So, I had been planning to post some thoughts on PvP for a while. Today, I saw this article from DJ Enigma and have now managed to pull my thoughts together on the matter. Go read the article. It’s short. I’ll wait because we’re going to talk about it quite a bit here.
Gaming culture as a whole, is in a bad place right now. Whether it deserves its bad reputation or not, it’s time to start owning up to it and figuring out how to deal with it. One of the commenters to that article wrote something that I thought was worth elevating, so here it is in full:
Oct 10, 2013
The colloquial definition of “gamer” as a video game enthusiast isn’t different than the one Chris (DJ Enigma) is using–like it or not, everyone who plays video games shares a common thread with the assholes on reddit and we all play our part in shaping gamer culture. Both gaming enthusiasts’ and gaming outsiders’ perceptions of video game hobbyists are influenced by the assholes. They shape how others see us and how we see ourselves.
Whether you like it or not, if you tell your boss you play video games, he or she will think less of you as a result of the stereotype fueled by misbehaving gamers. It doesn’t matter whether or not you act like a dick online, the gaming culture environment is such that it nurtures and encourages assholes both online and offline, and that reflects on gaming hobbyists as a whole.
In many ways this is unfair, but frankly whether by indifference or by choice you and I have both played some minuscule role in shaping the institution to be this way. The actions of miscreants reflects on us, and it falls partially on us to engender a culture that discourages such behavior. You can’t just say “well, I’m not one of those assholes” and wipe hands of it. Those people affect you.
So, how do we go about engendering a culture that discourages bad behavior? Well, first it might be helpful to think a bit about where that bad behavior comes from. Where are these bad actors in gaming culture? Who are they? What do they do? Where do they play? What kind of behaviors do they exhibit that make the culture so toxic? This last one is, sadly, quite easy to catalog. We know that bad gamers engaging in these behaviors tend to be:
- A minority of all gamers, but a vocal one that is loud enough to generally obscure their numbers and get a disproportionate piece of attention focused on them, despite their small size.
- They’re elitist.
- They’re misogynist.
- They’re coddled by a game industry that would rather go for the short term cash grab and appeal to these bad actors, than spend the time and effort growing a more inclusive, long term, and healthy culture.
Now, I don’t know any gamers in gaming culture like this personally. I tend not to associate with people who behave this way. And I’m pretty sure most of my gamer friends don’t behave like this either. But, when I think about it, there is a sub-culture of gamers that I’ve had the displeasure to interact with, who exhibit almost duplicate behaviors as mentioned above, in the actual games themselves.
Yes, I’m going there.
I’m talking about PvP’ers.
Now let’s get our definitions worked out first. I’m not talking about people who play in matched PvP, or tournament PvP. I’m also not talking about event-driven PvP, or even e-sports. The kind of PvP’ers that I see that exhibit the above behaviors (and they exhibit them in-game almost exactly) are unregulated open world PvP’ers. People who engage in the old reliable PvP art form of ganking.
Gankers and ganking are a way of life in any online video game, whether it’s console or PC, where open world play can occur. Some players will actively work at learning how to gank as effectively as possible, and some player just can’t pass up a “golden opportunity” when they see one. And it’s horrid, wretched, behavior. There is no real-life analog for it, because if you engaged in similar behaviors in real life, you’d be thrown in jail. Most people being ganked are either engaged in an activity in the game (hunting/gathering/questing), or simply traveling from point A to point B. They’re not actively engaged in PvP, and not actively engaged in looking for a fight. And most who get ganked, end up being forced to do over some bit of questing or more likely lose travel time and are generally just inconvenienced.
Inconvenience may not seem like much, but when you’re trying to enjoy a game and you can’t because someone won’t leave you alone, things become problematic. And all the activity that players engage in because of ganking, tends to just make the situation worse. Corpse camping, retaliation, and teaming up against solo players all contribute to the problem. A story was related to me recently about a ganker. This ganker killed his victim (Did I mention they’re always male?) in a Halo match, shooting him from behind, and then tea-bagged his corpse (you can look that one up yourselves). The ganking victim then got up and in that 5 minute match, proceeded to kill the ganker 23 times, going so far as to avoid easy kills to go after the ganker. When the match was over, the ganker reported the victim for “aggressive behavior.” And here’s the thing. The ganker was right. In a 5 minute halo match, respawning can take anywhere from 5 to 9 seconds. That’s a minute and 55 seconds of time the ganker spent respawning, at minimum, while the victim was exacting his revenge. Almost half the ganker’s play time was spent dying or recovering from dying.
