April 21, 2004

Social problems in MMORPGs and first steps taken to correct them.

Players in massively multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG), while in artificial contructs that deal with fantasy and fictional elements, suffer many of the same social problems that occurr in real life.

There are mulitple categories that these type of players fit into. Nicholas Yee, who currently attends a Phd program at Stanford and has written many studies in MMORPG dynamics, has split players into four types using Bartles method.

"...a brief summary of Bartle's 4 Types:

- Achievers are driven by in-game goals, usually some form of points gathering - whether experience points, levels, or money.

- Explorers are driven to find out as much as they can about the virtual construct - including mapping its geography and understanding the game mechanics.

- Socializers use the virtual construct to converse and role-play with their fellow gamers.

- Killers use the virtual construct to cause distress on other players, and gain satisfaction from inflicting anxiety and pain on others." [Yee]

Yee also classifies the players further, sorting them into five key motivational factors; relationship, immersion, grief, acheivement, and leadership. These five factors represent the majority of the players intrests while in game.

Grief - these players are more easily referred to as scam artists or bullies. They enjoy taunting or killing other players simply because they can. Manipulating and deceiveing other players through clever schemes that bring in game monetary rewards or items are also aspects of this factor.

The majority of MMORPGs today allow a sort of free for all player versus player combat (PVP).

"Speed. One mistake in PvP combat just one can cost you your life. Combat can happen at any time." - Asherons Call

This basically means that any player, no matter what level or skill they are (except in a few cases), can attempt to kill another player for in game money, items or simply because they can. Some players take this concept too far and pick on other weaker players or players they have had negative experiences with, sometimes creating large groups (almost like lynch mobs) to gang up upon other solo players.

Some games have restrictions on this type of harassment. Everquest, one of the most popular MMORPGs, has specific rules for this type of interaction.

"Player v. Player (PvP) combat can occur between any characters that are within a 4 level limit. For instance, a level 45 person may attack or be attacked by anyone from level 41 through 49. There are no other PvP restrictions, such as Race or Alignment.

Characters will be immune to PvP combat until they have gained enough strength to survive the struggle. Characters below 6th level are not able to participate in PvP combat. As soon as a character 'dings' into 6th level, he or she will become PvP enabled.

Characters will not lose experience when killed in PvP combat, under most circumstances, although the occasional loss of experience is to be expected.

In the event that you kill or are killed by another player on this server, the loot rules are "Coin + 1 item". You may loot (or have looted from you) all coin on the corpse, plus an item. Items in bags, in a melee slot (primary, secondary, ranged, or ammo), or item marked NODROP may not be looted."

Another newer MMORPG, Star Wars Galaxies takes a unique approach to PVP. To initate conflict between two charcaters, both must agree to "duel" each other. Once a player has been "incapacitated" the winner can decide to "death blow" his|her immobile foe aka actually killing the character. Players who have been killed may be "cloned" at a nearby facility and have no negative effects, no loss of money, items or experience.

Another major social issue associated with MMORPGs is that of addiction. Some people find that their ingame life to be better than their real life and spend extensive amounts of time and money improving that character.

Yee writes "There are three main Attraction factors of MMORPGs that encourage time investment and personal attachment. One of these is the elaborate rewards cycle inherent in MMORPGs that works like a carrot on a stick. Rewards are given very quickly in the beginning of the game. You kill a creature with 2-3 hits. You gain a level in 5-10 minutes. And you can gain crafting skill with very little failure. But the intervals between these rewards grow exponentially fairly quickly. Very soon, it takes 5 hours and then 20 hours of game time before you can gain a level. The game works by giving you instantaneous gratification upfront and leading you down a slippery slope. And it overlays different reward cycles so you're always close to some reward - whether this be a level, a crafting skill, or a quest."

An interview with an Everquest player from Yees site:

"The rush of leaving yourself behind and being someone else, being able to do things without consequence, that is amazing. I think that is why I love RPGs, because you step outside of the real world and be whatever you want to be because that's what you like to be. Life without an RPG like EQ would suck. Always the same boring crap trying to climb the economic ladder. Meanwhile, on EQ your killing things and questing for awesome equipment, gaining experience and socializing with total strangers without the fear of being harmed by them. THAT is why I feel I am addicted."

A unique approach to solving this problem has been introduced by the creators of a soon to be released MMORPG entitled World of Warcraft. They propose a "rest state" in which your in game character is fully rested at the time you log on (and acheives this state after you have logged out of the game for 8 hours) and will loose this state becoming more and more tired as you spend more time in the game. As the charcater progresses and grows more tired, they do less and less damage to creatures and are generally less able to preform well in the game.

