Greedy Goblin

Friday, April 10, 2009

Social norms

There are rules in every society, real or simulated. Rules are neccessary, no system could exist without them. We couldn't drive on the streets if people would not drive on the same side.

The ability to create, recognize and follow rules exist even in animals. The dogs are capable to learn where they are allowed to place poops. The lions and wolves are capable to recognize hierarchy long after it was created by fights. They are also capable to follow "orders" when they hunt in highly coordinated groups.

The nasty part of this ability is that it's inherited by humans. We are expected to intelligently learn and adapt to existing written rules. We do so, but in time the "spirit" of these rules are "learned" by the norm-following ape-subrutines (we could call them dog-subroutines since they are even more ancient). Other norms, that have never been rules, are learned from parents and teachers, and media figures. After these norms are established, the person automatically follows them, even when the written rule no longer exists (never existed).

The newspapers are full of incidents caused by foreigners,who follow their social norms, although in our society these are directly against the laws. Extreme examples: families kill their "dishonorable" members, who violated the old norm without doing anything wrong according to our rules.

We play games exactly to do something very different from our own life. Yet, social people automatically consider the normal world norms (the rules of decency) to apply in these magical worlds. Typical example was the fuss about the "node-ninjaing", where people were outraged that others "steal" the node they "rightfully earned" by killing nearby monsters. The fact that Blizzard stated that taking nod is OK, they insisted that "by rules of decency" you are forced to let the guy take it who killed the monsters.

Considering that the norm-following ape-subrutines are in the head of everyone, it's seems unfair that I bash the social people again. The big problem is that being social fixates the stupid norm by social pressures from peers and fear of bad opinion.

Even if a social person is capable of noticing that the norm is stupid and he would be capable to act otherwise, he will be intimidated by the reactions of the norm-following others. Even if he knows that there is nothing wrong in taking the node, he pass it to avoid being called a ninja or simply to avoid being perceived bad by the other person.

I found an extreme example in a little pay-by-cheat (meaning you can play for free, the income of the company comes from RMT and other cheats) MMO, ikariam. This is a browser-based real-time strategy MMO. In a nutshell: you have cities, that can mine resources to build buildings. You can also attack other cities to take their resources. Since it's free to play, the M&S concentration is even higher than in WoW, as kids can play it without the credit card of their parents. This means lot of farm-cities, full of valueable resources and limited-to-none defense. Obviously my ships are working around the clock gathering these resources, making my cities grow like mushroom after rain. The results:
  • Wast majority of the players do not attack the farm-cities. I chatted with some and they claim "it's indecent" or "it's immoral" or "I prefer peaceful ways".
  • Attacked players are outraged. I managed to get several of them banned by reporting their messages full of four letter words.
  • 95% of the guilds declare that they are "peaceful community" forged over the ideas of supporting each other. This is obviously a widespread norm.
  • The above norm seems to survive, despite the obvious fact that it's not working. I'm free to attack their members without any consequence. Since they are all without armies, their "mutual defense of guildmates" is limited to sending abusive, begging or "norm-reminding" letters. "Norm-reminding" means that they tell that they noticed my "indecent behaviour" and I shall immediately stop or I'll have a bad name.
  • This huge "mail attack" is just spam in my eyes, but it would make a social person bend to the will of the masses and go back gathering wood.
It would be easy to advice: "ignore social norms, only written rules exist", but this advice is just as pointless just like telling welfare-leeches to go to work. The norms are enforced by non-existent "forces" that are perceived very strong by social people: peer pressure, making good impression / fear of making bad impression. As long as someone is bound by these non-existent forces, he will be forced to obey non-existent laws, doing really stupid things, much worse than passing on a node in a video game.


Geoffrey said...

Do you even have a point? Surely it is not that following non-written rules necessarily results in "doing really stupid things."

For example. You should not cheat on your spouse. There is no law against cheating on your wife, but most people would agree that cheating on a spouse often results in very bad consequences to the family.

There are many unwritten social norms. Why does everything need to be written down? The law should not concern itself with everything.

Ben said...

There are probably many places where you could also cut in front of other people waiting in a line without it being actually _illegal_.... and I suppose you would have to agree that it is an "ape-subroutine" to wait in line when really it only disadvantages you not to push your way to the front and get service faster as long as nobody actually physically fights you.
Except you forget the part where if everyone did that then it really would disadvantage everyone. Feel free to ignore the fact that it also makes you a total jerk, since you don't seem to care.

Jezebeau said...

