Author Topic: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases  (Read 3654 times)

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Jeshin Offline

Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« on: April 08, 2017, 02:52:30 PM »
TLDR - Bad apples cause a lack of goodwill and trust in the playerbase to certain character concepts or mechanics because of past abuses or excessive use.

In almost every game there is an activity or archetype that earns an unthematic or disproportionate response from the playerbase. Sometimes this is due to lack of documentation about the setting. Other times it can be traced back to personal player opinions on the issue. Both of these can be addressed by the staff and the community with further documentation in the case of lacking documentation and downplaying things In Character in the case of personal player opinions bleeding into their characters. Another way that disproportional/unthematic responses can arise is through negative conditioning. Negative conditioning is where players have bad experiences with the later villainized archetype/activity. There are some common groups/activities that get this treatment and the reason why normally comes down to a lack of self-awareness from players.

Lets take a look at thieves which will often have a strong stigma attached to them on RPI games. Obviously thieving is a staple in many settings especially in survival, apocalyptic, horror, and adventure settings. Everyone can envision the roguish charmer who employs the five-finger discount or a little 'knock' on a door to get what they want. So why do these types of characters and activities get such a strong response sometimes? Bad thieves. Not in the IC sense that they are bad, in the IC sense they are extraordinary thieves. They can clean out homes with nary a sign of their efforts except for an empty room. They can pick items from your inventory with impunity until you're buttoning every flap and cinching every pouch string. They can disappear almost perfectly in closed rooms to the point of being nigh invisible despite a posse of people emoting about searching for 30 minutes.

These negative and questionable experiences from a conditioning in the playerbase. Better safe than sorry. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. You could have very magnanimous players that carry money on them in reasonable amounts should a pickpocket want to earn some income. They stay in homes with average to no security accepting the fact they may be occasional robbed. They even leave out keepsakes and valuable items in their homes should someone want to take one or two during their skulking. After they get cleaned out a few times though, likely for more than they were imagining was "fair" they will begin playing defensively and should a thief be named and shamed they will often take severe actions against them to dissuade them doing their thieving again. Even if they are not the character or player who originally wronged them. Most of the time this is because they do not know who wronged them they only know how they were wronged so you get guilt by association.

You can also have villains/antagonists which can earn special attention even though each individual incident is not that different from what another villain/antagonist might do. Why do these characters and players seemingly get singled out? Often it is due to a lack of self-awareness and self-moderation. While the playerbase might accept consistent and measured acts of villainy there is a line that can be crossed and the activity becomes excessive. This could be something like "hoarding" victims. This is when a villain seems to constantly find the freshest and newest characters, introduce them to their villainy, often in a long lasting way. Then despite having this strong roleplay hook with their new victim, they will proceed to do it again, and again, and again until they have a veritable harem of Roleplay partners and no time for all of them. Then they pick the wrong victim, someone that is already being targetted by other villains, more moderate villains. This leads to a seemingly unthematic response where villains will "defend" the victim or "defend" their stake in a victim by lashing out against the excessive villain character. Often the same lack of self-awareness that leads to the excessive antagonism also leads to an inability to identify why this backlash from "fellow villains" is occurring.

This negative conditioning can lead to people being very opinionated about what is good or bad antagonism. What should be nipped in the bud early so it doesn't become excessive? What character concepts are "crude" or "shallow" and need to be targetted as soon as they show their colors? This kind of defensive attitude can lead to jumping the gun as well as diminishing the total amount of antagonism/conflict in a game as people don't want to be seen as too excessive and added into the category of characters that need an outsized response when they do an evil act.

