Rants tag

Rants, ruminations, and rambling remarks from my mad, muddled, meandering mind.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cyber-Bullies and Open-World PvP

This post has some possible triggers. I'm trying to be sensitive to your needs. Forewarned is forearmed.

EDIT: I should also preface this by saying that, while a discussion of ArcheAge precipitated this post, I am not saying the game sucks or that simply not playing it all would not be a reasonable alternative to opening a PvE server. I have never played EVE Online for the very reasons I go into here. I just think it is unfortunate that a game with such an intriguing set of character progression systems should be walled off due to failure to compromise.

A lot has been made of the fact that games like ArcheAge are known to involve open-world PvP at the higher levels. Usually, a game like this has low-level safe areas where players can learn the mechanics of the game without the danger of constant ganking by high level enemies. As players and characters progress in certain aspects of the game, they can stay in the safe zones. Or (as touted by the creators and many players) after a certain level, a player can venture out into zones where PvP is expected and even encouraged. Greater risk leads to greater reward. The problem with this is that it fundamentally changes the game at an arbitrary level (not unlike MMOs where raiding is perceived as the only really viable endgame activity). And now you have people that would be perfectly fine facing only challenges against the game environment forced to enter into a style of play they do not want in order to progress further in the game.
Seanxxp over at Gaming Conjecture has an excellent write-up of why he enjoys Open World PvP:
The thrill of your first few PvP encounters in Eve is a truly memorable thing. The shaking hands and heightened pulse, the sweaty palms and fumbled mouse clicks. It all feels so palpably ‘real’. . . Most times in a sandbox oriented game like Archeage, people are simply looking to achieve the goals that further enhance their own playstyle. . . Does the possibility of getting ganked every now and again really completely outweigh any possible fun you might have the rest of the time you’re playing?
Belghast the Aggronaut counters that by saying:
My key problem with open player versus player combat is the fact that someone is imposing their enjoyment on my playtime. . . What happens then is a series of things that take me out of the place where I was enjoying the game and force me to deal with the whims of another player. . . I just view it as a waste of my time, and I don’t cherish or enjoy it any more than any other waste of time.
After a brief discussion of the aspects of sandboxes in general—and ArcheAge in particular—that he enjoys, Belghast acknowledges that players like him are the "sheep" of the game.
In order for a ganker to have fun, they have to have someone to gank. . . It is going to be us sheep that get drawn into their power games, and us sheep that are inconvenienced by it. . . The folks that will find me, when I least expect it, when I am getting the most enjoyment out of the game are the folks who just want to ruin my night.
Aywren of Clean Casuals responds to Seanxxp and others by discussing her early adventures in Ultima Online:
That was the game that taught me to fear every visible player character when outside of town and run away from everyone at first sight. . . It essentially turned me into a solo player from the very beginning of my MMO experience. . . I play MMOs for relaxation and enjoyment, not to feel stressed.
When I was a child, I was picked on by bullies who knew just the right ways to push my buttons and get a rise out of me. Having undiagnosed ADHD, I was kinetic, easily fixated on trivialities, and easily frustrated. I was skinny and not very coordinated. I was probably average size for my age, but I can remember being pushed around by kids larger than I was. They were probably a grade or more ahead of me. Looking back, I don't think I was ever physically tormented, but I certainly was emotionally and psychologically. I did get into a lot of fights, but they were quickly broken up by adults: teachers, coaches, etc. One psychologist decided I had self-esteem issues and recommended a summer sports program. I eventually got into a fight there, too. I got older, bigger, and repeatedly refused to submit to the bullying.

As an adult, I don't go around getting into fights anymore. Then again, with me standing over six feet tall and tipping the scales close to 300 pounds, few people attempt to intimidate me anymore. But that poor little kid is still in there. With the same feelings. Reacting to the same stressors.

