Sunday, September 6, 2009

Social Competition

How highly do we value uniqueness in our RPG characters? I think we all want to be heard.

I was playing a female Draenei hunter with Evizaer even though I already have one. Same model, same professions. A few days ago, I was planning on transferring the older, level 43 hunter to our current server. I wanted to do this because she has a Nightsaber mount, the Furbolg wand, and pretty high Mining/Engineering (it's hard to keep up professions with RAF). But the rational part of my brain kicked in, and since I suspect we will only hit 48 by the time we head off to GDC Austin and then Aion, I decided against the transfer.

That Nightsaber mount is special. I remember going to the newbie Night Elf area and doing every Darnassus quest I could find. I did the same thing for a little Gnome mage I have because I don't like the appearance of the elephant nor Mechostrider mounts. But at the same time those accomplishments uniquely identify those two characters.

Achievement is also expressed though generational items, often earned during time-limited events. Wearing a Pumpkin Head in FFXI said "I was there". FFXI is without a doubt a much more social game than WoW. Players had casual clothing that they would wear in town. I had a very clownish costume of a Pumpkin Head, a blue kimono, and white slacks which I would often substitute with a Rusty Subligar. Here is an example of how ridiculous I often made myself look with the subligar.

It was a statement. Among all the Hume Dark Knights with face/hair model #3, I was the guy who wouldn't wear pants. I was also a walking trophy shelf. I never did any end game raiding in FFXI; event gear was all that I could show off.

In WoW 1.x, standing around in IF with all my fancy raid gear was enough to set me apart. Even if I did manage to obtain clown gear, I dare not remove the trophies of my accomplishments. During guild raids, I wasn't that unique snowflake anymore; everyone had uber gear. Thus I frequently brought "toys" from all the holiday events: snowballs, moon beams, pets, a reindeer, etc.. I often had at least one application of Noggenfogger on me at all times. It still is my favorite item in WoW. I made Evizaer come with me to Tanaris just to do that one quest.

The synthesis of social and competitive aspects cannot be decoupled. Your accomplishments mean nothing unless compared to others. Has a friend ever been really excited to tell you some feat he completed in a game you've never played? Sure you feel happy for his success, but you don't know how grand the accomplishment really is. We even juxtapose our solo trials. I can win Civilization 4 on the hardest difficulty (yea right!), but unless I've failed on Deity before, I have no sense of victory. It's all relative, just like any metric. I see players walking around in WoW with epic gear. It could be from some 5-man heroic or from Yogg+0 or whatever the kids are killing these days--I have no idea; the trophies are wasted on me.

If we use evolution to explain human behavior, the competitive backbone of society isn't that far fetched. Time and time again economists, anthropologists, and psychologists have tested the premise that humans should rationally choose the objectively better option when dealing with choices. But time and time again, humans show they would rather be better off relative to their neighbors. Keeping up with the Joneses. Or Ensidia.

Social players and achievement players are two sides of the same coin.


spinksville said...

I think you've found a spot where bartle's archetypes don't quite cover modern MMOs. You could collect stuff and dress your character in MUDs but it didn't have the visual impact that a graphical game does.

Collecting might easily have been more of an explorer playstyle -- showing that you knew the gameworld well enough to find interesting and unusual items. So wanting to look unique can feature as part of a social playing style (it might not be a core goal though unless it leads to more social play) but it might also be a way of showing off achievements for an achiever, or knowledge of the gameworld for an explorer, or how many people you'd killed if the gear somehow signified that.

I guess what I'm saying is that gear in MMOs can signify lots of different things. And although the desire to look/be different is a social drive in a massive game, that doesn't mean it's a core part of a social playing style. That would depend on how other people actually perceived and reacted to it.

ie. Does it impress people? Do you get more attention? Do people notice you? Do they want to interact with you? Do you seek more social interaction?

A more sterotypical social player is more concerned with his/her peer group and with acts that will lead to more social play in future.

Anyhow, I agree that human beings are competitive, and that social players find different ways to compete than achievers or killers. But I think the desire to be unique (ie. attention seeking) is an immature form of social play. I say that because once you have a social group, the focus is more on who you are and how you play and interact than what you look like or what gear you have. But like anything social, it'll depend on the group.

evizaer said...

Social competition seems to be an achiever goal to me. You show off achievements by having unique gear on you. I don't think it has a Bartle-defined "social" role, really--I think that the urge to collect is more strong in a game where there is a larger society to show off to, though.

Hirvox said...

Social competition is something that can't easily be expressed within a single Bartle archetype: The social part is that one wants to be seen as a valuable member of the society: If you don't keep up with the Joneses, you're part of the underclass. The achiever part is the end result, but not necessarily the motivation: Sure, you got the biggest car, but you got it because you wanted to show that you're better than them, which is a Killer motivation. Especially if the social norms/rules prevent you from showing your superiority in a direct way.

Melf_Himself said...

When people talk about Social types in an MMO, they mean stuff like enjoying the teamwork and camaraderie of playing together and interacting with others. It's all about developing trust apparently:

The Achievement side is a different kettle of fish - although it's true that the happiness we get from it is enhanced by having others around. If a Paladin dings in the woods, and nobody is around, what sound does it make?

(Ok, it goes "ding" by definition, but you get my point :p)

motstandet said...