It may be that the server on which I started WoW was a PvP server, but I have no such compunctions about taking a node if I can get to it first. I am well aware that, any time resource availability is scarce, I am in competition with anyone else seeking to gather them. Even on a PvE server others take them from me at pretty much every opportunity I give, so they must feel the same way.

So: who cares if other players try to set rules without being capable of enforcing them? Haven't you heard that old adage, "Those who can, do. Those who can't whine at those who can and threaten them with ostracism." I'm pretty sure that's how it works in academic circles.

Molinu said...

This seems to undermine your earlier statements about how to avoid war. This is a simulated world and as such there are no deaths, but you are still waging war on other people simply because it is profitable to do so. Do you think this carries over to real life? How many conflicts over 'ideals' are in fact simple grabs for resources and territory?

Or to phrase things differently - if my country has material wealth but is poorly defended, would you support an invasion to seize my country's resources?

T said...

There might be a possible difference of scale there...

Personally, I don't take nodes from people, unless I know they'd do the same (From past/current behavior).

Partly because if I'm nice to them, they might be nice to me (thus saving me time in the long run, possibly), and partly because I hate that type of conflict.

l2pnub said...

I think Gevlon's point is that each person would have to judge for each rule if it's beneficial or stupid and follow it or not, based on his/her own judgement.

This however creates the following problme: what if a significant percentage of people who own cars are intellectually unable to judge for themselves the advantages of traffic rules?

In my opinion people who follow rules blindly are people who are not confident enough in their own judgement. But that may be a good thing, because they probably know best how incompetent they are and take liberty in just the right amount.

Pangoria Fallstar said...

@Ben and Geoffrey,

In the game he shows that people cannot enforce their non-written rules, just send him spam. In real life, other people can enforce you not cutting in line or cheating on your wife.

And as bad as I think it is, cheating on your wife can happen with no consequence if she never finds out. But again that's not the point I took from this article.

Take node-ninja, nothing says you can't, so when getting to a node, always think someone is waiting to take it, do you fights in a way you can end quickly etc etc.

Gevlon said...

@everyone with the "wait in line": Waiting in a line is ENFORCED by the shop management. If you don't wait, the security guard escorts you out. The rules are set and enforced by some authority. The social norms are not enforced by anybody.

@Ben: noting "makes" you a total jerk. There is no such thing as "jerk-o-meter" that would detect your jerkness. Some people THINK of you as jerk, but it has no effect on your life.

@Molinu: in short: yes. In long: there are many ways of accessing a resource, my favorite is business, trading. I don't attack cities that trade with me. However if someone is sitting on some resource and neither sells it, nor he can defend it, yes, I'll take it from him.

@l2pnub: the driving rule is a "rule" enforced by the police force. It's not a social norm.

Nogamara said...

I don't like your comparison of mining nodes and Ikariam for 2 reasons.

a) In Ikariam (and it sounds like the same in Planetarion and other such browser games) they deliberately have no defense, so it's absolutely valid to attack them and gather their resources. It's *not* like you choose to only attack it at 3am when you know the defenses are in bed (this was common in Planetarion, and imho ok. I knew people in a "guild" or whatever who had one guy run the night shift with all accounts to attack the sleeping people, props to you if you value virtual currency over sleep :P)

Whereas in WoW it comes down to clicking the node 5-10sec earlier than the guy fighting the mob. It's not that he's killing the mob deliberately slow out of sheer stupidity.

b) I'm annoyed myself when the mining node thing happens to me, so my code of conduct is that I also don't do it others. If they are from the same faction - of course I steal nodes from the Alliance :P

That's why I don't like your comparison. But to sum it up I'd say it's just a little rule to avoid being annoyed. If someone's killing a mob 30yd away from a node, I'll take it without hesitating. If he's literally *standing* on the node I just wait those 10sec until he killed his mob and see if it was a coincidence. Not that this little rule blows up your farming time by 50% - it's 10sec every 10min maybe...

Miskanthrope said...

I'm finding this blog entertaining, somewhere between "challenging social conventions" and "sociopath". Grats on staying on the left of that scale.
I think you might find a very comfortable home in Eve Online. The market is a large part of the game, and the impact of poor decision-making is very apparent, and usually dramatic.

Anonymous said...

As to Molinu:
"My country's resources"?
Your country does not own anything unless it is produced by the country.
If your country has large areals that can be used for farming, then anyone has the right to claim that area and farm it.
If you are the president of the USA, you don't own the USA, in the same way as you don't own the house of your neighboor just because you are the president.
In order to own something, you must either produce it or trade for it.
If you just happen to find something, you can claim it, but never properly own it, at is was never yours to begin with.
You can build a house and claim to own it, but you cannot find a tree and claim to own it.
The nodes of Azeroth work in the same way: You can find them and use them, but you cannot find them and claim you own them.

