Gamer Virtues, Gamer Vices
Wednesday, 06 October 2010
What are the gamer virtues? What are the gamer vices? In The Ethics of Computer Games, Miguel Sicart adapted Aristotle's virtue ethics to videogames, but one thing he did not quite manage to flesh out were what the specific virtues and vices of a gamer might actually be. The only way to work this out is by talking to actual gamers and learning from them.
According to Julius Kovesi's observations in Moral Notions, we can tell when a moral attitude has developed by following the changes in language. "Killing" is not necessarily a moral term, but "murder" is – implicit in the choice to call something "murder" instead of "killing" is a moral judgement. Following this line of reasoning, one way to look for evidence of gamer virtues and vices is to look at the language that has grown up around the games they play together.
My first investigation in this area shows a lot of evidence of vices. Camping is used pejoratively to criticise players who gain tactical or strategic advantage by remaining in the same place, and spawn killing is a particularly reviled form of camping. Spamming, whether chat spamming or grenade spamming, denotes a criticism of players who act in overly repetitive and irritating ways. Kill stealing is a particularly unique form of "theft" in which credit for a kill is taken by another player who didn't do most of the work. Then there is griefing, the all-purpose word for describing the behaviour of a player who is obnoxiously intrusive on the play of others.
All these words show that there are plenty of gamer vices. But what are the gamer virtues? I can't find any evidence of words used to describe gamer virtues, but surely they must exist. Do Modern Warfare players not have a term for a player who dutifully guards a strategic point, even though they earn fewer kills? Or for players who are good at providing intel? Do EVE Online players have terms to describe pilots with honour? Do World of Warcraft players not have a term for a tank who's particularly good at being a damage magnet, or a healer who is always there when you need them, or a leader who they respect? Or do they just criticise those players who disrupt the efficiency of the party?
I don't have the answers to these questions – but there must be gamers out there who do! If you play in a gamer community, please let me know any virtues and vices you know about that have earned their own names. I'm especially interested in the virtues, because right now it looks as if the gamer community at large is more interested in being judgemental than proffering praise... are gamers really that self-centred? I'd like to know what you think!
Please share your viewpoint about gamer virtues and vices in the comments! Also, please help publicise my interest in this subject. Thanks in advance for your assistance!
I have a simple answer for Gamer Virtues - "Achievements".
Those who achieve through hard work and practice are generally viewed as superior to those who do this through idling programs and the like.
Those who have more within certain games are considered to have advanced more than others.
Achievements, when implemented right, are the game developers method to control a player's behavior - they are little lessons in improving skill and usefulness. Especially in a team based game.
Further, the diametric opposite of everything you mentioned is "fair play"
Posted by: Osbo | Wednesday, 06 October 2010 at 11:16
At least in WoW, the generic term for a good player was originally a pejorative. "Imba" - short for "imbalanced" - is pretty much the universal term for someone who does their job well. It was originally used to describe someone who played a character class or spec that was overpowered with respect to the other classes and specs in the game. "OP", interestingly, is mostly still a pejorative term.
In the main, however, there are few specific virtue terms in WoW at present. If you're lucky, you'll see a "nice tanking" or perhaps the more laconic "gj" at the end of a successful run... perhaps from one of the other four players in a 5-man instance. The others will drop group and go on their way without saying anything.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | Wednesday, 06 October 2010 at 16:43
Obso: thanks for your comment, I greatly appreciate you sharing your perspective!
I find myself somewhat depressed that the best candidate for gamer virtue is the addictive reward schedule that encourages players to participate with the fictional worlds of games rather than the world around them. I personally struggle to see this aspect of gamer behaviour as virtuous - I see it as borderline obsessive in many cases, and the rest of the time it seems like simple jostling for status among peers.
If there is a case for Achievements as relating to virtue, I'd need to hear it developed.
As for "fair play", your claim here is that everything I have flagged is perceived as unfair. This, I can understand. But is anyone calling players "fair?"
