Jonathan Steinhauer's MMO Column

Clausewitz “On Gaming” – Effects of Victory, Part 1


Clausewitz “On Gaming”
Effects of Victory, pt 1

In the past few articles, we’ve investigated various facets of MMO combat as seen through the lens of Clausewitz. Now let’s take a step forward and see how this pertains to victory in combat and the results that follow. First, although this may seem obvious, we need to decide what constitutes a victory. According to Clausewitz, it comes in three forms: “1) If the possession of a movable object was the object of the combat, the loss of the same is always the decision. 2) If the possession of ground was the object of the combat, then the decision generally lies in its loss…” (Book IV, Chapter VII, page 321). The third category is the circumstance whereby the victor has disorganized, routed, or destroyed the opposing force. As I read this excerpt, I immediately thought of the standard MMO quest: seize an object, destroy an enemy, etc. The second category applies must less frequently because in PvE there is no real way to take or hold ground. However, it can apply in PvP scenarios. But the bigger question, and more to the point, is what happens once those ascribed victory conditions have been met?

This is where MMOs break from the world of Clausewitz. He was describing a situation of war between great powers, the effects of battles upon those powers and, more specifically, the militaries involved in the conflict. Because MMOs are focused on the exploits of individual characters, the same results do not always apply. There is, however, one concept that he mentions which does have some particular bearing to our discussion. That is that the effects of a battle are more strongly felt by the vanquished than the victors. Additionally, “…if this effect is more powerful in an important combat than in a smaller one, so again it is much more powerful in a great battle than in a minor one” (Book IV, Chapter X, page 337). We shall come back to this idea later.

Basically, there are four aspects we need to look at: results for the player as victor and vanquished, and results for the monster as victor and vanquished. We’ll look at player victories this time and dig more into the other facets with the next article. For simplicity, we will only investigate this from a PvE perspective.

The current results of player victory are straight forward: experience is gained and new loot is acquired. But quests don’t just mean a player running a maze like a mouse in search of cheese (although it often feels that way). Quests are given to players for a reason (I’m stepping out of simply game play here and into the concept that MMOs actually are a world with individual and societal elements each with their own agendas). To us, the theft of a goblin letter at the request of a city guardsman is done for the reward of a new sword, some experience, and a couple pieces of silver. The guardsman had his own motivations, however, beyond being a vending machine.

One of the great steps forward made by second generation MMOs was the inclusion of factions and reputation (well… it would be a great step if it actually were used to its potential). As it stands, these make pretty numbers on the character sheet and usually mean some sort of benefit for the player, such as reduced prices with faction vendors. However, the player’s real impact on the faction is transitory at best. Take, for example, an early Night Elf WoW quest whereby a certain troublesome satyr named Zenn meets a gruesome end by the player turning him into a frog. The NCP motivation for giving the quest is that the satyr is a ne’er-do-well who is trying to corrupt passersby and is harming nature. He must be punished! But if you return to Zenn a few minutes after completing the quest, you will see that the effects were temporary and, in fact, Zenn seems to have no memory of the incident. He happily corrupts other players, unassuaged by his so-called punishment, and is turned into a frog again and again. Perhaps this example only reflects a weakness in the Night Elf judicial system, but I doubt it.

That the satyr quest continues to be open to other gamers is natural. However, shouldn’t Zenn remain a frog to someone who has already completed the quest? What I see and what another gamer see in the game, do not necessarily have to be the same thing. Once I’ve done the quest and Zenn is a frog, the game could recognize that and have him always rendered as a frog on my screen. Such impacts could be more widespread as a player’s reputation improved with a faction and as he finishes more and more quests that are favorable to it. The only limitation is something happening that would be rendered absurdly for another player. For example, success in various quests could enable the NCPs of a town to embellish one of their buildings. So long as these are simplistic it would work, but a new floor added would make the situation absurd for new arrivals who, not having completed the proper quests, would see people apparently walking on air.

The victorious completion of a quest has definite results for a player character, however, it has no impact on the faction that the quest represented. In this area, MMOs have potential growth to truly make the world player built.

As I said above, next time we’ll look at the impact of defeat on players and what victory and defeat mean for the PvE enemies they fight.

Citation for all quotes: Clausewitz, Carl. On War. London: Penguin Group, 1968.

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