Of course, that's not counting the 7 more times he's going to camp your corpse just so you can't progress for the next 3 hours. And it's also not counting the ninja looters, the belligerent kids in battlegrounds who take orders from no one, and the lying little brats who spew language fit for a factory worker but cry to their parents the second you try to enforce some authority.
We have many ways of quantifying these behaviors; things like "If you can't stand PvP then go to a carebear (normal) server," "If you don't like it being done to you then do it to someone else," or "Get better gear, n00b." We all know what's going on here, and it's none of the above. Let's just say it aloud and come clean about it: Sportsmanship is dead, and it's been dead for a long time.
So where did it go and how did it get there? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure myself. Maybe the whole concept of sportsmanship was just something that was instilled into me when I grew up or maybe it was something I learned from all of those Mighty Ducks movies. In either case the basic goal remained the same: Have fun whether you win or lose. The important part was that you were playing, you were trying to enjoy yourself and you'd still learn something even in defeat.
But when it comes to MMORPGs, and other places on the internet, the concept of shaking your opponent's hand and saying those all-important words, "good game", has died. According to those in the hardcore and younger generations, a game's not worth playing if you can't be the best. It doesn't matter how many people you have to step on, kick over, or kill to make your way to the top. All you need to do is get there and stay there. Quite Machiavellian, no?
Sympathy is a sign of weakness, intelligence is seen as lack of brute strength, and offering your hand to help your opponent up deserves a loogie from the back of your mouth. It doesn't sound very welcoming when it's said out loud, but it is, without a doubt, the current way of gameplay in a competitive setting.
Part of this may certainly be due to the anonymity of the internet coupled with the ability to get away with these types of things, but that very same explanation seems like a giant cop-out. We're basically saying to ourselves that all of this is completely acceptable on the internet. In other words, we're not to be held liable for our own actions, like we can't take responsibility for what we do in our virtual worlds.
Now, I have no doubts that many of you are, at this point, wondering why I'm tackling a topic such as this. Surely one person's article isn't going to change the world and make all of the idiots on the internet start behaving as respectable human beings. Rather, I'd like you, the reader, to look at this subject from a very different angle - what are we teaching others with this type of behavior and can this type of behavior spill over into the real world?
The short answer is yes, this behavior can and does have an impact in our daily lives. Parents and many other activist groups complain and cry about how much the physical game content may be setting a bad example for our children who play these games. But, truly, the game content isn't what is teaching our children arrogance and a lack of ethics -- it's us.
When we start trends in our games, like unsportsmanlike conduct, those behaviors are followed up by anyone who views them, child or no. While we may understand that that type of conduct is "acceptable" in the game world and not so cool in the real world, kids don't have such a firm stance. It's already easily appearing in schools and other institutions across the country - discipline problems are on the rise. Of course MMORPGs are not, let me stress that again, not the main cause of this. The sharing of culture and ideas through avenues such as MMORPGs and the internet does, however, affect things like this. Ever consider that the kids of today know a lot more than we did at the same age? We can thank the internet and its lightning fast communication and sharing of information for that one. Connectivity has many positives, but it also has many negatives.
Philosophically, humanity enjoys seeing negative things more than positive things. Turn on the news and what do you see? Accidents, murder, death, betrayal, scandal... It goes back to the psychological aspect of comparison levels, or CLs. When our level of happiness, or our comparison level, is compared to someone who has a lower level than us, we become more secure with what we have. Seeing those negative events bolsters the, "My life isn't so bad, look at that person" line of thinking.
What we should do with things like our beloved MMOs, though, is push the positives more. Push the success, push the social connectivity, and push the power that people have in interconnected groups.
This type of thinking can go beyond our children and beyond those who are impressionable; it can go straight to the community of the server or of the game in it's entirety. Back when I played Final Fantasy XI, I was pretty young and still pretty new to the genre as a whole. The North American camp of players was finally getting their hands on the first online Final Fantasy game, and were treating it pretty much like EverQuest. Shouts were going up for parties, random chatter was spewing from every player you passed, and things were pretty chaotic.
Then the Japanese stepped up, and those who spoke English began teaching the other players how things ran in their game. Some might have found it restrictive, others may have found it invasive, but their ways slowly permeated the community. Ninja invites, the current bane of City of Heroes, was uncalled for in Final Fantasy and quickly extinguished. The proper ways to pull and kite monsters, as well as zone them, was taught to the NA players by the Japanese. In turn for embracing their ways of doing things, they helped us with quests, leveling, and where to go to get things done.
Things had gone from crazy amounts of chaos to a great and workable amount of order, just because the Japanese passed on what they knew. A culture was quickly established and Final Fantasy XI began to play in a very, very unique way. Players were, for the most part, courteous and respectful thanks to this intervention, because everyone knew if you didn't do it, you weren't going to be welcomed.
So, it wasn't just the young players like myself who learned something from that game, it was an entire culture of people who had already played MMOs. But instead of acting in an arrogant manner, they learned the finer points of sportsmanship and ethics so they could play the game with everyone else. I, for one, learned how to respectfully ask for a party, how to tactically combine my main job and sub-job to get the maximum benefit for my character, and how to work with others in groups effectively and assess situations. A game helped me be polite, respectful, and strategic -- qualities that easily can carry into my real world life.
So the next time you pwn that Alliance character, or the next time you blow up that ship in EVE or the next time you cut off the head of your enemy in Age of Conan, remember there's another player behind that keyboard. Respectfulness is like a smile, highly contagious.
Colin Brennan is the weekly writer of Anti-Aliased who will salute you in defeat. When he's not writing here for Massively, he's over running Epic Loot For All! with his insane roommates. If you want to message him, you can do so in Second Life (SL: Seraphina Reymont), or send him an e-mail at colin.brennan AT weblogsinc DOT com.