Take physical stature out of the equation, and there are plenty of people who are willing to throw their virtual weight around. A great many people love the rush of PvP, matching wits and perhaps skill with other living, breathing people across the internet. Despite previous commentary I have made, I have come to realize they are no more bullies than the typical basketball pick-up group. They simply enjoy direct competition. There may be some e-peening involved, but they are playing among equals and they enjoy the challenge. I am not talking about them.

Not everyone who loves PvP is a bully. I, myself, love battlegrounds where players are well matched. The sPvP and WvW of Guild Wars 2 is my favorite type. But that is because every character is on an even playing ground. You don't have Major League Baseball going up against Little League.
The kind of player I am talking about enjoys leveling their character up in a game where significant disparities develop between characters several levels apart. In a game like WoW (and we all know there are several), a difference of only 5 levels can be a huge jump in power for a character. more than ten levels and the lower-level character may as well be bringing a whiffle bat to a tank battle. And it's not just that the higher-level character can hit harder and has more hit points. Often the hit/dodge/block chance is skewed, as well, such that the lowbie can't land a blow even if the high-level doesn't fight at all.

There is a certain type of individual that isn't looking for a challenge. They aren't looking for and even fight between equals or near equals. Instead they go into areas where players with characters that have no hope of fighting back are trying to go about their business, and disrupt their gameplay by ganking them. Here, I am not using the term "gank" as synonymous with "ambush" the way some proponents of the practice would like to. Rather, I am using it to describe the act of killing player characters that have no hope of defending themselves. The way a 6th grader might gank a 3rd grader. In other words, a bully. I am willing to bet there are folks out there ready to say that's not how PvP is. That's not how they play. Hey, if the shoe fits . . .

A typical workday for me is not particularly stressful, I suppose, though there are some days that are plenty stressful. Occasionally, something occurs that will set off my sense of justice, but I try to keep things low-key. On business trips, things might be a little more frustrating, depending on how well prepared the local venue is for our meetings/classes. The commute to and from work isn't a joyride. I live in a town with a variety of drivers from around the country and the world, and we don't all have the same habits and norms. This can lead to some stress, as someone might cut me off or break some minor traffic violation that doesn't directly affect me but is irritating nonetheless. Can this ruin my day? Although obviously I am somewhat in control of my own emotional reactions, it certainly doesn't help.

In the past, I have had my house broken into and items of value stolen from me and my family. That's a major stressor, to say the least, between the hassles of police and insurance to figuring out how I will replace what was stolen with the meager insurance payout. And that's just things that can actually be replaced. Some stuff, some keepsakes, are simply gone forever. Right when I started this blog, my battle.net account was hacked (no, my password was not weak, nor were any other of my accounts hacked), and I temporarily lost not just items but a slew of characters. Suffice it to say I have experienced loss through theft in real life.

Getting ganked by a character I have no hope of defending myself against is not what I consider fun. They have stolen my time, if nothing else. And I have a hard time believing that my overwhelming opponent is enjoying any kind of challenge in killing me. Rather, he (or she) is playing out some power fantasy at my expense. It brings back all those feelings of helplessness and persecution on the playground when I was a child. And yes it will ruin my evening. It makes me angry; it brings me stress, the exact opposite of my purpose in playing the game in the first place.

I also believe—from personal experience—that overpowered ganking raises up each new "generation" of players to do the same. "I got ganked by high-level characters, so I am am going to do the same to this lowbie." Suggestions that you could band together with others for protection reeks of gangland-style rackets. It doesn't preclude a larger or high-level group from overwhelming your tiny trade caravan anyway; or worse, your group preying upon a weaker one.

Suggestions that maybe Trion could open a PvE-only ArcheAge server or two were met with strenuous protests on the forums. "‘PVE server’ goes against everything that AA stands for." Translation: all the sheep will run away, and the wolves won't have anyone to gank. Besides, I didn't know that ArcheAge was a philosophy that stands for anything. As was aptly argued by Syp, given that a PvE server would simply be another option, there is no legitimate reason why it should not be an option for those players that enjoy the game for reasons other than the opportunity to become involved in either side of a curb-stomp skirmish.

