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    Chapter 11 Play and Punishment

    I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.
     —Thomas Brown, extempore (ca. 1680)


     
    In 1967, Harold Garfinkel published Studies in Ethnomethodology, in which he presented and popularized “Garfinkeling” as a means of documenting the methods by which individuals create and sustain social order. Professor Garfinkel and his students performed a series of “breaching experiments” in which conventional social orders were interrupted; the consequences of those breachings were then examined in order to investigate the mechanisms by which social order was reconstituted.

    The goal of the original Garfinkeling studies was to investigate assumptions in prevailing sociological theory—for example, functionalism[1]—that maintained social groups operated according to universal laws and norms. These laws were based on, by and large, individual and rational decision making.[2]

    In contrast, Garfinkel found social decision making more immediate, interactive, and, importantly, fragile in its constitution and adoption of social rules. These social rules were then “rational” only to the extent that they were subsequently examined in the context of scientific inquiry.

    Scientific rationalities, in fact, occur as stable properties of actions and as sanctionable ideals only in the case of actions governed by the attitude of scientific theorizing. By contrast, actions governed by the attitude of daily life are marked by the specific absence of these rationalities either as stable properties or as sanctionable ideals.[3]

    Page  144

    The branch of sociology that Garfinkel came to be associated with, ethnomethodology, was founded on this realization: that social law cannot be verified in any real or objective sense either by members of the social order or, equally important, by the scientists who attempt to study and confirm that social order. Professor Garfinkel concluded, in fact, that social order was not reconstituted with the aid of but, rather, in the absence of an objective social law. Subsequently, ethnomethodologists have found a great deal of diversity in social order, which is therein considered more indicative of social agency—or “contingency”—than rationality. And this assumption is now a basic tenet of cultural studies of computer games—particularly online MMOs.

    Like Garfinkel some forty years ago, contemporary ethnomethodologies of MMOs have found a great deal of diversity in online social play. Yet in all the MMOs under scrutiny, there is a single and objective game code. And this game code, with the aid of an equally singular and objective game interface, establishes a common context for online play, without regard to subsequent intervention by either individuals or groups.

    How, then, does social order function inside a virtual MMO, where law and order (interface and code) are more easily—and more objectively—verified than in the real-world settings of Garfinkel’s original studies? What happens when social rules of convention come into conflict with game rules of code? During the latter part of 2007 and early 2008, playing Twixt inside CoH/V, I found out.

    While Garfinkeling normally requires some sort of explicit social rules-breaking process, a similar Garfinkeling procedure might be accomplished within MMOs simply by adhering to the rules and spirit of the game—or the letter of the law, as it were—in those circumstances where MMO PvP game rules are verifiably distinct from the in-game social orders and etiquettes of more cooperative play.

    Twixt: The Reluctant Ethnomethodologist


     
    In the latter half of 2006, issue 7 of CoH/V introduced a dedicated PvP zone designed for battle among the game’s most advanced characters (levels 40 to 50), with heroes opposing villains in attempting to capture six of seven “pillboxes.”

    Recluse’s Victory (Levels 40–50, PvP, COV and COH)—Recluse’s Victory represents the villains’ assault on Paragon City™. Heroes and villains battle Page  145 for control points, use heavy artillery to their advantage, and watch the zone change dynamically as a result of their efforts . . .

     The main Goal of Recluse’s Victory is to secure the Temporal Anchors, aka the pillboxes. Pillboxes are cross-shaped platforms with a central open-topped control area, with a turret on each of the 4 arms. In their neutral state, pillboxes boast a defense system of 4 boss ball turrets with amazing range, accuracy and firepower. In order to take over a pillbox all 4 turrets must be destroyed, which will enable the holographic control system to be clicked on. Once clicked on (a 5 second timer, interruptible) the temporal anchor will be set to your side, and the Pillbox and surroundings will change to either Hero or Villain under your feet. Remember that everyone knows what you just did, so expect company.[4]

    At the time Recluse’s Victory (RV) was introduced, my primary character, Twixt—a superhero “scrapper” in the game’s archetypal scheme—was well known and well situated within the CoH/V community. After RV and other PvP components were introduced to CoH/V, it became increasingly evident that these newly competitive play elements opposed and, in the opposition, revealed the game’s cooperative play norms. In a sense, by introducing PvP competition, the designers of CoH/V had Garfinkeled their game. I further explored this with Twixt.

    Whenever Twixt was inside the RV zone, he played to win the zone—that is, Twixt abided entirely by the objective rules of the PvP game, as set forth and confirmed by the CoH/V game developers and moderators, without reference to or concern with any social rules of conduct established by CoH/V players outside the PvP game context.[5] At first, my interest was solely in adapting and perfecting Twixt’s play to accomplish the PvP game goals. I did not expect anything like the severity—or the ferocity—of what occurred as a result.

