I know what you're thinking that game you play has tons of free will, but what you need to remember is that true free will includes evil as well as good. In one respect, players want to be given absolute autonomy, living a fully customizable, unrestricted virtual life that caters to the whims of their character's actions and decisions. This makes sense; how better to feel immersed than to have your role-playing experience unbridled? Yet, somewhat conversely, those same players become agitated when another player's free will begins to encroach upon their own.
To be fun, online game worlds need to be free, and not just for the righteous, but for the morally questionable as well.
"I was having a great time playing your game while I was doing well," I imagine a player writing to his or her favorite developer, "until some other guy stepped out from behind a bush and killed me with a spell (sooo cheap). Please change things so that he can no longer kill me, so that I can never lose my stuff when I die, and so that my class works better against his in the future." What complaints such as these fail to account for is that much of the fun in gaming comes from the conflict and risk that naturally grows from perilous game worlds. What are you truly achieving if you're kept perpetually safe, slowly gaining material items while playing through what can only be honestly defined as a consequence-free environment? At that point, you may as well be playing FarmVille.
The first three years of Ultima Online were special because they allowed us to experience humanity, from its most selfless to its most base, without catering to those who don't understand that suppressing a player's ability to experience failure also suppresses their ability to experience success. To be fun, online game worlds need to be free, and not just for the righteous, but for the morally questionable as well.
I know it sounds odd defending a player's right to give others a bad time (likely the same reason it eventually lost out to the utopian online game worlds in which we dwell today) but don't get me wrong, as a player I'm neither the senseless griefer nor the masochistic victim. I simply appreciate genuine conflict, something that I know is best bred from an actual, thinking mind, not an NPC or artificially intelligent baddie. Agent Smith may have said it best when discussing MMO design with Neo: "Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program."
It's a true shame that games such as the original Ultima Online fail to exist in today's comparatively stagnant market, but perhaps someday we'll be fortunate enough to witness a resurrection of those bold standards of realism it once championed. Until then, we'll have to make do with the worlds now created for us, those that continue to trade reality for the illusion of it.
Mike Kayatta is a Britannian expatriate Tank Mage who never voted for Lord Britain to begin with. He is a news contributor here at The Escapist.