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There's something strange about a computer game, more specifically, there's something strange about PvP. I'm a sports fan, and have been for a long time, and in my many watchings of sport, I've noticed something that I quite admire about the sportsmen I watch on a Friday night or whenever I should be doing something more constructive. On the field, these athletes can be at each other's throats and be each other's worst enemy, so as a result, their on-field interactions are normally abrupt and quite aggressive. But take away the sports field, and these two blokes, recovering from bruises and other injuries, could be sitting in a tavern, sharing a brew and behaving as if they were best mates. Now, keep in mind that I'm being very broad and very general when I say this next bit (because I know it is not always the case), but in a virtual environment, namely an MMO, a player may have the tendency to carry with them the aggression, anger, and overall competitive nature that is first stirred in the online arena, with them even when "the game" is over. What is it about PvP that gets its competitors so riled up?
You may remember reading a story back in January about a Ukrainian online gamer that a gamer from a rival guild to death in a Moscow internet café, after what was first an online and in-game altercation. At last report, the Ukrainian man was facing up to 15 years jail on charges of manslaughter. At what point did this man forget to remember, "It's just a game", or what was this other man doing to make the Ukrainian react so violently? Was the guy getting "pwnd" so much that he just snapped? Was the in-game banter getting too serious and what may have began as innocent sledging (cricketing term, albeit colloquial - refer to definitions #1 and #2) turn into something more sinister? Was a certain line cross? Or was this event a result of months and months of competition, rivalry and bickering between the two parties during their gaming time?
Now before you start thinking this is a "video games cause real-life violence" piece, I'll demand that you erase any of those kind of thoughts immediately, because this is not a piece about "video games cause real-life violence". What I would like to address this fortnight is the issue of "PvPer mentality", but please keep in mind (treat this as a type of disclaimer, if you will) that, as earlier mentioned, I'm being very broad and very general. I'm not saying all PvPers behave in this particular manner, so it's more of a feature this week to be wary of this particular behaviour: to be able to recognise it, what to do if you're somehow involved or beset upon by it, and quite simply how to avoid it and ensure your PvP experiences (especially in 'Age of Conan') are always enjoyable and leave you with a good feeling, encouraging you to continue PvPing. If we can show sportsmanship on the field, in real life, then I'm certain the same can be done in a virtual setting.
Unless you know the people you PvP with or against very well, it can be quite hard to tell whether any sledging or digs at you are jovial in nature or are indeed malicious and used to coax a reaction from you. But for those doing what they do or saying what they say because they are being malicious or attempting to coax a reaction from you, they do so because it's easy, easy to do over the internet, that is. Players are faceless and emotionless entities in a virtual setting, so therefore no one need worry about emotional repercussions, hurting anyone's feelings, or believe that everyone will take what is said or done as a joke, I mean, it's only a game, right?
PvP is fun (or at least it can be), and there are people that are just naturally drawn to it. However, there are gamers out there in MMO-land who sit on a teetered edge when it comes to playing in a PvP environment or not. Usually, the deciding factor for these people is the general attitude of the PvPer. A lot of people have been put off PvP mainly due a lack of sportsmanship and "elitist" attitudes, and it seems there's no escape from this attitude either, because if you apparently don't like PvP or don't participate because of the sledging and digs, the label of "Carebear" (definitions #1 and #2) may be placed upon you.
"The unpredictability of early MMOs led to a dichotomy in player perception of PvP. You either loved it, or you hated it. Luckily this is now fading, and PvP is in most new MMOs, becoming something you do for fun and purpose, but always in addition to whichever other activities you participate in." - Gaute Godager, IGN, July 2005
The silly thing is, the dedicated PvPers in a game after some time may begin to complain about a lack of competition or PvP content itself. Why? People, as resilient as we may think we are, can only take being called a "Carebear" for so long, or take only so much of the trash-talking and "drama". As earlier indicated also, a virtual rivalry, unlike one that might exist in the professional sporting arena, carries through in the virtual gaming world, because after all in MMO PvP, you're mainly playing for personal enjoyment, and bragging rights. Having said that, however, fun at the expense of others is not fun for said "others", and bragging rights can be abused. In other ways of words, at what point does it become un-fun for others? What can you do about it so that players (call them "potential targets", if need be) are actually encouraged to PvP?
