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Posts Tagged ‘prejudice’

OK, so apparently, World of Warcraft is supposed to be angling to be more warlike, pitting the Alliance and the Horde against each other as in days of yore.  Actions have been taken by both sides that are somewhat less than tolerant and neighborly, leading to something resembling hate.  Faction pride rests largely on putting the other guys down, and as Raph Koster notes (among other things in this interesting presentation), the service business model (live games, whether subscription or microtransaction) relies heavily on emotional attachment.

On the other hand, there’s this Corpsegrinder fellow, no doubt his moniker of choice indicating his civility and kindness, caught in a recording embodying an attitude we might see as somewhat less than tolerant and neighborly, fracturing the WoW community.  The reaction has predictably been… hostile.

I don’t really intend to speak to the political or social concerns with Corpsegrindergate, other than to note that I think the guy isn’t someone I’d invite to my home.  No, what interests me at the moment is the juxtaposition between the efforts to foster war and division within the game, and the bitter divides that arise out of the game.  How curious it is that hate might be said to drive both (and there’s plenty of hate and anger to go around… Mr. Ranty McGrumpypants Corpsegrinder isn’t the only fellow who needed a nap), yet the former is somehow desirable while the latter isn’t, as if hating someone because they were part of the Alliance or the Horde is somehow less prejudiced than real world bigotry.  (And if we’re going to run the “it’s just a game” excuse, that cuts both ways.)  It’s so easy to demonize the Other… but it’s not paying attention to what’s really there.

I tend to think that driving faction pride and rage-fueled PvP isn’t wise for the community at large.  BBB and his commenters note occasions where die hard Horde players are civil around Alliance players (and why are Hordies assumed to be ruder in general?), so I’m not asserting a full correlation (thankfully)… but I do think that the faction split should be framed more as competition than contention.  There are plenty of threats to Azeroth and its denizens that we don’t need to manufacture internecine warfare.  It’s no longer us as a single player pitting our RTS armies against a computer, those Hordies or Alliance grunts are piloted by real people who have a tendency to take offense, whether intended or not.

Some players will always take things personally, and some jerks are simply jerks.  Some people are incurably ignorant.  Few will conflate real life with the game… but hatred leaves its prints on attitudes and learned behavior, no matter the venue.  It’s a burden on the soul that weighs in at the most inopportune moments.  Yes, drama and games tend to be based on conflict of some sort, someone winning while someone else loses, but the attitudes behind that drive can vary.  It’s always interesting to me to see how devs try to mold player actions and attitudes.

Hate is a powerful, driving force.  It’s also a potentially hazardous thing to use to fuel your game.  Competition and contention aren’t the same thing.  Much like it’s silly to piddle around with various poop harvesting quests while Deathwing is in the wings, Azerothians have better things to do than engage in a deadly version of “he said, she said”.  If we’re supposed to be heroes in Azeroth, petty squabbling isn’t going to help.

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My kindergarden daughter is improving her reading abilities in leaps and bounds.  One of the interesting things that she started doing on her own is to read a sentence backwards.  She can read it perfectly well forwards, but she reads backwards on occasion more to really get a good look at the words than anything else.  I’m not sure why she started that, but I told her it was a great idea.  (She might have picked up on the quirk I have of reading perfectly fine upside down or sideways when I’m holding a book so that the kids can see it, even if it’s off kilter for me.)

In high school, my art teacher had us take an illustration of a human, flip it upside down, and replicate it as faithfully as we could.  This was her way to train us to draw what we saw, not what we thought we saw.  Flipping the source short-circuited our tendency to just draw what we thought we needed to draw.  The shapes were unfamiliar enough (though familiar, which made for a curious mental perception loop) that we resorted to drawing shapes and hoping we got them perfect enough that they would fit together correctly when we turned them right side up.

Y’see, whether in art or in reading, we tend to think ahead a little bit and anticipate what we’re going to be doing next… and sometimes, we anticipate incorrectly.  We know that a human eye looks like this, our own mental visual shorthand for what an eye should look like (it’s worth noting that everyone has a different mental image).  We’ve seen so many of them over the years that we just assume that we know exactly what we’re doing.  And yet, everyone’s eyes are different.  Everyone’s features are a little quirky.  The vast majority of people don’t even have a perfectly symmetrical face, but since we know that human faces are symmetrical for the most part, we tend to miss the subtler details of the individual.  This is true when it comes to race or age as well; if we know that a fellow with dark skin has thicker lips and a broader forehead, or a Middle Easterner has an aquiline nose, or an older Asian lady has hooded eyes, we may well ignore what we actually see.  Caricatures play strongly to the cliches, largely because that’s what people expect… even if it’s not accurate for the subject at hand.