    Garfinkeling in CoH/V


     
    Player populations in CoH/V are divided across eleven U.S. servers, with a roughly equal number of players on each. Twixt originally played on the Champion server, one of several U.S. West Coast servers, with a mid-range population of players. After observing reactions to Twixt’s behavior in RV on the Champion server over the course of several months, I created a similar Twixt character on the Infinity server, with similar results. Finally, after NCsoft instituted inter-server character transfers in late 2007, I transferred Page  146 Twixt to the game’s most populous U.S. East Coast server, Freedom, and again repeated Twixt’s single-minded, win-the-zone-at-all-costs competitive play inside Recluse’s Victory. On each server, reactions to Twixt’s play were strong, persistent over time, and, given small variations, extremely consistent.

    While Twixt engaged in many activities inside RV that were deemed objectionable by portions of the CoH/V community, one in particular drew player wrath. The most notorious Twixt play involved teleport-related PvP tactics within RV: “droning” and, closely related, teleporting opponents into non-player characters (NPCs).

    Since RV is a two-faction (heroes vs. villains) implementation of the game, there are safe areas within the RV zone where heroes and villains can enter and leave the zone without fear of being attacked. Protecting these safe areas (“bases”) are security drones, which, without recourse, vaporize members of the opposing faction and transport them back to their own base on the opposite side of the zone map. There is no game-imposed penalty for getting droned, nor is any reward given to a player whose opponent gets droned.

    Twixt—and all characters in CoH/V—have access to (should they choose it) a “teleport-foe” power, which allows the character to transport an opponent (within some limited range) next to them. If the teleporting character is standing by a group of friendly non-player characters and transports an opponent to that spot, then the opponent is attacked by the NPCs. If the teleporting character is standing by a drone and transports an opponent to that spot, then that opponent gets “droned” and vaporized.

    According to player custom and according to a long series of discussions on the CoH/V public online forums, droning and teleporting into NPCs were forbidden. But from Twixt’s oppositional point of view, droning and other sorts of aggressive teleporting were quite useful to delay or otherwise thwart villain intentions, particularly in cases where the villain contingent outnumbered hero players within the zone. Therefore, Twixt used the teleport-foe tactic whenever necessary and available; and this single tactic, though not the only effective characteristic of his play, came to be considered his most severe breach of etiquette.

    As a result of his teleporting tactics, Twixt was often “petitioned” by opponents with the intention of having him banned from the game. The game’s petition process offered a useful mechanism for determining what was and was not an enforceable rule of the game versus merely a player-imposed rule of conduct. Using obscene language in the game’s broadcast channels, for instance, was clearly against the game’s end-user license agreement (EULA) Page  147 and was both a petitionable and actionable offense, regardless of any individual player’s desires or preferences. Droning, on the other hand, was equally clearly an acceptable tactic, as determined by the game design and as confirmed by the lack of moderator intervention on any petitioner’s behalf.

    Nevertheless, droning remained widely (though not unanimously) denigrated as a “skill-less” tactic, ruining otherwise “fun” battles. In these valuations, one group of players (e.g., those without the teleport-foe power) were able to avoid being subject to (and thus having to defend against) the actions of another group of players, giving them significant competitive advantages within the zone. In fact, teleporting of all sorts decreased as a result of the negative social pressures exerted against droning. Twixt’s particular set of powers (or “basic characteristics,” in my earlier terms), which depended, in several different ways, on variations of the teleportation power, proved quite effective in RV yet remained heavily criticized and largely unused by other players.

    While rigidly competitive PvP tactics[6] marked Twixt’s play from the play of most others within RV, there were some other players who, after observing Twixt’s success in the zone, copied his tactics and attitude.[7] But this copycat play normally had the support of some larger social group that also opposed, for various reasons, cooperative play in a competitive game context. Twixt was the only character observed through a yearlong period of play within RV who sustained his play without any accompanying social support.

    Consequences of the Code


     
    Prior to Twixt’s competitive play in RV, his character had several, multi-year relationships with other CoH/V players; these relationships were, by and large, respectful, congenial, and enjoyable. Twixt had been invited and accepted into several supergroups during his career in the game, which waxed and waned with the coming and going of game players and game issues. At the time of Twixt’s play in RV, his closest social affiliation was with members of a supergroup that was one of the higher rated (i.e., more accomplished) supergroups on the Champion server.

