June 10th, 2006

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MMO Sportsmanship

What with there not being, at present, a good-sized Mutant clan on the Wastelands server that's recruiting (not so far as I can tell, anyway), and what with my frequently wanting to find partners for the regularly scheduled 2-on-2 tournaments that the Organization for Combat Driving sponsors (good fun, nice prizes), I'm tentatively starting a clan called Green Means Go. I'll probably start a web site soon. One rule I've carried with me through every MMO I've played in is that any group I organize must practice good sportsmanship. I don't know if I need to make it an explicit rule, or simply advice, but regardless of what MMO I've been playing, here is one behavioral rule that is absolutely essential to me in a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) that permits or encourages player versus player (PvP) combat: No Trash Talk.

Fight with respect. Even if you think the other person (or team) isn't respectable, then one of two things is still true. One possible outcome is that they'll win, in which case there has to be something respectable about them. You were ganged up on? Respect their organizational skills and group tactics. You were outgunned because somebody's PC is better than yours? Admire their PC. You were caught by surprise when you weren't ready? Respect their tactics. You were defeated because they cheated at the game? I'll get to that in a second. You were defeated because their side has better weapons or powers than your side does, because the game isn't properly balanced? Respect the powers they have, and admire them. You were defeated in a fair fight, equal numbers and levels against equal numbers and levels? Respect what they taught you. Go down swinging, but laugh when you go down for the sheer joy of a tough fight, for whatever you managed to achieve if anything before they blew you off the map. If you were so thoroughly ambushed that you went down without even returning a shot or moving an inch, laugh for the sheer absurdity of it, laugh with them at how silly you must have looked. It's not like we're not all going home tonight.

Or else you beat them, in which case you never have anything to lose, and always have something to gain, by treating them with respect. They were pitifully weak? Or you had numbers and power levels and equipment quality and screen refresh rate on your side? Respect their courage for coming into the area, then, knowing that you might be there. They fought with superior equipment on their side, or superior levels? Respect them for having achieved that, even if it wasn't good enough to beat you with. They attacked you with superior numbers and you still won? Respect them for their organizational skills, for having brought more people to the fight than you did, even if it wasn't enough for them. Even the most cowardly, cruel, crude, rude, and unsportsmanlike opponent has something about him that you can respect. Figure out what it is, and congratulate him on it -- "Hey, nice paint job." Whatever. Then you get to compound your victory with a second victory -- you look good.

You think they cheated, really cheated, as in used outlawed tactics or illegal software modifications or other Terms of Service violations? You suspect that the person or team that handed you your posterior were exploiters? There is never any advantage to you from saying so out loud. Take screenshots and email them to support, /petition the game masters, but do it quietly. If you accuse them of being exploiters, they're going to deny it whether it's true or not. If you accuse them and it's not true, you're the one who looks like a moron, and a poor loser, and a bad sport. If you accuse them to their faces and it is true, your outrage just enhances their fun. No, take whatever quiet, discrete steps the Terms of Service encourage you to take to report a cheater, but to their faces treat them as if they had beaten you fairly ... find something nice to say, and say it. If those around you see them cheating, and you being gracious even in losing to cheaters, you win where it's truly important.

Now, sportsmanlike bearing being discussed, do I require chivalry? Oh, hell no. Unless the rules of the game say otherwise, I'm not one to say that enemies on the battlefield must announce themselves, verify first that the sides are evenly armed and manned, and then ask permission to attack before firing the first shot. If the rules of the game allow you to assemble a team of 8 level 80s and prowl Ground Zero looking for level 54 people running missions, and that's your idea of fun, go for it. If that's how the game is meant to be played, then it's up to them to either bring enough friends or to use their smarts to avoid you. If that's how the game is designed to be played, then the designers of the game intended you to be one of the obstacles for them to overcome to win. If the rules of the game permit you to see someone who just came out of a fight beaten half to death and swoop in to take the kill yourself, feel no shame doing it, because next time it could be you. And if they don't have what it takes, compliment them on their bravery (no matter how much cowardice you think they really showed). Show mercy only when you feel like it, or withhold it as suits you; those are the rules of the game. Ask no quarter from enemies, and take it only if you feel like it. Give quarter only if you feel like it, and never be so condescending as to feel obligated to do so. Give them their chance to decide whether to run, or fight, or simply take their beating.

I say all these things not because this is a war, or because the other people are bad people who deserve what they get. I say all these things because this is a game, meant to be played with joy and gusto and skill and planning and enthusiasm and respect and within the rules, and as long as you do those things, I'm proud of you no matter who wins or who loses; do all of those things, and I'll call you the winner of every fight.