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  2. Subject: Jason's Very Long Diatribe: Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?
  3. Author: Jason McDevitt
  4. Posted: Tue Oct 29 02:51:15 2013 UTC
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  6. Over the past few years, particularly with our new focus on heavy roleplaying, I have seen people ask this question -- not about religious philosophy, but about the nature of this game and the consequences characters often face. The bad does often appear to outweigh the good, with frequent headlines about silly things people have said and various scandals. Of course, there are also positive headlines: donations made, battles won, and so on, but these tend to fade in perception when put up against one of the greatest human compulsions: the need to gossip.
  8. This post will go into detail about certain things that happened to certain characters. Our purpose is not to point out faults for the fun of it, but instead to help players learn from others' examples. The point of this post is to remind players to be aware of the world and the game's theme, and to consider their characters' surroundings and actions at all times. Think about your actions in the greater context of the game, and remember that in the midst of a complicated situation, any word or action may decide its outcome.
  10. So why do so many bad things appear to happen to otherwise good characters? Let me suggest a few reasons.
  12. 1) It is easier to destroy than to create.
  14. That's a common enough saying, and true enough as it goes. Let's put it a different way: it's far easier to screw up an otherwise fairly inconsequential situation than to go out of your way to improve it. To improve a situation usually requires careful, concerted effort, some sensible chain of decisions and actions. To screw up a situation often requires just one wrongly spoken phrase or poorly thought-out action, often done on a whim. It's easy to see why one would occur more often than the other.
  16. 2) Human nature is inherently selfish.
  18. We've observed a lot about human nature over the past 15 years or so of running this game, and there are a few things you can say about the average person. The average person is very tribal: they care about their own very small subset of relations, and merely present a friendly facade to everyone else, if they can be bothered to do that much. And the average person is selfish: if there is an easier path that is also blatantly wrong, the easier path will be taken -- so long as it is believed that no one will find out about it. And finally, the average person believes they are in the right, regardless of all else, and are capable of astonishing mental contortions that will allow them to continue believing this.
  20. 3) People lie.
  22. I'm not stupid; I know many players will read this and scoff in disbelief, their minds already made up. But it's very true: people lie. We don't force people into bad situations, but many of you have probably heard otherwise. We provide alternatives and paths out of bad situations... but many of you have probably heard otherwise. It's very easy for the "us vs. them" mentality to develop between a game's players and its staff, and in the safety and anonymity of out-of-game communications, I'm absolutely certain we've been depicted many times as petty villains, tricking players into doing this or that. People do this because of point #2 above: by misrepresenting the situation, they can believe they are in the right, or at least be perceived that way, and they can safely lie -- taking the easier path -- where they believe they won't be found out. This perception spreads and takes hold, contributing to the idea that bad things happen to characters who do nothing wrong.
  24. 4) Players tend to suffer from PCitis.
  26. PCitis is something Belk has written and talked about many times. "PC" as in "player character," it's the belief that the player is the main character, the star of the show, that they can do no wrong, and that everything will always come out right in the end -- regardless of whatever ridiculous actions are taken in the meantime. The game's theme and NPCs are nothing but props to be used and then discarded from consideration when no longer convenient. This is what often drives players to do bizarre things, and then repeatedly double down on their actions, digging themselves into a deeper hole, in the belief that it'll all work out for the best regardless. Combined with a player's belief that they are always right, the belief that their actions can only lead to ultimately good consequences has led a handful of characters down a rabbit hole of unplayability over the years.
  28. Let's consider the human trafficking drama that happened earlier this year. One participant that we will not name asserted that we purposely destroyed their character, implying that out of nowhere, we had targeted them for ruination and set a grand vindictive plan into motion. This was a curious thing to report directly to us, as we of course knew the full truth of it -- but this is undoubtedly the story that was being told out of game, likely to the point that the person believed it themselves. Let me give you a brief summary, a look behind the scenes, at what actually occurred during that event. It's been long enough, and probably enough versions of the story have already been spread around out of the game, that I don't believe giving this out-of-character look at the situation affects it much.
