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Monkey See, Monkey Do

November 18, 2011

Dear Reader,

In my experimentation with many different online games recently, I noted several areas of comparison.  Many of them have already been discussed in a single correspondence, but one I’ve put off because it’s so near and dear to my own heart.  As an English teacher (just today I corrected one of my students on her use of “ironically” when she meant “coincidentally”), I believe very much in clear, meaningful communication, writing that isn’t wordy, overly formal, or unapproachably dense.  Also, as a teacher, I’ve learned that bad behavior is contagious, and the only way to prevent kids from being kids (which isn’t inherently a problem, but teaching them the where and when to be kids can be tough) is to set clear guidelines of what’s expected.

“Monkey see, monkey do” really is human nature.  Studies have shown that your prefrontal cortex has a type of neuron called a “mirror neuron” that zaps you with emotions when you see others doing things.  If you see people eating, mirror neurons zap the same area of your brain that lights up when you’re eating.  It’s a biological basis for empathy, you see, but it works two ways.  It can evoke a feeling of sadness and fear if you see a victim being berated by an aggressor, but it can also give you feelings of power and strength if you feel more connected with the aggressor.

It translates pretty clearly into WoW.  When behavioral fence-sitters see people trolling happily or abusing someone in a dungeon or just being slackass leeches and getting carried with no sort of consequence whatsoever, they’re more likely to do the same.  Conversely, when players are shown the proper way to play in a friendly but formal environment, they’ll be more likely to play that way.  Sure, it’s a slippery slope argument.  Here’s the thing, though.  Have you ever stood on a slippery slope?

There’s a beautiful waterfall called Bridal’s Veil Falls in North Carolina near where I used to vacation.  I went there once with a group of friends when it was cold – below freezing if you weren’t in the sun.  The design of the waterfall is that you can drive under it and park; it cascades into a hole between the main road and the drive-under horseshoe.  Well, I got a little too close and started to slide on the ice.  Only quick thinking by my friends prevented there from being a problem.  Slippery slopes do drag people down them.  Just because it might be a fallacy doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

We’ve all been in dungeons when one jerk is acting out from the start, and then another player, previously silent, jumps on the jerk bandwagon.  Mirror neurons do this (well, probably not this, really, because it’s a visual thing, but there IS a biological basis for this sort of thing).  Also, many of us have seen a players bad behavior improve when confronted about acceptable behavior or simply asked to behave better.  Those that don’t change sometimes leave, which is also a problem solved.

To counter this sort of thing, we need clear behavior codes.  We need easy-to-understand, approachable, entertaining codes of conduct that provide the player base with an understanding of what’s expected.  We need to all be on the same page about what’s considered acceptable game behavior, and we need to ensure that people read them.  Some of the games did that.  Some of the many games I played had clear, easy to read, direct codes of conduct.  Others had dense legalese that no one would ever read.  Still others had, essentially, nothing.  WoW fits into the second category, a dense legal packet that’s uninviting and filled with vocabulary well above their average player.  Here’s an example from the Terms of Service:

Communicating in-game with other Users and Blizzard representatives, whether by text, voice or any other method, is an integral part of the Game and the Service and is referred to here as “Chat.” When engaging in Chat, you may not:

(i) Transmit or post any content or language which, in the sole and absolute discretion of Blizzard, is deemed to be offensive, including without limitation content or language that is unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable, nor may you use a misspelling or an alternative spelling to circumvent the content and language restrictions listed above;

It goes on like that for a long time, and it’s terrible.  It’s just terrible. To be clear, it’s not really Blizzard’s fault.  In this world of frivolous lawsuits, companies have to write iron-bound sentences to make sure no other lawyers can weasel their way around the spirit of the message (note the link is under the “legal” directory.  Still, some games go one step further and write both a legal document and one meant for players.  League of Legends’s (Interesting… it’s possessive to the title of the game, and the title has a plural word, but the game itself is singular… I think that apostrophe is correct even though it looks bad) Summoner’s Code provides an excellent example of such:

Each of those links to a well-written, easy to understand paragraph with examples that any average person could understand.  I read LoL’s Summoner’s Code; I never read Blizz’s ToS.  I doubt anyone has. What makes LoL’s so much better than Blizzard’s?  Well, brevity is one.  The entire code is less than 40 words long.  Compare that to Blizz’s, which runs in the neighborhood of 4,500 words.  Secondly, it’s easily accessed by topic.  While Blizz’s document does have headings, provisions, and subprovisions, it’s impossible to navigate easily to see what you need to see.  A good example of a longer document that is nonetheless easy to navigate comes from a user “code of conduct” for World of Tanks.  As you can see, it’s much longer than LoL’s but still easy to navigate, skim, or read more in depth than Blizzard’s.  It also exemplifies a third quality of good writing; it has lots of voice.  Where LoL’s appeals to the heroic nature of the Summoners, the World of Tanks guide is humorously written and illustrated to entertain its readers.  Blizzard’s only engages our Z drive, as is when I read it I start to Zzzzzzzz.