An almost universal roleplay hook that gets an overwhelming response from players is rape. Despite any documentation or implication, it should be downplayed or outright ignored in a setting the potential or historical abuse of this roleplay content earns a harsh and often mob with pitchforks response to the rapist. Sometimes even when the rape narrative was sought out by the victim and is something they are interested in playing out. The stigma on this roleplay subject matter is so strong that even the victim characters of rape can be swept up in the response by a playerbase. This obviously imparts because of OOC opinions on rape but if you speak to enough roleplayers many will offer opinions about how they've rarely seen rape done well and have failed to see the benefit of rape roleplay in games in the past. It is also because some people who do opt into doing rape roleplay end up becoming excessive in it and/or loop portions of the playerbase into it that would rather not be involved. This happens and suddenly the playerbase is negatively conditioned to want to shut down the roleplay narrative as soon as it crops up to spare themselves the risk of a prolonged and messy involvement.

Do you think playerbases are negatively conditioned by excessive or abusive experiences with certain things?

Do you think it's just a matter of OOC/IC bleed where players are projecting their personal opinions onto a character that should be more chill about it?

Can you think of any other character concepts, roleplay narratives, or mechanics that get overwhelming responses?

Many Faces Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #1 on: April 09, 2017, 03:27:14 AM »
I don't think you can conflate the two examples as being part of the same thing.  With rape, you've got people who actually want to RP that for the setting, people who want to get off on it, and the occasional damaged victim trying to make sense of it through re-enactment.  Then you also have actual victims of rape who may react poorly to people trying to pretend it around them.  On top of all that, you have people who really do not want that level of drama going on in the game world they are playing in, even if all they encounter is the splash damage of what happened to complete strangers they only meet IC.

In short: it's an aspect of gaming whole latrine's worth of shit mixed into it.  I personally don't see the value of including it in any public game considering the huge negatives that come with it.

Theft in games is an entirely different subject.

If you ask anyone who hates thieves why you'll get a completely under-thought answer, regardless of the intelligence the person may display in other areas.  "They take unique items to grief me!  They stole too much!  It was unrealistic!"  Yet these same people will play games with permadeath and hate their characters' killers drastically less than thieves.  Someone can straight-up kill their character for giggles, take everything they owned, and cost them all of the time and effort of not only their dead character but that lost to making a new character, and yet this player killer may not even merit mild irritation for committing a greater crime.  They may even get killed by cheap tricks and still not have anywhere near the hostility towards the person who PK-ed them that they have for thieves in general.

So in reality the loss of property is irrelevant, the amount stolen is just something to yell about, and nobody really gives a damn about realism.  That's crap people think of to justify their feelings.  It's not what they'd come up with if they explored the cause for their feelings.

The real reason that people hate thieves is because they think theft is cheating.  This is a consequence of programming.  It has very little to do with how thieves are played.  The way theft is implemented amounts to taking a killing/crafting simulator and adding a new way to attack people without thinking to add defense and retaliation.  Thieves aren't playing the same game, code-wise, as everyone else and they can't tell when successful theft happened or who really did it.  This makes it easy for people to feel like they are victims of cheating even when they're not.

Primarily this problem exists because MUDs don't have societal coding in them.  The coded social aspects of MUDs, at best, are tacked onto a killing/crafting simulator.  The majority of societal reaction to theft it is simulated by the staff, if they're around, and through players metagaming or attacking people OOCly.  With no appropriate in-game method of retaliation, consequences, or defense, players of the victims are put in the position of trying to judge if something was cheating while the crime they were subjected to was invisible and trying to prevent/avenge it with a limited coded means of doing so.

This is getting deep in the abstract so let me give two examples of societal-level coding that would alleviate two very common problems.



1) Someone stole my Unique MacGuffin!

Let's say you're playing a female character who wears a decorative necklace.  You do a lot of business with a male NPC merchant.  A LOT of business.  Realistically, she should be developing a positive relationship with this merchant, and this unique item should be memorable to him.  One day a thief steals her necklace.  The how is unimportant beyond that the thief stole it fair and square.  The thief's luck runs out because the thief tries selling it to your character's NPC merchant friend.  In a really simple implementation of societal code, the merchant would report the thief to the authorities.  In a more complex implementation, the merchant might buy the necklace and save it to return to your character later or have his guards seize the thief or (if he secretly hated your character for haggling so much) buy the necklace and sell it to someone she has a known grudge against.