So who do you penalize in the above situation? The ganker was clearly being a jerk and deserved some kind of retribution for his bad behavior. But then the victim turned his revenge against the ganker into a virtual blood sport. Everyone in that story behaved badly. But this kind of behavior is actively encouraged in the online sphere. And as long as it continues to be permitted, it will have ramifications on the culture at large.
I can’t sit here and prove any correlation to the percentage of people that are dragging down the culture versus the percentage of people who do open world PvP. But I see the connection and I think most of you can too. Engaging in negative behavior online is adversely affecting the culture offline. This happens in other aspects of our lives as well. Anonymity tends to breed bad behavior. You see it in the motorists on the road cutting people off, simply for the fact that they can’t see what they’re doing to real people, thanks to dark window glass.
You could try to remove the anonymity from gankers. Perhaps developers could provide some kind of meter to let players know that a person is a ganker, or even attach their account name, or real name to their avatar. But none of these solutions gets to the real problem. The real problem is that as long as bad behavior is allowed by both gamers and developers themselves, then bad behavior will continue. And then it just feeds on itself until it spills out into the real world, as we see it doing so now.
The only way to end the problem, is to end ganking. And the only way to end ganking, is to end open world PvP.
It’s just not socially acceptable behavior. It shouldn’t be encouraged and it shouldn’t be rewarded. Gankers don’t engage in this behavior to improve their score. They do it for the thrill of the kill. They do it because they can. It’s not something that we condone in real life and it’s not something we should condone in our online lives either. Don’t sit here and tell me it’s okay because I signed up to be on a PvP server. That doesn’t make it okay. It’s just an attempt to blame me for your shitty actions against me. “A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, with ‘stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer.'”
I’m not going to sit here and blame developers for allowing this kind of behavior in the past. To be fair, the industry is young and we’re still trying to figure out what’s good and what’s bad. Developers initially allowed PvP because it seemed like an excellent way to make the game more difficult without having to figure out the very hard AI questions. And there are many forms of PvP that are fun and can actually improve a gaming community. But it’s time to stop pretending that this isn’t affecting our culture. And it’s time to ask the developers to step up and stop it. There’s proof that online games can survive just fine without open world PvP. City of Heroes did it for years. To be fair, PvP in CoH was awful and the community as a whole avoided it like the plague. But there are other mainstream game developers out there right now who are shunning PvP until they can figure out how to do it right. I think a huge component of getting it right is realizing that allowing any kind of environment that permits ganking will create a culture within your game that is negative. You open up your game to the worst elements of our culture, and allow those elements to engage in consequence-free, unethical behavior. Nothing good will come of that.
Is it possible that unregulated PvP and ganking is encouraging bad behavior by gamers in our culture? Yes.
Is it possible that unregulated PvP and ganking is contributing to gaming culture’s poor image? Yes.
Not all PvP’ers are sociopathic jerks who are bringing down our culture. But it’s time to stop pretending that ganking and the large communities that tend to grow up around it aren’t affecting us as a group. It’s easy to sit and say it’s consequence free. It’s not the real world. We don’t engage in this behavior in real life, so why not cut loose and have some fun? The Grand Theft Auto games are huge sellers. Surely there’s room for this kind of gaming in our culture.
Simply put. No. If you allow bad behavior, you encourage bad behavior. And if we’re going to build a culture that is positive and inclusive, we have to stop it. It’s time to grow up a little and stop pretending that this bad behavior is okay, just because it isn’t real. There are hit and run victims I can introduce you to, who will tell you it’s quite real. There are gun violence victims I can introduce you to, who will tell you it’s quite real. And there are some feminists with death threats I can introduce you to, who will tell you it’s quite real. And it’s time to stop it.
P.S. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the GTA series later, but any game that encourages you to murder a prostitute, who’s just screwed you to restore your health, is bad for you too.