As a general rule of thumb, don't take anything anyone says in the internet seriously, especially in MMO PvP. While a comment may seem snarky or malicious, there is, already inferred, a culture of sledging in sports and gaming. While I expect most of us are level-headed enough not to let things amount to stomping a member of a rival guild outside of a Moscow internet café, I expect there to be some healthy competition, and some rivalry should never hurt anybody, in fact, it can be quite healthy for a game like 'Age of Conan', but it should never come to the point where people are being put off by PvP all-together, or leaving the experience a bit disappointed because of what has been said or done.
'Age of Conan' is an opportunity for all experienced PvPers to start things anew. This is a game intended for a mature audience, so I think it only makes sense that we treat something as big as PvP with a mature mind-set. There's no reason why we can't be like the sportsmen on the field: caught up in the heat of the moment, but relaxed, friendly, and gentlemen-like towards each other when our swords are back in their scabbards, so to speak. No one should ever feel harassed, abused, or humiliated when attempting to have fun in an online setting.
Enjoying yourself in PvP should never require having to have a "thick skin", that is, the ability to shrug off comments that may seem malicious and try to coax a reaction from you, and for someone to say to you "Toughen up!" or "If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen" (which are essentially "You're a Carebear!" comments) only shows that they are the kind of PvPer referred to in the opening paragraphs of this editorial. If you're having trouble shrugging something off or attempting to take a comment in jest, then there are a couple of things you can do that are quite effective: ignore the person that is seemingly harassing you (either by not reading/turning off the chat window, or using an in-game 'Ignore' function), or very politely tell the person that you either: don't appreciate those comments being thrown at you (depending on the gravity of the comment); or you'll fight on the condition there's no trash-talk. If any further goading, coaxing or sledging ensues, then you've got grounds to send a report to a GM or put the "offender" on 'Ignore'. EULAs (End User License Agreement) have a clause on player conduct and harassment policies, and they are there to ensure your experience of the game is not tarnished, so to speak. So these are your rights, and you should feel no way apprehensive in exercising them.
If you're the kind of player that can handle a bit of competitive banter and relish in besting your opponents not just with your virtual mettle, but with a quick quip or two as your opponent lay on the floor looking up at you, then you can probably dish out as good as you get it. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that not everyone takes what is said on the battlefield the same way as those that know you better. By all means, create a ripple or two, but if you are asked politely to cease by someone who may be getting either annoyed by your banter or would rather just not be personally subjected to it, then it would be best to honour that request lest you are reported for harassment yourself.
"...I would like to mention that PvP is voluntary and will never be forced on the player. It should never encourage griefing; allowing a high-level player to gank a lower-level one, nor should the glee of winning be based on the loss of time and effort on the side of the loser." - Gaute Godager, IGN, July 2005
If you like PvP, if it's your main focus in the game, then you're going to want to be doing it as often as possible with as many other players as possible, and the best way to make that happen is to show that PvPers are not the elitist-Carebear-pwning-jerks they are perceived to be by those who generally do not favour PvP.
'Age of Conan' is promising positive PvP experiences for all players, whether you're a seasoned veteran or someone who has only known victory on the PvE side of things in any other MMO. For those that wish to give PvP a go either for the first time ever or because you feel it might be different in 'Age of Conan', perhaps don't expect things to be perfect all the time or the first time - if things don't go as planned, don't forget you have rights and are free to come and go as you please. It would be a shame for anyone to be put off PvP completely. And for the said seasoned PvP veterans, not everyone may be as competitive as you are or used to your antics, so be gracious in victory, humble in defeat, and respect the rights of other players. But most importantly, encourage those that find PvP perhaps a little too confronting at first, or who are discouraged by frequent defeats; be constructive, and be helpful.
The 'Age of Conan' license lends itself so well to PvP so it should be the aim of all participants to ensure that everyone keeps on coming back for more, craving it! More combat, more wanton violence, more glory, and more power. Let's all just be sporting about it, by Crom!
Until next fortnight, this is Stephen "weezer" Spiteri,
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© Stephen Spiteri, June 2007