Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Social Engineering in Persistent World Games

As anyone who's exchanged even a few words with me could attest, i detest almost everyone. Humans are trash. The physical world is hopelessly controlled by trash. There is no room for thinking individuals.

Persistent virtual worlds hold the great promise of creating trash-free societies. If you want a moral-cleansed wonderland, head into the matrix and build one. However, it's not enough to simply find like-minded individuals and talk things over. The wicked must be punished.

A persistent world game is an ideal venue for would-be social engineers not only because of the possibility of finding worthwhile individuals, but because they can allow us to set ourselves in opposition to those we hate. It's the only way we might be able to fight the good fight. In the globalized corporate state, the handful of intelligent humans are easily divided and conquered. In a virtual world game, a dozen players can at least carve out a role for themselves. They will always be at a disadvantage, but never completely defeated.

The problem is that MMOs have persistently worked away from any system which might allow superior minds to assert themselves. Everything wrong with WoW-clones, the emphasis on repetitive grinding, the predictable, unchanging monster AI, the reduced scale and scope of PvP, the lack of consequences for player actions, has been implemented partly to even the playing field. By this i mean that game developers have deliberately removed player ability from the equation. There is no room for planning, strategy, tactics or foresight. Intelligence is a taboo.

This also means that groups of players tend to be carbon-copies of each other (much like the individual players) because there's simply no possibility of developing a group identity. You can't hurt each other and even if you do it only means a trip to the graveyard. Nothing lost, nothing gained, just the pissing contest of who 'pwnzored' whom. You can't steal from each other, even to the limited extent of stealing each others' monster spawns, because they respawn instantly. Every guild ends up with one of two descriptions:
1. We's liek awesome an we pwns all
2. We're a group of friends, almost like a family, who never do anything even remotely interesting but constantly reassure each other that being 'nice' and 'mature' are the ultimate virtues.
In games in which morality matters because player actions have consequences, where there would be meaningful choices to make, groups of players would have a much greater tendency to form according to shared mentality and the value placed on one another. Much of what has been labelled 'drama' in older games, the fights over loot, the name-calling after someone gets corpse-camped, is the natural divide between acceptable and unacceptable behavior, however it may be defined.

There is a satisfying side-effect of this divide. In games without consequences, leet-kiddies flock to each other based only on their superficial similarity in behavior. As long as you never challenge the contemporary youth culture, you're in. They are artificially prevented from screwing each other over and splintering as they normally would as soon as they find some loot to fight over. On the other hand, the truer a persistent world, the more important it becomes to find guilds which can abide by the logical rules of cooperation and fair-play. I've had quite a few otherwise despicable, worthless, normal human beings stick around in nerdy guilds i've been a part of, simply because while they would've gladly called me and my ilk 'fags' and 'nerds', ours was the only guild that never screwed them over.
In situations where their type gained control of the guild, things rapidly declined.

So how would my dream guild, Nerdburg, Geeksville or as i'd probably call it, Transcendence, actually appear?

Ground rules. (Thou Shalt Nots)

Don't cheat. This includes legitimized cheating. Don't exploit imbalances in the game mechanics. Don't pay for advantages.

Play to lose. Make things difficult for yourselves, taking on interesting challenges. Waste time exploring, roleplaying, and just generally playing the game instead of trying to win it. This means you'll farm less than others. It means you'll be behind in kill counts, etc. It means you have your priorities straight.

Don't brag. You are more intelligent than your opposition. Despite the fact that they outnumber you, that they're griefers who play only to be able to show off and they will cheat whenever possible, you will occasionally show them up, in a big way. Don't engage in their dick-measuring contest at that point. At most, make their abject failure known. Don't sink to the level of forum warriors.

No random player-killing. You're nerds. You will have enemies a-plenty without looking for them. Consider all players neutral to start with. Compile a blacklist (any PvP MMO would have it implemented as a game mechanic) and be merciless against those who have proven themselves deserving of death, but leave random players alone.

Don't compromise. The only excuse for siding with the rabble is turning one group of leet-kiddies against another.

Don't shy away from controversy. You are capable of morality while your enemies are not. This does not imply you have to be 'nice' or friendly to everyone.
They make friends because this is the instinctive means of forming socially advantageous alliances. It is a thoughtless process, a matter of grinning, winking and general facetiousness.
You band together because you consciously recognize yourselves as equals.
Be merciless against your enemies. Steal from them, bomb their nunneries, kill their women and children first.
Be merciless against each other. If anyone inside the guild does something wrong, call them out on it.

Pull your own weight. If you want others to do your fighting for you, don't expect an equal share of the loot. If you want others to gather resources for you, don't expect them to also do the same amount of fighting as you. This is not a system of social interdependence. We are not fundamentally indebted to each other. Guild resources are to be used primarily for greater goals, not spread out to members for individual gratification.

My guild will not be a democracy. It certainly will not be a representative republic or a socialist state. Play for ideals, not for instant gratification or to keep things easy for yourself. It would be a totalitarian dictatorship. I created it, i call the shots. When i leave, it will be disbanded. The social experiment called Transcendence is my toy. It is up to me to ensure that it works well for its members. The chain of command will likely consist of only a couple of 'go-to' trusted individuals to keep things organized, but respect it anyway. Aside from being a dictatorship, it's anarchy. Do as you please. Kill who you think best, farm where you want, say what you will. When you prove that you're not the type of person with whom i'd like to associate myself, you get the boot. Simple as that. No bureaucracy.


Now then... it's just a matter of waiting a couple of decades for a true MMO to be created. I'll probably have starved to death in the back of an alley by then. Carry on my legacy, anonymous future reader!

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