Gaming in an Anarchist’s Paradise

Posted By on Feb 15, 2013 in Frustrations, General Discussion | 2 comments

For some reason, I was having a conversation with Liore and Arolaide the other day about the end-of-Burning Crusade zombie event in Warcraft and whether or not we thought it was the most awesomest thing ever. For those that don’t remember (and I hardly recall the specifics), there was a plague going around the major cities that turned all the infected characters (PC and NPC alike) into zombies. Zombies that could explode and infect other people. When you were a zombie, you moved slowly, were attackable/could attack other people, and got a special hotbar with skills (hiding your own for the duration). Basically, this ended up with a ton of dead NPCs and the main cities being unusable for standard activities. I think the whole thing lasted a week or two, but my memory on that is fuzzy.

The community, as usual, was split. Some people seemed to love it and think it was the greatest thing that WoW ever did. And then there were other people who yelled and yelled and yelled about how horrible it was and how it interfered with their ability to play the game and was essentially Blizzard-sponsored griefing. And, for a lot of people, those feelings still burn almost as brightly! Which, to mean, only strengthens the fact that it was awesome. In our conversation, Liore basically said, “That kind of chaos is the whole reason I like multiplayer games! People are content and I want them to be able to do horrible shit to me!” Aro, on the other hand, came down firmly in the “Don’t fuck with my experience, griefer asshole” camp.

For my part, I basically called Liore an MMO Libertarian (although I think Anarchist is probably closer to what I actually meant), but simultaneously told Aro that she was wrong. Is that incongruous? Probably. But it’s how I felt. I really *like* world-affecting events, and I want more of them. They make things feel alive, and give the setting a feeling of constant change. On the other hand, people are jerks. I don’t know that I’d really want to spend a lot of time letting them be jerks to me (or defending myself against that inevitability).

Back in MY day…

I’ve mentioned it before, but one of my major gaming influences was a MUD-style game called GemStone IV. Its mechanics are based on the Rolemaster P&P game, and there are just so many “hardcore” things about it. Aside from the Rolemaster crit-tables of doom (one point of damage to the wrong place could be enough to kill you), the game itself had a strong time-limited experience mechanic. Levels took progressively more experience to gain, but the XP/hour was more-or-less fixed – often leveling time was counted in weeks. If you died, you would drop your weapons on the ground – where, if the monsters didn’t pick them up and kill your rescuers, the in-game garbage collection algorithm might sweep through and destroy them forever! If you weren’t rescued within a certain amount of time, then your corpse would decay and you’d return to life naked – with all of your gear left behind to the same fate. On top of that, if you hadn’t bribed the church enough (another increasingly expensive endeavor), your character would just be lost to the underworld forever.

The game was also set up so that free-for-all PvP was enabled at all times. Characters with the pick-pocketing skill could steal loot from other characters (limited to small commodities and cash), but unless you were diligent about closing every container you wore – or spent valuable training points in perception and pick-pocketing yourself – you might not realize that your healing herbs were gone until you went to grab them at a vital moment in combat. When you were in town, there was an automated sheriff who would sweep through and arrest people that killed others or were somehow caught stealing (and accused promptly). But, in general, the thieves would hang out just on the edge of the sheriff’s jurisdiction because they were also the only people who could open lockboxes – the game’s primary form of treasure reward – and sometimes those boxes were trapped and would kill everyone around them when a skill check was failed. So, typically, you were out of luck if someone jacked all your treasure in the few moments you had to spend in a place like that.

Player killing was moderately regulated – the GMs didn’t particularly appreciate people who just went around killing others for fun, and killing people multiple times in a row was strongly frowned upon. But, in the end, the world was very loosely patrolled externally. Most of the societal constructs had to be built by the players, and the “rules of the town” were only as strong as the enforcement of the community.

The problem, here, is that it’s really easy to find situations in which the community either can’t or won’t mete out appropriate consequences. In GemStone, for instance, there was a constant meta-debate on the forums about whether stealing was something that was reasonable for people to do. “The skills support it, so it’s totally fine!” and “Elanthia is a frontier setting, and bad people get ahead!” competed with “I just want to do my own thing, and this sucks” and “Real frontier towns would have hanged repeat offenders”. And I was pretty firmly on the side of “stealing sucks” – despite having a rogue that was fully trained in it. There were also plenty of people who would just provide services to everyone regardless of their reputation for doing shit like paying their healer and then immediately stealing back all of that money.

But would Elanthia have been as fun if there hadn’t been any of these choices and arguments? I’m not sure. I am sure that a Might-Makes-Right society sucks unless you are Mighty enough to actively participate in the rule-setting process. Despite that, I played GemStone for years.

That’s great, but how does it relate to zombies?

If I’ve painted GemStone as some sort of free-for-all craziness, it really wasn’t. What it really was, first and foremost, was a role-playing opportunity. Certainly, there were parts of the community that didn’t participate as heavily, but straight-up out-of-character(OOC)/real-world conversations were unacceptable in public chat channels, and another good way of getting a talking-to from the GMs. Players created all sorts of interesting interpersonal relationships and storylines. But one of the most important sets of events were GM-run storylines. They’d build NPCs, script intricate world events, create unique items, etc. Basically everything you’d want out of a cool tabletop game, but with several hundred players trying to participate instead of just 5 or 6.

When I first started playing graphical MMOs, this was always one of the pieces that held me back. Star Wars Galaxies had a bit of world-building, and at least the world itself didn’t feel particularly static, but the storyline did. When I first started playing WoW, I spent a lot of time trying to get similar RP experiences – that’s really what I knew and what I wanted, a game with fun mechanics AND good RP. But the world and story were both SO STATIC. And I had to rely on players who had all sorts of different ideas about the world and what was fun, and it just didn’t work at all. So, a couple years later, when the Zombie Invasion hit, I was totally psyched up by it. It hit all the right notes about a changing world and the shit that was ostensibly going down affecting my character. Sure, I couldn’t train or do my professions as easily, but who cared? I got to (try to) fight off a zombie infestation in my city – and that was awesome. Yes, it sucked that I couldn’t actually fight off the invasion like I had been able to back in GemStone, but at least it showed a glimpse of it.

Many words, no real point

But how would I feel about an event like that these days? Is it something that a current MMO could pull off again? I’m not sure. I do know that Blizzard hasn’t had any major events like that since, and I think that’s a shame. There have been a few events in RIFT (like the end-of-1.x Storm Legion invasion) that did affect all the capitol cities and were hard to avoid, but none of them were really on the quite the same level of take-over. I think it completely depends on the type of game I am playing, and my reasons for being there.

I do not generally agree that people having the opportunity to be assholes to each other is necessary to gain really interesting gaming experiences. People say that a lot about a game like EVE (and also, 40 hours of boring spreadsheeting for 5 minutes of totally awesome gaming), but all that ever did was make me want to stay away from it. PvP servers are similar to me. MMO PvP can even be really fun! But getting murdered 10 times in a row while I’m just trying to pick berries and have literally no opportunity to defend myself is just… shitty. Sure, I can log off and go play another character for 30 minutes, but that’s letting the other guy win, and despite it not being fun, I am not built to accept that easily.

So, I don’t know. I guess I don’t mind when my game world is antagonizing me, but dislike when my fellow players are allowed to do that.