Posts Tagged ‘WAR’

So… PAX is ruffling feathers with their “diversity” panel.  Seems like comments around the web range from outraged to offended to offensive to dismissive.  Coincidentally, a few days earlier, I made a comment on diversity in literature over at tor.com (#7) that pretty much covers what I think about diversity and how I’m fond of MLK’s dream, and ran into a person (comment #8) who espouses a position that I find… baffling.  I suppose that their position is where Affirmative Action comes from, though, and I’ve always thought that to be deeply flawed.

It seems that a lot of it comes down to what I think of as tribalism.  You know, the human reflex to want to associate with those who are like you, or who are perceived as like you, and shun those that are not.  That “other” guy isn’t part of the tribe, so he isn’t to be trusted.  It filters into everything, from politics to gaming.  World of Warcraft is one easy example to point to, with their strict divide between factions, even to the point of enforcing it on otherwise genial Pandaran characters.  It’s an easy thing to leverage in game design (and psychology); whip up some fury against the Other, and the emotional argument can stay ahead of logic and evidence.

For the Horde!  Go, go, Alliance!  …or whatever.  (And ultimate victory goes to the cabal pulling the strings or jockeying for money or power, never the people doing the fighting.)

The whole core of “diversity” as a concept enhances the subconscious categorization of tribes, since everyone gets tagged and filed away in neat little categories.  It fosters continued contention as factions jockey for position and prominence.  It has always seemed to me to be Sisyphian, or perhaps Schroedingerish, where the “cure” perpetuates and even creates the problem.

When it comes to games, though, there’s an extra wrinkle.  Some people play games and imagine themselves in the game, and want their game avatars to represent them.  They want to connect with the characters on a personal identity level.  This isn’t how I play games or read books, but it’s an understandable approach.

In fiction, this is less of an issue since books aren’t assumed to have a high level of interactability.  Games, though, bank on giving players some level of autonomy, so it makes sense that players would also want their identity to be a part of that.  I don’t care about it as a player, but it’s something game designers should keep in mind because some players do care.

For a point of reference, two of my favorite books in my teens were The Blue Sword and Sabriel, despite being neither a necromancer nor a kelar-gifted horseback warrior.  I loved the heroines of those stories for what they did, and their gender and other “diversity” flags didn’t matter.  (In fact, to this day, it sticks out to me that there’s a bit in Sabriel where the lead character thinks a bit about her period.  It just seemed shoehorned in to show she missed her mother and to bracket her age… and that she’s a she.)  Rather, they were fascinating characters with interesting choices in intriguing scenarios, and I learned about life seeing them grow, even though I didn’t really identify myself with either of them.  I didn’t need to.  To quote Dumbledore, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.

In games, we are given the ability to make choices.  I think this is crucial to the whole point of making a game in the first place.  It seems to me that choices are the best vector to really look at diversity.  I do love a Final Fantasy and its plucky band of teenagers and token minority characters out to save the world via weird leveling up schemes and oddball weapons, but it’s trite storytelling sometimes.

So… it’s not something that really bugs me, this push for diversity, except that I think it embraces the wrong priority.  I think that a greater diversity of motivations, choices, conundrums and consequences are the far more important direction for creators to address.  With luck, as the medium matures, this will happen naturally… though given the PAX kerfluffle and that quota-based mindset evinced in the tor.com article, I’m not sure that it will happen significantly quickly or profoundly.


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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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Warhammer Online now has a “perpetual” free trial.  It joins the ranks of Wizard 101, Free Realms (which is now almost just like WAR, albeit having arrived from a different direction), Guild Wars, DDO and Puzzle Pirates in the short list of games that I think are starting to understand the market.  Of course, Guild Wars is still the frontrunner in the business model department, and Puzzle Pirates will likely remain the one I play most (it’s just so durn schedule friendly!), but this change by the WAR crew is exactly the tipping point that has me itching to download the game.

If it turns out well, I might even give them some money, like I did for W101 and Puzzle Pirates.  In the immortal words of Daniel James of Puzzle Pirates fame:

Money can’t buy you love, but love can bring you money. In software the only sustainable way to earn money is by first creating love, and then hoping that some folks want to demonstrate that love with their dollars.

I want to like WAR. I’ve been digging into the tabletop game, and it’s fascinating.  While there are some considerable differences, WAR looks interesting enough to take a look, and Public Quests look interesting as a mechanic.  They have offered me (and many others) a gift by changing their business model this way.  Time will tell if I love them enough to demonstrate it with dollars.  The chance of that went up from 0% to at least 33%, and that has to count for something.  Even marketers understand that math.

Of course, dearest Turbine and Blizzard, if either of you wanted to up the ante by offering me a lifetime sub to LOTRO or WoW for my birthday, I’d not turn you down.  I’d even promise to take lots of pretty screenshots and write about what you are doing right in your games.  (The records show that I’ve done plenty of complaining, so I can afford to balance it out.)

It is my birthday, after all, and turning up my nose at gifts would just be… improper.




Disclosure:  I know, I know, some would say that WAR is dying and should be taken out back and dumped on the Tabula Rasa heap.  Some might suggest I give money to someone more deserving.  There are definitely (largish) grains of truth in those opinions.

WAR will never be my “main” MMO.  Still, this is a Good Move for the business of MMOs, and hopefully a good one for WAR, and I want to let these people know that I approve.  If they don’t read my blog (slackers!), maybe I can send them a birthday card with a nice $10 bill or something.  Since, y’know, we’re supposed to vote with our wallet.

And, well… I’ve spent my fair share of money buying games that aren’t the biggest boys on the block, and that aren’t the greatest examples of game design.  Yet… they are fun enough to warrant an expenditure on my part as a reward for a job well done.  Call it my way of paying the tab after a decent, middle class night out to eat.  It’s not The Ritz, but it’s not Carl’s Jr.  I’m totally happy paying game devs for their work, I just want to do it on my terms.  That will never be paying for a subscription.

Heck, I even gave Braid $5.  If I can do that, I can lob some dollar love at the WAR guys.  Well, that is if their gift really is a fun bit of work, not something I’m going to send along as a White Elephant to someone else in a week…  and $10 is half of Torchlight or Machinarium…

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