It’s About Ethics

I left off yesterday with my taste of serious, I’m-a-superior-player PvP, and a foray into shady dealings. I left Dark Age of Camelot when I logged in as one of my spies and saw the effects I’d wrought. The players in my faction didn’t suspect I was a spy, but one of the others did, and chat was laced with misinformation and slander. Apparently some players had started griefing their own faction by delivering false “scouting reports” that led raiding parties right into traps. They were reasonably high-level players, which to me made the betrayals make even less sense.

It bothered me to see these players resorting to infighting and disorganization even given their relative disadvantage, and I wound up talking to one of them at some point as my spy, commenting that I knew some directions he’d given a few days ago had been a trap and asking him why he did it. His answer was blunt: “We can’t win, they’re spying on us and know our moves ahead of time, so it’s funny to me to watch people eagerly run into traps. The other factions own this server, we’re just bait.” I’d taken some pride in my duplicity before that, but it evaporated after talking to him. I retired my spies, but the damage was done. I’d helped set up too strong a stranglehold for the faction to make a comeback– their own heroes had turned on them, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I quit DAoC shortly thereafter.

I’d gotten a taste for PvP, though, and not long after I got into the beta for Shadowbane. This was a game I was excited about– lots of customization, a world with fascinating lore and interesting non-standard races, and full, open PvP with player-made cities you could fight over. Very exciting, and I jumped into the beta with both feet. I’d gotten in fairly early on the the beta, so I had a very good idea of hunting spots and places to get rare items. In Shadowbane, special powerful class options were hidden by drops in certain specific places, and while the world was somewhat randomly generated, there were ways of finding them if you knew what to look for. I did, and quickly became a very nasty duelist, using skills most players hadn’t seen and using lots of tricks I’d learned in DAoC to win fights. I particularly enjoyed picking on spellcasters, because I’d carefully arranged my kit to make myself extremely deadly against mages, who were squishy and usually couldn’t mount an effective defense in time.

I’d gone from playing a healer in EQ to playing, essentially, a rogue in DAoC and Shadowbane, and I revelled in proving that I was better than other players, even with the handicap of satellite connection lag. It went to my head, and as beta session after beta session rebooted things, I got faster at becoming powerful and more callous about my target picking. It was a little shady, because I was beelining for rare skills and items and telling no one else about them, but I told myself I was just playing the game, and wasn’t even doing anything I shouldn’t.

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At one point I ran into a pair of players sitting at the edge of a zone, chatting and emoting. There’s a particular cadence to roleplaying text compared with normal, utilitarian text that I recognized– these two players were RPing, and I was hunting them. My ego was engaged, though– PKers — player-killers — were usually thought of as lowlifes and brutes; skilled but not intelligent. I came up with what I thought was a clever scene in my head, stepped out and started roleplaying with them. They engaged, and as I’d planned, the scene came to a head and I drew my weapon and murdered one of the two of them. It had all played out as planned, and seemed to me like a fantastic arc in the game. Rather than killing them outright, I’d tried to make it fun.

“Oh. I guess that figures. I thought you were going to be better than that. Oh well, I’m going AFK, kill me or whatever.”

The other player had dropped character entirely and left herself standing there. Both had put me on ignore, shutting me out from any discussion. I’d thought it would be a fun thing in the game, death stung but not too badly, but I’d clearly sapped their enjoyment of things and without them putting up a fight, it wasn’t fun for me. The remaining player could’ve made it a good fight, but she wasn’t doing so. I didn’t like being brushed off, so I waited.

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About an hour later, her AFK flag went away. She saw me still sitting there and made a comment, one I couldn’t reply to because she was /ignoring me.

“Oh, you’re still here? Hope it was fun, asshole. That was my brother you killed. He’s in the military and we get a few hours of playtime a month, which we spent running out here to RP and tell stories. Thanks for ruining it.”

And then, she logged out. It stung, and I had no way of saying anything in my defense. I knew how the ignore system worked, so I created a new character so that I could say something when she got back. I saw her a bit later on, hopped on my alt character and sent her a tell, mentioning that I was the person from before. I was swiftly ignored again, without so much as a return comment.

A search on the forums revealed that she did a lot of roleplaying on the RP forums for the game, using an alias that was the same as her character name. Mine wasn’t, and I didn’t want to say anything directly, but it got me reading the RP forums. I was fascinated by the stories people were telling– I could tell stories like that too, and how much fun people were having with just text and without the game to play. When the game was down or when I couldn’t play it, I lurked the RP forums and read stories, eventually starting to participate myself.

I’d forgotten about the brother and sister I’d griefed until she appeared in one of my RP threads, taking an active part in a story. In it, she was playing the character I’d seen, and spoke often of her weak younger brother, who she’d periodically take on adventures to see the world. She called herself Challi, and her roleplaying mimicked the high-level player I’d seen chatting with the much lower level player, and I realized that her RP was a mirror of what she actually did in game. It was inspiring to see, and I got the impression that Challi’s forum roleplay fueled her storytelling with her brother, and vice-versa. I was roleplaying as a duelist, effectively a mirror of my existing character but with a more fleshed out story.

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Over time, I noticed my forum RP leaking into the game. I picked targets differently, and hunted other PKers. I had a few dozen macros ready to say precise lines to put whatever I was doing in context for the character. It was fun, but as the game got closer to launch, I realized that while I’d spent a ton of time as a loner, there were big guilds forming that I didn’t know how to become a part of. I was leery of joining another big guild after what had happened in EQ less than a year before, but I knew that they, together, would make my solo play obsolete. I’d be able to have my fun until the game launched, but after that it would quickly end.