  30. Let me say, firstly, that this summary is meant to be instructive. It's meant to communicate how badly things can go when players aren't thinking about roleplaying, and it's meant to give you a look at how our plots actually unfold. It is not meant to call anyone out or make them feel worse about themselves. Personally, I assume that the players behind these characters have already thought all of this through and now consider it a lesson learned, and that none of my interpretations will be anything they haven't already thought of themselves. Hopefully others can learn from their example.
  32. We saw a crew of hopeful explorers dock at Famous Andy's Trading Post and pile out of their ship, armed security robots at their sides. They promptly undocked an unlocked fighter, and declared to the docking bay at large that it was unlocked and available to anyone who wanted to sleep there. "Well, that's silly," we said to each other. "It's as though they're taking the situation at face value, imagining that the station is empty because no players or NPCs are visible." What would the inhabitants of a distant trading outpost make of this situation? They would likely be somewhat fearful of this advanced technology, we decided, but certainly they would also see an opportunity for profit in these armed robots of unknown origin. After some discussion, we decided the station owners would confiscate them. Likewise, an opportunistic unreg would inflict the minor loss of the fighter that they had left unlocked and unsecured.
  34. The crew were understandably upset at this sudden turn of events, and abruptly recalled that they were inhabiting a roleplaying game. They began wandering the station, shouting for help. We, at this point, had absolutely no plans for what would happen next -- this was purely spur of the moment, and we simply intended to teach a small lesson about considering their surroundings in a sensible manner. We decided (not that it was ever in doubt) that we would return their robots, and the cost would be a sum of Mutuality credits. And then they could simply go on their way with a story to tell and, hopefully, a new appreciation for the game's theme.
  36. But should that be all of it? No, we decided, we could have a little bit of fun with it. We decided that their fine would in fact be a sum of taels -- a traders' currency unique to the Feng Wo region that we invented on the spot. But how would the players get the taels? Well, it is a trading post -- clearly they should trade for them. But not directly! We would make a puzzle out of it, a common enough puzzle for RPGs: a trading chain. They would trade credits for Item A, Item A for Item B, and so on down to Item F, which they could finally trade for the taels and get their robots back. 30 to 60 minutes of work, and the little spontaneous event would be done.
  38. It took a little while for the players to catch on. We emitted lines depicting various traders shouting their wares in return for whatever they wanted, gradually letting the chain take shape. After a few repetitions, the players got the idea and entered the trading chain. But it wasn't a simple thing -- the traders were shouting out of order, along with a couple of dead ends, and the players were having trouble remembering the whole chain and proceeding along it correctly. There is nothing wrong with that; that's how trading chain puzzles work. At one point, the players found themselves accidentally trading for biological weapons and promptly received an additional fine. We enjoyed a little chuckle at that, but the dead end had not actually cost them more than they had already spent, as they had overbought one of the initial trade items anyway. While they might have some little trouble with the trading chain, we would not allow them to lock themselves out of completing it unless things went drastically wrong somehow.
  40. Then the players seemed a bit stuck -- they had forgotten the next step in the chain and were not trying to get the correct trader's attention. We simply watched for a moment, allowing them to figure it out. Then one of the hosts spontaneously emitted a joke line: a new trader, offering the next item they needed in return for a beautiful woman. Again we had a chuckle, watching their reactions to this suggestion. And then one of the crew offered to trade herself so that everyone else could get their robots back. We hosts did the text equivalent of exchanging amazed glances at this bizarre offer -- irrational and a clear case of PCitis. No one who was considering the situation in a sensible, in-character manner would offer such a thing. However, we would do nothing with this offer, as it would instantly make that character unplayable, and that was not our aim.
