Will Hindmarsh, of the excellent game design discussion website GamePlayWright, posted the following excerpt from Jimmy Fallon's late night show. In the piece, sweet and innocent Felicia Day -- star of THE GUILD and Dr. Horrible (among other things) -- decides to help Jimmy Fallon in his quest to become a better MMORPG player. The bit is humorous, and was obviously intended to be, but it touches upon one of negative aspects of online gaming...that of the griefer -- the person who likes to run around killing n00bs.
Watch the video below to see if you catch what I am referring to.
Did you notice her reaction when Fallon mentioned that he called his character Davarnon? She shows an understandable amount of revulsion at the childish name (though it's better than Lothar of the Hill People -- see below -- an actual Mike Myers D&D character), but she also expresses that the name may be why Fallon is griefed so often when playing the game. The implication, from the limited representation of her gaming style in this video, is that she would have griefed him as well.
One of the major drawbacks of MMOs is the tendency of some players to take great enjoyment in killing new players over and over again...for laughs. As a gamer, it can get irritating when one is on the victim side of the equation, and we find of Player vs. Player action to be juvenile at best. MMO companies have yet to find good solutions to this style of play, as those who most enjoy it will pursue ways around any in game fixes. A famous example would be when Asheron's Call veterans, unable to attack less experienced characters directly, would antagonize some large beast, have it chase them, and then run by some newer player leaving the new players character crushed by the monstrosity.
The Fallon piece, and Hindmarch's comments, also makes clear the distinction between the fanciful suspension of disbelief of the new player and the pragmatic "assumed systemic" worldview of the veteran. The veteran seems to no longer be participating in a narrative fantasy simulation experience, rather they are viewing the experience through the rational systems underlying the mechanical functions of the game universe. This usually occurs gradually as the experienced player discovers the limitation of the given simulation and adapts their expectations to suit the mechanical framework. In a computer simulation, this is the only possible response, other than complaining to the programmers to expand the scope of the simulation.
One of the advantages of table top gaming is that it need not suffer from this problem. If a table top game's systems cannot emulate a given desired narrative situation, the players and game master can make up the difference through player interaction or Game Master fiat. This can be one of the more rewarding experience in a table top game, the crafting of new rules on the fly. You cannot do that in a computer simulation, you must accept the systemic framework you are given.
The jadedness of such limitations may be partially explanatory for the griefing phenomenon, but given Felicia's recent tweets regarding a D&D game she is playing in as a Death Knight...I am thinking that she vents her frustrations on the console/gaming table. That's something that both tabletop and computer based gaming can offer...stress relief.
It breaks our heart to think that Felicia Day might be a cruel griefer, we'll chalk it all up to stress relief.
Michelle Nephew has some words about role taking in gaming environments in her dissertation, we'll have to pull that out for a post on role playing as wish fulfillment on a later post.