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The fragility of the enjoyable gaming experience -Masta - May 12 12:50pm
The fragility of the enjoyable gaming experience

Or why we need the Jedi Academy

Conflict is probably the most necessary of all components that make a game enjoyable. Conflict does not only provide excitement, it also fosters achievement and the overall improvement of skills necessary to fulfil certain in-game tasks and goals, like, in our example, the winning of duels in JKA. This kind of conflict becomes an obvious source of entertainment and usually justifies the monetary and temporal investment required to maintain a certain gaming experience. However, although conflict can be seen as essential to gaming itself, there are specific forms of conflict that are obviously disruptive of the overall enjoyment of a game.

First, we have to clarify what is meant by the concept of a gaming situation/experience and how exactly the gaming situation itself is partially constituted by and stands in relation to all the other factors that involve playing a game. Although a gaming situation is impossible without the underlying rules that make up a game, it is not possible to determine the gaming experience just by closely examining the rules, because no matter how closely we may examine the rules and the programming code of a game, it will tell us very little about the experience of actually playing it. The gaming experience is more of a conglomerate of multiple factors, all of which are outside the game itself: individual players, specific context and the gaming culture that forms around all of these things.

The gaming rules may provide the foundation for in-game conflict, but having the players engage in enjoyable multiplayer gaming presupposes the mutual upholding of a different set of rules: of implicit or "extra-mechanical" rules. Playing even the most simple of arcade games like Pong requires a mutual agreement between players to, for example, not push one another physically etc. In this case, Pong as a system of rules is purely non-cooperative, the rules are set by the developer and cannot be altered to any significant extent, but the gaming situation surrounding Pong actually rests on the mutual organization and good will of each individual player.

With other words, most if not all multiplayer games rely on extra-mechanical or implicit rules that are based on the mutual cooperation of players for the establishment of a common good that makes it possible for other players to enjoy playing the game. Within such an environment, certain forms of cooperative behavior are crucial for the maintenance of said common good and are therefore collectively rational. Opportunistic, selfish and socially deviant forms of behavior could introduce destructive social dynamics that may be individually rational, but ultimately serve to disrupt the social fabric of a game and with it the playability and enjoyment that others can receive from that game.

Drawing a parallel from the 'real world', certain behaviors may not necessarily be considered illegal, but could nevertheless be destructive to the overall community and may result in specific sanctions. Examples of such behaviors could range from the littering of streets, damaging of the environment to the smoking in certain public spaces. It is important to note that not all of these measures need to be ethically justified by some external standard and we should not necessarily accept the normative verdict of specific communities as 'inherently good or correct', but we nonetheless cannot ignore the fact that certain particular forms of behavior can be destructive to the collective resources of the community in question.

When things go wrong: extra-mechanical conflict in the context of the gaming situation

In general, the breaking of implicit and explicit rules manifests itself in three different forms, all of which require closer examination: cheating, griefing and local norms violation.

When players intentionally step outside the gaming rules or the accepted implicit rules for the sake of giving one party an advantage over the other, they are considered to be cheating. Besides the obvious alteration of gaming executables or the utilization of external, third-party programs like hacks or, in our case, modded saber hilts uploaded to a server, some activities and techniques tend to be more prone to discussion as to their classification. Some players may discover features to a game that, although not intentionally programmed for by the developers, may grant advantages to the players using those techniques. Those activities, therefore, that aim at directly giving an advantage afforded by the game design, but not intended to do so, are generally referred to as 'exploits'.

The ambiguity shrouding exploits becomes obvious: since players who are using exploits are working within the physical constraints of the game as defined by the game code, it becomes very difficult to determine if a given technique or in-game phenomenon was intended or not. Even if it were not intended by the developers, the exploit itself, as long as it is not fully game-breaking, becomes accessible to all players within the game and does not unbalance the competition by granting only one player or team an advantage over all the others.