All of these things would eliminate one of the biggest problems with theft: code-wise every theft happens in a vacuum.  There is no risk to stealing a thing after you've stolen it.  IRL, a person carrying around unique items known to have been stolen, or who always has money and is disproportionately wealthy for the neighborhood even though nobody could tell you what they do for a living, would be subject to suspicion even if they weren't criminals.

2) Someone broke in my house and stole EVERYTHING!

Someone breaks into a house.  Code simulates the response among NPCs, VNPCs, or both.  Depending on the time it happens and how quiet it is, at some point neighbors become suspicious.  Every trip in and out of the house shortens the time before there is a reaction.  Every trip in and out of the house results in more on-lookers getting better looks at you.  Eventually authorities arrive to investigate the break-in or a mob forms to attack the intruders.  If someone successfully cleared out a house, they would have done so skillfully, and at incredible risk.  They may even be able to avoid a crime being detected while they're doing it if they disguise themselves well enough.  More than likely, though, the burglar would try to break in quietly, grab the most valuable things they can in the amount of time they believe they are safe to burgle, and leave the area.

Descriptions of you and what you stole may get around in the game.  Depending on how it is coded, this could result in false positives or a trail for people to work their way back to you for your crimes.  It creates a gaming equivalent to the real world issue thieves have where they either have to fence their goods before people know to look for them or sit on goods until people are no longer looking for them.

When a house is broken into in real life burglars rarely lock the door behind them.  Life doesn't give you skill point gains; there's no benefit to staying longer than you have to.  Burglars often don't close the door.  That's more time wasted.  At the same time, people who live on the same street have some idea who they are used to seeing around the neighborhood.  They won't immediately become suspicious of strangers unless they observe unusual behavior.

Jumping back to the problem with games' lack of societal coding, let's revisit the point about how this is an invisible crime.  Someone may break into a house in a game.  They leave the door open and unlocked.  Other players may stumble onto the house separately, count themselves lucky, steal something, and run.  A tremendous amount of theft by players who never run into each other may occur between someone breaking into a house and the owner finding what's left.  This will likely be attributed to the work of one person by the victim, regardless of if that is what happened, because there is no change in the world when it happens to impede other people from committing further theft or for a victim to get an account of what happened from.



There's also a lack of defense to theft to consider.  I mean the act of theft specifically.

My impression of how theft is added to a game is the coder just throws in a skill roll and calls it a day.  Then, when people complain, the coder adds in [nouns] that make the roll impossible.  Then thieves start stealing from people when [nouns] won't interfere.  Then everyone begins an argument cycle where the unrealistic nature of targeting people right before/after [nouns] would prevent it is countered with arguments of what an unrealistic crock [nouns] are in the first place.

So people start metagaming in order to make being the victim of theft impossible for someone RPing properly, so that when they complain about it they can fearlessly go self-righteous.  This is usually done by emoting.  They'll clutch their money bag, sit with their back to the wall, and do any number of things the thief may not even be in the room to see or may have stolen from them before they even typed it out.  Since successful theft is invisible, the victim has no idea when it happened in relation to their meta-self-defense.

This is terrible behavior that could have been prevented by treating theft as a whole thing rather than an action thieves can do.

If you make theft a matter of known factors that potential victims have some control over and perception of, the sense they are the victim of cheating can be prevented.  Start with modifiers on theft, many of which are societal but some of which are doable in existing codebases.  Is the area poorly lit?  Is the area crowded?  Is the crowd distracted?  Are they focused on the intended victim?  Is the intended victim drunk/exhausted or sober/rested?  Is the intended victim distracted (e.g. in the middle of a skill check, communicating telepathically)?  Where in the room is the victim (you'd have to give players a coded location they can affect)?  Is the victim in an alert state?

You'd also need to put in things so being defensive all the time has societal costs for the possible victim here, but the point is the act of theft has to be wholly implemented, not just treated as a thief action and putting in things to negate it.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2017, 03:44:36 AM by Many Faces »

Jeshin Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #2 on: April 09, 2017, 04:01:49 AM »
I agree that thieving isn't handled with the attention and care it deserves to be an enjoyable mechanic when compared to combat, exploration or crafting which traditionally receive more love.