Also, in many cases I'm not really convinced by the argument that "fair play" as a value is sufficient to explain these various vices. In particular, in the case of various forms of camping it strikes me that players desire a particular kind of play and ostracise those who wish to play differently (I've seen this in multiplayer flag-tag racing games, for instance).
This being so, I'm not wholly convinced by the "fair play" argument in all cases - I can see how it works in the case (say) of spawn killing. But in the case of camping for flag tag it seems to me that what is at task is not fairness but an assumption of how the play should be conducted - that everyone will remain in motion, and that anyone who doesn't want to play that way is "not playing fair" by camping. I'd like to hear more discussion on this point.
Thanks again for sharing your view!
Peter: So this term "imba" was originally used to complain about imbalance but is now used as a claim of praise? And what is being praised is efficiency? Have I got this right?
Can you expand on "OP" too, I'm not sure what this refers to.
Thanks for sharing the news from Azeroth! :)
More views welcome!
Posted by: Chris | Thursday, 07 October 2010 at 10:56
What is being praised is the lack of anything that would cause the other
players in the group to curse you. If you're playing a tank, you can
keep control of the mobs and refrain from being so ill-mannered as to
die. If you're playing a healer, then nobody gets close to dying...
even if they're continually standing in the fire / void zones / ice /
whatever the encounter designers have chosen for this encounter. If
you're a damage-dealer, you're topping the damage meters, not dying, and preferably moving out of the fire / ... (if you want the healer to like you) and not grabbing any mobs off the tank (if you want the tank to
Any of the heinous crimes of dying, causing a wipe, failing to hold
aggro, not going at breakneck speed through the instance, having to
pause to recover any resource, or only having just good enough gear to
run the instance will get comments like "ffs l2p n00b lol" - and a wipe,
these days, will generally cause a random group to disband.
"OP" = "overpowered" - "he's OP" means "his class or spec [or
occasionally gear] is better than the rest of us". WoW players can be
extremely bitchy. The same thing that's good in instances (someone else
having great gear, a good spec and being able to zoom through the
instance with no problems) is bad everywhere else, probably due to envy.
Blizzard are well aware of the players' envy of others' gear, and this year's April Fool of an Equipment Potency EquivalencE Number (or E.P.E.E.N.) at
particularly well thought-out.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | Monday, 11 October 2010 at 12:58
Peter: it sounds very much like the "praise" here is simply the absence of complaint. This is a fairly weak conception of virtue... There is, perhaps, some concept of a virtue at work behind "imba" but on your account it seems to be an attribution of efficiency and little more. If this is a fair description of the situation, it speaks poorly of the WoW community.
If I may make the comparison with an everyday world work place, how would the employees feel if the only praise they could hope for was "they are an efficient worker"? (I wonder, actually, if in certain Eastern cultures this would suffice for self-esteem?)
It is interesting that "OP" has effectively supplanted "imba". I think your account here suggest that "imba" is a term of virtue - but it's the virtue of efficiency. Is this truly the only virtue in Azeroth?
Posted by: Chris | Tuesday, 12 October 2010 at 07:34
Depends on the group. I think we need to distinguish:
1) groups that are thrown together for one job, last 15-60 minutes, and where the players may never see each other again (random groups are comprised of players from several different servers that are otherwise entirely separate);
2) groups that form for long-term challenges or social functions, such as raid and social guilds.
In 1, no, there are almost no virtue terms. In 2, the players get to know each other well, have repeated interaction, and the usual communication among colleagues/friends appears.
Posted by: Peter Crowther | Wednesday, 13 October 2010 at 11:01
Hi Chris, me again -
In reference to the Achievements question and its lack of application to the outside world - you have to look at them case by case.
One for TF2, for example, involves joining a game in which your online friend is playing, and giving him an ubercharge - a powerbuff. This applies to the morality of simply helping a friend out.
Left 4 Dead gives achievements for helping others up and healing other characters - which is precisely what the game itself is about rather than killing zombies.
