the game Berzerk that they talked about in Chasing Ghosts. Some players figured out that rather than going through the game as you're supposed to, you can goin a circle through the same four screens over and over. Making getting a high score not a matter of skill, but willingness to play the same boring screens for four days. Needless to say, the original record-holders were pretty pissed.
posted by roll truck roll at 4:52 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think he's just a griefing asshole in academia who had to "publish-or-die," so he excreted this document in hopes that the rest of the faculty had never heard of such things before.
posted by Edgewise at 4:54 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


But mix up nationalities, and the games become huge digital wars driven by racism and xenophobia.

That sounds sociologically interesting. And kind of scary.


I agree and although I don't play MMOs, from what I've heard it's quite common. In some cases it's for economic reasons (e.g. people who work fulltime in China mining in WoW) but in TomMelee's case the xenophobia seems to have stemmed from large numbers, different language/culture, and a perception that the foreigners are inferior - just like in the real world.
posted by pravit at 5:06 PM on July 8, 2009


Would it be against the established social norms to call his university and file an ethics complaint?
posted by empath at 5:24 PM on July 8, 2009


In terms of "punishing" Professor Myers, let me just put in my two cents and say that the most effective response to a troll is to ignore them and remind others to do the same.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:29 PM on July 8, 2009


Falconetti: "Myers was stunned by the reaction, since he obeyed the game's rules.

I hope this does not accurately reflect Meyers true reaction because if so, he is an idiot. It is the equivalent of me saying, "It is not illegal in America to be an asshole and I am always stunned when people dislike me for being an asshole."
"

I think it's more like the guys running mortgage sales saying that they were doing the right thing because it was legal to not require full documentation on loans. And I get the feeling the attitude really helped us all emphasize with them. /s
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:37 PM on July 8, 2009


The article should mention that this is an MMO, and it's charged by playtime rather than a one-time fee like with offline games. If someone is a jerk in a game that you've already paid for, it's easier to laugh it off and say it's only a game. If you've lost time in a game that you're paying to play, and further need to play more to make up for that lost time in order to get your money's worth, it makes sense to be upset.

The social rules are there so that everyone has fun. There's a reason griefing is a word, and that's because it's behavior that is not fun for the other players and/or offers no fair competition to the action. If games were purely rational economic experiments, like this professor implies, people wouldn't care about griefing, and everyone who found it fun would do it without feeling guilt.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:59 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I should point out that my evil xenophobia was echoed by the other side. It was really all a matter of course, trash talking on the interwebs != any feelings I or my guildies have IRL.
posted by TomMelee at 6:12 PM on July 8, 2009


What's astounding to me here is that Myers, in finding a gaming culture that was making a point to be civil, is honestly trying to play the victim by getting them to the point where they started making obviously idle threats to tell him to stop fucking with that culture, and claim that he's the good guy here.

I mean, I know that isn't a new thought in this thread, but I'm picturing the scene in fight club, where the space monkeys' assignment is to pick a fight and lose, and the one guy keeps fucking with the priest until the priest hits him. Now picture that space monkey filing charges. That's Myers.

I've been more fascinated with explosive's "Play to Win" link, though. I'm not big into MMOs, though I was big on Skyrates for a little while. Skyrates didn't have PvP, though, so the worst you could do was fuck with another faction's influence. Me, I'm more of a speedrun type of guy. Aside from Machine-Assisted speed-runs though, which are actually somewhat more of an artform than skill-achievement of themselves, what pisses me off is if I'm working to be the best and fastest at something like Mega Man 2, and can reliably beat all 8 robot masters in under 24 minutes starting with Quickman, and see all the youtube vids starting with Flashman and using the easy level instead of the difficult. I mean, if you want to prove how much of a badass you are, you prove it on the more difficult settings, at least, right?
posted by Navelgazer at 6:14 PM on July 8, 2009


Bad analogies run strong in this thread.
posted by Ritchie at 6:21 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Bad analogies are like adorable kittens with widdle-bitty Hitler moustaches who leave dead birdies on your doorstep because they WUV U SO MUCH!!!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 6:26 PM on July 8, 2009 [12 favorites]


I mean, if you want to prove how much of a badass you are, you prove it on the more difficult settings, at least, right?

There's something to be said for the prevailing cultural tendency toward doing things The Hard Way, and more power to someone who is dedicated to beating the game at its meanest, but there's plenty of room in the stunty neighborhood of speedrunning for lighter difficulties if the goal is to just nail the speedometer to the floor.

Opt-in constraints in gaming interest me in general—the flip-side of Sirlin's "scrub" coin is the enlightened meta-gamer, something that is a lot more defensible when you move outside the framework of zero-sum head-to-head diagetic competition. The whole concept of a time trial is fundamentally different from a boxing match in a lot of ways, to the detriment of neither.

Once you willingly move into the making-your-own-fun realm, there's no particular reason to presume the validity of a given constraint over another except where you've chosen to enter into a social contract with other metagamers. Do you have a collective rule that says "play on Hard Mode"? Great, don't play on Easy. But that's an ad hoc structure, not something inherent to the idea of metagaming.

Look at all the different ways that folks have chosen to constrain themselves in Nethack. A foodless atheist ascension and a minimum-turns ascension and a maximum-score game are all very different and mutually exclusive beasts—choosing to do one means by definition, given the structure of Nethack, refusing to do the others.
posted by cortex at 6:42 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


> I mean, I know that isn't a new thought in this thread, but I'm picturing the scene in fight club, where the space monkeys' assignment is to pick a fight and lose, and the one guy keeps fucking with the priest until the priest hits him.

Huh, I was thinking of the exact same scene.
posted by xorry at 6:44 PM on July 8, 2009


So, um.

