Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Social Norms and The Power of Words

The topic of Macros reminded me of this post I wrote a few weeks ago in which I attempted (and failed) to defend Griefing. The two topics are similar in that they both related to what we consider acceptable behavior in an MMO:
MMOs are interesting in that the social dynamics of the community certainly provide a society for that MMO. And as with all societies, acceptable behavior is defined by the norms of the people in that society.

In this way, there are very clear definitions of what is right and wrong behavior in any MMO. These norms may not be the same in each game, or even a reflection of the broader real world society, but they do exist within the confines of that game.
Darkfall Norms
As I pointed out in the comments of yesterday’s posts about Macros, I think Aventurine is in a unique position with Darkfall in that “Macroing” to automate play is becoming commonly accepted as something that is OK, provided it’s done in an area where other people can kill you if you are found doing it.

This is a great example of how “social norms” dictate our perceptions of fairness. In this case, such norms are unique to Darkfall. Or in other words, because other Darkfall players accept the usage of “Macroing” under these conditions, the use of such things isn’t seen as unethical. Whereas, in a game like Warcraft, the norms might be that such a thing is not acceptable.

Similarly, in a Free2Play game, the Microtransaction model is accepted as a norm among those players who play that game. However, players like myself, have different values and could never accept the MT model as a norm because of my belief that it can lead to unethical abuse by the developer.

It’s the difference in these norms that make me less critical about Syncaine’s acceptance of Macroing. I can hardly fault him for what amounts to botting when the social norms in Darkfall accept such behavior as OK.

The broader issue of WHY such behavior is accepted is an equally interesting and separate topic. Is it, as Syncaine suggests, a viable solution to the design problems created with “on use” skill-ups? Is it a problem of Aventurine’s creation by not enforcing a stricter policy? Or perhaps Darkfall players are simply less ethical?

The power of words
When I went on the offensive against Sandboxes the other week, I wasn’t attacking the games. I was attacking the word choice.

There is power in words. Our word choice and interpretation of words influences our opinions and perceptions. I don’t like the whole Sandbox/Themepark terminology because commonly accepted usage of that terminology supports a very biased opinion.

It’s a bit like calling someone a Nazi just to win an argument. Not only do they have to defend themselves about not being a Nazi, but they have to distance themselves from that association.  Either way, the net effect is that we are now arguing about the validity of the Nazi comment and not the actual topic.

The best real world example of this is the Pro-Choice movement. At one point in the 70s, there was very little popular support to legalize abortions in the US. It took a court case, Roe v. Wade, in order to make it legal in all 50 states. After Roe, popular opinion started to rise in favor of the movement.

But why?

Because supporters shifted the focus away from abortion and made it about Choice. People don’t want to hear about abortions. An abortion is a bad thing. Choice, and free will, are good things. A person who would not willingly have or support people they know having an abortion will support the idea that they have the right to make that decision.

In a similar fashion, we hear Pro-Life supporters talking about “Killing Babies” while Pro-Choice supporters call it “Terminating a Fetus”. A Pro-Choice supporter would simply never use the term “Baby” because it undermines their position.

Circling back to Darkfall, that’s why players supporting automated play are calling it “Macroing” instead of “Botting”. It minimizes it into something more acceptable and palatable. In a way, it’s a method to rationalize the use of such things to circumvent the obstacles provided in the game design.

EDIT: LOL. On the re-read, it appears that I'm comparing Pro-Choice to the Nazis. That's not my intent. I was just attempting to demonstrate the power of word choice. Nazi is a word that carries a lot of meaning with it, so tossing it around in casual conversation has a powerful impact even it's unsupported.

Likewise, the success of the Pro-Choice movement is a great case study on the power of words. By finding a way to reframe the issue through word choice, it gained greater acceptance. This is merely an observation, not a statement on my political beliefs.


Anonymous said...

Good to know you are a Nazi looking to remove all freedoms people enjoy. Oh and that you eat babies.

Blog post coming somewhat related to macroing in a bit (preview: make it a clear part of the game)

Anonymous said...

If the majority of your players accept afk progression as a valid strategy in your game, I'd say you've got yourself some serious design issues, regardless of the word you choose to describe it.