  42. Then one of the hosts made a suggestion with a grin. Why not have another slaver willing to trade a woman? And then that slaver could want something else, and so on, until the slave diversion provided a complete alternative to the original chain. We did not believe for a moment that this alternative chain would be pursued, despite the evident PCitis. Surely the realization that they would actually be engaging in slave trading would force them to simply wait for the forgotten piece of the original chain. Or would it? We shrugged, and gradually let the alternative slave-trading chain take shape.
  44. I suppose I don't have to tell you that this alternative was promptly accepted, and with almost no hesitation. In an effort to see how bad we could make it, we even allowed the crew to trade a fully upgraded ship to a clan with known animosity towards the alliances. These actions were not requirements -- the original chain remained available the entire time. The slave chain merely seemed faster at that particular moment. And indeed, the players completed the chain and got their robots back. The characters involved promptly swore each other to secrecy, even withholding what had happened from the rest of the crew. More curiously, and rather startling, even the crew "in the know" began speaking and interacting with one another as though the whole thing had never happened, as though the situation could be nullified by attempting to roleplay like it had never happened.
  46. Naturally, that would not do. If the players would not react to the situation in a sensible manner, we would have to ensure they were confronted with it, and in a way that would give others the opportunity to react logically. We decided to give the players a few days to work the new events into their characters' stories, and if they appeared to refuse, we had a way to let the story play out anyway, via a certain NPC whose presence in that area had already been established.
  48. Most of you know what happened then. The characters (and the players) responded in various manners when the story became public. For the most part, they simply settled in to await "their punishment," as if the entire situation were some natural disaster with an outcome entirely out of their control. One player, though, had a very interesting take on the situation. Her character began to assert that they had been tricked, that the slaves were not actually human and it was all a set-up. This appears to be some attempt to make her PCitis into something in-character -- as the slaves were merely represented as emitted lines rather than complete NPCs, she hoped that they could be regarded as unreal somehow, excusing her from the situation. Fortunately, this was abandoned before it became more public and made her character far less playable, as these assertions would surely have to be interpreted as severe psychological issues. Again, this would have made her character unplayable in the end, and so we did not pursue it.
  50. Now, I don't want to belabor this one situation and embarrass the people involved, but it does a good job of demonstrating exactly why good characters can end up in very bad situations. Let's go back to the points listed above.
  52. 1) It is easier to destroy than to create. This entire situation happened on a whim -- ours and the characters'. Offering the slaves was a spur of the moment decision, as was the characters' decision to pursue the trade. It was a swift, easy act that has proven very difficult to undo.
  54. 2) Human nature is inherently selfish. At the moment it occurred, trading slaves was the quickest and easiest path to their singular goal, which was having their robots returned. Isolated as they were, they assumed that no one would hear about what happened, or at least that they could represent it in a manner that suited them.
  56. 3) People lie. I don't believe that many, or perhaps any, of the players involved have intentionally misrepresented this situation, though perhaps one has. But did the above summary differ at all from what you thought you knew? Did anything surprise you? If so, remember that even people with the most honest intentions will unconsciously attempt to paint themselves in the best light.
  58. 4) Players tend to suffer from PCitis. This situation is the best possible demonstration of that. Rather than acting as characters in the story, the people involved acted as players in a game. The slaves, represented by mere emitted lines, did not matter to them. Only the goal -- the return of their robots -- influenced their actions. Once it was done, they then ignored the situation, attempting to excise it from their characters' stories. They had seized the easiest alternative, but the idea that their characters could do bad things did not fit with what they wanted their characters to be, and so they reacted in various ways to attempt to nullify the issue entirely. In one case, a character was even essentially abandoned.
  60. So, you might now ask, what is a good roleplayer to do? How can you avoid bad situations? If your character does make a bad decision, how do you get yourself out of it in a sensible manner? How do you keep your character playable? Well, here are some guidelines!
  62. 1) Be a character in a story.
