Ragged Clown

It's just a shadow you're seeing that he's chasing…


Constraining vs Enabling in Video Games

[I wrote this months ago. Posting it now (unfinished) to clear out my backlog – ed]

A little while ago, a bunch of us went to see Nick Yee give a presentation about Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs) at PARC. Over a beer afterwards, we discussed one of my favourite MMO topics and were neatly divided down the middle on the subject.

The topic concerns bad behaviour by other players in the game and what the developers should do about it. The bad behaviour in question might be stealing or killing or scamming or any number of other things that would annoy other players. But not cheating. We are all agreed that cheating – causing lag to gain an advantage in the fight, using a bug or exploit to create gold or any number of other ways of gaming the system – sucks.

One side, who happen to play rather a lot of MMOs, said that it is the developer’s responsibility to prevent such bad behaviour. The other side, who don’t play so much any more and includes me, claim that the developers should enable the other players to prevent such behaviour.

Broadly speaking, the first group want to narrow the rules of the game to make bad behaviour impossible. The second group want to expand the rules of the game so the players can create their own systems of justice – their own rules, ther own morality – within the game. Martin Fowler calls these attitudes enabling attitudes and directing attitudes.

The ones who play might claim (and do claim) that they have won the argument by the very fact that they play the games in question – but there is a self-fullfilling prophesy at work. The games are targetted at a particular market and those outside the market simply stop playing.