When someone reads “Rudolph the Red…” they almost reflexively put in “Nosed Reindeer”, no matter what is actually on the page.  When we read “Democrat” or “Republican”, “liberal” or “conservative”, “religious” or “atheist”, “Christian” or “Muslim”, “male” or “female”, our learned mental patterns fill in the gaps and anticipate what comes next.  We know that those (x) are evil corporatist pigs, or that those protesters are unwashed hippies who live in their divorced mum’s basement.  We know that those religious guys are hypocrites, or that rich people cheated the system somehow.  Our brains shut off once we have the sketchy outline, and we fill in the gaps the way we always know they get filled.  It’s obvious, so there’s no reason to actually pay attention.  Why swim upstream against the meme when it’s more efficient to go with the flow?

We know something… that ultimately turns out to be untrue.  This, not because we are wrong to try to anticipate, which is useful, and not because we are uneducated, for we are all very familiar with the human face and common communication patterns… no, we are wrong because we assume instead of observe, we label instead of listen.  We jump ahead to the response instead of reading what’s on the page, we formulate counterarguments and questions instead of listening to what’s being presented.

It’s a survival tactic.  It keeps us from thinking too much, from wasting time.  Assumptions and prejudice help us function in the absence of perfect knowledge and incomplete comprehension and the lack of will or time.

And yet, sometimes… if we miss what is actually in front of us, we make mistakes.

Authors, artists and game designers tend to take advantage of this, and some consumers love the “twist” to stories and art as well.  Humans are very good with patterns, and creative sorts love to tweak those expectations.  Less innocuously, so do media moguls and politicians.  If there are no details presented, or if the patterns might suggest something that doesn’t quite represent reality, well, we’ll just leave that up to the individual, hm?  Certainly the audience can make up their own minds, right?

Allusions, aspersions, assumptions… very useful tools, in the right hands.  Stage magic is all about tricking the natural anticipation and pattern recognition systems of the audience, even if they have to establish a pattern that they then subvert, rather than relying on an existing framework of assumptions.  It’s the old shell game philosophy; establish a pattern, add a little razzle dazzle and sleight of hand, and the mark’s own brain does the bulk of the trickery for you.  Classic Inception-style mental Judo.

So it’s interesting to me that in a world that sometimes seems upside down and backwards, the best solution can often be to look at it upside down and backwards.  Maybe you had it right the first time after all, but taking the time to really look at what you see, really listen to what you hear, and really comprehend what you read, well… that can make a world of difference.  Sometimes we have to look beyond the things we know into the things we really should be learning about.

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If you don’t know the reference, you can start at this link.

Quoting Dr. King, then:

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

THAT is what anonymity allows in a world that still isn’t colorblind:  The ability to be judged by your actions and your speech, the content of your character, rather than what you look like, where you come from, or what your name is.  Until men and women can learn to debate the substance of ideas rather than malign the source in an effort to ignore the facts, anonymity is perhaps the only true way to get honest feedback and conversation.

That is why the internet has become one of the last great bastions of intelligent conversation, free from Big Brother media and mainstream spin.  Is it also a cesspool of idiocy?  Of course, but that’s because of idiocy itself (as Chastity notes at that link), something that some people just can’t seem to give up.

Freedom comes with the risk that someone will be an idiot.  It’s a small cost to allow people to dodge prejudice.

Blizzard’s RealID isn’t the end of the world, but neither is it wise.  It is a step away from my dream of a meritocratic community and an interesting game world.  It is yet another piece of the puzzle of the bizarre corporatocracy in our fraying country, and a look at the arrogant mindset of those who make the rules and who have the money.  The strangest part of all this isn’t that Blizzard is doing this, it’s that they honestly don’t seem to understand the implications.

Or, perhaps the scariest part is that they do understand the implications, and are simply seeking to make a buck, and think the risk is worth the reward.

I disagree, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I find much to like about the Austrian school of economics.  It strikes me that anonymity is valuable for free markets to work as well.  Honest feedback is generated from simple demand and supply, where business relationships are defined by the simple feedback loop of “purchase” or “no purchase”.  Adam Smith’s “invisible hand of the market” is concerned most with what people do, not with what they look like.  Actions, not prejudice, seem to produce the most productive results in a positive feedback cycle.

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What with all the fuss over LOTRO’s impending renaissance (or doom, depending on your crystal ball), I’ve been idly wondering what server segregation might do to assuage the fears of the fans of gated communities (M.o.B. is asking for some civility there; he’s not one of the snoots).  <snooty>One must keep the heathens out, after all; imagine what it might be like if they outnumbered the veteran “real players”.  They don’t even play the right way.  Maybe we should just autodelete all the noobs every week.  At the very least, we should tell them to go home.</snooty>

Puzzle Pirates has separate “subscription” and “microtransaction” servers, for instance, and it seems to serve them well enough.  Each server has its own community, politics and economy, though there is certainly cross-pollination on the master forums and players who play on multiple servers.  Incidentally, the microtransaction servers have been most profitable for Three Rings, though they happily maintain both flavors.  Players play on servers that match their finances; happy customers are a valuable asset.  Even if they aren’t subscribers.

