March 29, 2002



A classic example of this (see below) is this article by my former colleague at Lum the Mad's, Arcadian Del Sol. Arc comes to this conclusion, through bitter (and amusing) experience, about the low-level player vs. player game in DAoC:

If you dont have spells, or a bow, or some other ability to fire from your side of the chess board to the other side of the chess board, you'll be faced with a hard choice: sit and watch the chess game, or charge out in a solo suicide assault.

Arc is understandably frustrated. He plays a paladin, and he wants to charge out into a battle that reminds him of the final scenes of Excalibur. So frustrated, perhaps, that he misses the obvious parallels between the battle behaviour patterns his friends and enemies have adopted and the nature of ritual combat in primitive societies, best outlined in John Keegan's A History of Warfare:

Arrows or throwing-spears might sometimes bring down a man in the front line; then, if the enemy timed a short charge right, he could be finished off with axes and thrusting spears.

Also the Aztecs:

A battle that began with an exchange of arrows, to sow the confusion in which tese individual duels might be fought, ended with those taken prisoner being led to the great city of Tenochtitlan.

Also, for that matter, Homer's Troy. Before he started siphoning off his credibility by commenting on current political matters, blogger favourite Victor Davis Hanson made his reputation with his famous thesis that the Classical Greeks were so successful in warfare because they were the first to stop fighting the way Homer (and Arc) describe and introduce a form of culturally imbued discipline to battlefield movements. What Arc's describing is a battlefield where Hanson's "Western Way of War" hasn't taken root yet. If I'd been there, I'd have been rooted to the spot just watching, an anthropologist on an ancient battlefield... when I wasn't dodging those arrows, I suppose. But the fact that DAoC's creators have established a world where something like real ritual warfare has actually emerged is a testament to their skill as world-builders... as much as it discomfits poor Arc.

Posted by BruceR at 11:49 AM

YEAH, SO WHAT? After reading


After reading that last, of course, everyone who does play EQ, Ultima, etc., is saying, "well, duh," while everyone who hasn't is saying, "who cares?" But the experience is the kind of mini-insight into human behaviour that attracted many of us to "multi-user dungeons" (MUDs) and their descendants in the first place.

Underlaying all the fantasy mumbo-jumbo of all these places is a compelling conceit... that if one designs a virtual world and encourages thousands to each assume an alter-ego of that world, that if the design assumptions are sound, those alter-egos will interact like real humans would. Instead of computer-driven and infantile artificial intelligence, you have several thousand actors with real human intelligence in there with you. If it's done right, you can befriend, take revenge, find love... as a computer games writer I covered a couple cases where Everquest players became so immersed as to lose touch with their own, generally emotionally and financially squalid real-life circumstances.

I have no interest in learning more about elves qua elves. I am interested in learning about human behaviour, though. In a way, the designers of these games are engaged in large chaotic never-ending group psychology experiments. In real life, the Stanford Prison test was shut down because real people were getting hurt. In EQ or DAoC, there's a Stanford Prison-type situation every couple weeks, which those running the game have to then figure out how to navigate their way out of in real-time without losing their subjects/paying customers forever.

The theorists like Robert Wright wax poetic about game theory. Have they spent any time talking with Raph Koster, who designed a zero-sum world in Ultima Online? (Everquest is explicitly a non-zero sum world; DAoC is a mixture, where competition with other human actors only takes place at high levels. This leads people, interestingly, to design their avatars either with zero-sum or non-zero sum competition in mind from day one.) Of all the systems designed to help employers classify their job-seekers (Type-A, self-directed, etc.) the most revealing might just be the one devised by Richard Bartle to classify these gamer populations. Maybe not: a lot of gamers reject the whole idea of human taxonomy. They might be right: but do you know anywhere else in popular discourse where everyone has an opinion on the subject and considers it an important one?

There likely won't be too many papers written in the psych journals about these communities. There's variables all over the damn place. No doubt mice and Skinner boxes produce much cleaner data. But if you ever want to just observe mass human behaviour, freed of all the baggage of this real world, the massively-multiplayer experience might be instructive. I've always found it so, anyway.

Posted by BruceR at 11:18 AM



Left my now 5th level Saracen fighter for a bit, started a new Troll shaman character over on Midgard. There I found the Everquest-style human (?) contact I was more used to. It makes sense: if you look at it rationally, there's never a good reason to slow down your level progression by yacking with a low-level fighter in these games. There's lots of them around, and they have precious little they can offer you unless they can some day catch up to your level of play. On the other hand, there's rarely a good reason NOT to talk to someone who's always got a healing spell handy, like any of the cleric/fighter-cleric classes. They can't hurt you, and they always have the potential to help a little in return for a simple bow or wave.

The corollary would be if, for whatever reason, you do feel like breaking into massively multiplayer gaming for the first time, without a lot of friends already in game, pick a healer class. People are nicer that way.

Posted by BruceR at 10:20 AM