Let's say I go to high school, because I'm a kid. And most of the kids, they don't give a rat's ass, and they don't study, and they don't learn. But I study, and I learn, because I give a rat's ass. So in study hall, I actually study, and the other kids see this, and think it's stupid. So they gently tease me to get me to stop, but I don't stop, because I really want to study and that's what school is ostensibly for. So a few kids start giving me a really hard time, and I report them to the teacher. I wonder why other kids who are studying don't help me; I wonder why these kids are so dead-set against using study hall to study, since that's what it's there for. So meanwhile those kids get in trouble, and they come back and now everyone hates me, and they post mean things about me on the internet, and try to beat me up, and so on and so forth. But I'm a big kid, and I follow the rules, so I report them and defend myself without injuring them, and it pisses them off to no end. Meanwhile, I spend four years like this, studying. At the end of the four years, I write a paper about it, and it gets me admission into the college of my choice. Meanwhile, a prominent internet forum hears about this, then proceeds to have a long conversation about...

wouldn't it be interesting to know?

in this theoretical construct, the forum is 4chan
posted by davejay at 6:49 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Bad analogies are like adorable kittens with widdle-bitty Hitler moustaches who leave dead birdies on your doorstep because they WUV U SO MUCH!!!

They're more like an adorable puppy that you buy as a companion for an elderly widowed parent, that grows up into a big friendly mastiff-like dog that is actually more of a burden than a help, until your parent trips over it one day and dies from head trauma and the grown-up puppy partially devours them because you're not due to visit for another 5 days.
posted by Ritchie at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2009


meanwhile, I said meanwhile too much, and somewhat incorrectly
posted by davejay at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2009


So in study hall, I actually study, and the other kids see this, and think it's stupid. So they gently tease me to get me to stop, but I don't stop, because I really want to study and...

Uh huh. Very cute. But more like:

You enter study hall, a DESIGNATED STUDY AREA. Some kids are having fun just talking rather than studying. Sure, you could go off and study with the computer, but hey, you think, let's run a little experiment. So you report those kids to the principal, and they all get detentions. The next day you enter the study hall and see them talking again. Again you report them. More detentions; more of their time wasted (that, after all, should have been spent STUDYING). They try to talk to you about this. Hey, why are you being such a jerk, man? Go study with the computer if you want. No, you'll have none of it. This is the study hall. EVERYONE MUST STUDY. So you report them. Again and again. Eventually they resort to threats. Aha, you think to yourself with satisfaction. Bullies. You knew it.

But who is the bully here?
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 7:17 PM on July 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


Similarly, on Facebook's Scrabble, you can play the two-letter "word" PL. None of the folks I know in real life play it on each other without at least first broaching the topic. Strangers play it on each other as a matter of course.

Ooh, I definitely break all sorts of social norms when playing "casual" Scrabble games (as if there were such a thing). I have never thought about it this way, but I am a full-on Scrabble troll.

I should publish something about my experience.
posted by painquale at 7:19 PM on July 8, 2009


Cortex, of course you're right, and I know that. I was half-joking with myself there. The truth is that I don't know how to even record my MM2 speedruns and post them to youtube and I get so bored with the Wily stages that I don;t even bother with them most of the time, and so in my special Navelgazer world I just wish someone out there on the interwebs were attempting the exact same arbitrary challenges I set for myself so that I could try to "compete" in some way.

It's silly as hell, of course, and the problem is on my end. But in this age, after I've learned to beat Quickman first (meaning that I do both the lasers and the boss battle without Flash Stopper) and navigate Heatman's blocks without using Item 2, and know which weapon to use against eash of the endless enemies in Woodman's stage, it'd be cool to know there was someone else out there trying to be the best at this same sort of thing, or hell, even just someone who could confirm or deny my theory that the Quick Boomerang is, in fact, better than the Metal Blades for most endeavors at the Expert difficulty.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:21 PM on July 8, 2009


I usually ask the people if they want to play SOWPODS, and/or mention my occasional house rule of a five-letter word to open, then base my gameplay on their response.
posted by box at 7:21 PM on July 8, 2009


His work could have been considerably more interesting if he had done his griefing in WoW, since WoW doesn't allow inter-faction communication. He could have done some evil deed as Alliance, then quickly logged and come to the same zone as a Horde character and pretend to be sympathetic towards the victim in order to get their version of events.

Chances are, because of no in-game communication between factions, the deed would be described as being something much worse than what actually happened, and the victim would probably express some view of how this unpleasant behavior was typical of the other faction.

Then reverse the characters and repeat, and will probably get the same results.

WoW, in a simplistic microcosm, shows how racism and wars get started. Even though both Horde and Alliance are usually made up of the same sort of gamers, it's common knowledge that "their" side is incapable of honor and honest action, while "our" side would never stoop to such low-down dirty tactics.

Though, as someone who only plays Horde, I can state factually that there is nothing good about Alliance. They're nothing but 11 year old griefers who never change their underwear, while the Horde is entirely made up of great guys / girls who are mature, handsome, impeccably dressed and camp only to avenge their fallen brethren.
posted by pandaharma at 7:32 PM on July 8, 2009 [7 favorites]


"The social rules are there so that everyone has fun"

Everyone? What about people who don't want to play in only the "socially-approved" manner?

In my days as an horrible MMORPG PeeKay . I was reviled, threatened and cursed on a regular basis for the crime of simply choosing to engage in PvP on a server specifically set aside for that purpose. I also received (somewhat less frequently) private tells from players who admired what I was doing and thought it added flavor to the server.

Nowadays I play an FPS on servers where spawn-camping is specifically encouraged (by the people who rent the servers). Yet it is a rare gaming session without players lobbing abusive insults in a futile attempt to socially forbid it.

I've played chess with people who get upset when you invoke a semi-obscure rule such as en passant, and various competitive sports with people who object to getting beat by legal tactics. In the offline world this is generally referred to as poor sportsmanship. Even in my current passion, climbing, there are those who will complain and snark because your preferred method of getting to the top doesn't match their ideal of the "right" way.