The common good of an evenly balanced competitive realm, and therefore the enjoyable gaming experience, is destroyed by the act of cheating, which gives one party an advantage over the other, but may be preserved if the cheat or exploit itself becomes acceptable and taken for granted by the wider gaming community as a whole. However, this may lead to an alteration of the gaming experience itself and make the frequent usage of exploits shift the question of exploitation away from cheating and more towards the question of what kind of game is to be played. To be more exact, the problem of 'exploits' transforms the dilemma into one between people who favor a more simulatory experience, i.e. one that as closely and realistically as possible resembles the intended gaming situation, and people who favor a more immediate and direct gaming experience, one that takes the altered reality (including the exploits) of the game into account.

A further examination of the debate between simulation and immediacy goes beyond the scope of my initial topic and may be picked up at a later date. For now, I will focus on the two remaining forms of breaking implicit and explicit rules: griefing and violation of local norms.

Griefing or 'grief play' can be defined as an activity that intentionally aims at harming others without necessarily gaining any real or tangible benefit from it in return, except for whatever satisfaction may accompany the very act of causing discomfort to other people. There are many ways that griefing can manifest itself in the gaming world, especially in JKA - the obvious examples would be activities like verbal harassment, laming, disturbing events, teamkilling etc.

Again, the enjoyable gaming experience is compromised by the act of griefing. However, as in the case of cheating, certain forms of 'grief play' may not necessarily result in the subversion of the common good, but could result in activities that have their own kinds of benefits. If everyone just caved in to the temptation of laming each other, for example, the result would be a FFA, which can be quite a pleasant experience in its own right. That obviously does not hold for other forms of griefing though.

However, there are certain grey zones to griefing in general. Since all harassment is a matter of interpretation, it is not always easy to tell if an allegedly careless or accidental detonation of explosive weaponry in close range to innocent bystanders or team-mates qualifies as griefing or not. Also, players engaged in the gaming world are usually represented by some sort of character or avatar, each one of which has certain specific traits associated with it. Players may in certain instances choose to create especially anti-social characters and terrorize other players, in which case it also becomes difficult to tell if the player himself aims at intentionally hurting other players or if he merely intends to hurt the other players game character - something that would be recognized as consistent behavior with the anti-social identity of his avatar.

It can be argued though that all generally undisputed forms of griefing fall under the category of the violation of local norms, and although that may be true, the reverse is not given: there can be local norms violations which do not correspond to the definition of griefing. One example of that would be leaving a TFFA match prematurely for reasons that do not have anything to do with intentionally harming other players. A different example would be using the less-than-brave technique of excessively avoiding player contact during virtual bouts. In this case, if everyone were to engage in similar behavior, the enjoyable gaming experience could be compromised and the gamemode of TFFA itself would be impossible to play consistently.

In search of a solution

Because the virtual space of a gaming situation is transformed by the very nature of multiplayer gaming into an extension of the social fabric of everyday social interaction, the player to player interactions that take place within that extended social fabric are to a certain degree comparable to the everyday interactions of "real life". So how do we solve such problems in the "real" world? How do we make sure that everyone follows the rules, does not fall into the temptation of exploiting the available resources of his neighbours and does not compromise the social order available to any and all of us? One such solution is the concentration of power into the hands of a neutral party that could eliminate temptations of exploitation by means of punishment and surveillance. We generally refer to this neutral party as the state.

There are many in-game solutions to the outlined problem of social order that feature such state-like measures or have state-like components to them. Developers may just choose to code the game, or create a mod for it, that makes it impossible to perform many of the aforementioned activities - the invulnerability that is applied to idling players in JA+ would be an example of such a measure. Another example would be found in text filters that remove offensive words. The latter example is quite problematic in its own right, since text filters are usually very easy to circumvent and harassment is highly dependant on interpretation and cannot be abolished by blocking certain words in-game. In addition to that, both methods are somewhat crude and may make the game less compelling.

Different solutions range from wide-ranging social ostracism through gossip or the direct demarcation of the players. This becomes less effective in games that do not have strict requirements for signing up additional accounts or where the cost of maintaining a particular name/account is very low.

Probably the most effective and interesting of all available measures to affect the social fabric of the wider gaming community is the development of elaborate social institutions that serve as sub-communities within the broader gaming community itself. This is most notably illustrated by such social phenomena as 'clans', gaming leagues or gaming communities with exclusive powers and benefits, like the Jedi Academy in JKA.

