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Glory and Shame: Powerful Psychology in Multiplayer Online Games
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Glory and Shame: Powerful Psychology in Multiplayer Online Games

November 10, 1999 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next
 

Editor's note: This paper was originally published in the 1999 Game Developer's Conference proceedings.

When you play a stand-alone computer game, you experience challenge, release, escape, frustration, and satisfaction; however, you cannot experience glory. Glory can only take place with an audience. Similarly, no computer game can shame you, again because shame requires that other people be present. But it takes more than merely the existence of other people in our environment to create opportunities for glory and shame - you also need a relationship with those people, one of either knowledge or recognition. This is why server network games, such as Quake, offer no special embarrassment when you perish or when you prevail.

Having large numbers of simultaneous players in an environment that records and preserves player records and actions diminishes anonymity and builds relationships among players, but it also creates the emotionally charged possibility of glory and shame in a game world. It's precisely because this does not exist in most forms of computer gaming that it is seldom understood by game designers; indeed, few have any idea of how even minor design decisions affect the balance between the two extremes. And this balance must be maintained, because if a game shames defeated players too much, many will leave. What's worse, no one will know exactly why they left.

Multiplayer first person shooters like
Quake II
have minimal shame and glory

Viewed in a simple engineering way, glory is achieved at the price of shaming others; that is, the greater the shame the greater the glory. To some extent this is true, but the entire concept resists quantifiable analysis. You cannot line up shame possibilities, assign them a numerical weight, and come up with a sum of potential glory. Nor can you quantify how the possibility of shaming others can motivate players to endure tasks of such tedium and boredom that no traditional game designer could imagine them. So powerful are glory and shame that they have bound cultures together for centuries, motivated innumerable people to risk their lives, and have driven countless others to end their lives. Thus, while the creation of such an environment provides an emotional depth to online gaming, it must be employed with thought and care, if employed at all.

In this article, I will explore how glory and shame work in online gaming, note their consequences, and show how they influence the underlying community culture a game creates. Glory and shame also offer a clue as to why multi-player gaming has yet to achieve a prominent place among other entertainment media.

Introduction

Industry buzzwords such as "massively multi-player," "persistent universe" and the like only hint at their true meaning. Although everyone agrees that having many people in the same shared virtual space, whose actions are recorded and noted far beyond the gaming session is a good thing, few set out to fully manage the consequences of such a situation. Two very powerful, and potentially dangerous consequences, glory and shame, are deceptively easy to create. You cannot have either glory or shame without an audience that knows or knows of each other; hence the benefits of scale and records in playing to both emotions. Further, these emotions go wholly beyond what computer gaming has traditionally provided. Glory and shame explain not only online gaming's ability to reach people on a deeper level than previously possible, but they also account for player behavior that too often comes as a complete surprise - an unpleasant one - to game developers. My article will explain and explore the crucial quality that separates large-scale online games from their stand-alone or network brethren, as well as anything else in entertainment.


Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Comments


Charlie Cleveland
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This is an old article, but an absolute gem. I remember seeing Jonathan's talk at the GDC and my mouth was just hanging open the entire time. Where else do you hear people talking about games in this way? What a visionary!


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