I'll admit there is some pleasure to be had in ganking loudmouths. But I'm not convinced that such people represent the majority. It just seems that way because they are the ones spamming the chat channels.
posted by Manjusri at 7:34 PM on July 8, 2009


I guess I'm well over the horizon of more than two people reading this, but I'm still going to chip in.

I agree with the general sentiment about this being both a bogus experiment and unethical, but there are some things that my own time with WoW showed me about the way that I act socially. I played in a PvP server, (got Field Marshal when that was a thing, I know it ain't anymore), but I almost never griefed anybody.

I didn't kill lowbie enemies, I didn't do any of the junk that's normally associated with PvP. What I did do was take revenge. It was absolutely my favorite thing to do in WoW. I'd play an alt in Ashenvale or some other likely-to-be-ganked (gank = 'socially unfair' kill) area, and I'd always have my high level character around, and when I got ganked I'd spend the rest of the night paying it back.

It was something about myself that in retrospect really repulsed me but I can still feel the pleasure of exerting that power over somebody who attempted to put themselves above me. It didn't interest me at all until I was able to put myself in the position to Judge them, but after that point there was relatively little mercy. That's the really interesting (and consequential) sociological question that the game raised to me. I've read enough poems and stories not to be shocked by this fact, the desire for revenge isn't some newly created phenomenon, but I've never felt that way about something IRL. I know now I'm taking the game too seriously, but remembering the raw emotion it raised at the time I can't help but think it was important.

Anyway, I haven't stopped playing video-games (did stop WoW), but I really strictly ration my input of competitiveness. I just can't take losing as anything other than a personal insult, (runs in the family I think). And there are very few things that make me as passionately angry as somebody else having power over me, even if it is by killing a virtual character in a pretend world. Very little matters until I get that power back. I've never understood people who think competition is a positive thing, maybe it shows them something different about themselves. All its shown me is that I was likely in the Spanish Inquisition in a former life.
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's hard to see this as anything but a full-on troll. The guy was taking advantage of an exploit that the developers didn't have the budget and manpower to fix, an exploit that yielded him nothing than the sadistic satisfaction of making other people unhappy. He now tries to cast the lack of immediate action on the part of the devs as a tacit endorsement of his use of the exploit, even though he knows that just isn't true. City of Heroes is not the cash cow that WoW is, and does not have the manpower to immediately fix every little thing that comes up.

Here is an example that many of you are familiar with: A group of players have found a way to get to the top of a structure in a mid-level horde settlement that guards can't get to easily, and are picking off lower-level opposing players at will. Very amusing for them, but frustrating after a while for the poor hordies. There was fairly rapid in-game action by a GM, and later the mechanics of the flight towers were altered to prevent this sort of thing. This all happened because WoW makes a huge stack of cash every minute, and wants to keep its players happy. The fact that CoH can't pursue this level of moderation or enforcement does not constitute an endorsement of shitty behavior. Finally, the guy quit the game when the devs finally neutered his exploit, which is pretty damning circumstantial evidence that the guy was just a troll. He didn't quit over the "death threats," but he walked when they took away his cheat. He's a very poor loser and likely a very poor player.
posted by Mister_A at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2009


I've been reading the paper, and I'll come back to this thread soon (got to do work and stuff), but griefers suck. They stun me with just how asinine/obnoxious/juvenile their actions are. Primarily, my experience with griefers comes from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on the playstation 3. The folks who leave their mic on, even when there's no one else with a mic (I play Mercenary Team Deathmatch for a reason) just talking to themselves, or worse, putting their headseat next to a stereo, or just, y'know, playing feedback loops? As a grown adult male, conscious that I'm playing a video game, these fuckers need to get a life.

Let alone the asshat running around with the bolt-action sniper rifle using it like a shotgun. That fucker pissed me off. Gah.

But really? Why grief? What's the point? To get a rise out of people? Is that really a goal in life? To prove to the world that you're an outright ass? I'd like to understand griefers, but more honestly, I'd like to stay as far from them as possible. I can't imagine someone who enjoys ruining a freaking game for others could possibly be a pleasant person.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:08 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Chances are, because of no in-game communication between factions, the deed would be described as being something much worse than what actually happened, and the victim would probably express some view of how this unpleasant behavior was typical of the other faction.

Then reverse the characters and repeat, and will probably get the same results.

WoW, in a simplistic microcosm, shows how racism and wars get started. Even though both Horde and Alliance are usually made up of the same sort of gamers, it's common knowledge that "their" side is incapable of honor and honest action, while "our" side would never stoop to such low-down dirty tactics.
See, right there, you have a much more interesting premise for an article. Of course, yours would be more like research and less like "just being a dick for fun and then writing about it."
posted by verb at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The article should mention that this is an MMO, and it's charged by playtime rather than a one-time fee like with offline games.

Yeah. There were, shall we say, very strong disincentives for griefing when we used to pay by the hour for online games. You were inviting the wrath of god down upon yourself if you repeatedly violated social norms. That mostly only became a problem when AOL (may it burn in the brightest flames of hell for all eternity) hooked in and their faceless hordes of basement dwelling pimplefaces could play for a whole month on a $19.99 charge to mommy's credit card or whatever.
posted by Justinian at 8:44 PM on July 8, 2009


Though, as someone who only plays Horde, I can state factually that there is nothing good about Alliance. They're nothing but 11 year old griefers who never change their underwear, while the Horde is entirely made up of great guys / girls who are mature, handsome, impeccably dressed and camp only to avenge their fallen brethren.