But...

Do you think that there are no abusive thieves or villains who lack the self-awareness of the negative conditioning their actions are causing and cause the playerbase to react even more over the top in the future? For example on some games even having the sneak/hide ability can get you mob lynched after thieving incidents take place or assassinations. Surely this "proactive" hunt for suspects isn't just because players are metagaming or feeling disproportionately affected. They don't even know which sneaky/hiding person did it in most cases, but they all get the torches and pitchforks in some cases. Negative Conditioning or something else in your opinion?

Many Faces Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2017, 04:07:07 AM »
Of course there are thieves that cheat, just as there are pkers who cheat.  The difference is with pk there are countless coded ways to protect yourself and it's not an invisible crime.  Either someone killed you or they didn't, there's no question of when it happened, and there's rarely a question of how many people were attacking you.

I'm not disagreeing with you about players being conditioned to hate thieves.  I'm trying to explain why they hate thieves much more than characters who objectively cause more IC harm.  The lack of IC means of defense/retaliation, mixed with not knowing the details of the theft(s), added on top of the lack of even basic danger in the environment after committing a theft makes it east for stealing to feel like cheating.
« Last Edit: April 09, 2017, 04:47:16 AM by Many Faces »

Jeshin Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2017, 04:28:57 PM »
TLDR - Single kills by combatants rarely get a group to address a problem. A single thief can hit multiple people, multiple apartments in a day/week/month. Whereas someone who is a combatant might not kill someone except once a month and then they might die on their own immediately after. It is a matter of perceived frequency. If raiders or cutthroats become to active killing a PC every day or week they will likely be stomped out like the thieves would have for frequent robbery.

The lack of complexity related to most thief concepts on text-base games is certainly a factor, but I can provide an example of something that can be defended against and is a core coded mechanic... Combatants/Hunters/Pkers...

Often hunters, raiders, cutthroats, and bandits are left to their own devices. They are a risk of walking around shady parts of a city or in the wilds of a setting. They exist but they are a known risk and one that people will often accept if it is a core element of the theme, like on a survival game for instance where things are harsh and brutal. Sometimes however you will see a concerted effort by portions of the playerbase to wipe out particular instances of alley cutthroats or wilds raiders. What causes this? Is it purely IC or is it something else that can lead to these motivations?

In some of these cases it is because of redflag behaviour. Actions or playstyles which are associated with previous player/characters in the same roles that negatively conditioned the playerbase often times with excessive activity or lacking self-awareness. We will focus on two examples the alley cutthroat and the Wilds Raiders. In the first example of the alley cutthroat lets imagine that there is a BACKSTAB skill which can be raised via use. Now lets imagine that everyone uses animal or humanoid npcs to raise this skill, but often times it's in a gradual and progressive way. Now lets say in this instance there were several dead npcs every day from backstab or rumored to be from backstab. This is a redflag because previous excessive backstab users ended up being issues in the past. So now instead of letting this alley cutthroat grind up like other concepts that are similar there begins a hunt for them. Why? To dissuade or stomp out the potential "bad apple" from getting to the point they can start backstabbing PCs left and right. Why do they think it will be so bad? Because the excessive use of backstab to train it up implies a fixation or primary goal of using that skill which means PC deaths from backstabbing.

In the example of the raiders it's a matter of frequency. If they are talking to people, intimidating them, but not killing or robbing them at every interaction or not more than semi-frequently they will be left alone and considered a fun risky flavor role for the game. Once they become a regular fixture with regular killing and regular robbing they will garner a response from the players because of the frequency this happens even though it's defensible by being a better fighter or traveling in groups. This is because of previous raiders who acted to frequently and burned player goodwill towards that kind of behaviour and negatively conditioned the playerbase to view it as a bad thing that should be nipped in the bud.

