[MUD-Dev] Community Relations

Matthew Mihaly diablo at best.com
Wed Jan 19 18:30:29 New Zealand Daylight Time 2000


On Wed, 19 Jan 2000, Koster, Raph wrote:

> Matt, and you thought YOU were harsh... :) My apologies in advance.

Yes, mine too Raph, in case I do manage to offend you. I have extremely
strong personal feelings on the subject of objective ethics (which is what
I think this argument boils down to), and it's hard for me not to get
worked up when thinking about it.

You know though, that I should point out that to a large degree, I am
playing devil's advocate on this matter. I do believe everythign I'm
saying, but I would certainly not be interested in running MY game
capriciously. I'm more than willing to defend someone else's ability to do
so though (not that it really needs any defending, as it's not against the
law, and none of you can force a mud admin to behave in the manner in
which you want.)

> > 
> > I disagree, and I don't think you thought about this 
> > statement before you
> > made it. "Misguided" mean not guided towards something, 
> > presumably your
> > goal.
> 
> Actually, I was speaking of the admin's responsibility towards his players.
> If he wants to run a psych experiment, a mud devoted towards driving players
> insane, a mud to experiment with poor management, etc, then he had better be
> warning players away with huge banners. If he's not explicitly trying to do
> that, then he had better cut out that behavior. To my mind, when you open a
> public facility of ANY sort, you are then responsible for it on many levels,
> regardless of whether he is trying to maximize playerbase size. The fact
> that playerbse size WILl increase if the place is well-managed is
> coincidental: you manage it well because you owe it to the players to manage
> it well, because you have created a public space. If you want to make a
> private space, then don't tell anyone about it. If you opened a public space
> in order to get an ego-boo, get over yourself and realize what you've done.

Why must he better? What are you going to do? Go over to his house and
punch him in the face? That's a serious question. Why must he "better cut
out that behavior?" 

> 
> > It is a mistake, I think, to implicitly assume that the 
> > goal of a
> > mud is maximize the size of the player base. It's a bias that I see on
> > this list all the time, and it's a completely unwarranted 
> > one. 
> 
> A commercial mud has as its goal maximizing revenue. Not playerbase
> size--they are not necessarily the same thing.

I'm picky, so I will point out that maximizing revenue is only the goal of
really really poorly run companies. Maximizing shareholder value (even if
there aren't formally shares in the strict corporate sense) is the
generally accepted (and most logical) goal for a business. Sorry, I
realize that's really nit-picky of me.


> 
> A free mud may have many different goals. Almost all of them (certainly all
> the justifiable ones in the case of an advertised, publicly accessible mud)
> require a playerbase. 
> 
> If a playerbase is well-treated, it will attract new players. This does not
> imply growth of the playerbase, as other factors such as retention and
> advertising may still result in a net loss. Treating the playerbase
> well--actually, let me make that blunter: treating them decently but also
> manipulating the hell out of them for the common good--is, to my mind, a
> responsibility of the admin regardless of which goal they are pursuing, if
> they are running a publicly accessible space.

Well, again, it's great to say it's a responsibility, but from where does
this responsibility derive? Your mind? If I wasn't running a commercial
mud, and if I had no interest in working in the games industry in the
future, I wouldn't give two shakes of a drunken lamb's tail what any of
you believed were my responsibilities, because it's irrelevant, unless you
are willing to do something about it, which I doubt (and hope against).

> > In summary then, if some mud admins choose to run their muds 
> > capriciously,
> > I don't see where anyone gets off criticizing them on more than a
> > "personal preferences" level. In other words, perhaps you 
> > find that sort
> > of style distasteful, but that doesn't mean it's Wrong or Misguided in
> > some universal sense.
> 
> I say it is wrong or misguided in a universal sense, and you're not likely
> to convince me otherwise mostly because my conviction relies on some
> articles of faith about people.

Well, fair enough. You have your arbitrary ethical systems, I have
mine. It's lovely that you believe certain things are objectively wrong,
but so what? Everyone believes different things. If I am a mud admin
running a mud in a manner you deem "wrong", why should I give a darn
what you believe? Once again, unless you're going to do something about it
(whether that be personal coercion or some sort of attempt to get other
people to coerce you), it's meaningless to me, the Capricious Mud
Admin.

