This is a loose reply to an article written by Heamish about “The social experience”. Not a direct critics but just some thoughts that sprang from reading it.
Games are about learning but saying that learning is about getting the reward is a total mistake.
Game design, in particular “good” game design, has the duty to help the player to learn, to educate. Mark my words: NOT TO SELECT.
Many people have this absurdly wrong and wicked idea that learning is about getting evaluated. This is terribly wrong and the first reason why the school is in such a wrecked status and why our societies are filled with hate. We learn everything as division and further selections. Always as distiction between “us and them”. Aways between friends and enemies, included and excluded.
The evaluation should come from within. Not from the outside. Originally “education” meant the discovery of oneself. Not shoving in an empty, valueless mind the imposed categories and dictates of a culture.
I always despised and will continue to despise and attack when “learning” becomes a process of selection. I know that this has been a reality of the human evolution, but I just don’t accept as something that I justify and second. I just don’t as I don’t justify murder, even if the murder has also been part of our evolution and history. So we learnt something. Between the things I’ve learnt is that I despise every process of selection that is aimed to exclude, emarginate and create reasons of hate.
In a lesser extent we already have all these situations in these games and have to relate to. About the social fabric, these games should help to connect, facilitate these patterns, create the context for these situations to exist. But not simply create artificial rewards that would just divide between people who are included and people who are excluded. Not external “divine” interventions.
The reward is the consequence of learning, not its justification. (but in our culture we are already saying that “drugs” are the best route)
This is why my own concrete ideas on these aspects have been about criticizing the artificial dependence on other players, that I find unjustified, to create what I define “truly communal patterns” that are instead coherent with the goal. That promote the integration instead of the separation between groups.
We have already plenty of examples of “communal processes” with egoistical goals. Personal rewards are always egoistical goals, like experience bonuses, achievements, epic loot. These are never truly communal objectives. They are just cooperation enforced through egoistical goals. I had already a quick confrontation with Raph about these points and again these are patterns that belong to our culture. But they aren’t patterns that I would promote and reward. They aren’t patterns that I consider fun. Even if they exist, the game shouldn’t educate the players about them, as the game should never facilitate the players to fight one against the other for a piece of loot. As the game shouldn’t facilitate the segregation and the exclusion of players in two groups. Creating tension and attrition between them.
Artificial dependences aren’t fun. Having crafting recipes that make you dependent on other crafting professions aren’t fun. At least till this process isn’t facilitated and made accessible through other structures. If this doesn’t happen it becomes another barrier, not an occasion for the socialization. The same about forced grouping leading to sitting in one place flagged /lfg for hours or the requirement to get included into large raids to progress in the game (when that progression is the sole purpose of the game: what it is “teaching”). Killing a dragon to get your fat loot is again a communal process (you need “x” other players) forced through an egoistical drive (I need the fat loot for my own power growth). Limiting the game only to these patterns is a serious mistake that I’ll never stop to criticize.
There ARE other examples of truly communal goals but these aren’t as easy to identify and are always pushed in the background, always overlooked. They never become the true focus and driving force of the game. Never its priority.
Think if you are ruling an outpost in a open PvP game. It depend on you, you’ll have to hold and defend it from enemy attacks. The NPCs in the outpost are your own, they go work and gather resources for you, pay maintenance costs. You are responsible for this layer of the game, called to gather people, organize the activities, defend your territories. This creates with the game the strongest bond you can imagine. This creates a social fabric because it’s the context that creates the situation. You are together with other players facing a situation that involves everyone. And where everyone relies on the other. This is also why PvP is the best route to achieve these goals. Where the true, till now undiscovered, potential is. What it could become.
Eve-Online already did some on this, albeit on a different genre. The players work together, administrate their properties and territories, they patrol and defend, they organize together, they interact, they create stories, tensions. All within the context of the game. Adding to its depth. Even when you are hauling resources from one point of the galaxy to the other, you still have “fun” because that part acquires a meaning within a greater frame where everything is connected and has a consequence. Because you are together with other players in “truly communal patterns”. Where Eve-Online “failed” is in making these activities the activities of the great majority of the players. Making them more easily accessible instead of something out of reach and demanding an high price of admission (because of the accessibility barriers).
The game should offer patterns to connect the players, but as part of the fabric of the game world, and not through artificial rewards to push them in a specific direction. The socialization and communal activities should be facilitated, but not imposed or justified through Out Of Character design purposes. This social fabric should be the focus of the game, not its drift toward the reward. Its center and not its perimeter.
The real point is that these games should move directly away from that “risk Vs reward” mechanic. Away from granting more experience points to groups instead of solo players. Away from Out Of Character (I mean: “external”) design interventions to drag the players around. And instead moving the collaboration at the true core of the gameplay and objective of the game. To make the transition as natural ans justified as possible. Coherent.
Game design should always move coordinated with the players, not against them, not imposing trends, not fighting habits. If an habit exist it is justified and if it is a “bad habit” it’s because there’s something responsible that should be directly fixed. If the players fight against their own fun, something is wrong in the design. Not in their behaviour. If the players show anti-social behaviours and don’t form bonds naturally (assuming that they would like to), it means that they bumped against an accessibility barrier or that they were steered elsewhere.