Anonymous said...

Thunderhorns said...

For some things I can agree with your post.

But as far your example of node stealing, I don't agree. I think it's a lame thing to do. You go after a node and just happen to be the unlucky sap that has to deal with the monster first and some jerk shows up and takes it. Pure rubbish as far as I'm concerned and people who do it are little jerks.

I don't need social norms enforcing my own choice not to rob other people's nodes. I know it's garbage to do in the same way I know not to force my way in front of people just because I'm bigger than they are or take something out of someone's hand at the grocery store just because I can. They haven't bought it yet, so who cares if I take it from their hand or off the shelf, right?

If you put in the work for a node clearing the trash, other players should respect that. I don't see it as being excessively social to have some respect for others efforts.

That's just creating a good environment. Much as having social greetings and unspoken norms of behavior like being polite help make sharing society with strangers more tolerable.

Firespirit said...

Gevlon, I cant help but continue to think that you either *do not* want to be a social person, or simply dont understand the intricacies of social life.

In any event, I choose to refute your position, even though one was (imo) not supplied. My take on your blog post is that you dont understand why "one would not attack, and take over, these small seed resources. In the context of WoW (which I will stick with, because I know this better than the upstart game that you refer to), you refer to the "ninjaing" of resource nodes (be it herbs, mining, etc....).

The first thing that I argue, and you are *somewhat* right in this respect - the normal social rules do not apply to MMO games. That's right Gevlon, I agreed, partially, with you :) You see, the internet allows us to be completely anonymous. Theory crafting for a minute, aside from any criminal investigation, you could literally destroy a wow server and have ZERO social penalty. Why? Because NO ONE KNOWS WHO YOU ARE.

However, that being said, some social rules do still apply. As much as you would have it not, WoW, and most MMO's, are social games. You have to interact to some degree.

Lets say that you become "Gevlon the ore ninja." Eventually, if you do it with enough frequency, the word will get out that you are "stealing" these nodes. It doesnt matter that this is completely "legal" in the strictest sense, it goes against the ingrained social rules of the game.

So where does that leave you?

Well, that depends...

You either continue to go about business as normal, just with a bad, besmirched name.

Or, if you are playing on my server (which I will not divulge here), you end up on a blacklist that we maintain on the realm forum. What is this you ask?

Every single person who ninja's items, nodes or loot from bosses, or anything else, ends up on this list.

What does that mean to you?

Try and apply to any guild that is your own. Everyone refers to this list before they accept people (well, most everyone). Try and get into a PUG raid with your name on the list. Yep, not happening. And, this is really the doozy, try and get anything high end crafted. Yup... Also not happening.

So, while you may argue that there is no impact of social rules on your gameplay, I would argue there is. Big Time. If you kept doing this, you would be relegated to playing the auctionhouse full time, or leveling alts. Nothing else.

Anonymous said...

If I didn't know you were writing about ikariam, I'd say you were writing about the (political) European Union ;)

Anonymous said...

@About waiting in line: This seems to be a western world concept. I once "waited in line" to get a train ticket in Korea and if you weren't quick enough, someone would skip in front of you. Granted it happened once and it was an old lady (meaning you have to factor in the fact that in the Far East elder have some kind of precedence or something like that).

Notmyrealname said...

When someone swoops in on a node that I'm standing over, I go out of my way to follow them around and return the "favor" a few times by doing the same thing to them before going about my business. When I used to farm, I wouldn't take a node that someone is fighting a mob over simply because I assume others are like myself and will retaliate in a way that would make my farming less efficient.

csdx said...

Firespirit addresses some of the issue you have between distinguishing 'social norm' type rules from 'real enforced rules'. Social norms are enforced by punishment, just different than the 'go to jail, do not collect $200 dollars' kind. While you may see the punishment as irrelevant (being given a bad name), it is important to remember that humans, as largely social animals, depend on the support structure of society to survive. Being exiled from one's village was often tantamount to a death sentence. Now as society has grown exponentially, each action you take against the social norm has less and less consequence because of your relative anonymity. But imagine there were only say 100 people on your server, it'd be easy to make a bad name for yourself, even through only a few social snafus. Then even though your prices might be the cheapest, people will avoid your auctions because of your poor reputation. You still might be able to get along because the NPC vendors will still buy your things, but then you're reduced to what, farming elementals?