If we exemplify the Social motivator, we of course find simple, casual person-to-person interaction. But before that casual conversation could come about, people (and players) will signal like theres no tomorrow (as Robin Hanson would say). Once roles or dominant figures are established, then the lightheartedness can begin.

Same thing happens when new agents enter the social group. Observe what happens in guild chat when a new member is invited. Players offer help ("I'm stronger than you"), make inside jokes ("you are an outcast"), tell them the rules ("I have more authority than you"), or ignore them completely ("you are not important enough for me").

motstandet said...

I'm going to get people to stop talking about Bartle types if it's the last thing I do.

From a high-level perspective, 4 different motivators certainly make sense. Everyone can fit players they know into one of these categories. But an important part of Bartle's theory is that there are is mutual exclusion in "opposite" motivators. Look at the graph he draws.

Socialization and Achievement cannot be, as a union, a motivator for play. Yet I've illustrated that they are born from the same unconscious process--establishing social roles.

Additionally, Nick Yee debunked much of what Bartle hypothesized as well, but he used statistical analysis. According to his research, the Daedalus Project, there are only 3 main motivational components to MMORPG play: Achievement, Socializing, and Immersion. None of which outright negate or signify the absence of another, a very important discovery.

Anonymous said...

This bartle-roles thing sounds like a mathmatician's way of describing something that is way too complex to describe in numbers. Even the most cursory study of a social science will illustrate, to anyone who pays attention, that people are varied beyond comprehension.

That said:

Motstandet's post screams of untruth. People do things for any number of reasons. The suggestion that people are motivated entirely by competitive comparison is ridiculous. Proof of the extremity of such statements is everywhere, even in an MMO such as WoW, which is far from a truly random sample, we see people who do little more then sit in the largest village and chat. Are these people really motivated by comparison with each other? Perhaps, but definitely not in the completionist way of your typical gamer.

I do agree that people generally act in ways that is best for themselves. However, the idea of "best for themselves" is not clearly defined. In India, or example, we see a much more family oriented social structure, where actions are done for family benefit well before personal. (Jobs are often chosen because a family doesn't have someone of that profession in it) This permeates all the way in to their modern economic structures, where companies work in teams to provide advantages. This fixation on individualism is a very american idea, and something you will not find universally across cultures.

Beyond this. Do I think Motstandet's idea that gamers tend to act in a comparative manner is correct? Yes. The modern gamer, and specifically the MMO gamer, tends to come with a competitive personality. A certain degree of this competitiveness exists in each of us, but the "hardcore" types that become MMO fanatics tend to be extreme. But to suggest that everyone derives their fun from such actions? Outrageous. Perhaps one should consider the type of person that the MMO attracts before making statements about the entirety of humanity based on observations in the MMO itself.

Overall, the post sounds like an overly zealous libretarian's desire to apply his economic theories to sociology.

evizaer said...

"If we use evolution to explain human behavior, the competitive backbone of society isn't that far fetched. Time and time again economists, anthropologists, and psychologists have tested the premise that humans should rationally choose the objectively better option when dealing with choices. But time and time again, humans show they would rather be better off relative to their neighbors. Keeping up with the Joneses. Or Ensidia."

Competition isn't the fundamental behavior of individuals in a society. Cooperation is. Without cooperation, society is impossible. We are used to defining society as an amorphous group of people, but that isn't an appropriate definition. Within a society, different people work together towards common goals. Modernity has eroded this essential definition because the goals of the members of a rich society are exceedingly impossible to define in any concrete way, whereas the goals of a society whose survival is not guaranteed are clear.

The smallest unit of society is the family, which has proven quite resilient to wishes for its destruction and attempts to uproot it. It's clear that the individuals within families have to cooperate--if they don't cooperate, children suffer great harm and and any enduring purpose of the coupling of the parents is entirely destroyed. This was even more obvious in the distant past (and in animal populations) where a fractured family meant the deaths of the members of the family.

Societies aren't formed and sustained by their members competing. The cooperation of the group might necessitate some forms of conflict (male gorillas fighting over who is to be pack leader), but that conflict is a reinforcement of cooperation and is necessary for the survival of the group.

The community of a game is not a society. There is no uniting concrete goal that can allow this society to function effectively. Gamers do form societies in games, though, through forming guilds with people they trust and respect. Within these societies, MMOs see cooperation by far trump competition.

Hirvox said...

I might as go as far as to say that competition is/was the backbone of life: The winner gets to produce offspring. And the fundamental idea of society is the cooperation for mutual benefit.. such as gaining a competitive advantage over the Joneses.

motstandet said...

Sitting in town (or Trade) and chatting with everyone is a competition in notoriety or reputation. He wants to be known.

The social pressures in India or whatever family structure you want to reference play a large part in "what is successful" in that society. Individually, a person would be better off by succumbing to the pressures and following whatever ideals are in place. To do otherwise would create such ostracization that functioning in that society would be next to impossible.

Same thing with economic cabals, oligopolists, or any other cooperative environment. If an individual contained in that firm would be better off, or more successful, or make more money, or survive longer on their own, then they will break away from the firm.

Do I like cooperation? I enjoy it in some places, and find it burdensome in others. But just because I like working together as a team, doesn't mean that I'm blind to my individual desires to succeed or establish my position on the totem pole.