 
> Players are people. Just because they are people far away on the other side
> of a lot of wires and computers and routers does not mean they are any less
> of people. Treating people capriciously in the real world is wrong,
> especially when you have power over them. Treating them capriciously in the
> virtual world is also wrong. Admins have power over PEOPLE, not just
> characters. Those are real feelings over there.

Wrong eh? Well, again, you have your beliefs, I have mine. One of my
favourite sayings is Scito Te Ipsum, or Know Thyself. It's the name of a
short book by Abelard that advances the idea that sin (in a non-religious
sense, this is, I believe, essentially equivalent to what you mean by
universally wrong) doesn't lie in deeds, as deeds are neither inherently
good nor bad, but only in intentions. So, to Abelard then, sin is the
consent of the mind to what it knows is wrong. You know one thing is
wrong, I know another thing is wrong (I don't believe either of us are
_right_ universally). The same actions then would be a sin for one and
perhaps not a sin for the other. (Of course, and I'm only guessing on
this, I'd imagine that Abelard would certainly have subscribed to the
notion of natural rights, and probably would have argued that everyone
_knows_ what is right and wrong if he looks inside. Cultural myopia and
religious arrogance, but the idea on sin remains valid to me.)

 
> A mud admin who advertises his mud is asking real people to come into a
> virtual space he created. If he does it for the purpose of knowingly
> tormenting them, abusing them, or causing them pain, then that is
> reprehensible. If he torments them, abuses them, or otherwise puts them
> through emotional pain out of ignorance, it can be forgiven, but he had
> better realize quickly that they are PEOPLE.

I wouldn't term that reprehensible. The difference between a mud and real
life is consent. You don't consent to real life, and there seems to be a
nearly (though not completely) insurrmountable barrier to opting out of
life that is deeply ingrained in our psychology. No such barrier exists in
a mud. Just leave if you aren't happy. Unlike in real life, where escaping
oppression is hard, it is easy to escape oppression in a mud. Just
leave. It's all very well to talk about how the issues we are discussing
here will have serious consequences for the future, when on-line
communities become more ubiquitous and a more integral part of everybody's
life, but unless people are forcibly put into the world and somehow not
allowed to leave, I'm never going to really care much, even on a personal
level (as opposed to making universal judgements), because if I am to
spend time caring about people, I'd rather do it caring about people who
actually ARE in fairly inescapable oppressive situations.

 
> He also needs to realize that the reason they are there in his space is
> partly because of the nature of the space he created, and partly for the
> other people. All of those people have put themselves in his hands, under
> his power, in his control. To say he has no responsibility for their welfare
> is shortsighted and frankly cruel. They do not HAVE the power, in the
> current state of the art, to manage their affairs completely. Current mud
> designs RELY on that admin stepping up to the plate and acting in a mature,
> responsible fashion. In fact, they practically require an inhuman level of
> devotion to duty.

Shortsighted how? I've seen a lot of capricious admins in my time, and at
least one of them (who will remain nameless) made a lot of money running a
commercial mud. He was one of THE most capricious admins I've ever seen
too. He was happy running his mud, and laughed frequently at the idea that
he's living high on the hog off of people whom he regularly abuses (I'm
not exaggerating. He said this to me multiple times.) A bit of a
bastard? You bet. Shortsighted? I don't think so, as he really seemed to
enjoy it, and was making an excellent living doing it.

> 
> The players doe snot think in these terms. He is generally naive about these
> matters when he first logs on. But he'll catch on, though he may never be
> able to articulate it. But the admin--to my mind, the admin damn well better
> learn this stuff, preferably before advertising any site locations. It
> doesn't matter what he made the mud for: as soon as he opened the doors, he
> effectively said, "this isn't mine anymore, it's yours."

That's ridiculous, I'm sorry. It most certainly is not the
users. Ownership only exists based on the use of force. You can
point to the car you drive to work every day (or whatever, the thing 
doesn't matter), and say, "That's mine." but that's just a fantasy unless
you have either the ability or the backing to _make_ it yours. You own the
car in your mind, and the minds of whoever chooses to believe you,
only. You may possess CONTROL over the car, by virtue of the legal system
which says you do, but that's it. The company in which I'm majority
shareholder, Achaea LLC, owns Achaea, Dreams of Divine Lands, not because
we created it and haven't sold it to anyone, but because an organization
(legal system) exists which is willing to take action to enforce my
control over it. Ownership is simply meaningless in a "real" sense. It
exists only in people's minds, and if two people disagree, you are
screwed, and must resort to simply attempting to control it. Until the
users are able to either get laws passed giving them some control, or are
able to just generally intimidate us into giving them control, we control
it, and that's really all that matters. By way of simple example, look at
what the US government did to the American Indians. 