(nerd)
At one point, I would have agreed with you, but I think the in-game plotlines have taken a decidedly Alliance-biased turn. With the Undead betrayal at Wrathgate, and the subsequent discovery that the second-in-command at Undercity was responsible, the Horde did little to punish those directly involved. Sure, Varimathras was attacked and escaped, and the Apothecary died/is also gone, but why wasn't Sylvanas punished? Her #2 completely betrays the rest of the Horde and no one bats an eye in her direction?

That whole thing left a bad taste in my Tauren's mouth.
(/nerd)
posted by graventy at 8:48 PM on July 8, 2009


Cheapness = Blue Shell in Mario Kart. Nothing else can compare.

If you think the Blue Shell is cheap, allow me to introduce you to my friend the Lightning Bolt. In Mario Kart 64, you could strategically lightning bolt people off of jumps and ramps, generally setting them back a half a lap and resulting in some upset feelings or thrown controllers.

This tactic was banned in the Kart Treaty of 1998, which also banned the use of jumping through secret holes in tracks, and finishing races backwards to get double points. Many controllers look back on that day in remembrance of their fallen brethren.
posted by graventy at 8:52 PM on July 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, griefing is a shitton of fun.

I've known some dudes that do it, and they also deliberately frak their teammates on xbox live and post racist youtube comments and post indescribably stupid yahoo questions. They do this to make people flip out, which is lulz.

They don't get hurt when they get a death threat, they get hi-fives. The real scary issue here is that he thought he was somehow in the right and justified by his rampant quoting of pretentious pseudo-intellectual academic jargon.

It's like the difference between college kids doing beer bongs at the frat house and a grown man sneaking a bottle of whiskey into his daughters 10th birthday at Chuck E Cheese. I mean, sure, they're both PARTIES, but one is harmless dumb fun and the other makes you a sad piece of shit.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:05 PM on July 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also: He responds to some of the extant charges on his blog.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:06 PM on July 8, 2009


but one is harmless dumb fun.

Sure, if you're a sociopath. How is ruining everyone else's fun "harmless"?
posted by Justinian at 10:17 PM on July 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


Ah the sad little croak of the lost narcissistic anti-social nerd pie:

Perhaps the greatest advantage of an anti-aesthetic in this regard is that it readily includes and explains those experiences associated with digital game play that are risky, harmful, against the rules, or, in some other way, bad. Indeed, within the anti-aesthetic, “bad” digital game play is exemplary digital game play.

This exemplary yet bad play includes all emotions and efforts expended prior to Grodal’s sense of mastery and/or prior to Aarseth’s state of epiphany: frustration, isolation, obsession, self-immersion, defeat. These common, universal, and agonistic elements of digital game play embody a false Other constructed, maintained, enjoyed, and ultimately and repetitively destroyed during the active reinforcement of false experience.


Yesssss perhaps in this new media we can play the game only within the rules, where our persona will be ruthlessly modified by pwning each-other with l33t skills only...What do you say Derrida?


Utilizing and referencing this process, the game interface – hardware and software, i. e., the game rules --intervenes and mediates between the (real-world) Other and the domain of experience within which Other and Self are distinguished. In this way, digital games function simultaneously as experience simulators and as the experience being simulated. Game rules overlay and, upon occasion, substitute for the embedded mechanics of sensation.

Interactive games cannot entirely reconstitute the body, but they can and do reconfigure our interpretation of experience in order to prioritize – and de-prioritize – various aspects of that experience. During this process, the domain of real-world experience becomes a (relatively narrower) domain of so-called virtual-world experience. This virtual-world experience then reflects the real world only indirectly though the semiotic process of its own construction --that is, only through its formal properties. Meanwhile, real-world content and the function of that content to test and validate constructions of the Self are lost.


WAIT EVERYONE IS BEING SOCIAL AND HANGING OUT ARGH ITS JUST LIKE THE PROM ALL OVER AGAIN WHERE NOBODY WANTED TO DO THE CORRECT DANCES. ILL SHOW THEM ALLLLL blurg


Get a life, says Montaigne and Socrates, starting up a round of Calvinball. All games build social networks, not destroy them. He'd know that if he weren't too twitchy to play t-ball as a 9 year old.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:38 PM on July 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Justinian: You're right, it is harmful if it's really costing people money and time. I just meant it's a kind of mean-spirited glee in low-stakes destruction that exists in all of us, we just usually outgrow it rather than make it into a pretend academic career.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:44 PM on July 8, 2009


just talking to themselves, or worse, putting their headseat next to a stereo, or just, y'know, playing feedback loops?

Uh oh. This sounds like a few solo concerts I've put on. I have some soul-searching to do.
posted by naju at 11:31 PM on July 8, 2009


Wait, just so I understand, if you go around acting like an asshole people don't like you?

ZOMG I had no idea!!!!1!11elevensies!!
posted by Talanvor at 11:36 PM on July 8, 2009


I've known some dudes that do it, and they also deliberately frak their teammates on xbox live and post racist youtube comments and post indescribably stupid yahoo questions.

Classy.

I fail to see indulging in this sort of behavior as anything but poor impulse control and/or a serious underlying personality defect.

Perhaps they have positive qualities which make up for this in other ways, but still, it's a defect.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:06 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Kadin, honestly, I have a hard time seeing someone who thinks shitting in the pool is a great way to spend the afternoon as a person who might have other redeeming qualities. Assholes are pretty much assholes.

And, Potomac, it's not just harmless fun. I'd say you're damn near actively harming people when griefing them. Someone logs into a game, they're looking to have a good time. The good time will result in relaxation, possible positive feelings. Griefing takes that away. It's great that you high five each other when someone makes a death threat. Imagine, though, how far the average person needs to be pushed to make death threats online? Granted, it's probably much less than it should be, but to piss someone off to that extent is just one representation of how much ill will and negative energy you've generated for your lulz.