Tehom Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2017, 04:32:02 PM »
If you've watched RP communities of MMOs, you'll notice a consistent pattern. At the start of any game, it's very inclusive, very welcoming, where people will tend to approach anyone for RP. Over time, this sharply diminishes, even if the number of players remains largely the same, and I believe it's due to negative conditioning. People simply encounter stuff they have a strong aversion to, while having met players they enjoy RPing with, and become far less inclined to meet new people and take a chance of running into stuff that they don't enjoy. I feel that systems are similar - if someone finds their day ruined by someone using some system like thievery, they may start to lump anyone who uses the system in the same negative category. In general, people are very highly offended by someone messing with them without any consequences, and want highly disproportionate retribution.

I agree that rape is definitely a special case. There's people who enjoy it, but there's also sexual assault survivors who can be forced to confront it in a game they'd otherwise they'd enjoy, which is a really terrible experience. I don't believe placating the former is worth making a game unplayable for the latter for the audience I want, but it really just depends on your own preferences for who you want playing your game.

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2017, 09:15:19 AM »
The real reason that people hate thieves is because they think theft is cheating.  This is a consequence of programming.  It has very little to do with how thieves are played.  The way theft is implemented amounts to taking a killing/crafting simulator and adding a new way to attack people without thinking to add defense and retaliation.  Thieves aren't playing the same game, code-wise, as everyone else and they can't tell when successful theft happened or who really did it.  This makes it easy for people to feel like they are victims of cheating even when they're not.

If you look at thievery in the broader more abstract sense, I agree completely.

In many games it's implemented as a mechanic that
*Requires relatively little investment.
*Offers no means of defence
*Causes a large amount of damage
*Offers relatively little risk

Looked at this way, it has a lot of similarities to the Telenuke that's often hotly debated in WoD MUSH Circles. The Telenuke is the use of certain mechanics written into the tabletop rules that allow you to kill another character from the comfort of your own home through magic. Low risk, high reward mechanics such as this often lead to resentment in all games in which they exist, as those who are targeted by them feel that they're 'cheap'.

The solution then is to carefully monitor the risk vs reward balance of all your game mechanics and adjust them to be roughly proportional. For thievery risk could be increased by modelling guards, alarms, police and investigations etc, rewards could be lowered by limiting how much can be stolen and requiring them to find a proper fence.

Many Faces Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2017, 04:51:52 PM »
TLDR - Single kills by combatants rarely get a group to address a problem. A single thief can hit multiple people, multiple apartments in a day/week/month. Whereas someone who is a combatant might not kill someone except once a month and then they might die on their own immediately after. It is a matter of perceived frequency. If raiders or cutthroats become to active killing a PC every day or week they will likely be stomped out like the thieves would have for frequent robbery.
None of that explains the reaction people have to being stolen from versus how they react to getting PKed.  You can't apply sociology to a psychology problem.  Who thinks to themselves, "Well, someone just killed my character, but they probably didn't kill anyone else this week, so we're cool, BUT EFF THAT GUY WHO STOLE MY MUFFIN LAST WEEK BECAUSE HE PROBABLY STOLE FROM THREE APARTMENTS THE SAME DAY!!11!1  EFF THAT THIEF IN THE AYE FOR WHAT POTENTIALLY HAPPENED TO STRANGERS AS WELL!!!"  Probably no one.


Jeshin Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2017, 04:58:58 PM »
It's not about the individual victims response. It's about the peanut gallery response. Obviously if you die and you're salty or angry about it, it's extremely bad form to make a character dedicated to revenge. Whereas if you're robbed you're alive and can seek individual revenge all you want. It's when a group or playerbase seeks revenge/hostile resolution that it becomes more than just an individual experience to a group or incident.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2017, 05:01:50 PM by Jeshin »

Reiloth Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #9 on: April 10, 2017, 06:32:03 PM »
Interesting subject. I definitely agree there is negative conditioning of playerbases, but as with most things, it starts with the 'management' or Staff and also code/game design.