Posted by Ed Lohr at April 21, 2004 02:18 PM

Hay Ed, I wanted to let you know something about another MMORPG that has found away to elimante PvP combat. You probably remeber that I said I play Final Fantasy XI (FF11), will the programers made it so there is no PvP combat in this game. In other words you can't go and beat a up another player just to steal items from them. In this MMORPG it's all the players v. the beastmen. Players must work with ohter players in groups to combat the beastmen race and keep their territories free from the beatsmen. Not all players need to do this but in order to advance the story (yes there is even a story, with cut scenes, that unfolds as you do missions)players must get used to working together with other players to achieve common goals. I have never really liked PvP in MMORPG because there is always a bunch of "griefs" out there ruining the game for other people. Thats why I think MMORPGs should try doing what FF11 did so it makes everyone feel like they are part of a commuinty or nation that it working to keep peace in the world.

Posted by: Brendan Meany at April 23, 2004 01:59 PM

Hey Ed. Good post. After doing my research about the positive effects that video games can have, it's a bit startling to realize that there really is an extremely violent aspect of game playing. Although the good and the bad aspects do not have too much in common, I did notice that you discussed the four different types of players. I think that the people who choose to look at the positive effects of video games would use three of the four categories you mentioned: Achievers, explorers, and socializers. I'm glad you gave such an informative post because, like anything in life, it is always important to look at both sides of the story.

Posted by: Jamee at April 25, 2004 03:47 PM

Oh wow... that kind of hurts my paper, Ed. >.>

So, here's a question: do the games create the problems or the people? Because, in all reality, I'm having a very hard time imagining a game SO addictive that people kill over it. Maybe that's just me, but hey, there are some real sickos out there.

Posted by: RachelCrump at April 26, 2004 02:12 PM

I don't know if I should be writing here or not, but I hope you can give me some advice. I am the mother of a 14-year old boy. He's a great kid and doesn't give me any grief, except that I am very concerned over his non-stop playing of Final Fantasy XI. He's very shy and does not socialize at all in real life, he does whatever chores he's asked to do, but in about 1/16th of the time required because he has to rush back to the game. He won't take walks, play with his sister, or even eat with the family anymore because he has to run back to the game. In other words, he has no life other than whatever he has created in this game and I know that regardless how good he is as a son, this simply cannot be healthy, yet, I don't know what to do about it. He just began highschool on a scholarship and doesn't have any bad habits that I could point to as a problem, but what possible good could there be in his spending every free second on the computer, playing this game? He has no other interests and get's upset when I suggest joining a club, sports or virtually anything, and I know it's only because he doesn't want to miss any time on the computer. We've had a good relationship until now, but I know that once I start removing his time on the computer and forcing him to experience some real-life things as well, he will get very upset and become cold toward me, but I have to do something, what kind of mom would I be if I can plainly see that he's very addicted to this game and has no life outside of it, yet I let it continue because I don't want to rock the boat? I guess what I'm asking is if you could tell me any suggestions you might have as to how I can make this change with the least amount of uproar, and maybe even a clue into what is so intriguing about a game that can consume someone like this? I apologize if this isn't the site for this, but I'm at my wit's end and looking for help. Thanks so much, Anna Rendon

Posted by: Anna Rendon at September 18, 2004 05:03 PM

What have I gotten myself as a parent into! First I blame myself for allowing my son to play computer games! I had no idea how addictive the game could be! It started in middle school. My son used to have fun with his friends playing outside, fishing and traveling. Then one dim day my son and his friends wanted to play computer games. I thought computer games were no different than his X-Box,Playstation. God was I ever wrong! Talk about time comsuming. If I only knew I would have never let him get started on computer games! I am now working on him playing less hours. If this game were his homework, my son would recieve a scholarship to harvard. No one can tell me that playing this game is not time comsuming. No way could anyone have a family life or do their best in school playing these games. I would tell my son including himself, if everyone played as many hours as they all play, how do they manage to work, studing for school, have relationships with friends. I told him if I were the one playing these games, who would be making the money to buy anything, pay bills, clean the house, car, and feed the animals. I have a very hard time getting my son to go shopping, look for a new car, see a movie, travel.I told him what kind of life style could these people have. I told him the only thing he will end up in life having is a six pack of beer, a trailer, and a broken down car. Oh yes he will have his computer and games. Hope he can pay his monthly computer bills. I could kick myself for every starting this.But everyday I am working on less hours spent sitting in his chair talking with some real winners, It makes me sick to my stomach. The owners of these wonderful games are not sitting around on their butts. They are gathering up all their money and having great vacations with their families, I wonder if they allow their teenagers to play these games. Not giving up, I am determined to undo my Biggest Mistake as a Parent.