You might want to try pulling wings off flies, frying ants with a magnifying glass, and, of course, torturing kittens. I hear they're all good for lulz.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:53 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't grief cuz it's bullshit, but I'm fine with sowing just a little bit of confusion to spice up a session. For instance, one of the best times I had playing Halo was the time I said nothing but "orange tractor" into my headset. Gloating over a kill? "Orange tractor." Apologizing for blocking a path? "Orange tractor." Asked for clarification? "Orange tractor." Congratulations for a slick move? "Orange tractor," in a positive, encouraging tone.

Now, while I may have been acting weird, I was also making a legitimate effort to play well. We were playing team deathmatch and I was adding more than my share of kills to our score. After the confusion of my teammates abated, we were just kind of getting into the game and, as the match grew more intense, I concentrated on the fight rather than being a crackpot. The moment that made all my tomfoolery worth it was after I'd fallen silent and hadn't scored a kill for several minutes. One of my teammates decided to check if I was still playing, so he said, "Uhm ... orange tractor?"

"Orange tractor!"
posted by EatTheWeak at 1:54 AM on July 9, 2009 [9 favorites]


If you think the Blue Shell is cheap, allow me to introduce you to my friend the Lightning Bolt.

No no, I know him well. But he was removed from later versions of Mario Kart, so there's some closure there. But the Blue Shell persists.

Nothing's as cheap as a front-runner who can't plan for the blue shell.

Listen, you Ninty apologist, how, exactly, does one "plan" for the Blue Shell when they're in first the whole time? Great, you can carry a mushroom around for the entire race, but if you're in first from the gun, there's very little chance you're going to get the mushroom in the first place.

It's just illogical as an item. The people firing it are usually in sixth place or worse, but it really only benefits those it 2nd-5th.
posted by SpiffyRob at 5:08 AM on July 9, 2009


Being the best at the game means knowing the strategies required to win. A marathon isn't won by the person who is in front the longest, but who crosses the finish line first at the end.

The problem is that you're assuming that the person who pulls out in front immediately should be the winner in Mario Kart. The optimal strategy when the Blue Shell exists is actually to hoard the speed boost items, remain in a close second (while staying slightly to the side so that the Blue Shell won't knock you out on its way to 1st), and then win after the Blue Shell. Alternately, if the shell doesn't come up, do a mad dash in the last lap and cross the finish line before the Blue Shell catches you.

There do, in fact, exist games that are unbalanced, and are designed to be more "fun and casual" than "balanced for competition." Tournaments revolve around Street Fighter and not Marvel vs. Capcom for this reason. The argument is that if you're gonna play a game that's unbalanced, don't take it so seriously that you decry things as "cheap" and get bent out of shape. Alternately, move on to another game that is better balanced. There are plenty of racer games without Blue Shells.
posted by explosion at 5:56 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gah, I went to homeboy's blog page where he discusses this nonsense. He's so goddamn disingenuous. Here's something he says:

I was not so much shocked by my opponents being angry and as what they were angry about. If we were playing chess, and you got very angry that I moved my bishop — just moved my bishop, thats all — then I would be equally surprised.

Spoken like someone who has never played a game of chess in his life. He thinks there are no informal rules in chess? He could have just as "enlightening" a study by going to the place in the park where they play chess, looking over shoulders and loudly suggesting moves. They got mad? How shocking! That's not a violation of chess rules! Why, I have the rulebook right here...

What a fucking putz. Seriously, this guy is a major league ass-hat in a penis-shaped ivory tower.
posted by Edgewise at 7:13 AM on July 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Grawenty:

This would be an interesting subject for another paper: in-game lore vs. actual player behavior for determining good and evil regarding factions, and how player actions influence the perceived storyline and vice versa.

Because I partially agree with you regarding lore. After the events of the Broken Front, the local Horde leadership, in the game storyline, isn't exactly being evil, but they're definitely less good than the decisions made by the Alliance. Though you could say that about a lot of the Horde storyline, which ranges from bad decisions to downright evil at times.

But then you have the in-game actions of players creating their own layers on the storyline. I can remember a typical long discussion on the official forums about which side was more "good" in the storyline, and someone said basically "Sure. These actions of the Horde in the lore put our side in a dubious light, but just /join WorldDefense as a Horde character, and you'll see who the bad guys really are."

(WorldDefense is an optional chat/information channel which automatically shows which city/town/zone, controlled by your faction, is under attack by the other faction. On the Alliance side on my server, there's only occasional outbursts of activity. On the Horde side, the reports of Alliance attacks are so constant, the channel has to be turned off due to the overwhelming flood of information.)
posted by pandaharma at 7:21 AM on July 9, 2009


FWIW, this guy has been working on online sociology for decades. I remember quoting a couple of his articles from the 80s about BBSes for my graduate thesis, and even then they were about anonymity.
posted by absalom at 7:28 AM on July 9, 2009


But see, explosion, that's the problem. When you have four people racing together, all of them vying to NOT be in first place, that, to me, is the result of a broken game mechanic.

I understand there are escapes, and I am fully aware of the things that can be done to avoid getting Blue Shelled, but defenses about it being an "unbalanced" game so deal with it notwithstanding, it is a wholly and solely detrimental part of what is otherwise a truly terrific game.

I would be a lot more sympathetic to any defense of the Blue Shell if it served a logical purpose as an item. In theory, it's an equalizer, but it practice, it rewards (as I mentioned) places 2-5, who are rarely the ones earning/throwing it. (Sure, you can earn it, then move up and throw it, but more often than not it's thrown by back of the packers who will only benefit by moving from, say, 9th to 7th, if it all.)

No other item causes such detriment to another player while barely benefiting the user. It's completely out of character from every other aspect of the game.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:03 AM on July 9, 2009


Phillip Zimbardo's experiment is famous not because of the results, but because it showed how little it took for people to start treating each other badly. These were randomly selected college students, not people with thousands of years of conflict behind them. It's famous because nobody ever told them to start abusing each other. They just gave them some titles, some roles, and let them go.

