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Shael Riley

Game Design and the Social Contract

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Are players in the wrong for griefing, using exploits, or acting otherwise "unscrupulously" in World of Warcraft?

Are players ever at fault for doing anything that the game allows them to do? Isn't testing the boundaries of what you can and cannot do within the scope of a game part of said game's fun? If you're able play in a way that undercuts the value of a game, isn't that not the fault of the players, but the game's designers?

Last I checked, there was no social contract between player and game designer stipulating that a game is to be played the way the designer intended.

What do you think?

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There may not be a social contract, but there's an actual contract, usually in the form of a EULA or Terms of Use or whatever...

My thoughts are that this can cut both ways - you can have abusive players who cheat solely to further their interests or intend specifically to disrupt the game just for the sake of doing so, but you've also got modders, machinimators, etc. doing things with games and game content that are creative and productive instead of destructive and abusive. It's contextual, and I'd hope that more companies start seeing it that way and selectively prosecuting violations of their EULA only against the first type of user and not the second...

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A complicated, but somewhat loaded question. However, it's a question that does need to be asked, so, bravo Shael.

I'm largely in agreement with djp. The use of a lot of "exploits" are highly contextual. djp brings up Machinma as an example of positive exploiting, and I agree; Red Vs. Blue has given many people great laughs, and part of it comes from exploiting a "look" glitch with the pistol, where the Spartan head doesn't look down all the way when the pistol is pointed at the ground. These sort of exploits don't detract from an experience for anyone, and create a positive thing on the side which can actually *add* to the experience.

Then you have areas that are more gray: take the concept of Snaking, not in Mario Kart, but rather in F-Zero GX. That's a major exploit of the physics system. It can be exploited to be a huge advantage, but requires great skill to control and is not necessarily considered a bad act. That said, the masters who can snake well (I cannot, for example) will generally crush anyone who can't. In a sense, this may detract from the experience of the non-snaker, but you run into the (questionable) obstacle that "it's part of the game". Does this violate a social contract of the gamer or the spirit in which the game is created?

The short answer, for the case of F-Zero GX, is there really is no right answer that's universal, because not everyone agrees with what "the boundries" of the game are and what the true definition of fun is.

Now, in the case of World of WarCraft, "unscrupulous behavior" is a broad issue. Being a douchebag isn't a violation of terms of service, but buying gold and hacking certainly are, and there's nothing about testing boundries there for fun. To really go deeper into WoW, issues need to be narrowed down to specific issues.

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Griefing is exactly what it sounds like. However, how many times was something not programmed in that ended up being implemented in future versions of a game? For example, programming in impossible to reach places which you can get to using a rocket jump.

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When it comes to cheating in online games, my reaction tends to be...what's the point? If there's no prize for having the most pimped out character, what do you get out of it? If it's not even worth it to you to play the game properly, why are you paying $15 every month (or more if you're buying gold)? If you loathe the gameplay so much to the point that you are using exploits to circumvent it, why not play a better game?

That said, I agree with the sentiment that it depends on context. In certain games such as SSBM or the aforementioned F-Zero GX, it could be argued that these exploits actually increase the potential enjoyment of these games. Even if they weren't actually meant to be part of the game, there's no harm in viewing them as such and embracing the added depth they provide. In the opposite situation, in which exploits actually detract from the experience, most gamers end up coming to an understanding amongst themselves to not go out of their way to take away from their own enjoyment. In both cases, the fault is with the designer, but it is the players who decide how to deal with it.

For me it comes down to fun...the reason we play video games in the first place. Therefore, the only contract we have is with the games themselves: we play them, and they make us happy. If that contract is broken by a game for whatever reason, whether the flaw lies within the game or the ones that play it, the most reasonable thing to do is to find another game...one that will keep it.

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Maybe I'm just way too easy-going, but at times I actually find it strangely fun to be cheated against. I remember waaaay back in the day playing Jedi Knight on a public server with a friend, and all of a sudden a third guy joins in. Both my friend and I are instantly killed by a hail of rapid fire concussion rifle shots. We look up and see a giant floating stone head descending towards us, raining a constant stream of destruction upon the map. The guy hung around for about 10 minutes before he got bored, but I at least found it strangely fun trying to desperately survive while still getting the occasional kill off of my friend.

Now I guess if it happened every time I tried to play the game, that might be different...