Posted by: Diana at January 9, 2006 11:42 PM

Diana (and Anna, if you ever happen to read this), I posted a long response on my blog.


Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 10, 2006 02:30 AM

I am sad to see the dismissal of PvP; as if it was a negative apect to gaming. Removing PvP is an idealistic mistake. PvP can teach friendly competition when applying regulations. As Brenda Laurel agrues in her book, Utopian Entrepreneur, by removing interactions like competition or popularity, games can lose relevance and relatability for the players. Games can teach proper sportsmanship which I believe games like Diablo and EQ are moving towards.

And Diana, not teaching moderation is all of society's biggest mistake.

Posted by: Stephan Puff at January 10, 2006 08:32 PM

In some cases I believe that their is a such thing as an unhealthy dependecy on video games, but you need to think about it from the teenager's perspective. Why does he/she like these games so much? Narrow that down first and foremost. Does your child have many friends? He is or she anti-social, or even shy? Does your child have low self-esteem? All of these elements can cause someone to see a game as their own reality even though we all know it is fantsy. The teen years are a difficult time for many people. Somtimes your child might feel like the only one they can depend on is the game itself, where they can become someone else.

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 12, 2006 09:36 AM

Leslie, is it a good thing or a bad thing if a teen feels he/she can depend on the game? Is it just an illusion of control, or does it really help the kid cope?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at January 12, 2006 10:46 AM

I would just like to voice my opinion on this matter. When I was a senior in high school, not even two years ago I did my senior thesis (kind of a final research paper) on this very topic. My side on this matter was that video games do not cause violence in adolescents. It was very hard to find scholary information on this topic because it is a new issue. However, I found creditable information and I still stand by my view.

As a sister of a video game 'addict' I see that the only violence that video games caused was his frustration with the game itself. It did and has not taken over his life. He has not become aggressive, he is actually quite mild mannered. He does have his fallback though but only at the game. I studied him during the progression of my thesis and I concluded that video games are addicting, there is no doubt (I have a little addiction to DK Country) but it wouldn't cause severe problems like taking virtual reality and making it reality unless there is a pre-existing problem. I found many studies (I don't have them offhand) that supported this theory and I feel that as this issue keeps growing there will be more researchers that agree with my conclusion.

Dr. Jerz, I would love to have you take a look at this paper when the semester begins. Although it is an amature attempt at an arguementative paper, I think you would find it rather interesting.

Posted by: Kayla Lukacs at January 13, 2006 01:05 AM

That one can go both ways. Helping him cope or feeding into his false illusion based world? Is his hold on reality slipping away even further? I'm no professional but I think games can help him cope to an extent, but in the end the only real healing has to be done with the parents of professional help.

Posted by: Leslie Rodriguez at January 13, 2006 11:29 AM

Diana, if you ever read this, please do not blame yourself for what your child does. I do not know you, but I can see that you have a genuine concern for your child. That is admirable. Not many parents care... many give up on their children.

I find that at this point in my life, I respect and stand amazed at everything my parents did for me. This may be a phase he is going through, I don't know for sure. I can't diagnose or solve family issues. But I can tell you that you are not alone in having family struggles.

Every family goes through difficult times--especially with adolescents in the house. Perhaps there is something in school making him want to be introverted. It may not even be emotional or social problems. Whatever it is--dont' give up. Continue talking with him about this matter.

We were all teenagers once and we know how hard it was to open up and talk about how we felt. Often times teens feel like people are always judging them (in psychology, that's teenage egocentrism and it's perfectly normal).

Teens (especially teenage boys) generally don't like to talk about what's bothering them or why they do what they do. It's important to talk about this, but even more important to listen.

I can also offer my encouragement. You can understand why he spends too much time on games and not enough time with his family. You can reach out to him. It takes time, patience and an open mind.

Keep talking to him about this. Tell him why you are concerned and give him a chance to talk. I hope this helps. Good luck. I hope your family comes together as a stronger one.

Posted by: Evan at January 13, 2006 06:11 PM
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