Another reason Zimbardo's experiment was famous is that it challenged Theodor Adorno's theory about the authoritarian personality. It showed that you didn't need people with an authoritarian personality type to commit authoritarian acts. All you needed to do was to put a few Stanford hippie undergrads in an authoritarian situation, and some of them were quite happy to let it go to their heads.

OTOH, this guy's study illuminates nothing, and tells us nothing we didn't already know.

I disagree. I view the study as ethically shady from a human subjects point of view, but he has stirred up so much shit (count the comments in this thread alone) that he has enough raw material to write articles for the rest of his academic career. I've seen people base their careers on much, much less material than this guy has now.
posted by jonp72 at 8:03 AM on July 9, 2009


I've seen people base their careers on much, much less material than this guy has now.

I find that to be incredibly sad.
posted by Edgewise at 8:29 AM on July 9, 2009


Listen, you Ninty apologist, how, exactly, does one "plan" for the Blue Shell when they're in first the whole time?

What explosion said. The lesson here, from a Playing To Win perspective, is that a smart player plays close second in a race and waits for the blue shell to fuck up the guy in front. Gives you less leeway, of course—you can't rely on a strong set of lengths ahead of second to give you a buffer for mistakes, which means you have to drive a really, really consistent second place—but the problem is solved.

The interesting question is what happens when two human players both try to accomplish this at the same time.

On the other hand:

Alternately, move on to another game that is better balanced. There are plenty of racer games without Blue Shells.

There's not plenty of other first-party Nintendo kart racers. Here's a practical constraint on the theory: not all genres and platform distributions are created equally, and so while in theory "go play a different game" is very good advice, in practice "don't play the game that fits the bill and that is otherwise lots of fun to you and yours" kind of sucks.

Mario Kart != Gran Turismo, and to the non-hardcore player with limited funds, limited time, and limited ability to get friends together for gaming sessions, that's a real problem.
posted by cortex at 8:51 AM on July 9, 2009


But see, explosion, that's the problem. When you have four people racing together, all of them vying to NOT be in first place, that, to me, is the result of a broken game mechanic.

There's nothing unusual, as I understand it, about the eventual winner of a bike race pacing behind other racers for the body of the race before a breakaway at the end. The "blue shell" in that context is the early overexpenditure of energy, and the tell that comes with it, from pushing the van just to be in first place.

So it's not that strange, or that self-evidently broken as a model of real competitive racing. Like the man said, it matters what place you're in when you cross the finish line, not before then; to believe otherwise is to impose a rule that does not exist in the game itself.

In theory, it's an equalizer, but it practice, it rewards (as I mentioned) places 2-5, who are rarely the ones earning/throwing it.

Which is interesting in its own right: anyone whose tried to dig into game theory has seen that, as fascinating as mano-a-mano game theoretical analysis can be, things become wildly more complicated and interesting when you move into 3-plex and larger games. Zero sum becomes fuzzier, and mix/max decisions get all hooey. The concept of Kingmaker appears, the question of motivation for acts that primarily reward and punish third parties rather than the actor becomes key.

You can ascribe fairly straightforward motivations to a blueshelling in a team context, depending on how you set it up. Give it a formal structure: two karts per team, winning kart takes all, placement of also-rans has nominal worth. Now we've got a motivation for one of a teams to karts to actively play the rear, as a support role. Pick up a blue shell and wait for the right moment to carve up an opening for his front-running teammate.

If there's two human teams (who we're treating as favorites over AI players) and they both employ this strategy, balance returns. If one team is composed of drivers significantly stronger than the other team's drivers, maybe the poor drivers will employ a van+reargaurd strategy while the strong team plays a double-van and hopes to just plain outdrive the slow team's one van kart while keeping a tiered layout to their own karts as shell insurance (lead kart takes the hit, second kart dodges it and keeps a lead on the other team's sole van kart, zapped lead closes again and takes up the secondary place that the surviving kart advanced from after the shell).

More than two human teams and it gets more complicated yet.

I'm talking in theory, here, because I will acknowledge that I hate the fucking blue shell too and do not play the game deeply enough to have a lot of use for this understanding about how it can be dealt with in high-level play. But I like that it can be dealt with, and I agree with the notion that it's more "cheap" than cheap if you're taking the game competitively seriously.
posted by cortex at 9:05 AM on July 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


(On bike racing and imposed social rules, though; I know I've read about dustups over one racer "unfairly" drafting another racer too much or without reciprocation, and that strikes me as an excellent example of an artificial injection of nominal sportsmanship into a purely competitive context. As far as I know, it's not something that's explicitly codified in any racing rules: you're just not supposed to do it.)
posted by cortex at 9:08 AM on July 9, 2009


Look at baseball and all the 'rules' about beaning batters and close pitches, etc.
posted by empath at 9:22 AM on July 9, 2009


Hockey as well (enforcers and whatnot)
posted by empath at 9:23 AM on July 9, 2009


The head of the Loyola IRB replied back saying that they were already aware of the situation and were doing an internal investigation.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:26 AM on July 9, 2009 [7 favorites]


OK, so the guy's an autistic Ph.D. griefer, but the real problem is the lame reporter. From a commenter on the article: "Ramon Antonio Vargas, you have taken your story from a single source -- basic journalism fail." I guess if a story involves video games (or science), it doesn't have to be, you know, true or anything. Ah well.
posted by alexch at 9:34 AM on July 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Please stay on top of this, ROU_Xenophobe - and if this thread dies, could you please memail me with anything else you hear?
posted by Fraxas at 10:06 AM on July 9, 2009


First NY Times Photo Essays, now Loyola Professor reviews, MetaFilter IS GOING TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!!!!
into what I have no idea
posted by cavalier at 10:11 AM on July 9, 2009


Seconding Fraxas. I'm glad they're looking into it.
posted by pravit at 10:51 AM on July 9, 2009


ROU - good work. This guy's a tool of a researcher and gamer.
posted by EatTheWeak at 10:57 AM on July 9, 2009


Fraxas, I'm not going to hear any further -- the email I got said that he couldn't say anything about an ongoing investigation but I assure you we take this seriously etc etc

FWIW, it's not like the IRB is going to burn him with fire or anything. I'd expect at most a stern talking-to about potentially exposing the university to liability and how easy it is to get IRB approval/exemption so for God's sake do it next time. And take out the userids from the text.