Those communities, by guaranteeing the enforcement of specific rules (in the case of leagues like the ESL or communities like the JA) or through elaborate selection procedures (in case of clans), divide gaming spaces in terms of basic trustworthiness. Guaranteeing the enforcement of rules makes it less likely for people acting out of line and the violation of rules can be effectively met with sanctions of different sorts, enhancing the trustworthiness of the institution as a means of preserving social order and making an enjoyable gaming experience possible

These communities, sometimes actively, sometimes indirectly, like to remind their members now and then that continued membership depends on acceptable behavior and that the individual behavior of the few will reflect on the whole institution itself.

Conclusion

As a whole, it is thanks to communities like the JA that players are granted a certain degree of assurance that the social order and with it the common resource of an enjoyable gaming experience will be maintained and preserved to the highest degree possible, and that the players will not be burdened by destructive extra-mechanical conflict that can severely compromise the possibility of enjoying the gaming experience.

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Comments
Sep 27 2010 06:37am

n00b
 - Student
 n00b

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. You look stupid acting any other way.

Fun is fun as long as nobody is getting their feelings hurt.
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Aug 31 2010 10:19am

Kenwan Obiobi
 - Student

Bloomin' 'eck! You wrote a freaking dissertation for us? :O !!! You should have sent this to Lucasarts darnit! Was really interesting though, nice.
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Pink Floyd rules! (not the band) Being single means you can fart without explanation...

May 17 2010 07:07am

Komence
 - Student
 Komence

good stuff german

May 16 2010 01:17am

Lok
 - Student
 Lok

now im tierd:P
it was good but long lol =) anyways, gg!
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"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. It's just that your is stupid"

May 15 2010 12:41pm

ZantuS
 - Student
 ZantuS

Well written! :cool:
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Happiness is the ability to say "So what?"


May 14 2010 10:24pm

Xanatos
 - Student
 Xanatos

good read.
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May 13 2010 09:34am

Piccolo
 - Student
 Piccolo

Very interesting and well-written article GERMasta! I find it quite accurate, well done! Also, R2D2 had a good argument too, looking forward to your next articles.

May 12 2010 08:38pm

Maher
 - Jedi Knight
 Maher

Quote:
claim that clans/teams etc are not even about rules, but rather about values


Or if you just manage to find same kind of spirited people, with whom you can easily have fun! :D

In this case rules aren't needed? Because they are automatically created in the group?

This kind of social group might accidently loose the reason? Don't you think? ok! <3

This was very enjoyable reading Masta :)

- Maher Senatu

P.S Yes the reason is fun, I don't dare to pull out the word monster... But something to think about atleast?

I will go back to play with my pills...

*red pill, blue pill, purple pill, aaah...*
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Still here | My Lightsaber

May 12 2010 08:14pm

Masta
 - Jedi Instructor
 Masta

You make a very good point, Artoo. I would even go one step further and claim that clans/teams etc are not even about rules, but rather about values - rules are just the codified derivatives of those values.

If I as a player value skill and competition above everything else, I will hardly tryout for NJO, but if I find myself roleplaying on JA+ servers a lot, NJO might actually not be a bad idea to check out. (jk, but you get the idea)

And yes, this is a theme that I am indeed going to explore in my next article!
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Find out more about the Jedi Academy Aurochs here and more about Masta here!
Married to Kain.


May 12 2010 06:56pm

R2D2
 - Staff
 R2D2

Well-structured and well-written article Masta! About clans enforcing rules, those that have played other clans know that this is very much up to the clan leadership. The rules that are enforced will be in varying degrees and may not even cover what some of us here at TJA consider to be obvious rules. Clans/teams do indeed provide more structure to the gaming experience, which usually results in a more rewarding experience; however, not all clans will fit an individual's needs. An individual must find a group that also shares the same core "rules" concerning the game. Perhaps this could be something that is explored further?
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"Do or do not, there is no try"
Jedi Master Yoda
Dual Saberist


May 12 2010 04:50pm

Masta
 - Jedi Instructor
 Masta

Thankee
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Find out more about the Jedi Academy Aurochs here and more about Masta here!
Married to Kain.


May 12 2010 03:31pm

Laziana
 - Jedi Instructor
 Laziana

Very interesting read! *two thumbs up*
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