I wanted a group, but the known guilds were snapping up people left and right, and some of the requirements of the guilds that tried to recruit me were too strict for my tastes. I wanted the freedom of being a loner with the benefits of having a group. Total nonsense, but there you have it.

What bridged the gap was my newfound set of roleplaying friends on the forum. I’d become close to a number of people who didn’t know I was the ruthless PKer mentioned elsewhere on the forums, and I realized I could reinvent myself when the game launched. I scoured the game’s lore until I found a tidbit I could use as a hook, then introduced a new character– the brother of my previous roleplaying character, who was a mage-scholar. I planted the seed for a guild of lorekeepers and scholars, trying to rebuild an ancient lost library mentioned in the lore. I started going to the big guild battles near the end of beta, lurking as my rogue but keeping notes, and then reporting on the battles, complete with carefully-edited screenshots, as my mage-scholar, talking about events in the game.

not actually us-- i've long since lost my shadowbane screenshots. same blue and white robes though.

not actually us– i’ve long since lost my shadowbane screenshots. same blue and white robes though.

It sparked interest among the writers in the crowd, and when the game launched I quickly had a small group who wanted nothing more than to travel the world telling stories on the forums. I set up a website for us, the first one I’d tried to make, so that we could type our entries and report on events in the world. I knew the PvPer ego, because I’d been one, and got good at crafting stories to appeal to it. People loved reading about themselves, and we started having guilds who were about to participate in battles give us advance warning and ask us to witness their battles. I got everyone in the guild a set of distinctive, brightly-colored newbie clothes, blue-and-white robes, obvious on the battlefield and obviously inferior gear for anyone looking, and it became our uniform. We’d be able to take pictures as the battle swirled around us, and our caveat was that if we died, we wouldn’t report. Both sides would fight to keep us safe, so that we could write and inflate their egos.

One of the people who joined the guild was Challi, the girl whose brother I killed, and I kept quiet about who I really was. I was happy to have reinvented myself and, in a twisted sort of way, gotten forgiveness for my previous asshat behavior. It was frustrating that I couldn’t participate in the major battles, which had been my favorite part of DAoC, but it was worth it to see the stories that came out of them, and knowing that people would remember them after the weekend or night they happened.

We were a small guild, though, and while our goal was to rebuild the forgotten library, realistically we would never have the resources to do so. To build a city in Shadowbane, you needed a city-seed, which planted a huge tree and was incredibly expensive, plus more expensive walls and buildings. We’d never afford those. This was okay, but we never really had a home city, which was a crucial part of the game’s progression. There was only so much we could do without one. We chafed under the lack of resources, until one of our guildmembers came up to me and dropped a city seed and over a million gold on me– enough for a modestly sized city and enough money to pay upkeep for a while. He wouldn’t say where he’d gotten it, just told us to build the city that night, before he had to log off.

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Building the city was a party. We had a ton of fun with it, and when it was all over we had a replica of our library, right in the middle of the map where it was easy for us to get around. I’d already used my game knowledge to hook up the rest of the guild with a rare teleportation skillset, so with a home city we could travel almost anywhere we wanted with relative ease.

A week later, the player who’d given me the tree and all the gold was gone. Banished from guild roster, gone from friends lists, had never put any buildings in the city, just gone. I had a message on our shared website: “banned for duping, sry.”

All of the gold he’d gotten had been from cheating, and he’d given it to me so that when they banned him the city would work. I’d been suspicious, but the windfall was too good to pass up, so I’d taken it without questioning. I debated for weeks whether I should tell the guild about it, particularly given how a great many members had come out as heavily against cheating, to the point where my own beta knowledge of the game was considered shady. Actual duping would have been an unforgivable crime, and our whole city was built on it.

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I had no idea how to handle the situation, and I knew college would be starting soon for me, so I fled. I went on vacation with my family and beat myself up over the situation, enough that my parents thought I wasn’t enjoying the trip. When I got back, I logged into the game, said my greetings, and started a private conversation with Challi, who’d become my second-in-command. I told her everything– who I was, where all the money for the guild had come, and that I was leaving Shadowbane because I couldn’t take it. I passed guild leadership to her, and as the chorus of surprised voices popped up in guildchat, I logged out and cancelled my account.

I told myself it was because I was going to college, and that I wouldn’t have time for games there, which lasted until an e-mail popped up in my inbox, informing me that I’d been invited to the beta test for Star Wars Galaxies. I’ve already told this story, but suffice it to say I played it for nearly a year before it broke me and caused me to ragequit the only MMO I’ve ever ragequit.

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I found out later that Challi had told the guild that I’d had to quit because I was moving to college, and that she’d kept everything else she’d heard from me to herself. I never found out how she felt about my self-reinvention, but she kept in contact for a while and I continued forum roleplaying with the guild afterwards. Challi had no idea how to run a guild, and I fed her tips from what I’d seen in DAoC and EQ, both what to do and what not to do. Apparently, I quickly became something of a legend within the guild, particularly as Challi would tell stories about me, and several of the guild members who came after I’d left thought I was a lore NPC that stories were being told about, and that the guild had been themed on.

I wouldn’t run into any of them until SWG, when the Library in Shadowbane got destroyed by a guild of PKers who decided to raze it and the guild couldn’t afford to rebuild. Rather than sticking around, the group all moved to SWG, and I wound up a satellite part of the group again, until the aforementioned ragequit.



Source: Digital Initiative
It’s About Ethics

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