Silkroad Society

This Joymax press release on multiplayer games, virtual societies, and Asian culture, landed in my inbox the other day:

Joymax, an independent developer and publisher of interactive entertainment for the global market, today announced the launch of a third “Clean Campaign” for historical fantasy MMORPG Silkroad Online. During the event, which will run until April 6, users are encouraged to unite against verbal abuse in-game and come up with ways that Joymax can encourage good manners in the Silkroad Online community.

Joymax hopes that the event will remind players that their behavior in-game doesn’t just reflect upon their own character, it also reflects upon the character of their community and country. A large team of people has worked hard to make Silkroad Online the most welcoming world it can possibly be, and they ask that players around the globe help them ensure it continues to be a fantastic destination for online adventuring. [Emphasis mine]

I came into MMOs from MUDs, where the object of the game was to textchat with other people. Players spent the entire game was typing complete sentences into the chatchannel, and reading what other players had written, and interacting with other players. (Of course, it wasn’t called a chat channel, it was called an online game. Also, we had to walk to school in the snow. Uphill both ways. But we had boots, I mean, I’m not that old.)

But it’s hard to play any MMO now without dealing with some chatchannel aggression and rudeness. It’s just a function of the anonymity of the internet, the same mindset that creates nasty blog comments or forum posts. There are, of course, many great players, many friendships and relationships that come from ingame chat, and guilds full of fun and helpful discussions, but there’s also a strong streak of general rudeness. (Wait, maybe I am that old. Kids today and their lack of manners!)

Joymax is a Korean developer, which explains the Asian focus on community and face in this press release about curbing chatspam. At the risk of falling into blanket east-west stereotyping, I doubt that many American players will lay off the Chuck Norris jokes to improve the impression of Americans abroad.

But in-game behavior does reflect on nationality. When I was playing WoW from Yantai, I picked a username that took full advantage of my fledgling Chinese, but I eventually deleted the character because I was sick of Barrens chatters calling me a Chinese farmer. And I don’t know if chatchannel politeness will charge American gamers’ view of Chinese gamers —  it’s hard for good party members from China to cancel out the impressions left by auction halls full of farmed gold.

Pointing out that chat channels are full of abusive comments is just stating the obvious. Joymax is also looking for suggestions.

Talking about Asian games, internet usage and campaigns for better manners immediately brings to mind the harmonization of the Chinese internet. There was a movement in China to force internet users to register with their full names to make people accountable for their online actions. Obviously this had more to do with netizens causing political unrest or talking about three certain T-words, than gaming. I don’t think games have to take such a hard line, but I imagine that interacting online using one’s full name would also create a more polite, more responsible, more – dare I say it? – harmonious internet society.

Using a full name, like requiring a chat channel moderator, seems to force some accountability into in-game interaction. But it also seems to suck some of the escapist enjoyment from an MMO.

The new MMO Fallen Earth dumps new players into Help chat by default. It helps keep newbies from clogging up general chat asking where the trainers are, or how to open their inventories, which in turn prevents the annoyance for long-term players when the millionth new player ask where to buy recipes or how to repair armor.

This is also a moderated channel, which may explain why a player can ask how to activate autorun without the usual chat channel response from a half dozen wits suggesting CRTL-ALT-DEL. But is a moderator the only choice? I’m embarrassed to think that the only way gamers will be decent to other people who share the same hobby is if there’s a moderator watching.

Some open-ended adventure games, like Morrowind, offer a reputation value. As your character rescues innocent peasants and helps cats down from trees, he’s treated like a hero by the local NPCs. And, if a character commits heinous murders or thefts, he’s greeted with fear and NPC guards might even come to punish him. Perhaps some way to link chatchannel behavior with ingame reputation — merchants find you rude and overcharge you, for example — would encourage chat room politeness without breaking the illusion.

What would you do to encourage more friendly chatting, without ruining the escapism fun of MMOs?

You can find the full text of the press release here: Joymax Prepares to Clean Up Dirty Mouths in Fantasy MMORPG Silkroad Online

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0 Responses to Silkroad Society

  1. threegee says:

    The only way to clean up the internet is to make it as boring as the real world. Like you say, enforce real names, as well as provide no incentive for trouble-makers to ever appear. It doesn’t make for a very good game, though.

    No surprise, but people (ie, me and a handful of others) have spent a great deal of time figuring out how large-scale rpgs work. The intro paper on the topic was written by Bartle (yes, that Bartle):

    And I’m jealous of your boots. Damn kids.

  2. Meg says:

    I know you can force good behavior/clean language with Dire Consequences, but I was more wondering if there’s any way to encourage not being a total jerk online. Or maybe too many people use MMOs as an outlet for the things they can’t say at work/school/in offline relationships/etc.

  3. threegee says:

    Reputation. The problem is that any system strong enough to deal with troublemakers can be gamed to grief people who have done nothing wrong. The only real solution is to present an environment where griefing is pointless, but whatever that environment might be, it certainly isn’t an MMO. It doesn’t help that almost every single MMO ever made–especially the Asian ones–has been a DikuMUD, the very worst sort of MUD in terms of player behavior.

  4. threegee says:

    I feel I should clarify. A mature community benefiting from moderation can weather griefer attacks. Moderation removes the worst, most blatant offenders, proving that community standards really do exist. This is usually the stumbling block, as the whole point of an MMO is to maximize subscriptions while minimizing labor. Meanwhile, a mature community does not react to provocation, negating the value of griefing. Both are rare conditions, but theoretically, it can work.

    In Bartle-speak, explorers limit killers for two reasons: 1) they are unconcerned by occasional griefing, and 2) they are better at it. Of course, MMOs are notoriously infertile grounds for explorers, so that option is impractical.

    Of course, to the extent that general rudeness does not constitute griefing, there is simply a culture-clash. Young men test their boundaries. Modern society deals with this biological fact through the massive application of drugs. Moderation and maturity are the more traditional cures.

  5. Meg says:

    If the player base is a helpful, friendly, mature, fun community, it encourages new people to participate in that kind of interaction, but this seems to work better in guilds or in-game social groups (i suppose you could see that as self-moderated) than with the game as a whole. I don’t know how to start an MMO of only friendly people, and I don’t know how you’d maintain that while encouraging new subscriptions.

    Or is it just that so many people need the faceless internet (this would include blog and forum trolls in with RPG griefers) as the outlet for all the things you can’t say at work/school/etc?

    There’s also a big overlap between Asian and free-to-play MMOs. Free things have a lower perceived value to consumers, regardless of actual production quality (which is a whole other question) so users might be less inclined to treat other users well, seeing the other players as part of the valueless game. Of course, a game that’s too expensive suffers from a different kind of chat moaning (“I’m paying $15 a month for this and I found a bug! This game sucks! And you suck, too, for playing it!”)

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