EDIT: That's actually the strange thing I've found: if you laugh and continue to have fun when a cheater shows up, that seems to piss them off more than anything for some reason, and they leave pretty quickly.

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I really have no opinion of this, but I would like to say when you ask a question about exploitation, I instantly think of fighting games like Marvel Vs Capcom 2. Are exploits really a detriment?

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Maybe I'm just way too easy-going, but at times I actually find it strangely fun to be cheated against. I remember waaaay back in the day playing Jedi Knight on a public server with a friend, and all of a sudden a third guy joins in. Both my friend and I are instantly killed by a hail of rapid fire concussion rifle shots. We look up and see a giant floating stone head descending towards us, raining a constant stream of destruction upon the map. The guy hung around for about 10 minutes before he got bored, but I at least found it strangely fun trying to desperately survive while still getting the occasional kill off of my friend.

Now I guess if it happened every time I tried to play the game, that might be different...

EDIT: That's actually the strange thing I've found: if you laugh and continue to have fun when a cheater shows up, that seems to piss them off more than anything for some reason, and they leave pretty quickly.

Hey, you know, I remember days like that too, though my hacker foe was actually a TIE Bomber and he shot rapid-fire Rail Detonators. And yeah, I know exactly what you mean. XD

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I like beating griefers despite their poor efforts in games - it's amazing to see how depressed they get, especially after you threaten to get them banned.

Griefers do suck though, and need to grow up (if it's a random matchup).

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Definitely context. A lot of SSBM players love wave-dashing and all this other crap in the game. Personally I think it ruins the spirit of the game, even though they may not be exploits. Getting wave-shined off the map by a "pro" Fox just isn't fun. Now exploits like Samus shooting across the map because of her bomb is amusing because it doesn't affect the fight too much and it gives more of a WOAH reaction.

Though I have to admit that I did my fair share of exploiting back in the day. Does anyone remember a little gem called No One Lives Forever? I used to get up on the sides of one map by glitching my way up the walls. Could see everyone in the damn map and you could blow the shit out of them with the long-range explosive gun.

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Definitely context. A lot of SSBM players love wave-dashing and all this other crap in the game. Personally I think it ruins the spirit of the game, even though they may not be exploits. Getting wave-shined off the map by a "pro" Fox just isn't fun.

Well, losing in general isn't fun. :P Practice makes perfect.

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I really have no opinion of this, but I would like to say when you ask a question about exploitation, I instantly think of fighting games like Marvel Vs Capcom 2. Are exploits really a detriment?

I'm not intimately familiar with MvC2's system. What kind of exploits are there?

I'll tell you that the exploits in Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, such as T. Hawk's stray hit box on his crouching strong and Balrog's throw loop, certainly are.

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My number one bad experience with this is Starcraft. The hardcore playerbase has, IMO, abused the hotkey/micro mechanics to such a level that it doesn't even feel like an RTS anymore.

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lmao wtf ABUSING HOT KEYS

what the fuck is an rts supposed to feel like then

people should be allowed to do whatever the game allows them to do and if you don't want to play with people who are much better than you then don't play with them

i generally only play online games with people i know who are usually about as good as i am so this has never been a problem for me

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lmao wtf ABUSING HOT KEYS

what the fuck is an rts supposed to feel like then

people should be allowed to do whatever the game allows them to do and if you don't want to play with people who are much better than you then don't play with them

i generally only play online games with people i know who are usually about as good as i am so this has never been a problem for me

Well, I'm venturing a guess that Gecko's referring to using shortcut keys to play the game on a whole other level; pro players end up going so ungodly fast for regular players that it's almost unbelievable and it ceases to be about strategy and becomes a crazed rush-fest to the point of becoming an action game.

And sometimes that "don't play with them" isn't an option, dude. In the case of World of WarCraft, there's not a whole hell of a lot you can do about that guy in full PVP gear camping your corpse and ganking you a bunch. You can't simply kick him off the server for being a douchebag.

And as for the console realm, sometimes if they're using all the exploits in a game like, for example, Smash Brothers, and you don't have any clue how to do it... it becomes a problem. Yeah, not playing's an option, but if this is the case, people should generally hold the common courtesy to not glitch/exploit unless the other players can and/or don't care. Some people don't like it when their opponents pull punches, but other times it can create a better environment for both or all players if they do.

And if a player can't have fun without glitching or exploiting a game in a non-tournament setting, then they should probably find a new game anyway. That's my opinion, at least.

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