> It would take an exceptionally farsighted company to consider the cost of
> careful community building to be a necessary upfront expense. :) I am not
> saying these things in the light of only commercial practices. This is the
> standard to which I held my immorts on LegendMUD, and frankly, it is the
> standard to which players *everywhere* hold their immorts. 

Sure. I should be saying something to the effect of muds where maintenance
and growth of player-base is a primary goal, rather than commercial muds
only. I recognize there are some free muds that are run with those goals
in mind, and whose admins operate with those goals at the forefront of
their agenda.

> 
> Separate debate, but IMHO the advancement of muds DOES require improved
> community management. This does not, however, imply administrative
> management.

I don't think you really mean that. Clearly advances can be made that do
not involve improved community management. Also, "advancement" implies
movement towards a goal, but I'd bet that every single one of us on this
list would list different goals, differing either slightly or
greatly. We're not moving towards one end-all, be-all mud here. Goals may
be equally valid and yet opposite in nature. Perhaps someone's ideal mud
has only players hardy enough to withstand lots of admin abuse. In fact,
the admin I spoke of before did have a philosophy somewhat like that. He
wanted a lot of strong-willed players, and felt he could weed out the
boring ones by messing with them.


> 
> If you look at the goals you listed, you'll find that they all depend on
> playerbase to one extent or another, and the most common of them (which
> sadly, includes ego-boo) depend very literally on increasing playerbase over
> time.

And if the admin gains pleasure merely from being sadistic? I see nothing
invalid about that as a goal.


> > Poorly phrased by me. My point is that regardless of where 
> > the content is
> > coming from (players or creator), the fact is, the world is 
> > _owned_ by the
> > creator (or his assignee). He does not have any real 
> > responsibilities to
> > his players unless he chooses to accept them.
> 
> So here we have a fundamental disagreement.

Well, ok. Lucky for the CMA (Capricious Mud Admin) that everyone that
matters as far as enforcing ownership goes is on his side, at least
currently. 


> It is no longer your house, in the case of a mud. Rather, it's actually
> public parkland. You can choose to take it back, but it is still public
> parkland until such time as you do. And to my mind, that changes the nature
> of the equation.

Ok. It doesn't change the nature to me.

> 
> > and I decide to arbitrarily insult you 
> > and throw you
> > out, that's my right, and thank god for it.
> 
> Actually, doing this sort of thing could very well land you in legal
> trouble, for the precise reason that it is an activity detrimental to the
> community.

Assuming that the CMA is running a free mud (which, my example of the
admin who managed to still make a damn good living while being an arse
notwithstanding, is likely), exactly what legal trouble, is he likely to
get in? In the US, at least, absolutely none. I could see that happening
eventually in the US, but, thank god, I don't see it happening anytime
soon.


> Ugh. If a park administrator, restaurant owner, mayor, or president runs his
> restaurant, park, city, or country in a capricious, vindictive, arbitrary
> way because it makes him feel good, we usually call him a jerk. He may be
> the one who put in the effort, time, and possibly money, but I, for one, am
> still going to tell him he is being a jerk by playing with people that way.

Ok, so he's a jerk. I'm not arguing that. Jerk as you use it is a term
used to indicate someone who possesses certain qualities or who performs
certain actions you don't like. It's  not like the universe recognizes him
as such. It's just a label you have slapped on him.

My point in all of this, in summary, is mainly that I am a believer in
ethical diversity, not ethical monomania. I also think it's important to
distinguish between saying something is Wrong (which I think is a silly
idea to begin with), and saying something is wrong in the sense that you,
personally, don't like it. It's also important to recognize that muds are
not moving towards one single goal, thank god. Advancement in muds can and
will come in many ways, and you aren't going to like all of them. It's up
to the controller of the mud to determine what the goal of that mud is,
and whether to even progress towards that goal, and in what method. You
can say he has responsibiliites, etc, but *shrug* it has no bearing.

--matt




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