Friday, March 29, 2013

Glitch and Cooperative Play

Glitch was a flash-based browser MMORPG in which harassment was extremely rare. Plagued by financial difficulties, the game ended in December of 2012. However, in light of the ongoing discussion regarding harassment in gaming communities, I think that Glitch provides an example of a game that was successful in fending-off player harassment. Glitch accomplished this in a number of ways, and admittedly perhaps its status as a small indie game didn't harm it either.

Glitch was a relatively unique MMO in that the game itself did not encourage aggressive competition among players. There is no Player vs. Player combat, and there were only rarely instances of Player vs. Environment combat. These rare PvE situations encouraged the cooperation of numerous players for the benefit of the game. A large part of the game was exploring the continuously expanding in-game world and learning new skills. Glitch fostered a cooperative MMO environment using a number of techniques.

Scene from the tutorial

One such technique was the utilization of Quests requiring another player. Quests gave players goals and rewards. A number of these Quests could only be completed through asking the participation of another player who did not get the same benefits of the Quest-holder. However, given the frequency of these cooperative Quests, Glitch encouraged an environment where helping another player for little immediate benefit was the norm (with the assumption that other players will do the same for you in the future).

Another variation on the Quest are those that specifically encourage aiding low-level players. Because Quests are provided to players based upon their level and previous Quests, certain Quests are only revealed at higher levels. One of these is a Quest to give items to brand new players. Often these items are ones that new players would be unable to attain on their own. I find these strategy of the game developers particularly brilliant as it sets up a support system for new players and improved community integration. Instead of the trope of gamers being hostile to newcomers who are perceived as "fake" or "noobs," Glitch encouraged acceptance of newcomers. When I personally completed this Quest, for example, the new player sent me a friend request and we continued to play together until the game's end.

Similarly, Feats were akin to global "Quests." That is, every player had the opportunity to participate in it at the same time. These Feats almost exclusively required generosity or cooperation. Examples include leaving complete strangers gifts at their homes or playing mini-games with other players. At the end, players who participate were rewarded with Feat-specific items.

Casting this rainbow on another player gives them more energy but does nothing for the caster.

A reflection of this cooperative community in-game ethos was evident in the use of community resources. In Glitch, there were a number of areas with community resources, such as gardens for example. It would be easy for players to continuously take from the gardens and never give back, simply selling the harvested items for profit. If this was the attitude in-game, the gardens would simply remain empty. However, it was rare to see a community garden with empty plots. For the most part, players were cautious to only take what they needed and frequently re-planted. Passers-by would sometimes stop to water a dry sprout so it would continue its growth, an action that drained the player's energy with no return. In this way, nice behavior was the norm even outside of Quests and Feats.

While Glitch was unusual in that it was almost completely without combat, it was quite usual in other ways as an MMO: it had a global chat, you could send players private messages, and there could be competition in other ways (levels gained, items gained, etc). The potential for harassment was there. However, by utilizing Quests and Feats that "game-ified niceness," Glitch to a large extent successfully avoiding allowing that type of environment to develop. This game-ification of cooperative play and nice behavior I believe has the potential to decrease harassment in other games, even those with a combat-based style of play.


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