Social Morals

Social morals, or social etiquette to a lesser extent, play an important role in MMORPGs. Most people never realise it – some even downright deny it – but almost everything we do in a MMO revolves around the game world society and interacting with others. Even if you only solo, eventually you will buy something from the Auction House or bump into another player doing the same quest as you at the same time.

Most human beings live by a moral code and conform to the spoken and unspoken rules of society without thinking about them or questioning it. MMORPGs are fabricated worlds with very little real life influence so the rules of society are a lot easier to bend. People can say nasty thing, act like jerks and generally screw people over without having to face any real world consequences. Insult an Orc in World of Warcraft and he might type something back on his keyboard. Insult someone in real life and they might punch you in the face.

Ironically though, this lack of consequences doesn’t stop the majority of players from following a code and acting on their social morals. It also doesn’t diminish socialising and social morals within the game and they become exceedingly more important the more you play. If you’re in a group in an instance, there is actually technically nothing stopping anyone from rolling on an item you need just to spite you. Same goes for raids. Even with DKP systems, there is no game play mechanic which automatically assigns your share of the loot to you depending on performance – you are the mercy of the social morals of the guild leader to distribute the loot according to an agreed measure. If they decide to bugger off with the loot, well that’s their choice and it may result in negative peer pressure but it’s still entirely possible.

Social morals and etiquette were particularly important in older MMORPGs like Everquest where they didn’t have any sort of loot mechanics or target tagging. Ninja looting was a commonly used term (I even had a friend who specialised in it) and the only thing that prevented it was the social code that people conformed to. Same goes to Need Before Greed looting (most groups used to decide on a loot method before they set out and then expect everyone to stick to it), camping, raid loot and even forming groups that lasted a set amount of time to make it worthwhile.

MMORPGs require society and social interaction. Every player is at the mercy of the social morals of others and every player helps enforce the expected code of conduct through peer pressure. The bottom line is that there are no mechanical systems that control the entire game for us and really, if there was, who would honestly want it? Part of the point of MMORPGs is there society and interaction with others. It’s whats them fun, fascinating and sometimes frustrating.

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  1. Beej says:

    I worry about the future of MMORPGs. With more of an inclusion of casual and solo play (which I am all for), there is also introduced a penchant for players to behave more selfishly because their actions will solely benefit them and cause no consequences. In most MMOs today, a blacklist doesn’t matter. In the first EQ, being blacklisted could mean your character never gains any more XP. The social stigma of being a jerk is protected by the anonymity of the internet and negatively reinforced by game mechanics.

    I am working on a post myself regarding a similar topic of internet anonymity and why some games (or subcultures within a game like WoW PvP) train people to exclude anything new or slightly non-conformist.

  2. Gordon says:

    As I get older (heh, funny saying that) I definitely favour casual and solo play more and more. 5 years ago I easily had the time to play EQ for 4 hour sessions but now it’s a lot harder because of my work and wife… and it’s only going to get tougher. Ironically though, it seems that newer games like Darkfall which promote the ’sandbox’ style of play actually have very poor etiquette and a lot of cheating in them. Now contrast that to EQ, in which you could really screw people over by ninja loot or by running trains through dungeons, and it was a lot less socially acceptable.

  3. Debby says:

    The true measure of a person is how they behave when they think no one is looking. Is one honest because they fear they’ll be caught or are they honest because it is the morally right way to behave? The anonymous nature of the internet allows people to follow their instincts with little or no consequence and this brings out the worst in some.

  4. Tesh says:

    Beej, casual, solo and short session play (all different things) didn’t make a blacklist irrelevant, devs just dropped it, probably because it could be abused. Even being “blackspotted” in Puzzle Pirates is a temporary thing (though repeat offenders are flagged for ban review) specifically to keep it from being abused. (Also, those who indiscriminately wield the blackspot power are often called to task.) It’s theoretically nice to give power to players to police their servers, in a way, but practically, players will abuse whatever power you give them. Blacklists can be griefing tools, which is probably why they fell out of use.

    I do think that there’s room for a blacklist still, and wish we’d see more of it, but it would have to be on the back end. It’s not mutually exclusive with short session/casual/solo play. (Also, if the penalty of being a jerk is more than a perpetual /generalmute, it might be useful.) Say, a player who gets muted a lot gets flagged for review, and chatlogs are archived for the GMs. Sufficient abuse of chat earns a ban with no appeal, since it’s all part of the record. (There could be other metrics, too, like emote usage patterns.)

    MMO providers could do that already, without any sort of public blacklist. Smart devs probably do.

    Then again, “Barrens chat” is a common term for a reason. Some devs just don’t police their community, or don’t police it well, and in the absence of enforcement, there will be abuses.

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