To be fair, WoT and LoL also have a terribly written legal document to cover their butts with.  Also to be fair, the World of Tanks post was written by a player, not an employee or community manager.  Still, the WoT example appears after a simple search in the newcomers forums, but even a google search turns up nothing for WoW.  As the most successful MMO in history, I feel like WoW should be paving the way, not eating newer games’ dust.

Another example of shared vision comes from one of my previous guilds.  It had questions in its application about their mission statement because it was that important to them that you really understood what the guild was about and what your role would be.  I thought it was a brilliant way to filter the mouth-breathers from serious applicants (though I got one of the questions wrong.  OH THE IRONY (not coincidence, this time)).

I’m not suggesting WoW make you take a reading test before being allowed to play, but with all the tutorial tips that players go through at the start, why not include behavioral tips as well?  Sure, there’s a few spread across the loading screen tips, but why not have a whole tutorial section, like when you first get to Kharanos or Ironforge, about interacting with other players?  If it’s easy to understand, clearly written, and entertaining, new players could enjoy learning about how to play with others while also learning how to play the game.  WoW designers have a great sense of humor; there’s no reason they couldn’t employ it in this way, too.

Of course, for a CoC to be worth anything, it has to be enforced, and we all know my opinion about Blizzard’s enforcement.  Still, if it was more built in, more easily understood, more guaranteed that people had seen and understood it, then perhaps they could reduce their penalty volcano and not feel the need to be so forgiving to obvious offenders.  Then again, if it begins to hurt their bottom line, they might not want to.  It’s really a question of how much of the community is a problem, and how much is just quietly enduring it.  I’d be willing to bet, though, that there’s far more good, quiet people out there than jerks.  The jerks are just a lot louder.


Stubborn (and quietly enduring… well maybe not quietly).

8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 18, 2011 11:51 am

    I’m a die-hard (or do I mean ‘staunch’?) supporter of buy-ins. Vested interest. And it would appear you are too: set clear guidelines of what’s expected and no sort of consequence whatsoever, they’re more likely to do the same… both very logical statements, imo (always a caveat).

    Where do you place the score between ‘ignorance isn’t a reason’ and ‘read me, I’m fun!’ with regards to both setting those rules and their enforcing? I feel a tree approach broken down a la LoL works best in achieving both ends, but at the end of the day, what’s the bottom line? Do you ban outlaws who haven’t violated anything explicit in your rules (Taming the Forum Tiger @ Elder Game) or do you ignore the pests when they are simply ‘being pesky’? You speak of slippery slopes, but the truth is, there’s one in either direction.

    Unrelated: I was under the assumption words ending in ‘s’, when made into a possessive, simply added an apostrophe after the ‘s’, compared to words which added ‘apostrophe s’.

    • November 18, 2011 12:15 pm

      The apostrophe word first: words that are plural and end in s get just the apostrophe. Everything else gets the apostrophe + s. Family names can grammatically go either way. Here’s some examples.
      Singular, does not end in s: Tiger’s Forum
      Singluar, ends in s: Bus’s seats
      Plural, does not end in s: Children’s shouts
      Plural, ends in s: Kids’ shouts.
      Family Names: The Wilkinsons’s Mailbox OR The Wilkinsons’ Mailbox.
      So League of Legends, which ends in a plural word but is a singular unit, presents and odd situation. Not sure what to do there.

      More on topic, I’m staunchly for “ignorance isn’t an excuse.” As a teacher, though, I usually ignore “pesky” behavior, because a lot of time (trolls certainly fit this) the behavior is an attempt to get a response, not a behavior in and of itself. It can be tricky to judge, but I’ve been pretty good about it. No, I wouldn’t ban people who hadn’t violated explicitly stated rules, but that’s the problem with explicitly stated rules, isn’t it? Someone’s always going to try to find a loophole. The opposite is far better, and I use such a “spirit of the rule” type of rule in my classroom. It’s easy to remember, easy to refer to (Refer to Rule 1): Don’t do anything that interferes with the educational process.
      I don’t need to go into more detail because that covers it all.

