PVP: The Scorpion and the Frog

AesopLately the dynamics of encounters in PVP games has intrigued me. Recently I had the priviledge of experiencing PVP first hand in the newest and most successful MMORPG: World of Warcraft. I admit that I am very new to PVP. Perhaps this is good as my unfamiliarity with the genre would allow me to think about the subject in new ways.

So I created dwarf hunter and proceeded to level him up. Eventually I would wander into the dreaded contested zones–where everyone is fair game to be attacked by players of the opposing faction. One thing I started noticing immediately is that more often then not I would be attacked when passing a stranger from the Horde faction. I started to feel that players of the opposing faction felt somehow duty bound to attack me even though I was minding my own business and posing no immediate threat. Many of the so-called constested zones were barely contested and were usually near Alliance controlled territory.

What then is it about being on a PVP server that makes players prone to killing you? Could it be that your name is in red and in essence players react like bulls in a bullring and have this uncontrollable urge to kill you? Could it be that players who play on PVP servers revel in PVP and go there with the full knowledge of partaking in this kind of behavior? Or could it be that the nature of war and peace seems to favor one state over the other?

For the purposes of discussion, let’s say two travellers see each other approaching on an open road. Meet traveller X and traveller Y. Both of them have never previously met nor do they have any knowledge of each other. Eventually they meet. There are 4 possible scenarios that can result from this chance encounter:

Scenario A – both travellers pass each other without incident
Result: peace

Scenario B – traveller X decides to attack traveller Y
Result: war

Scenario C – traveller Y decides to attack traveller X
Result: war

Scenario D – both travellers decide to attack each other
Result: war

Therefore there is a 75% probability that combat (war) will take place. We also know that war always trumps peace as the person being attacked has only two options: 1) defend himself or die 2) attempt to escape. We can also say that while one person can force a state of war on another party, one can not force a state of peace on another person.

What does all of this mean?

Combat is more likely to result then peace in a chance encounter between two players in a PVP enabled environment.

PVP always favors the agressor and their playstyle. Combat is the dominant behavior in a PVP environment. Someone who exists in a PVP enabled environment that favors a non-combat philosophy or who is less agressive has a clear disadvantage because of the nature of combat. Clearly those players that are scorpions will fare much better then those players who are frogs.

When we talk about PVP we are really talking about systems in online games that allow us freedom to attack another player. If we were to drop the PVP label and create a world where absolute freedom was possible like Ultima Online and other online games we would have to deal with the ramifications of the propensity for players to attack each other. We’d have to ask some serious questions about the viability of other players that choose to inhabit online worlds that don’t fit Bartle’s “killer” profile as indicated in his famous HEARTS, CLUBS, DIAMONDS, SPADES: PLAYERS WHO SUIT MUDS article. Do we want a virtual world where the killer mentality is dominant over the other equally valid archetypes such as achievers, explorers and socializers? Given that the killer archetype feeds on the other three, it is cause for serious concern for both players and designers alike.

Finally I think the parable of the Scorpion and the Frog is worth considering when evaluating the dynamics of PVP and MMORPG archetypes:

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

Replies the scorpion: “Its my nature…”

When we play our avatars in online games that permit open PVP and freedom we choose to be in a world of scorpions. An excellent essay on the Scorpion and the Frog fable makes some good points about scorpions:

It is the scorpion that pulls humanity down. If you are not yourself a scorpion, you still are unable to play every move of every game in the cooperation zone, because sooner or later you will meet a scorpion….Yeats’ judgment that “things fall apart, the center cannot hold”, because “the worst are full of passionate intensity” is a recognition of the fact that there are scorpions.

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  1. Sander van Dragt April 21, 2005
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