All this is a bit moot for me, as far as ArcheAge is concerned, since Scooter and I stopped playing due to technical issues. However, I still wanted to add my voice to the conversation because I had not seen anyone else articulate my point of view on the subject. None of what I have said may apply to you, but look hard into the mirror before you protest too much.
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  1. The big difference between what happens in any online game and our experiences of bullying in real life is that all online games are, by definition, opt-in experiences. There is no legal requirement (as there is with schooling) for anyone at all ever to play any video game, let alone a specific one such as ArcheAge. Neither is there any strong social compulsion to do so. It's not even analogous to an unlikely but possible real-life scenario such as taking a wrong tuning and finding yourself lost in a dangerous part of town. It is literally impossible for anyone to find themselves in ArcheAge by accident.

    The premise of this particular game is indeed predicated on open PvP taking place within a rich PvE environment, with the main check on "balance" for that PvP coming from a combination of Gear, Socialization and Player Skill. The issue of concern would appear to be whether you see it as reasonable or desirable for players who might enjoy this form of PvE but not in combination with this form of PvP to be facilitated in their choice of gameplay.

    Personally, I don't think that's reasonable. ArcheAge isn't a real place that people have to inhabit - it's a game with a ruleset. Moreover, it's a commercial product. Yes, it would certainly be possible for Trion or XLGames to convert the ruleset and provide a different environment but that would be their commercial decision. I don't believe that by not doing so they are stepping on anyone's rights or disenfranchising anyone. They are just selling a product and a service that isn't going to appeal to that group.

    I think your analysis of how ganking comes to happen is probably fair as far as it goes, although I think boredom and lack of imagination have a lot to do with it as well. Whatever the causes, however, so long as Trion/XL choose to maintain their current position and enough people want to play to make that financially viable I can't see that it should be much concern to anyone else.

    Those players who don't find the environment acceptable will either have to adjust their outlook until they do, or move on, or not go there in the first place. In a neighborhood or a school or a workplace that would be totally unacceptable. In a video game though?

    1. I should preface the post. It is not so much about ArcheAge itself as it is about my experiences and feelings regarding open world PvP. Trion has less of a dog in this fight, as they are merely porting it to an English speaking audience. (I actually got a kick out of realizing the townie NPC vocalizations were Korean.) But much like Carbine's experience with WildStar, I think that they may discover their target niche is so small as to jeopardize the viability of the game itself.

    2. BTW, harassment in places one normally might consider "voluntary" venues is still illegal (pubs, sports leagues, etc.) at least in the U.S. (Proving it might be a little harder.)

  2. You touch on something personal for me. For a long time, because of MMO's and ganking, I thought I just wasn't a PvP guy. As it turns out, after years in WoT and WoWp, I *am* a PvP guy - I just want a controlled battlefield instead of a lopsided beating. But I think I was so scarred by those early gank encounters that I just don't enjoy PvP mixed with my MMO.

    Also, how sad is it that we days you haave to link in what a whiffle ball is for younger generations. )-:

    1. I just got a kick out of the image of beating on an M1A1 Abrams with a hollow plastic bat.

      I think I might like WoT and WoWp, if I ever had the time. I did all right in WoW's battlegrounds and other other games and have no issues with PvPers that are truly in it for the challenge.

  3. I have absolutely no interest in any game where open PvP is mandatory. My interest in PvP is minimal at the best of times, and only when it is guaranteed to be a fair fight. MMORPGs are a pretty terrible place for PvP to begin with -- their complexity and progression-minded gameplay make fairness and balance all but impossible -- and open PvP exacerbates the problem.

    I haven't played ArcheAge, so I can't comment on whether it could have worked without open PvP or not. But most anything can be made to work if the willpower is there on the part of the developer, and I do think the developers are severely limiting their potential audience by sticking to their PvP guns.

    On the other hand, I do think it's a good thing in principal for MMO developers to make daring decisions even if they potentially prove to be limiting from a business perspective. That's how we get gems like TSW.