Also as for your alternate game, sure you've managed to break a convention in the game, and got away with but the lightest tap that the people were capable of delivering. This says more about their willingness to enforce the rules than about your ability. I'm certain even if they were terrible players, enough of them would be able to simply zerg someone down, akin to getting mobbed then corpse camped in a pvp realm on wow. But it is an enforcable convention, they have simply chosen not to enforce it. Thus despite their bluster the infraction really is like not shaking someone's hand when you meet them, not much consequence there, rather than say deciding to wear no clothes in public (which after all is just a silly social norm anyhow) which will tend to land you with a nice fine, if not a few nights in jail.

Social norms are enforced to varying degrees, even something like "peer pressure" is meaningful in real life, because if everyone ignores you, you'll likely end up dead (can you hunt or farm on your own?). It's even arguable that even 'really' enforced rules are merely just social. For example, assume that murder wasn't punished at all, then surely the goblin code would advocate it as a legitimate strategy. However, it is enforced, why, because we decided it should be. It's exactly like the situation in Ikariam, there exists this ability to kill, and even powerful incentive to do so, but we don't simply because of social pressure. After all, what's jail other than a sophisticated form of being able to shun someone and keep them away from the rest of us. In the end, all rules, written or unwritten, intelligent or stupid, are simply social norms. They are only enforced because other humans enforce them. Thus even if you think a law or social norm is dumb, you'll need to convince others that it is so they won't enforce it upon you, or be willing to accept the consequences.

Ben said...

@Gevlon "Waiting in a line is ENFORCED by the shop management." Not always. I have seen many lines form in unofficial places, not just shops. Wait to get in someplace that is not yet open? Wait for a drinking fountain? There are lots of cases where it is pure social norm to wait your turn, but you (and perhaps other areas of the world) seem to disagree with the concept of politeness just for politeness' sake, even when it doesn't "get" you anything. I hope I never have to interact with you in real life, since you have stated before that even when you are polite to people (in a workplace was your example I think) it is fake, just to keep up the illusion.

csdx said...

The whole gist of the tldr there was that: There is no real difference between you're "written" and "unwritten" (social norms) rules. Every rule was developed by humans, and is enforced by humans. The only difference is in how you are punished for breaking them(or rewarded for following).

A well constructed punishment is one that costs you more than you'd gain then by breaking the rules.

Anonymous said...

What I'm confused by is this 'alliance' that isn't willing to do anything to defend their members beyond sending nasty messages. If you attacked a member of an alliance I was in, everyone would chip in some small amount of resources, send em to a designated raider, and pound your behind into the ground with 2 or 3 times as many resources as you could possibly hope to muster. If they're not willing to do something as simple as this, they're not an alliance at all, they're just a support group.

I'm beginning to wonder if it's not social behavior in general that you dislike, just ineffective social behavior (e.g. tolerating freeloaders, or trying to whine or beg to get your way instead of doing something).

Gevlon said...

@csdx: there is a huge difference between social norms and laws: there are certain people (cops, judges, DA-s), who actively try to uphold laws. A cop MUST act to stop a crime, even by risking his life. That's his job, that's what he's payed for and he faces legal consequences (and the IA) if he fails to do so.

On the other hand there is no one who is designated, payed and requested to uphold a social norm. If I decide to not wait in line at a public fountain, some will murmur, but no one will step up.

"humans depend on the support structure of society to survive." is true, but you misunderstand it.

We depend on the STRUCTURE, and not "the people". I depend on the "shop assistant" to sell me food as I cannot hunt in the city. But I don't depend on Mary-the-shop-assistant, as there are many shop assistants in the city.

On the top of that Mary MUST act as a "shop assistant" while at work. She cannot refuse to serve me, just because she hates me, because her boss will fire her. Maybe refusing to serve me is even illegal (for example "no blacks" policy would get any shop assistant to jail)

phoenixboy said...

For having civilization theres need to be an structure of rules and a enforcement of those rules. Well is either that or people killing each other.

But in a competitive enviroment (business, PvP games, etc) you cant whine or make protest filled with 4 lettrer words just because they beated you.

And your example isnt going to be affected just because a game is Free-to-Play or not. Evidence of that is the EVE Online piracy stories, and all the stuypidity that crawls in the Blizzard forums just because "i pay 15 bucks a month so i can be an idiot".

Its not personal, just business, people tend to take way too seriously te fact that someone better came and defeated you.

I do not understand why.

Anonymous said...

Hey Gevlon, I'd like to suggest something you could write on, how come people don't want to work for others? Just today I offered a guy 200g to make me 100 crafts of armor vellum III, only thing he had to do was click create all and go afk for around 8 minutos earning 200g. I've run into this problem more times while offering BS to craft me stuff with my mats in large quantities but they refuse. What's in their mind? If I was told to craft 100 saronite bars while getting paid 25s per bar I would accept because it's still a much higher gold per hour than doing anything else ingame. I think their problem is they don't want to be subordinates to someone else. What do you think?

