“It’s Just A Game” – Or Why We Can’t All Just Get Along

I’ve been ping-ponging back and forth from a series of blog posts, enjoying a great range of shared perspectives about PvP.

  • Somewhere along the way, Zubon produces an informative little aside about a new term that may be useful when discussing PvP – “Contested”

Naturally, when I read so much thought-provoking stuff, my mind goes into overdrive and starts to try and make sense of it all.

Mostly because I’m super-puzzled by my own reactions, where I generally agree with a good part of most of the things said in -every- post, and then come to a screeching halt at certain paragraphs and think, “Er, no, sorry, I don’t share that particular viewpoint” or “Wait, I’m like that in this one particular game, and like this in some other game.”

Also, one of the things I like most about reading other people’s opinions on their blogs is that I get to try and pick out the reasons for why they hold a particular point of view, and then attempt to bring it together to form some kind of generalized theory about why people play the games they do – it’s a fascination of mine, if you can’t tell from the name of my blog.

I find it’s also helpful for further discussion, since players are better able to articulate what precisely they like or dislike, and for future developers to then try and design games that put these various preferences together in unexpected ways, rather than just clone whatever has worked before.

Let’s start with some ground rules, since PvP vs PvE can end up as a very loaded and heated subject matter, and I’m simply -not- interested in the same old boring rehash of “PvPers are evil, PvErs are carebears. WE don’t want to associate with THEM.”

Name-calling and dismissing another person’s interests, or unique perspective thusly, is not productive for a shared dialogue.

I’ll be doing my best to try and avoid it for this post, though of course, it’s sometimes fun to write with a very subjective slant for hyperbolic effect, or useful as an emotional release to vent and so on.

You see, I recently attended a talk on mediation, where the speaker shared something I found rather insightful and helpful.

There are generally three ways human beings use to resolve a conflict:

1. War – Being ”right” through might or power. The victor gets to rewrite history to suit themselves.

Yep, through history, this has been a well-used means of settling disputes. Basically, you wipe out or defeat or otherwise try to dominate the other party into agreeing to your point of view.

I’m sure you can think of so-called “marriages” that have essentially descended to this level of negative-sum combat, where one party wins at the expense of another, and both may have bled or been hurt during the conflict it too.

2. Logic / Justice – Determining who is “right” or “wrong” through a series of arguments and fact-finding.

This is the realm of our legal system, where countless lawyers are paid to debate in front of judges (or a jury) over which individual is “objectively” right or wrong. Someone wins and someone loses, the loser usually has to pay the winner in some way and usually isn’t left very happy at all.

The problem with this style of conflict resolution is that it’s very binary and not at all suited for certain situations.

The example the speaker gave was being a grandparent to two siblings involved in a dispute over toys. If one turned it into a farcial trial where one takes each sibling’s statements and uses CCTV cameras to properly determine “who started it” and “who should be punished,”

a) The siblings’ relationship wouldn’t improve at all and they might grow up hating each other.

b) The children’s parents would probably think the grandparent had gone around the loony bin.

c) The overall objective of having a harmonious family where the siblings learned how to get along and play with each other and share their toys wouldn’t be achieved.

I might even suggest that this is something that gamers have been doing for a very long time now and that none of us have got nearer to any sense of satisfaction beyond “Duty calls. Someone is -wrong- on the Internet.

So what’s the third method?

3. Diplomacy / Mediation – Bringing all parties to the table to talk things through and try to come up with mutually agreeable solutions to everyone involved

It’s not an easy thing, of course. That’s why there’s a whole profession or two dedicated to it.

And long, entrenched conflicts that stretch generations can take an equally long time to resolve, or serious amounts of dedication and perseverance to the overall goal (be it peace, understanding or just a mutual agreeable separation which still caters and cares for the kids.)

But it is this third solution that leads to a potential net positive for everyone involved.

(I’d add on that there’s a fourth method of dealing with conflict – which is less conflict resolution and more conflict avoidance. I’m guilty of resorting to that quite a bit, sometimes. It’s useful when the conflict is really quite trivial in the larger scheme of things and you don’t really mind letting the other person “win,” but there -is- a loser in this situation, and this can build resentment and grudges when it’s more important an issue.)

The speaker then told a story of two sides in history that were so entrenched in hate and a cycle of violence that it took years of patience to negotiate a peace agreement – and even then, certain key individuals were killed off by violence and the passage of time before the remaining parties could come to any sort of understanding.

Anecdotally, an old woman who was very invested in the conflict (after all, her whole life had been centered around it) asked one of the leaders that was instrumental in pushing the peace accord through how he could conceive of doing this, after all, wasn’t he honor and duty bound to kill or defeat his enemy?

His reply: “Do I not defeat my enemy by making him my friend?”

You may, or may not, share this same belief or think it’s a worthy goal.

But I’ll make an appeal to your self-interest and suggest that it is only the third solution that can actually expand the pool of people you can play with, that increases the number of people interested in playing the game you like.

In every other solution to conflict, you separate yourself from a bunch of people you won’t ever play with, because eew, they’re different from you.

So how do we start coming to the table and finding commonalities with which to work from and begin?

We move from arguing about positions to focusing on interests – the WHYs behind our positions – and listing out what they are.

For example, I’m pretty well stuck on certain positions and values. I get very twitchy and intolerant of games that put vertical progression front and center, and I really hate elitist or close-minded viewpoints being outwardly expressed.

Why?