Anyway, I gather from the response that mine was not the only email they received.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:58 AM on July 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most of these complaints don't convince me that this guy is a huge asshole, it just further convinces me that MMO's are fairly shitty games. MMO's sound fun, until you realize there is a major flaw. That whole massively part pretty much dooms the game to be mundane.
posted by MrBobaFett at 11:01 AM on July 9, 2009


And honestly a smart guy could make a case that the gamers already gave informed consent to allow any other gamer to interact with them in any way allowed by the CoH TOS, though he still should have preserved their anonymity.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:03 AM on July 9, 2009


@MrBobaFett

I have no love, personally, for MMO's. However, just because I don't enjoy them doesn't mean that other people should be roped into a nonconsensual experiment to see how they react when someone pisses them off. Also, I don't see the value of this research for a second -- just a lot of ivory tower terminological masturbation. So, in conclusion: huge asshole.
posted by Edgewise at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2009


I agree with the notion that it's more "cheap" than cheap if you're taking the game competitively seriously.

And, shoot, I don't know why my original comment reads so frothily, but tongue was firmly planted in cheek when I said it. I do really think it "cheap" more than cheap. I regret nothing, though, because it brought on the sort of analysis that makes me love cortex the member even more than cortex the mod.

I hadn't even considered it from a team standpoint, and I have to concede that validates its existence. Blame it on me playing nothing but cutthroat every-man-for-himself races avec mes mecs. Ultimately, my biggest gripe, I suppose, is that we can't customize which items are available like we can with SSB.

The Wii just beats the pants off of any other system for local multiplayer (excluding Rock Band/Guitar Hero) and MK is *so* close to being the perfect racer for it. Discovering that my neighbors are as into it as I am has rekindled my love for the game, but also my ire for Blue Shell.
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:16 PM on July 9, 2009


And man, I was going to reject the whole MK=Bicycle Race theory, but between the addition of motorcycles and drafting, it sort of is like a cracked out bicycle race.
posted by SpiffyRob at 12:20 PM on July 9, 2009


And, shoot, I don't know why my original comment reads so frothily, but tongue was firmly planted in cheek when I said it. I do really think it "cheap" more than cheap. I regret nothing, though, because it brought on the sort of analysis that makes me love cortex the member even more than cortex the mod.
For what it's worth, my retort about avoiding the blue shell was also tongue in cheek. It is a funny point, though -- the blue shell is a topic of much debate and much heated shouting whenever my buddies have a long MK session. It's a universal topic of disagreement, I think...
The Wii just beats the pants off of any other system for local multiplayer (excluding Rock Band/Guitar Hero) and MK is *so* close to being the perfect racer for it. Discovering that my neighbors are as into it as I am has rekindled my love for the game, but also my ire for Blue Shell.
See, this makes me think that we need to put Wii friend codes and XBox Live usernames and all that business in our user profiles. A MeFi MK league? Sign me the hell up.
posted by verb at 1:03 PM on July 9, 2009


Nintendo has, very intentionally, with each iteration of Mario Kart (MK is Mortal Kombat), moved the skill/luck balance further in the luck direction. Same deal with Mario Party, and arguably Smash Brothers.
posted by box at 2:21 PM on July 9, 2009



You enter study hall, a DESIGNATED STUDY AREA. Some kids are having fun just talking rather than studying. Sure, you could go off and study with the computer, but hey, you think, let's run a little experiment. So you report those kids to the principal, and they all get detentions


Not so. According to the article (and so my interpretation), he came into a designated combat area (designated study area) and initiated combat (tried to study.)

For your interpretation to be true, he would have had to come into the designated combat area (designated study area) and reported them for TOS violations because they were not fighting (reported them to the principal for not studying.)

In the article (and my interpretation), the hostility was a result of him using the area as designed, not as the inhabitants had decreed. In your interpretation the hostility was a result of him turning the authorities on the inhabitants for not using the area as designed. These are not the same things.

note also that from the article, the griefing he did started as a defense against the hostilities. even if you say "reporting to the principal" is the same as "griefing", the reporting/griefing is a response to the hostility, not the root cause of it.
posted by davejay at 7:35 PM on July 9, 2009


@davejay and co.

The study hall analogy doesn't quite work whichever way you cut it, because studying is a solo activity while combat is a mutual thing.
posted by Edgewise at 8:01 PM on July 9, 2009


davejay, if you want a closer analogy, imagine outdoor recess. A school provides that time for children to play dodgeball. But what if the kids decided they wanted to use that time to sit in a big circle and discuss their favorite cartoons.

Now imagine there's a kid who decides to throw a large rubber ball squarely in the face of kids sitting in the circle and then run away. "Recess is for dodgeball, so I'm only following the rules," he might claim.

The other kids are naturally upset, because not only is someone interrupting them--he's doing it in the most painful way possible. They try to convince him to stop to no prevail. He not only continues to attack these kids with a rubber ball, now he's standing there taunting them about it. Soon one of the kids, completely frustrated, beats up the ball thrower.

"I knew it," he then claims. "I'm being bullied because I only want to play by the rules!"
posted by turaho at 5:20 AM on July 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


The head of the Loyola IRB replied back saying that they were already aware of the situation and were doing an internal investigation.