However, there are also achievements in TF2 such as "causing a dominated player to rage quit" - in other words, "griefing" so I'm likely wrong.
It's arguably a game mechanic based in how a game designer views his/her game should be played. It's an equivalent of a commandment.
Fair Play is really the oldest game example - one that's used in sports, chess, etc.
Posted by: Osbo | Wednesday, 13 October 2010 at 11:57
Peter: Thanks for this clarification. In the case of (2), my question remains: have no terms emerged for virtues relating to the play of the game, new terms - like imba etc.?
This said, I hear from other WoW players that there is a term, "booster", for a player who helps lower-level players advance. This sounds like a bona fide virtue to me! So there is some hope. :)
Osbo: Thanks for returning to the discussion!
"It's arguably a game mechanic based in how a game designer views his/her game should be played. It's an equivalent of a commandment."
Yes, but this strikes me as a slightly problematic issue... adhering to commandments might be virtuous if the commandments are moral, but the achievements themselves are essentially arbitrary and the compulsion to acquire them strikes me as an *addiction* which is surely not virtuous. And besides, any virtue that might adhere to following a commandment would not do so *as a consequence of following the commandment* but by the nature of what was commanded, and in this case it would surely be *more* virtuous to do the thing in question without promise of reward.
In the case of your powerbuff example, doing this of one's own volition may be virtuous, but if you do so because you want to gain an achievement this looks like simple greed!
I'm open to the argument I've heard elsewhere that there is a code of honour among "chievo whores" concerning how the achievements are attained, but this still strikes me as very borderline stuff...
But I'm very glad you raised the point about "fair play" as it does, as you say, have a long and distinguished history. It shows there are concepts of honour in play, and that a player may be considered honourable. Still, it's striking that we have no adjective (or at least, none I've noticed) for a player who is good at adhering to this code of honour. We moan at players who don't "play fair" and call them cheats and spoilsports, but we have no title for a player who is fair.
Posted by: Chris | Thursday, 14 October 2010 at 10:30
Hmm. This is really interesting, and I will have to give it more thought, but here's a quick take for virtues -
On fighting game forums "Good games" threads are quite common, where people namedrop people they have had good experiences playing against. Also people will quite often message other players "GGs" after good sessions.
Although oddly in RTS games like StarCraft, "GG" seems to imply nothing more than admitting defeat prior to quitting out, and the absence of a "GG" is seen as a lack of manners (as is playing to the death sometimes). It's a bit strange to me personally. Also "GLHF" (Good luck, have fun) is a very common start of game message.
Posted by: Remy77077 | Monday, 18 October 2010 at 17:39
Hmm, masses of other pejoratives I can think of, but not having so much luck on the virtues still.
More from fighting games - the first time I ever heard the use of "spamming" in gaming was from fighting games back before FPS etc were really around, and it was used for "fireball spamming" - repeated use of projectile moves to keep an opponent at bay, that became shortened to just 'spamming' to refer to this. There's also "turtling" (excessive blocking & defensive play), accusations of being a 'tick-thrower' (using a particularly hard to defend mixture of attacks and throws to break a defence), and one of the most amusing ones I ever heard being a "janitor" for excessive use of low 'sweep' moves. Of course the weird thing is, when these games move out of the casual space and into more 'serious' competition, many of these insults can be turned on their head and seen as qualities of a player and/or their play style. The turtle may instead get complimented with comments of "great blocking" that are genuine. The 'spammer' or janitor becomes a great zoner ('zoning' is the term of using repeated perfectly timed ranged attacks to keep the opponent where you want them), the tick-thrower has great "mix-ups" or perhaps good "mind games". One virtuous term I've heard used is "styling" when a player plays with a style that's impressive to the observer, although it's fairly generic, and tends to refer to a player who's easily winning, seemingly no matter what moves or style he uses, so it's probably not especially grounded in any morality, much like most of these 'virtuous' terms unfortunately.
