Friday, January 1, 2010

Bow to Your Partner

So, New Years Eve was geeky indeed. Three games of Pandemic (2 wins, 1 loss) followed by extensive and satisfying geeking with Fred and Fuzz. This is always a magnificent thing, and we ended up getting onto winning and losing on MUSH.

So, I'm mostly channeling Fred here, since the key idea was his, but it was awesome enough that it deserves some broadcast.

A lot of the problems with conflict on MUSH come down to the fact that most peopel really suck at winning. This means a lot of things, but the big one is that people tend to be very bad at findign ways to win which remains respectful of the loser. For the most part, if we win, we don't want to respect the loser, we are focused on getting them to respect us. This cuts to the heart of most issues: people aren't afraid of most bad things, they are concerned that they're not being respected. When every party feels that way, it's hard for an atmosphere of trust to ever be established, and things get and stay toxic.

This is where Fred's idea comes up. He proposes a ritual element to conflict where the first thing you do is to ask the other party what they desire you to respect. The example used is someone gettign in a swordfight with Benedict (the swordfighting badass of Amber). If Bob asks that Benedict respect that he's good with the sword, and Benedict asks that Bob respect Benedicts higher social role, and they both agree, that sets the ground rules for the fight in a non-intrusive way that allows both players to steer things towards what they want.

This is not an idea that needs any mechanical support (though maybe some code support to publicize these boundaries would be useful), and that's part of the point. See, while the information about the boundaries is useful and can shape the fight in fun ways, it is arguably even more important to have asked the question. That moment of stopping to think about it, like saluting an opponent, is a moment to focus on the sport and how to go about it. In my experience, most people mean well, but they need a nudge to be reminded of behaviors they support on paper.

Obviously this won't always work. There will be disagreements about what should or shouldn't be respected. There will be passive-aggressive, snarky social nonsense. Edges will blur and people will get indignant. But all that happens already. I am optimistic enough to think that a moment of reflection and respect can go a long way towards improving it.


  1. Yeah, it strikes me that one potential hurdle is when one person vastly outclasses another in an arena of conflict, but the player demands respect anyway.

    So if Bob asks Benedict to respect that he's good with the sword, the request itself might be out of scope, because damn, it's Benedict, you know? There'd need to be a way to flag those types of things and restate the terms where necessary. So you might tell Bob, "Look, there's no way Benedict can respect your swordfighting - he's just too damn good." And then you talk and end up with, "Benedict has to respect that Bob had the chutzpah to stick to his guns and fight."

    Anyway, just rambling.

  2. That's interesting, since it highlights what I _hope_ this woudl solve. Benedict's going to _win_ so the question is whether he makes Bob look like his bitch. Bob's demand for respect is (hopefully) talling Benedict "Go ahead and win, but don't treat me like a chump." I think that's not too crazy to request, unles Benedict is kind of a tool

    Also, you should be on Twitter, man!

  3. Right - it's all about drawing the line on what constitutes "respect" in a particular instance. Fighting might be a bad example, because wide disparities in skill usually make themselves known pretty quickly. If Bob is allowed to put up a good fight against Benedict, does that mean Bob is good, or does it mean Benedict is fighting at a handicap? And if the latter, is that really respect?

    But it might just be me not being able to take the idea of "Bob, Prince of Amber" seriously. :) All I'm really trying to get at is that narrative expectations can muddy the waters a lot here.

    As for Twitter - the Devil is in the cloud, my friend.

  4. See, I think Benedict can respect your skill with the sword even if he utterly outclasses you. There's a reason he's respecting your swordwork: maybe he's seeing potential there, setting up a long-term path. As you retrieve the sword he sent flying after a few minutes of easy sparring, he says, "Someday you'll be very dangerous with that thing" or whatever. The point being that he doesn't make you look like a fool, and that he treats you seriously. That's respect -- and it's the same respect you'd get from the head of a dojo, too, even as a noob.

  5. True. Though there's a shade of you telling Benedict how to play his character in that. This carries its own hurdles - IC justification (and unilateral justification, at that) is a pretty big deal to some folks.

    I think where I'm drilling to, Fred, is that you're a lot more idealistic than I am about the degree to which strangers on a MUSH are willing to act in good faith with one another. My reflex is to want to see something more... codified, to guard against it going pear-shaped.

  6. I get what you're saying there, but this system is conceived out of cynicism.

    Yes, the example I gave tells Benedict how to play his character. That's because that's how Benedict should play his character, not because of some vaunted IC consistency principle, but because that's how Benedict should avoid being a dick.

    If anything, I'm merely applying the lever of this cynicism -- which is founded in the notion that without asking the question of what each person wants respected, people on a MUSH are not inclined to be un-dicklike -- against a different object than you're going after. :)


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