  64. Keep the game's theme in mind. Keep other characters and NPCs in mind, whether they're immediately visible or not. When you step onto a space station or into a city, think about its inhabitants. If this was real, who would be looking? Who would your actions affect? And remember, also, that while we hope to allow you to tell your character's story within the context of the game, your character is not the main character. Not everything you do will come out right. Think about your actions in the greater context, and many poor decisions will be avoided.
  66. 2) Remember that bad things can be part of your story.
  68. Again, not everything you do will come out right. Your character will not always be "good" and will not always be perfectly competent. This is okay. Many people try to play "perfect" characters: if they don't know something, they ask about it in OOCsay, so that the lack of knowledge will not be part of their character's story. If they make a poor decision, they are likely to justify it OOCly, ask people to ignore it, or just pretend it never happened. If something goes very deeply wrong, they are likely to abandon that character entirely. But that's no way to play. Not everyone can be right all the time. A compelling character has good times and bad, overcomes challenges, and sometimes even despairs before seeing the light once more. Play your story through till the end.
  70. 3) Remember that we don't act arbitrarily or out of vindictiveness.
  72. We don't seek to entrap people in impossible situations, nor do we typically allow only one bad path out of a situation. Characters face consequences as a result of a deliberate choice, always. It's important to see such things as an opportunity for your character to change and grow. And remember to ask questions, both IC and OOC. If you are unsure how to react to a situation, ask for help from a host. We can help you decide a sensible, thematic response and, if needed, interact with related NPCs. Remember that while your character may be in a bad situation, we are not punishing you, the player. You should consider bad things happening to your character to be good for you, the player, and good for telling your character's story, as long as you accept our help in doing so.
  74. 4) Don't double down.
  76. This is difficult for players who believe that they are always right, and know further that they can represent the situation however they choose in out-of-game communications. But it's the first thing to keep in mind when you find yourself in a bad situation: don't make it worse. Don't downplay the serious, don't misrepresent the obvious, and don't lash out blindly at those who, possibly with very good reason, might be questioning your judgment. Characters often do themselves no favors by standing behind unwise statements and insulting those who took offense to their words or actions. Finding yourself faced with an unpleasant consequence is a chance for your character to grow. Don't just dig yourself in deeper -- unless, of course, you as the player consciously decide that your character's situation should get worse before it gets better.
  78. 5) Don't shut down the situation.
  80. This goes for both participants and onlookers: let the situation play out. Whenever a character does a bad thing, other characters (who usually know the player OOC) line up to tell everyone to leave them alone, they've already learned their lesson, and why are we all arguing anyway? Or they attempt to force everyone to interpret the situation in some bizarre manner that exempts every involved character from blame. Don't do things like this from out-of-character motivations. Let the drama happen. Don't act like a serious situation should be swept back under the rug the moment it comes to light. React in a sensible manner, encourage the participants to react in a sensible manner, and let the characters involved grow.
  82. 6) Do constructive things.
  84. This is harder than most, but remember to let your character create and not just destroy. Do things out of the ordinary. Be proactive. Remember that Policy 14: Minievents is not just for big plots, but also for little things like conversations with officials, technicians, reporters, and investigators. If you're in a bad spot, get out in front of the situation. Don't just sit back and let it roll over you. We are here to help you tell a complete story, not just fix bugs that prevent you from grinding points optimally and occasionally post "gotcha" headlines. That isn't what we want out of the game. The players that we consider the best roleplayers in the game seek our input often.
  86. In conclusion, bad things happen to good people in this game because even good characters can make bad decisions. But a single bad situation does not invalidate your character's existence. The protagonist in your favorite book probably did not go from beginning to end without facing a single challenge, without doing something wrong, without occasionally failing and even sometimes despairing. It's probably your favorite book because that character learned, grew, changed, and eventually overcame their challenges in a way that had meaning to you. You can do the same thing with your character in this game. You do not need to be static and unchanging. Treat the game as a story, and let your character grow within it. That's how bad things for your character turn into good things for the story.
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