PvP and Gamer Culture

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.

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7 Responses to PvP and Gamer Culture

  1. Slan says:

    Amazing how some things never change. I experienced this hand-wringing moralizing for years in coh and here

    it is again. some general comments:

    1. “no real world equivalent for open-world pvp” Wrong. Open world pvp is essentially open warfare, and game narratives usually support this. You aren’t required to kill enemy players, but it certainly makes sense thematically. If a jedi spotted a sith burning down a rebel base, they would be expected to do
    something about it, no?

    2. Ganking. Pvpers generally use this term to describe a decisive killing of another player under unfair circumstances. Typically a group getting the jump on a hapless individual. Here you describe an encounter in a Halo match where one indivdual kills somebody who was apparently unprepared–so the attacker is henceforth described as a “ganker”. What was he supposed to do, approach the enemy from the front and slap them in the face with a white glove?

    This is where it turns ugly: the victim respawns and kills the other person over and over for something like 2 minutes (!!!) of a 5 minute match. Oh the humanity. This is definitely something that should not be tolerated–that somebody’s fun would be negatively impacted for two whole minutes. What was the person on
    the receiving end supposed to do? Join another match? Take a short break? Learn not to taunt his opponents? Get better gear or a better strategy? I guess the correct answer is that they shouldn’t do anything–the whole open-world pvp dynamic should be
    removed so that some people won’t suffer the ignominy of being on the receiving end of the same treatment they dole out endlessly to npc mobs.

    3. “Don’t sit here and tell me it’s ok because I signed up to be on a pvp server. That doesn’t make it okay.”

    Yes it does. Grow up and take some damn responsibility for your actions. If you’re so traumatized by getting inconveniently killed in a pvp zone, go to those places the devs have set up specifically for you. Don’t issue a call to have a certain type of gameplay removed because you can’t follow this simple guideline for whatever reason.

    4. Your summation of coh pvp. Again, wrong. I played coh from launch and I was a dedicated pvper as soon as it became part of the game. Pvp in coh was broken in many ways but it was by for the funnest pvp experience of any MMO I’ve played. Of course, the whole time there were non-pvpers who said the pvp sucked and that
    nobody was doing it, despite an extremely dedicated pvp base that ran their own events with virtually no support or fixes from the developers. There was a core group of pve-ers that didn’t want pvp in the game, resented it’s existence, and badmouthed it for the duration. Sadly, these were the people the devs tried to
    cater to–so over time the pvp got worse rather than better.

    The rest of it is just typically baseless slander aimed at turning people away from a type of gameplay you don’t like.

  2. LockOn says:

    Okay, so first of all, my apologies for not getting this comment up as soon as it was posted. As you might guess, I get a ton of spam comments and moderating them is just not that high on my list right now. So, sorry Slan. Now, let’s get to some of what you said.

    1. First of all, I didn’t say there was no real world equivalent to open-world PvP. I said there was no real world equivalent to ganking. As for real world equivalents to open-world PvP, I can think of some sports games, or war-games even, but I wouldn’t really link open-world PvP to open warfare under any circumstances, personally. As to your Sith, Jedi comment, I suppose that’s true, unless the Jedi was on a mission of higher importance then protecting the Rebel Base, or suppose the Sith was way more powerful then the Jedi and all engaging would do would end up with the Jedi dead. Those are just a few scenarios I can think of that would easily buck that expectation.

    2. I suppose calling someone engaged in a Halo death match a ganker IS inappropriate. I’ll concede this point, and it’s not the greatest example of ganking, nor was I trying to really use it as one. So, my bad for muddying my message on this one. But you miss the point of where I was going with this. What should the person have done? We know what he did. That person who lost out on his 2 minutes of fun? “Oh the humanity,” yes I know. He reported the other dude. He involved an outside 3rd party to try and punish his heckler for his “aggressive behaviour.” Irony, yes? My larger question about how a GM should adjudicate such a scenario was just ignored, which is okay. As far as suffering what gets doled out to NPC’s, well NPC’s don’t care if you abuse them. But people sure do.

    3. “Grow up and take some damn responsibility for your actions.” Or put another way: Life is unfair, and it’s your fault you keep letting me murder you over and over. Yeah, I guess the Lincoln quote just sailed over your head. Don’t worry, it did for everybody else too.

