Better writers than I have pontificated extensively about PvP in games, but I can’t help but echo Brian “Psychochild” Green’s comment on this recent post from the Elder Game writers:
Psychochild rightly notes that the social environment in his venerable Meridian 59 MMO is driven to toxicity by the guild-based PvP design.
Contrast that with the original “Horde vs. Alliance” design of World of Warcraft, and how it has changed over the years. Sometimes it seems that everyone is happy to be fighting the Big Bad of the series, even if it means ignoring the old “Us vs. Them” mentality for a new “Us and Them, ’til Undead Destruction do us part”. Sure, that plays havoc with the lore, but it does make for a somewhat less contentious social atmosphere for the game, with players united against the computer controlled bad guys. That’s probably no accident, and probably good design.
I really do think that game design can have a significant effect on the population of a game, and that a deep focus on PvP and “Us vs. Them” will naturally be more toxic. I also think that’s unhealthy.
Interestingly, as anyone who follows politics might note, “a house divided against itself cannot stand“. It’s always interesting to me when political debate is less about the Big Bad of economic or social situations, and more about name calling and hyperbolic caricaturing of the Other guys. Interesting, and sad.
So why do game devs persist in using such design mentality? Certainly the Soldier vs. Demo campaign stirred up by Valve for their Team Fortress 2 game caused a considerable stir in the fandom. It’s even lampshaded by the Valve guys at one point, with the Soldier noting that he doesn’t even know what the special weapon is that he gets if his team wins, but he WANTS it because it’s either him or the Demoman, and obviously, HE can’t have it. (I read this somewhere, but now I can’t find a citation… my search-fu is weak today.)
One almost has to wonder what might be behind the contentious curtain. In the TF2 case, probably nothing, and it’s just a self-aware clever PR stunt. Does factional warfare make games more interesting than they have any right to be? Did WoW benefit from the distractions of “Us vs. Them” when the daily gameplay was so… repetitive? Did Warhammer Online bank too much on it, only to falter when it didn’t have enough to carry the game? Is Darkfall (or any other heavy PvP game) worth playing? (The answer on that last one probably depends on whether or not you like Counterstrike or TF2, methinketh. There is a clear PvP mindset that you need for those games.)
Oh, and Allods Online makes me sad. I’ll just echo Randomessa on this one. I mean, I did already point out what I wanted out of my own ship… and that’s just not it. It sounds like it’ll be great for the “forced group” “us vs. them” crowd… that’s just not me.
And, perhaps most importantly, what exactly do the Democrats and Republicans want us paying attention to… and why? Could they be obfuscating anything really vital? Is the media doing their job at actually finding the truth? Could there perhaps be something more important than endless namecalling and gamesmanship, shallow “debates” and partisan hackery?
I have games to play. Flonne keeps telling me that Angels, Demons and Humans should get past prejudice, after all, and I’d hate to disappoint her. Us and Them need to go storm heaven.