Monkey See, Monkey Do
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:
- Support your Team
- Drive Constructive Feedback
- Facilitate Civil Discussion
- Enjoy Yourself, but not at Anyone Else’s Expense
- Build Relationships
- Show Humility in Victory, and Grace in Defeat
- Be Resolute, not Indignant
- Leave No Newbie Behind!
- Lead by Example
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).