      Don’t intentionally do anything that makes the game less fun for others. Basically all bad MMO behavior falls under this rule. The only catch there is “intentionally,” which can be hard to prove, and that’s why you have a volcano pyramid. The first time, fine. Maybe it was a slip up, but after that, it’s not a mistake any more, so you nail them.

      Then again, I’m no businessman, so what do I know about running a program; I run communities instead, and they run pretty smoothly, but education is a zero-profit business (from a material standpoint, anyway).

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. sam permalink
    November 18, 2011 3:38 pm

    seriously? Vanilla wow had consequences for bad behavior. You couldn’t change your name or server. Therefore if you did slide down that slippery slope your only choices were be left out of the end game, spend a lot of time sucking up, or start over. It was basically an unofficial faction system that forced everyone to follow the rules on that server. (To be fair some servers were better than others.)

    Now we have server changes, name changes, faction changes, LFD. The developers have inentionally done everything they could to remove all consequences for personal actions. And removed all reason to network and make friends. It was an introverts dream. Just log in and play without a need to even chat. It obviously worked and kept subs high. Now that the game is full of people that have no fear of what they say or do, we have the game they built.

    Go to almost any developer forum and try to start a thread about how developers should design in game systems to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You’ll most likely get a bunch of moralistic whiney comments about how it’s not thier job to punish bad players and that would be bad game design because someone might quit.

    The sad thing is a well thought out faction system that could go up and down as you play and do dumb things and smart things would probably work great. Sure you’d lose the campers and griefers but you wouldn’t lose the people they run off. My guess is it would be a net gain.

    My dream is a MMO world where all those people who enjoy ruining other peoples game end up as outlaws that can’t even talk to quest givers or go into cities without being attacked, and the faction follows them from server to server and through thier name changes.

    • November 28, 2011 10:00 am

      I think you and I are mostly on the same page here; when I refer to WoW as having no consequences I mean since the introduction of LFD. I heartily remember people being blacklisted by major guilds for being loot ninjas or just plain jerks and smile at the memory, but it’s been a long time since.

      As for going to developer’s forums, I’d just quote Koster, another game designer, who said that designers have a moral responsibility in the same way that authors and other artists do not to turn their genre into something that creates bad behaviors. Sure, most might disagree, but starting to say it might slowly begin to change the way things work in Silicon Valley, though it will be some time before everyone feels that way. It’s the way of the world.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. krel permalink
    November 18, 2011 11:42 pm

    EVE has some self policing in your status (can’t recall offhand if that’s the right term or not). Once you’ve killed enough targets you shouldn’t you get attacked on sight by the NPC cops.

    I want to see some more policing available for a community to monitor itself. Being able to flag someone with a “bad behavior” marker of some sort, if you collect enough of them you start seeing the effects of your behavior – chat timeouts, not being able to queue for instances, etc. It should be designed to prevent abuses – each additional marker from the same guild could count less and less, for example – but it would let the community mark out and essentially shun those who are there to grief others.

    • November 28, 2011 10:03 am

      I like the idea of your system, and that feels like what Blizz should have in place if they claim we should “police the community.” It should be attributed to the account, too, not the toon, so people can’t just switch. I’d also like to see a debuff like the Northrend animal killer debuff (that gets you attacked by the PETA people) that cannot be removed except by PvP death so that sees you knows that you ganked some poor noob. It wouldn’t cause any PvE detriment, but just act as a sign that says “I’m a ganker. Camp me.” It would only be applied if you initiated combat against someone 4 or more levels below you.

  4. Harlequin permalink
    November 21, 2011 10:22 am

    Pretty much the only thing I can recall that educate players of behavior is the little tip that pops up on the loading screen, something along the lines of “Being polite in a group with others will get you invited back”. But as stated in other comments, this does not matter any more. 😦

    • November 28, 2011 10:03 am

      Yeah, that’s the only thing I can think of, too. If we’re going to provide a tutorial for every mechanical aspect of the game, why not provide one for the social aspects as well. After all, it’s an MMORPG.. .and the tutorials really only cover the RPG part, not the MMO part.

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