    In the end, all ArcheAge's PvP-centric design means is that it's not a game for me. I find this mildly disappointing, because it looks pretty and I like the whole multiclass thing, but it's not a big deal.

    1. I really liked the "multiclassing" (really more mix-and-match skill sets). Like I said, it really wasn't the dread of PvP that deterred us, but a weird technical issue that caused Scooter's computer to spontaneously reboot multiple times during a play session.

  4. Thank you for the post. I think you are on to something in regards to each player bringing real life experience into their gaming life and vice-versa. I don't mind world-PvP for one reason: I am a protector. In the old days of WoW I was there during the classic ganking wars that occurred in Southshore protecting guildies and other lowbies in the area. It was fun, but I never pushed it beyond fun whereas some would essentially grief other players and keep them from questing.

    1. Thank you for providing insight from an honorable PvPer's perspective. :)

  5. Long time lurker on your blog here and I couldn't resist poking my head in to say that I think this is a great post with a lot of good points. I don't consider myself a PvPer at all. I'm not good at it, I panic a little at the unscripted nature of PvP encounters. And yet my first several WoW characters were leveled on a PvP server. It's where my friends were so I learned to put up with the people that would just come along and grief me while I was leveling for no good reason. In fact the only time I've ever ganked a lower level player was one day when a five levels higher player had been camping my level 50 warlock for a good half hour. I logged onto my 90 and went out and killed them three times to make my point. I don't feel good about having done it but at the time it was a relief.
    Aside from that I can't stand ganking lower level characters. I have a hard time even thinking about attacking someone of my own level if they happened to be in a weakened state. Neither WoW PvP servers, nor Archeage can quite break me of that, no matter how many times people kill me when I've got no health left it just feels wrong to do the same. (Though I might make an exception if I recognized the name.) I'm not sure why some people enjoy that. I've actually surprised myself by winning an enjoying a few of the rare balanced pvp encounters I had in Archeage. But I didn't start any of them.
    I don't think all PvPers are bullies. But I think there are a fair number of them that are. And I think it's a little sad that the bullies and the griefers are so much more numerous and more obnoxious that we don't get to notice the person who wants an honorable and fair fight so much. I don't think there's any way to fix that.
    And I don't know if Archeage would work as a PvE game. Without PvP I think the trade runs would just feel boring and time consuming. Still, I think the option of at least opting out of PvP with your own faction would be nice. I know to watch the guys with the red names but it kind of hurts my feelings when the guys with the green names suddenly flag up and go for me. We're supposed to be Allies!

    1. Hey, thanks for reading, and now commenting. I played on Deathwing for a while in 2006. But like you, I found myself retaliating against people who had wronged me, and even a couple who were "innocent." That's why I stopped playing on that server. It wasn't even that I felt victimized, but what I had become due to an "overdeveloped sense of vengeance."

  6. I was bullied when I was 5 by a group of 7-8 kids from my class. I'd be playing with a friend on the school grounds when they'd show up and start throwing insults and stones at us. My friend got so fed up with it that he ended up leaving me to join the bullies. Adults never intervened claiming that "kids will be kids".

    25 years later, I can still feel the anger and the helplessness I felt then welling up inside me whenever I remember those days. Being attacked by another player in an uncontrolled, non-consensual environment brings those feelings back, and I just can't stand it. It doesn't bring excitement or thrills, it brings back some of my worst memories from my childhood and leaves me completely broken for a while.

    I started playing WoW with friends in a PvP server because they insisted it would be more realistic and exciting. After the first time I was ganked I could not muster the courage to launch the game again for a month, and even then it was to reroll and new character on a PvE server and play solo. I've never gone back to a PvP server.

    As for games like ArcheAge or EVE, no matter how interesting some features may sound to me, the risk of reliving those feelings means I'm likely to never pick them up. It's true to a certain level that by playing them you are consenting to PvP, but that PvP lacks the second point I mentioned above, and that is control.

