South Park, Equality, and Power

I recently saw the episode of South Park entitled “Make Love, not Warcraft” (h/t Kishore) and found it very funny and also very true. Online gaming does suffer from those who accumulate too much power and find themselves bored with it. – The artificial intelligence of computer enemies is very dumb, because of how intricate an online multiplayer world is to create in the first place, so that also brings in a certain type of gamer who likes to wail on such enemies for items or levels. –

The deep thing that online gaming shows is that we’re psychopaths about a really strange notion of merit. Cartman, out of all people, wants something like “justice” in that episode, and that drives the plot.

But most online gaming is about becoming like the guy the South Park kids try to kill, the guy who has too many levels (he has “no life,” and is thus unkillable without special force) and uses them to bully others. Everyone wants to be that guy, whether they can be or not – after all, the later one joins, the more powerful the elite that started become.

Oneline gamers willingly accept that they will be of a lower class in the hope that they can merit something later. The problem with this hope isn’t that they won’t merit that something later, although that possibility does exist and does create problems.

The deep problem is that such a longing is tyrannical. To want to have everything in a game is a bad thing, because there’s nothing that can be done with it except brag about how big and powerful one is.

So if we can conceive of another end for online gaming, one which is less geared to being the most powerful character in the game, perhaps we can conceive of a better game.

Ironically enough, Cartman and the South Park kids have the solution. It already exists in-game, of course: do quests. The activities requiring teamwork keep the bullying away, and encourage social skills to accompany the acquisition of power, which would happen inevitably even if there were no levels or bonuses. A longtime player of the game, after all, ought to accumulate expert knowledge that makes him formidable.

Of course, another problem that the South Park kids face is that online gaming nowadays rewards that knowledge in only a few cases: one has to have the power to use the knowledge effectively. Only those that sit and game for hours get that power. The others, who can do more in less time, have to be second string.

So the “solution” has to be sold in such a way that maybe power falls out of the equation all together. Would a company that created a game that only let players do quests with one character, then force them to change characters for another quest, go very far? Or do we want complete control over our fantasy worlds, because our dream is really to bully others if we can and get away with it?

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