    4. This 4th point is an opinion about the state of PvP in City of Heroes. It is different from my own and while I don’t share it, I’m not going to sit here and tell you your opinion is wrong, because it’s an opinion and that would be dumb.

    So I’m just engaging in “hand-wringing moralizing?” Never mind the whole thesis of my article about how bad behaviour in-game is leading to bad behaviour in real life. No comments about that thesis or the possibility of it being true or anything, huh?

    Okay though, I’ll play this game. Despite the missed point, I’ll take this bait. Yes, I am moralizing. I’m moralizing that unfair and bad behaviour is bad and shouldn’t be allowed. I’ve got no problem taking that stance. I don’t think that really makes me a subversive radical. Bear in mind though, that you don’t get to make this argument in a vacuum. If I’m moralizing hardcore for an end to ganking, you’re moralizing for the opposite of that just as hard. I want to end a behaviour that I think is unhealthy and leads to negative results in real life. And you want to defend this behaviour, why? Because it isn’t “real?” Because it doesn’t have a negative effect on the real world? Because life is unfair and some people just need to suck it up? How cynical. I don’t choose to live in that kind of world or hold those kinds of beliefs. And that is why I will push for a better world and better games.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my post Slan. Despite my opposite stance, I do appreciate the dialogue and I hope that you will not take anything I’ve said, personal. Thanks for visiting my site and reading my work.

  3. Slan says:

    I didn’t address your thesis because you did nothing to substantiate it. I didn’t even get past your vague references to ganking and bad behavior because they don’t make any sense. You’re condemning other players for using open world pvp as it was intended. If you don’t like that style of gamplay, just don’t enter into it. It’s that simple. It’s not about life being unfair–it’s about the game developers providing a certain type of gameplay to the playerbase that enjoys it. You’re like a boxer that signs up for a fight, climbs into the ring, and then tries to get the other fighter charged with assault once he takes a hit. Let me remind you:

    YOU ARE NOT ACTUALLY GETTING MURDERED OVER AND OVER AGAIN. And unlike an actual murder victim, you are free to leave at any time.

    With regard to the thesis that “bad and unfair” gameplay leads to bad behavior in real life, you argue that it may be possible and then jump right to the conclusion that the connection is strong and that it warrants removal of Open world pvp from games. With no intermediate steps. Apparently, that’s how you feel and that’s supposed to be evidence enough.

    This type of argument is nothing new. Its an established feature of a certain conservative ideology that blames societal ills on the presumed decay of moral values brought on by music, television, movies, and now video games. There have been decades of political posturing over this issue with no conclusive evidence one way or another.

  4. LockOn says:

    So you’re right. There is no conclusive evidence that gaming culture has a poor reputation due to the allowance of ganking. Specifically ganking and not open-world PvP, which I thought I’ve made clear multiple times now that I have no particular issue with. But I suppose it’s difficult to unlink one from the other, despite my carefully worded caveats.

    But it’s not like you’d actually care if there were hard scientific evidence backing up my thesis one way or another. And I’m not looking for hard scientific evidence either. I don’t really need to. I’m not really trying to prove anything. All I’m trying to do is point out the surprisingly similar behaviours I see in the worst instances of gaming culture in public (on the internet) and the behaviour of gankers online. I’m also taking a stand and trying to discourage those behaviours, as I think they help to contribute to the poor reputation of gaming culture at large.

    PvP is not the issue, ganking is the issue. The two are not linked together naturally, even in open-world PvP.

    But I do have to jump on you here and say you’re not always free to leave at any time. Dev teams are notorious for slapping a PvP zone down in between PvE point A and PvE point B. Also, devs who drop PvE content into the middle of a PvP zone in an attempt to “draw people in” is another problem. These are arguably bad design decisions on the part of the devs, but your answer that I’m free to leave at any time is inoperable. How does that help the player just trying to get from point A to point B? Or someone who’s just trying to finish a quest? Do what we do or GTFO is not an answer that works.

    But again, you’re right. There is no hard evidence. So I guess that makes it okay then right? Because bad behaviour is allowed, that makes it okay. You’re not hurting anyone, really. Right? Nobody’s looking. The devs have allowed it, so it’s okay to engage in bad behaviour. Bad behaviour is bad…except when it isn’t. Right? Right. Glad we worked that one out.

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