After years of intense study, a Loyola University professor playing City of Heroes has used the power of science to prove that MMOG players are jerks.
David Myers, a media professor at Loyola, began playing City of Heroes when it launched in 2004. The game allows players to take on the roles of superheroes and villains battling computer-controlled opponents and, eventually, each other. But what he found was that instead of duking it out in a kind of massive, online episode of the Super Friends, players of both sides were simply hanging out, shooting the breeze and occasionally beating up on mobs. To Myers, this unexpected turn of events presented an opportunity.
He created “Twixt,” a hero who could teleport enemies anywhere in the game, and set out to battle the forces of evil. He did so with great success, bringing peace to the city but also annoyance to his fellow players. The game is ostensibly built around an epic clash of heroes and villains but he was “gently informed” by other players that they didn’t actually play that way; Myers ignored the warning and continued his crusade.
Villains began attacking him in groups, but his cleverly-designed character and skill with the game allowed him to consistently defeat his enemies, which naturally only made them angrier. Forum discussions and in-game conversation went from critical to abusive; he was accused of using racist slurs and being a pedophile, and some users attempted to find and publish his real name and address. Myers reported the abuse to NCsoft, which did what it could to stop it; while he feels the company acted appropriately, he said, “The abuse was so widespread they couldn’t completely stop it.” Nor could they control messages posted on forums operating outside of the game, he added.
Fortunately, nobody ever succeeded in tracking down Myers or his family and in 2008 he revealed his identity in a paper entitled “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt.” He said that while most gamers are adults, his time in City of Heroes was like a “bad high school experience” in which rules matter little when they come up against a “deeply-rooted culture.”
Myers said his experiment showed that despite our advances and technology, humans can quickly revert to “medieval and crude” methods when they want to exert control over others. “If you aren’t a member of the tribe, you get whacked with a stick,” he said. “I look at social groups with dismay.”
I’ve never played City of Heroes so I have no idea what the environment is actually like and with only Myers’ side of the story to go on it’s impossible to know if, in spite of his credentials, he may have glossed over some less-than-attractive aspects of his own gameplay style. The idea of opposing factions gathering socially in PvP areas is also rather odd, although the relatively small number of City of Heroes players may help account for the insular and less competitive nature of the community. The only thing we know for sure is this: Myers may be a scientist but most of us had this figured out a long time ago.