I don’t want player improvement and learning to be masked by a number that merely grows from time invested. I don’t like that old artifact and hold-over from the devs trying to incentivize people to hold on to subscriptions. I basically don’t have such constant chunks of time to invest simply to stay competitive, and want games that demonstrate that they value my time more. I don’t want players to fall back on a number as an excuse for not increasing their skill or knowledge at a game. (That last, you’ll note, is a little value judgement that has slipped in.)

Why?

Because I believe that a player would appreciate a game more when they have sufficient skill or knowledge to play the game at a certain baseline or level, and when they see the depth that a game is capable of. Because I want to play with players of equivalent skill or knowledge so that we can progress or learn together.

I also want a level playing field where a new player has a decent chance of coming in and right away defeating a veteran player, if he or she plays in a smart, strategic or more skillful way than the old player.

Why?

Because that encourages new blood to join in at any time. Because new blood joining at any time is what keeps a game I like going. Because I might be that new blood and I’d like to have a locus of control and useful things I can do even when new, and aspire to victory, without having to spend 3-6 months “paying my dues” and “earning my way” – I don’t have the time for a game if it makes me do that.

I don’t know if anyone else is seeing this, but when I list all this explanatory stuff behind the simple “I hate vertical progression” statement, I also see the opportunity for different ways to tackle these issues.

You can put players of equivalent skill or knowledge together by -good- matchmaking, or even ensure that only players with the same stats meet, even if the rest of your game has vertical stat progression because you know, Achievers like that sort of thing, incrementing numbers.

You can also try your darnest to bootstrap more players to a skill or knowledge baseline by plenty of tutorials or other means of learning/teaching or if you’re a player, writing guides till your hands fall off or teaching via mic until your tongue turns blue.

You can make sure that your stat progression isn’t absurd to the point of removing all possibility of victory from the new blood or low level, if you -must- have stat progression. Maybe 2-3 low levels can gang up on a high level or highly geared player and achieve victory that way, rather than have it completely impossible or require a raid of 50 low-levels to take down a high level or something of that nature. That might be a balance point that becomes more acceptable to more people.

You can also see that I personally don’t have an intrinsic aversion to PvP, if presented in the right way and with the same kinds of values or philosophies.

Another position: I don’t like bullying. I don’t approve of encouraging this sort of negative, toxic behavior, even in a game, and will not support or play a game that produces safe places for griefer and troll types to feed on others and thrive.

(Note: I do not lump all PvPers as trolls or griefers. I am very specifically referring to those players that are out to ruin another person’s fun and will go through all kinds of hoops to do so, as well as people who enjoy low-skill easy fun “fights” – ok, I’m having a hard time calling it a fight, a “gank?” a “walk over?” “not even a speedbump?” – by one shot killing other players via a massive stat advantage and repeatedly do it, in the hopes of getting some sort of explosive or frustrated reaction from their victim, or even PvE-only players that are used to using abusive or racist slurs on other people as a matter of course, flinging blame around on everyone but themselves and generally “not playing well with others.” )

This one comes very close to being about fundamental values and nears intractability.

Why? Because I believe bullying behavior does result in emotional stress and hurt on the part of the bullied, even if the bully thinks that their victim should just “man up” or “get harder” or “grow thicker skin” or “why so serious, lulz.” I do think that what happens in a game can leak emotions back onto the player behind the character and that we naturally behave the way we are conditioned or have become habituated to behave. I think the world would be more of a better place if games encouraged players to be decent people to each other more, rather than throw hostilities and toxic slurs at each other.

I do however recognize though, that other people may not feel that a game has that much importance in the larger scheme of things.

Or that a particular game is set up with a particular set of rules and boundaries and design to prompt players into acting in a certain way, because it’s the point of the game, to a large extent.

(I personally don’t equate the killing of a game avatar to the killing of a person. Especially not if it’s a MOBA or FPS where respawns are quick and consequences aren’t persistent and don’t last beyond the match. Other people seem to apply a distinctly more elaborate honor code to the whole affair. Couldn’t begin to tell you why, maybe those who have this belief can share.

But I’m not really interested in playing a game like DayZ where I get to act out or experience Lord of the Flies scenarios, because I’d rather not “be content” for groups of friends that play in this fashion. Especially if they’re talking on voice, I’m calling emotional leak into real world right there. Not feeding that sort of predatory desire. Other people are cool with it, cos that’s the whole premise of the survival game.)

Or that a game is in fact a safe place to harmlessly vent or release emotions and behaviors that they would not dream of expressing in real life, because games can be a form of escapism too.

I would, in fact, agree that it’s much safer and probably more preferable for someone to experiment with these things in a game, and get it out of their system that way, even if I might disagree and believe that it’s probably habituating them to behave in a more hostile and combative and domineering fashion, having learned that it’s a viable form of conflict resolution and practising it so regularly.

I would also agree that it’s in our mutual interests to BOTH have games that cater for our specific needs and values. Someone publicly acting like an ass in Guild Wars 2 will get promptly slapped around by the Anet GMs with a suspension or a ban. I have my safe place to game in. I see less trolls and griefers around in my game, while I still have PvP options that I enjoy and plenty of PvP here too.

They’ve got to have somewhere to go. Their safe place that allows them to enjoy themselves. If another game is brave enough to take them on and take their money, then who am I to demand that that game cater to me too? I’m busy over here in my game anyway. In fact, there’s a certain poetic justice in that those who share the same beliefs are spending time with each other, engaged in behavior they understand and find natural.

It may very well be that we find that one of us won’t play a particular game for whatever reason, but are perfectly fine playing another together.

In the same way, it may very well be in all our interests as gamers, to encourage a diversity of games – even those we won’t play personally – so that others may have places where -they- can play together.