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Professor Studies Social Customs in Video Games - Becomes Most Hated Player (nola.com)
50 points by TallGuyShort on July 6, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments

He believes it proved that, even in a 21st century digital fantasyland, an ugly side of real-world human nature pervades, a side that oppresses strangers whose behavior strays from that of the mainstream

Wait wait - so he knowingly violated all social norms, despite gentle attempts to correct him, and that proves there is an ugly side to fantasyland? It would have been more interesting if he had done something non-mainstream that did not impact on other players and seen if it would have gotten any abuse.

After all this is the essence of tolerance in real life - nobody expects you to be tolerant towards people who are shooting you; tolerance comes from a "live and let live" approach. Investigating the equivalent of that online would have been interesting, but it is not what he did here.

What he did here was the equivalent of say, farting in your face because it is "within the rules" (i.e. not illegal) and then act surprised when this made him socially excluded.


What he did (in game) was very simple. There's this PvP zone, Heroes come from one side, Villains come from the other side. Each side is protected by instant-kill bots/drones, like any other mmorpg, certain areas are protected by bots so enemies (PvE or PvP) don't come to close, to protect the lower level players or who just appeared.

Apparently he sat close to one of his faction's drone, targetted an enemy player, and teleported the enemy close to him, causing an instant drone kill.

Now, something like this happening once or twice is a PITA, but the article gives the impression that he did to several players, in the course of many, many weeks. It was probably very boring for him too, since drone kills usually don't give any reward.

What I find strange, the whole thing is a textbook example of griefing, and the CoH/V admins didn't do anything to stop him. Sure, it was inside the game mechanics, but a complete distortion of any intended PvP design.

Also, a little map rearrangement or some kind of "when teleported by an enemy, the player is immune to drone kills during 10 seconds" power change should have stopped this form of griefing completely.

Which makes me think, if the admins and devs didn't do anything, this whole thing was way less destructive than the professor wants us to believe. Either not much people complained, or he did stop when/if an admin asked him to.

I think the point of the article was not that he earned a bad reputation for griefing - it was more that people reverted to a rather medieval behaviour when confronted with such a situation. Earning a bad reputation and being denounced as a pedophile are two entirely different things.

If someone farts in your face repeatedly and you go on to punch them or harass them in any way that is considered inappropriate by society, would you say that your actions were 'justified?' To me, that would seem rather biblical, in the negative sense: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.

So the point is: we're still in the biblical era of social behaviour: if someone harasses us, we harass back. Though I wouldn't know how to respond 'properly' and in a 'civilized' fashion to such a situation, even though I'm an online gamer myself. In WoW, there's the anti-social practice of 'corpse-camping' someone, and thus killing them repeatedly. In such cases I just log off and play an alt, and let the camper waste his time.

If someone farts in your face repeatedly and you go on to punch them or harass them in any way that is considered inappropriate by society, would you say that your actions were 'justified?'

Call me "biblical," but where I'm from farting in a grown man's face will get you punched in your own face, repeatedly, in a highly civilized manner.

[edit: formatting]

And if we want to go New-Testament, we can make some "cheeky" puns about how to respond.

I gathered that people did try to use civilized means to get him to stop. He didn't. That people escalated doesn't really bother me.

Also, "medieval behavior" would be actual, physical harm. I think it's worth noting that no one escalated it beyond the online realm.

> What he did here was the equivalent of say, farting in your face because it is "within the rules" (i.e. not illegal) and then act surprised when this made him socially excluded.

I am pretty sure I could obtain a legally binding restraining order against someone who kept doing this to me.

In meatspace there are police officers and judges who will interpret the law to stop people from causing trouble. There's also the threat of physical violence.

Prof Myers found an environment where he was safe from punishment, and started griefing. People got mad.

Wow, annoy people and they get mad. Great study. You've really advanced science with this one!

Well of course it is defensible to study what happens when you get people mad. For example I read a great account of a social anthropologist who queue-jumped on purpose to study how (English) people dealt with it. But the scientist queue jumping knew she was doing something wrong (and felt terrible doing it too).

The strange thing is that in this account (which I hope is misrepresented) the researcher seems surprised that violating the social norm got him a hostile reaction.

The queue jumping sounds like Kate Fox, she talks about it in _Watching the English_ but I wouldn't be surprised to see it written up elsewhere too.

http://archive.thenorthernecho.co.uk/2004/5/3/53732.html is the best link I could find quickly.

It was Kate Fox. I would have plugged the book (which is funny and thought-provoking reading) but I don't know how many people here are interested in the English tribe :-)

What he tried to prove is something that each one of us already know but don´t have how to do. The "evolution" of humanity is restricted to some specific sectors, like technology, biological and so on. But when it comes to internal evolution, specific about how to treat different people, we still being the same shit ever. Two thousand years, forty ... don´t matter.

An simple example. I´m from Brazil (sorry by my poor english) ... and i play World of Warcraft as well. On the game, one of the social rules (no legal rules) is to talk in english. No problem. We do our best and it´s good to practice another language sometimes. BUT ... when we meet other brazilian folks and start talking in portuguese close to american guys ... all the hell start. They (not everybody off course) tend to offend us, our country and start saying a lot of bad things of us. We don´t take it personal, most part of the time, but it´s very weird because the tolerance to out of box things (like another idioms) and the treatment to those who make things in the "wrong" way is far too bad. I´m not saying that the scientist was correct, even us who talks in portuguese, but the reaction and the self control of the average human still being to naive. And, i think, he proves it very well.

I wrote about this in a different section. I'm with you here.

People takes things too personally. From the article, I never got the sense that the Professor was taking this personally (he shouldn't, he is conducting a study). He wasn't deliberately aggravating other people: he was ignoring the social customs.