    1. It's comforting to know that I am not the only one who feels that way. You're right, the argument can be made that just logging in constitutes consent to PvP. But I don't think it is consent to the type of lopsided encounters I am describing. And it certainly doesn't negate the feelings such a trampling evokes in the player being trampled. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  7. You hit the nail on the head for me when it comes to a level playing field.

    I just can't PvP in vertical progression MMOs where high level players kill low level ones by sneezing on them. I frankly wouldn't know how to play, since I do seek out optimal strategies and -will- ruthlessly get rid of weaker opponents, focus fire, etc, to whittle down numbers for strategic advantage, etc. Limiting myself by self-imposing a code of honor doesn't make sense effectiveness, efficiency and competition wise - which imo, I thought was one of the main points of PvP.

    Yet going through with it is also bullying through one's actions, and I don't like how it makes me feel either, on either end, receiving or giving.

    Nor do I approve of a game that enables or encourages such negative zero sum behavior. I don't think it's right to teach people to take joy in another person's suffering, and games if nothing teach patterns of behavior and thinking through repetition, habit and plentiful feedback. So I avoid games that allow and condone such bullying and don't reward them with my cash or time.

    Put me in a multiplayer FPS with symmetrical classes or maps or number of players in a match, and conversely, I'm happy to mix it up in the name of some friendly rivalrous fun. I can even tolerate small asymmetries, as long as I get the impression the game and devs are working towards balance, or if the game uses it to add spice and variety (that still allows for both sides to have a fair chance.)

    If the selling point is "gank people who can't fight back" though, I won't be there.

    1. I can totally understand PvP maps in HALO and other FPS games. It's exciting to be in a mock battle—where you stand a chance. I once played CoD or something with a guy whose game and console we were playing on. I quit after about a half hour of him sniping me while I was still trying to figure out the controls. In a standard MMO, you can never "learn" the controls well enough to defend your character against one even ten levels higher. (Granted some MMOs have flatter power differentials, up-leveling, etc.)

      A big part of that is my own perfectionism. If I can't do something well, I'd rather do something else. Yes, I'm a quitter.

  8. I remember having this discussion about DayZ a while ago which is also a game purely designed with PvP in mind. Nonetheless, it has a stunning world and potential for more so players have voiced interest in PvE servers. Of course it's up to Bohemia if they want to fulfill such a wish because most of the time, "just making things PvE" isn't as simple. PvE is driven by themepark content or then, by sandbox tools that are refined enough to allow players to create interesting content themselves. As we've come to know through WoW and other titles, feeding player interest longterm takes massive amounts of work in terms of regular content drops etc. Many PvP online games require meager content in comparison because players are happy enough to gather and defend against others. This fundamental design difference could be a post of its own.

    Considering this and also your PoV, I agree with both sides: I don't think PvErs can/should always expect every online game out there to cater to their playstyle (not you specifically but some sure love to cry foul in very entitled ways), any more than I can demand perma-death getting removed from a roguelike. At the same time, and I said this in DayZ's case too, if there are options for PvE servers that are viable to the developer, there's no good reason at all not to have them. If you can allow more players to play your game, why not do it? It is hardly a matter of losing your sheep if you would've lost them anyway and more permanently...
    I think your spot on when it comes to the ganker mindset- The fact that some PvPers are so set against more options is always telling. Ideally MMORPGs get designed with all player modes in mind from the get-go but it seems AA ain't one of them.

    1. Volumes can and have been written about game publishers chasing the lightning-in-a-bottle popularity of certain blockbusters. They listen to overly vocal "hardcore" players and end up alienating huge swaths of the market. Of course following the crowd is no guarantee of success either. The innovations of one game become the stale cliches of another.

      Fortunately or unfortunately, the game industry is at least an attempt at a moneymaking venture. A lot of gamers of all stripes forget that. Games that don't make enough money for their investors get shut down (or no sequel gets made). Game devs who stick to their guns to make "art" do so at their own financial peril.