Kring said...

I think it primarly shows you that once again a company tries to shove PvP down it's players throats and all they want is a PvE game.

Even Blizzard will have to learn at some point that there are PvP players and there are PvE players and they don't enjoy doing the other gameplay.

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

Kringe, that's the most idiotic comment I've ever seen, why the hell do you think they got PVE servers? You don't want to deal with PVP move to a damn PVE server and you won't have too. DAMN dude do you even play WoW?

In general I loved this cause it's true guys, Social Norms aren't things like driving, or stealing from stores, i mean come on that's shouldn't be hard to grasp, Norms are things like its impolite to talk loudly on your cellphone when you're around other people. People might ask you to quite down, but no one can force you. Start thinking about life for once.

Kring said...

Even on a PvE server you get advantages in PvE if you do PvP (epic hat from Wintergrasp).

The long strange trip meta achievement contains tons of PvP tasks although you can't use the drake in PvP. (And from a PvP point of view it contains PvE tasks).

In TBC many classes had to do the 10 arena games because the gear there was better for PvE than what Kara dropped, even if you sucked at arena.

The same is true the other way around.

A lot of people would enjoy the game even more if PvP and PvE would stay separated.

TonyBone said...

Gevlon: "There are rules in every society, real or simulated. Rules are neccessary, no system could exist without them."

Morpheus: "...yet their strength and their speed are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong or as fast as you can be."

I don't know why, but that opening paragraph instantly brought Morpheus to mind. Great read, Gevlon. I always enjoy your perspective, even if I don't always agree with it.

I do find it interesting how social norms and commonly accepted standards for decent behavior get tossed aside in the virtual medium of WoW.

But then again, if we didn't have the asshats in there with their abhorent behavior, could we truly appreciate those that show us decency and respect? Perhaps, though I think the later would be dilluted without the backdrop of the former.

Again, great food for thought Gelvon.

Bill said...

I have no problem with node stealing. It sucks. But if you need keep aware of your surroundings both players and mobs. If you know you have competition around and your notice you are going to get jumped by a mob when you land, CC it and open the node.

I've purposely held off rushing into a node even though I knew I could get there first. Why? Because I guessing my competitor was stupid enough to rush in and get attacked. So I landed after him and took the node. Its part of the game.

Bristal said...

It's interesting to me that some appear to think that they can add some karmic goodness to the universe by being "respectful" to someone's mining node in a computer game. WoW is not some model society. It's viewed as a competitive game by many players (especially younger ones). Thus grabbing a node from a stranger is "I win".

And I can hear the chants of "there are PVP servers if you want to play that way". There are also plenty of single player role playing games where you don't have to deal with the rich variety of human interaction.

I see node stealing as the equivalent of cutting someone off in traffic. Maybe the guy is an ass and did it on purpose. Maybe he just didn't see you or notice you were there. Or maybe he's tired/drunk/evil and should be avoided. And I can guarantee that everyone of us has done it to someone else either unknowingly or with a sense of entitlement.

I think it's cool when someone appears to give me a node if it appeared to be mine to take, and I usually do that for others as a rule as well. But I also think it's cool when someone swoops in unexpectedly and takes one, cuz it's GAME ON.

If it pisses you off and you consider joining a node-rights group, or petitioning Blizzard to create a node-proximity rule, you need to logoff and get some sleep, exercise and/or fresh air.

Sometime said...

Social norms typically only work if a community is small enough or organized enough where you can be personally identified so that consequences attach to your actions; these actions too have to be perceived by the community as a whole to be of a non-trivial nature.

e.g. Node stealing from your own faction in WoW probably won't irritate anyone enough to ban you from PuGs, but ninjaing a Grand Black War Mammoth while you are loot master would. Why is this the case?

1. Because nodes are plentiful, and the Grand Mammoth dropping is a rare event that enough of the player community cares about.

2. Node ninja only has one witness, Mammoth ninja has 24, who, because of the above, will make it a point to spread the news.

I haven't played that browser game you're referring to, but it seems from your comments that it has a large population that doesn't really give a damn or cannot track undefended cities being sacked, and hence there are enough players who are still prepared to trade with you.

In real life, not sweeping up your dog poo in a big city only has a detrimental effect when you are spotted by a person in authority. However, in a small town the effect on your reputation is significant to prevent this behaviour.

I get the gist of your argument, however it is more accurately stated: "Figure out what the social norms are; they may not be what people tell you they are." It is not as simple as "there's no written rule, so do what you want."