If you take Thieving/Lockpicking in ArmageddonMUD for an example -- Having a binary, overly simplistic 'crime' code is 100% the problem, and is also what dictates player/staff culture. If it were possible to have nuance within the crime code, allowing for people who pick locks to be labeled criminals in a localized sense (spotted by a guard, reported by a neighbor), that would be one thing. But subjecting a burglar to possible instant death is unfair and unrealistic. The Crime Code in ArmageddonMUD is so incredibly basic, to the point where all criminals are created equal (a pickpocket guilty of being caught of picking a pocket, and a murderer, are both killed on sight if they can't be restrained), any sort of overhaul to the code would need to be complete.

If -- For Instance -- A crime system began with one soldier NPC spotting the crime, who then had to physically report the crime to another soldier NPC, or allowing for that one soldier NPC to be bribed by the PC in question, depending on their 'relationship' with the City Watch in general (something that could be swayed by other means), you are on the way to creating a nuanced system that allows for player/staff culture to follow it.

As it stands -- Thieves/Cutpurses/Burglars can only police themselves or be policed by Staff, unless the code can do it for them. Nothing prevents a Thief from not stealing everything not nailed down or 'impossible' to Steal besides their own concept of realism, a Staff member watching them and reaching their own conclusions, or another PC witnessing the crime and reporting the Player if they believe it was unrealistic. This is incredibly vague and subjective, and I think that's what leads to the persecution of people in this 'class' of character. If they make their living by these nefarious means, it's automatically concluded/assumed they are playing the 'worst' kind of thief, not the best. This is because with a lack of reinforcement, the lack of coded possibility of being caught, people assume the worst about each other -- If you can get away with murder, wouldn't you?

Of course this isn't true -- There's plenty of great players who have a great concept of what is or isn't possible, and would do things that are detrimental to their PC just as quickly as they would do something beneficial, in the RPI setting. But, that being said, there's also plenty of 'bad examples', and those are the ones that really set the bar for everyone in that 'class' of character.
"You will have useful work: the destruction of evil men. What work could be more useful? This is Beyond; you will find that your work is never done—so therefore you may never know life of peace." ~ Jack Vance

Many Faces Offline

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #10 on: April 10, 2017, 07:08:28 PM »
It's not about the individual victims response. It's about the peanut gallery response.
I disagree.  I don't believe people get furious at thieves because they see other people getting stolen from.  I think they see other people crying about how awful thieves are, and when they themselves are the victim of a theft if they feel like the thief cheated they join in.

I do not believe it works the other way, where peer pressure or groupthink somehow makes a player hate their character being stolen from more than being murdered for everything they own.  I can see some argument for people being conditioned by the existent whining, but that whining has to start from somewhere.
« Last Edit: April 10, 2017, 07:14:26 PM by Many Faces »

Re: Negative Conditioning of Playerbases
« Reply #11 on: April 10, 2017, 07:45:23 PM »
Speaking as a player who has always gravitated towards the thief roll in games, I've never really noticed this hatred of thieves , but I have seen the paranoia that they create. Players keeping items multiple levels deep in a closed container for the explicit purpose of making them hard/impossible to steal. I'm unsure why they are so defensive about it, and in fact all the muds I've played have had proactive ways of detecting and dealing with sneak-thieves. I think it's because people hate being stolen from. If you've ever had something stolen you know how frusturating it is, to put work into something and have it vanish. Conversely, no player has ever experienced the downsides of death personally. They may have lost loved ones, but it's not quite the same thing.

That's just my 2 cents. No player is perfect and your character experiencing something that has negatively effected you personally can very easily taint your reactions.

As for the peanut gallery, they often start a witch hunt because it's their only recourse. Theft is often defeated in games through preparation. Waiting to catch them in the act, knowing who could even get through the locked door, using some search skill or combat awareness flag to increase your perception score before you think you will be stolen from, or even just emoting holding onto your wallet so it can't be stolen. And when that fails, you've already lost and they've likely gotten away. The defensiveness against theft by the community is because it's the best defense. For the same reason people by home security systems or big dogs.