Good. I worked for the department at GSU that handled grants and the IRB, and my first question was whether this had undergone review. Whether you need IRB oversight and review can sometimes be a grey area and some researchers, especially those in disciplines that don't often do direct human research, forget the oversight is necessary.

I know one person who had to rewrite his entire thesis in two weeks, after months and months of research and writing, because he got into his committee review and the first thing they asked was, "Did you get an IRB review and approval for your research?" His thesis involved learning behaviors, but it was being done in the CS department and none of his advisers realized he'd need IRB review for his research. It was committee members from another institution that brought the issue up.
posted by elfgirl at 6:03 AM on July 10, 2009


Nintendo has, very intentionally, with each iteration of Mario Kart (MK is Mortal Kombat), moved the skill/luck balance further in the luck direction. Same deal with Mario Party, and arguably Smash Brothers.

Isn't that one of the unwritten rules of "Arcade"-style games versus Simulation-style games? Arcade-style games are more focused on fun than skill, and it's not very fun if the person who is the best at a game wins every time. In real life, a lot of games that are played casually rather than as a straight-up competition, such as bowling or golf, have established handicapping systems to ensure that less-skilled players have a chance to win even if their performance is consistently below average. In some arcade racers, good players are handicapped by invisible catch-up logic that slows down cars in front or speeds up the ones in back. The blue shell in Mario Kart is just a more obvious game mechanic for ensuring that the best player cannot lead the entire race and win every time.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:02 AM on July 10, 2009


You're right--it's not always a lot of fun if the person who's the best wins every single time. However, it's also not very fun if we spend an hour playing a game and then, at the end of it, the winner is decided with a coin flip (Mario Party, I'm looking at you).

One nice thing about catch-up or rubber-band gameplay is that it's relatively unobtrusive. The blue shell kinda hits you over the head, so to speak.
posted by box at 9:06 AM on July 10, 2009


Story update: a long-time fellow griefer and room-mate of the sociologist (let's call her "Mom") resorted to her usual trick in unplugging her son's computer because it was time for dinner already. "Mom" characterized her gameplay as "masterful" and "unbeatable".
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:38 AM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Once, I heard a comparison between American culture and Japanese culture, in which the former was about guilt and the latter was about shame. In other words, American culture really cared if you were proven guilty, while Japanese culture was concerned with whether you made your family look bad -- guilty or not of the accused action.

I heard the comparison when I was in high school, before I spent any time whatsoever in large organizations. So it seemed reasonable.

The thing is, it's totally untrue. Corporate and large organizational reality is all about not bringing shame on the brand name, because no matter how legitimate the actions are ultimately determined to be, someone had to defend you, and energy needed to be expended on your behalf. This guy had a personal thing for screwing with others. You know, that's lame, and I don't like him, but everybody's got their thing. What's important here is that he straight up dragged Loyola in, as an organization that will intentionally bring misery upon others in the name of Science.

IRB's are there precisely because, post-research, people come back and scream about researchers doing terrible things. That brings shame on the organization, and makes it more difficult for other professors to do work in the future. What this jackass did was not just harass others for his own personal pleasure, but he also sought out the press and very much portrayed this activity as fully academic, and indeed sponsored via his university affiliation.

By way of comparison, imagine the guy had done a research paper, "Dating Rude: Cruelty And The Art Of Sleeping With 23 Year Olds", and the paper was all about how being a complete jackass was in fact quite effective. Extremely creepy, but problematic to a totally different level if he presented it to the press as a Loyola research project.
posted by effugas at 7:07 PM on July 10, 2009 [2 favorites]


Nintendo has, very intentionally, with each iteration of Mario Kart (MK is Mortal Kombat), moved the skill/luck balance further in the luck direction. Same deal with Mario Party, and arguably Smash Brothers.

I agree completely. That's probably the main reason I wasn't a big fan of Mario Kart Wii. I (and my roommates at the time, as well as other friends) probably put 100-200 hours into Mario Kart 64. There was always skill involved. On nights where we raced exceptionally well, we could pull off a victory, but for the most part, one or two people consistently finished in first or second.

Which is interesting, because I came back to argue almost the exact opposite. One of the problems in the newest Mario Karts is that they have dumbed down the power-ups. The blue shell, while it still has a blast radius, no longer hits everyone foolish enough to drive in the center lane as it barrels toward first. The poor last place person gifted with a lightning bolt can no longer weave an indiscriminate path of destruction and flattened karts.

Part of the enjoyment I got out of playing with friends, despite my overall middling success at the game, was the pure pwnage of the more powerful power-ups. This is probably just a symptom of game balance and overall "fun factor", but it has driven me away from the series, for the most part.
posted by graventy at 5:55 PM on July 12, 2009


But then you have the in-game actions of players creating their own layers on the storyline. I can remember a typical long discussion on the official forums about which side was more "good" in the storyline, and someone said basically "Sure. These actions of the Horde in the lore put our side in a dubious light, but just /join WorldDefense as a Horde character, and you'll see who the bad guys really are."

That's interesting, pandaharma. I would argue that the game was noticeably developed Alliance-heavy, and that most people new to the game probably tend to pick the prettier side. Until blood elves, that was easily the Alliance. Now, of course, both factions have their own 'elven scourge' to deal with, but in the beginning it was all nelf hunters all the time.

As far as more annoying world pvp, there could be a lot of reasons. The Alliance doesn't really have the chokepoint quest center that the Horde does in the Crossroads. All three original races pretty much have to quest in The Barrens, whereas the Alliance has more options at that level range. There could also be an age factor (No one has the time to camp Crossroads like a 12-year-old). It probably doesn't help that with the close proximity of Ratchet, it's very easy for anyone to quickly get to that area of the game.
posted by graventy at 6:03 PM on July 12, 2009


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