On another hand, you could go with a “scarlet letter” approach, as I noted over at KTR, if you’re working with an integrated community, and make it visible to one and all how players are paying for their gaming.  Maybe that would make the Old Guard feel better, as they get their warm fuzzies by denigrating the little people.  <snooty>Sit in the back of the boat, you, you… casuals and tourists!  Respect my subscription-granted Authority!</snooty> I mean, we already have GearScore and Achievement segregation in WoW and other pecking order mechanics in other MMOs (“I can’t believe she’s wearing that gear, what a noob”), what’s the difference, right?

It really is interesting how these MMO things tinker with sociality.

Some also bemoan the rise of soloability, occasionally with similar utopian fervor.  In my mind, though, the continuing democratization of the business models and game designs of these MMOs is a Good Thing.  That’s how the free market works, ideally; innovation and experimentation provide for variety, and the most profitable ideas rise to the top.  Sometimes, they even prove to be the best ideas, too.  We’re not quite a meritocracy, but a varied market does tend to work better than One Size Fits All economic theory… ditto for game design.  I mean, Turbine couldn’t possibly be paying attention to the industry, could they?

But hey, it’s a free world, right?  If people want gated communities, they should be free to pay for them, right? Let the market decide, perhaps.  There’s money to be made making people feel special… especially if those people will pay handsomely (through the nose) for prestige (For the Horde!).  Conspicuous consumption, indeed; <snooty>what good are expensive toys if you can’t show them off and make other people feel inferior?  What good is it to be a member of the subscription elite if you can’t lord it over the inbred masses of free to play tourists?

Why play with other people if you can’t be better than them?  Even segregation only matters inasmuch as players know that there are other places they could be, but they don’t qualify because they aren’t as good as someone else because of how they pay for the game.</snooty>

Pfeh.  Lovely post-prejudice society we live in, eh?  It’s very interesting to see long-held but long-repressed opinions come out of the woodwork.  Funny how time and stress do that to people; candid opinions are far more informative than processed ones.  It’s especially curious to me that the prejudicial cancer of the LOTRO community is based on things that haven’t even happened yet.  As such, the real problem for the community isn’t really an undefined nonpresent boogeyman, but the attitudes already held by those already in the community.

It almost makes me wonder what the response would be to a zombie apocalypse.  Sometimes, it’s the survivors that are the monsters

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Ostensibly, “F2P” is an acronym for “Free to Play”.

In practice, the term can cover a couple of different types of MMOs that don’t monetize via subscriptions.

On one hand are the Item Shop games, say, Runes of Magic, Allods Online or Puzzle Pirates.  RoM and AO are post-WoW DIKUMMOs (PWDMMORPGs?), but Puzzle Pirates is an entirely different animal that uses a microtransaction dual currency system.  RoM and AO have taken heat for goofy pricing and design that spurs purchases, some of it rightly so, some of it ill-informed and incompetently reasoned.  Noting that Puzzle Pirates functions quite nicely as an Item Shop game, might I take another moment to note that while business and game design are inextricably linked, incompetence in one need not mean the other is equally busted?

On the other hand, there are Subscriptionless games that monetize by selling content and convenience.  Look to Guild Wars, DDO and Wizard 101 for this sort of game design.  Content is sold with perpetual access, and players need not continue to pay a subscription.  These games tend to be constructed differently from the Item Shop games, earning money most like offline games of yore, by providing a valuable experience out of the box.

Also of note are the hybrid games.

Wizard 101 allows for subscriptions, content purchases and item shop purchases.  It monetizes all sorts of demand and lets all sorts of players play together, hopping servers willy-nilly almost at will.  It’s a beautiful game that plays extremely well, carving out its own identity with unique game mechanics and quirky writing.  The Harry Potterish feel is almost certainly part of the appeal, but it really is a solid game under the hood.

Puzzle Pirates has microtransaction servers and subscription servers.  Players cannot change server, and their economies are largely unique.  Doubloons (the microtransaction currency in their brilliant dual currency system) are tied to the account, not a server, and so may be spent on any “green” (microtransaction) server, but “blue” (sub) and “green” servers are isolated.  Still, players can play on any server, and can find one to suit their finances.

I think there is a critical distinction to be drawn between Item Shop games and Subscriptionless games.  I’ve argued for selling content instead of time for a while now, and I firmly come down in the Subscriptionless camp.  Whether this is sold in large bites like Guild Wars or smaller bites like Wizard 101 or DDO, it doesn’t matter much, but there is a clear difference between this model and the Item Shop model.  RoM and AO and their kind walk a line between selling stuff that’s useful and selling stuff that breaks the game, between impulse purchases and wallet-busting stupidity.

Both games can rightfully be presented as “Free to Play”, inasmuch as the acronym itself really only suggests that there is no subscription.  (Though it is a curious thing when a product is defined by what it lacks rather than what it has or is…)  We really have misnomers on top of misnomers abound in the MMO market, so this is no surprise, but it isn’t useful to take something like Allods Online’s messed up Item Shop (or your favorite game used as an example of the apocalypse) and paint an entire swath of games with a disdainful “F2P” epithet.  Games need to be taken on their own merits, balanced against their monetary and time costs, and evaluated for fun.  Blind prejudice against games roughly defined by a marketing acronym that doesn’t have consistent meaning doesn’t really help anything.

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