There's also some interesting use of language even about a player's character selection. A "tier whore" is someone who uses only the 'known' stronger characters within a fighting game. Doing the opposite is often seen as a virtue too, but I can't think of any specific language that's used for it. It's usually just exclamations of the kind "he won playing as Remy!!?". "Low tier warrior" is the only general phrase I think I've heard.
I think part of the problem is the massive difference in skill levels and attitudes that players bring to these competitive games. I've had some really difficult voice chat's on XBox Live when I happen to have two friends in the same chat & game with me that have wildly different viewpoints as to what is 'fair play' in the context of the game. To be honest, I sympathise with the 'anything goes' attitude here since otherwise it becomes a poor comedy of attempting to draw some arbitrary line in the sand of what's acceptable or not, it's simple not possible to ever get anyone to agree to some kind of house rules. In reality when you look at almost all the pejoratives and complaints it basically becomes a case of "whatever beats me, I don't like it". One vastly used term in all competitive games is the accusation of "using cheese" or "cheesey play", which again is actually so ill-defined it basically boils down to the same thing. Some people may define their targets of complaint as things that are relatively easy to execute, yet hard to counter. The trouble is, in a competitive environment, why wouldn't someone try to use those types of techniques?
Online fighting games also will have automatic accusations of "lagging" - often directed as an insult towards a player rather than the actual internet conditions, as if it is always the opponents fault (!) - although in some cases it is their 'fault' - when you host a game and an opponent from South America attempts to play you with an atrocious connection to you - even though the game shows them this beforehand, but you, as the host, cannot choose to avoid them. Also online you will frequently see complaints of "turbo" on the behalf of the opponent, due to the fact that many controllers these days have turbo button functions that make certain things far too easy to do in these games that weren't designed with it in mind.
One bonus term from miniatures wargaming - a WAAC player - Win At All Costs. Most definitely an insult!
I do also note that all of the moral language everyone has come up with is from multiplayer games (and generally competition in those games - ie: *real* games, in my definition!). In a single players 'story game' or puzzle-challenge kind of environment, there doesn't seem to me to be much room for morality when it's quite clearly 'man against machine'. A fair amount has been written about games such as Black & White, Fable, Bioshock etc that attempt to create some kind of moral choice for players in this context, yet players generally easily see through their thinly veiled options.
I'm also wondering about applying the same idea to the language of sport, since that's essentially the same essence of a competitive videogame. Thinking about that quickly, you see the same kind of language there; moral insults tend to be quite specific styles of play that some find unacceptable, whereas most virtues are generally reserved for just being good and winning.
Posted by: Remy77077 | Tuesday, 19 October 2010 at 11:54
Remy: thanks for your detailed commentary here - it is most useful. A few points to respond to.
Firstly, I agree that the principal way that the notion of "fair play" is invoked is to cover up the fact that a player is losing in a particular way. That's not to say that some such complaints might not relate to fairness, but I think in general people bitch first and consider fairness later. :)
Moral language is bound to appear in the context of multiplayer because in single player there is rarely the opportunity for other people to comment. But Miguel Sicart has made a powerful case for an ethics of play in the case of single player games, which I won't recap here.
I will say, however, that the titles you mention - Black & White and Fable - are all dismissed by Sicart as not good examples of an ethical game design. (One could add KOTOR as well). The problem is these games *decide* what good and evil mean and simply sort your actions according to prior evaluations. This doesn't afford to the player any possibility of ethical play; they cannot make their own moral decisions, only discover what the development team already decided in advance.
As for sports, I think there are signs of moral notions here. A player can be praised as a "team player", and they may be praised for their "sportsmanlike" conduct. These are not cases of fair play so much as they uphold specific values - the virtue of working as a team in team sports, and the virtue of accepting the competition on its own terms (and not bitching about every little thing that doesn't go your own way)!
Many thanks for continuing to contribute to this discussion!
Posted by: Chris | Wednesday, 20 October 2010 at 07:32