In you and your friends case, it is even more ambiguous. What you do doesn't directly harm someone, neither physically in the real world, or virtually in WoW. And as you said, you don't take it personally ... it seems though, a number of people do.

I find the professor's conclusions a bit clueless. He was essentially a griefer. He saw himself as someone who was persecuted by the community for following the rules. But in something as complex as a MMORPG, the rules laid down by the developers are less important than the gentleman's agreements established by the community.

In short, people had fun doing it their way. They didn't have fun doing it his way. If what he was doing had no impact on others, people probably wouldn't care. But he was spoiling the experience for everyone he interacted with.

> Myers was stunned by the reaction, since he obeyed the game's rules.

Oh please. Even the article is a thinly veiled troll.

People often play after work, when they're tired and irritable. When somebody continually ruins the game and turns what was intended to be a relaxing break from life into another exercise in frustration he's going to be hated.

Online games tend to represent real societies pretty well. The older the game, the more set the norms are, and the easier it is to be break the "unwritten" rules.

Usually, when people go through something uncomfortable in the name of science they're informed beforehand, and participate in the experiment on a volunteer basis. Meyers did not have that decency -- he picked the members for his experiment against their will.

Yeah, the idea that he was stunned either makes him the most socially inept person on the planet, or a complete troll of a person.

It's also perfectly within the rules to throw the basketball out of bounds every time you get ahold of it, but if you did so, no one would want to play with you. Would Myers likewise be stunned by this revelation?

Even if he thought what he was doing was a good idea - it's really stupid that he was actually "stunned" by the results. I mean, duh!

I'm going to go against the grain here: yeah, he was griefing them, but the game and the players look worse here. If it's a PvP situation, then game designers need to be aware of creative tactics people come up with. If the game is unbalanced or someone starts using tactics outside of the spirit of the game, the developers should patch the game.

This isn't pie in the sky stuff, either. Valve does it all the time with TF2, and that's a big part of what makes it such a good game. By being aware of how people use the game and working hard to maintain balance and stop overt exploits, they've created a controlled environment that still allows people to get extremely creative.

I now actively avoid any games with PvP that are so horribly designed that cultures develop with unwritten rules to overcome shortcomings in the game. And if you are playing a PvP game you should expect people to come up with creative tactics and strategies to win.

After sleeping on this, I finally figured out what was bothering me about the massive number of responses here claiming that this Professor was being clueless.

The basic assumption is that the Professor was griefing other players. He wasn't. From the article, it did not appear as if he had the intent to deliberately harass and annoy other players. Instead, he was merely ignoring social customs and determining the best PvP strategies from there. Further, he was attempting to conduct a study. I am assuming (big assumption) that he was at least trying to be objective. In other words, there is nothing personal in what he was doing.

The stunning results isn't that there were people who backlashed at him so much as that, he perceived his actions as being impersonal, yet it seems many of the people on CoH ... and here on Hacker News ... perceive his actions as griefing. What is profound here is that this false perception generated an incredible amount of backlash. It is the same mechanism used in witchhunts. It looks like crowd sourcing has a downside too.

It implies that people still don't stop and consider whether the other person was doing it out of ignorance or simply because that other person ignores social conventions. The aggravation generated by this snowballs because people want something to blame. What is also interesting to me is how otherwise intelligent people automatically reacts to their own irritation.

Good read, but the findings aren't surprising. We all know there are social rules that aren't set in stone but still adhered to. Being a dick online leads to people hating you. Past that simple fact, the details aren't that interesting, since hyperbole online is pretty easy. (See Kathy Sierra.)

It would be interesting to try to figure out how to handle social situations and encode them into a game. How do you stop somebody from abusing the system? The first thing that comes to mind is Super Smash Bros Brawl, which uses random situations to stop one player from being too much of an asshole. (When I play with my asshole friends, they disable items and force the level to the ultraflat Final Destination so as to be able to abuse the game most effectively - but in a more relaxed social setting, it's not as easy for an obsessive to completely mess with the other players to a point where the game isn't fun. Are there similar set-ups in any MMO?)

In this case, "the rules of the game" are not like the laws and courts IRL, which Myers would like us to accept, but more like the laws of physics.

MMO's are cool because a community develops and, just like in the real world, organically evolves accepted laws and customs. Good MMOs develop rich communities and customs precisely by having very open frameworks.

Myers went around whacking people with a bat because the "laws of physics" allowed him to. The only defference here is that it was much harder in the game for the citizens to organize a police force to stop him, and as usual, the "gods" (game moderators) were of no real use.

Ironically, in this context, he was the definition of a "super villain". On a personal note, it irks me that this old doddard made such a colossal nuisance of himself for years to a whole community of gamers just for that goofy bit of fluff he called a paper. Publish or perish indeed.

The research article is here:

Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt http://www.nola.com/news/index.ssf/2009/07/loyola_university...

The only thing I would like to add here is the study tested ethical codes of conduct governing research. People weren't consulted, and they were emotionally manipulated for the sake of the study. Surely that must have raised red flags at Loyola.

Fansy! http://www.notacult.com/fansythefamous.htm

Seriously, what did the professor expect by griefing?

You're assuming that the professor was griefing.

It's impossible to create a "perfect" set of rules. So just because he lived within the rules doesn't mean anything.

Sometimes there are behaviors that are undesirable, but it's simply impossible to legislate against them.

This is true in real life as well. Politicians tend to create more and more and more complex rules, but no matter how detailed it's not possible to legislate against every bad behavior. Especially without also creating undesired side effects.

This just brings back memories of the video with the kid who's mom canceled his WOW account...

This just in: University Professor discovers MOBBING. Entire World sighs in relief, can finally put down the pitchforks, give each other hugs.

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