    Initially, Twixt’s success in disrupting villain activity in RV was admired, though somewhat begrudgingly, by his online friends and acquaintances, who, when circumstances permitted, fought villains alongside him. A factor that probably helped Twixt’s early treatment in this regard was that as soon as his tactics became obvious, his actions became widely publicized on the game’s public forums and, as a result, increasingly notorious. After trying and failing to convince Twixt to play “properly” in the broadcast channels Page  148 available within RV, disgruntled players quickly took their pleas to the game’s moderators (through petitions) and then, equally quickly, to the larger community of CoH/V players. As a result, Twixt became well known to friends and foes alike, and this minor level of celebrity was partially shared by those who associated with him.

    The public messages that reacted negatively to Twixt’s behavior during his initial period of play on each server were very similar. The following message, one of the more articulate (and less obscene), appeared soon after Twixt had moved to the Freedom server.[8]

    Fri Jan 04 2008

    ok seriously . . . where did this person come from. I know tp foe’ing into mobs is considered “legal” but this person is really getting out of hand. I can deal with his droning no problem, but now he’s resorted to tp’ing into turrets and letting you get killed seriously . . . is there anything you can do about this particular individual. i mean it’s pretty bad when his own faction hates him, but this guy has got to go.

    As time went on and reprimands such as these had little effect, messages increasingly turned to various sorts of name-calling.

    Sat Jan 05 2008

    awww twixt, had a go at him teh other day in rv after i couldnt take my team bein tp foe’d into a drone anymore, we all agreed he is a n00b LOL

    Sat Jan 05 2008

    tp into mobs is a joke, into turrets can suck if your not ready, into heavies is game over, and into drones is just being a poor little loser.

     Messages left in the game’s synchronous, live chat channels were more direct and explicit.

    • 01-12-2007 [Broadcast] twixt is a tool
    • *
    • 01-12-2007 [Broadcast] twixt is a jerk, get used to it
    • *
    • 01-12-2007 [Broadcast] twixt is a pussy lawl
    • *
    • 04-12-2007 [Arena] FYI twist is a fucking idiot
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     These messages promoted a rationale for Twixt’s play in which he was either too ignorant (“retarded”), too young (a “noob”), or too mean (a “griefer”) to understand or obey the social norms of cooperative play. Occasionally—but only occasionally—Twixt’s play elicited support from other players or, equally infrequently, consideration of the broader game context that allowed Twixt’s play to be, in the context of the PvP game inside RV, very successful.

    • 12-13-2007 [Broadcast] I like twixt
    • 12-13-2007 [Broadcast] lol
    • 12-13-2007 [Broadcast] no i do its funny how he pisses all of u off
    • *
    • 01-09-2008 [Broadcast] . . . honestly twist is an obvi skilled player he just uses his skills in the wrong way lol

    Thu Aug 09 2007

    People dont like the way Twixt pvp’s, some, including me thinks he is cowardly in his style. However, why make a big deal about someone doing something in a zone that is specifically designed for players to defeat other players?

    One of the more common and consistent characterizations of Twixt involved denigrating his success within the zone as being accomplished without “skill.”

    • 05-06-2007 [Broadcast] YA he has to make up for the lack of skill with cheep tackics
    • *
    • 05-06-2007 [Broadcast] youhavtea to be lowest skilled pvper in game
    • *
    • 05-06-2007 [Broadcast] you have no skill
    • *
    • 12-23-2007 [Broadcast] you have no build, just tpfoe, nem staff, and lazer beam eyes

    The inability of Twixt’s opponents to acknowledge his success in zone play was no doubt motivated in some part by having entirely different, more socially oriented game goals. However, the degree to which villain messages and in-game claims distorted and transformed Twixt’s play was drastic. For instance, Twixt was able to win the zone (capture six pillboxes for the heroes) Page  150 literally hundreds of times during his yearlong period of play on three different servers. Twixt’s opponents during this same period may have won the zone, in total, less than twenty times. Twixt was normally able to defeat, on average, ten to twenty villains a night, while villains seldom defeated (“killed”) him more than once or twice during the same period of play—or, more often, didn’t kill him at all.

    Rather than acknowledge these successes, Twixt’s opponents refused to admit them. Whenever Twixt pointed to the objective results of his play, he was ridiculed and ignored. At one point, for instance, toward the end of play on the Freedom server, Twixt posted verbatim transcripts of the game’s online combat log as a confirming account of what had occurred during RV play. This posting drew severe criticism—most harshly from those players listed in the log as defeated by Twixt: several denied their defeats outright; others attributed their defeats to more devious or pitiable causes (including a rather long and detailed post drawing parallels between Twixt’s behavior and Asperger’s syndrome).

    Much of this critical reaction to Twixt’s play can be considered a sort of play itself. And, indeed, most of the responses to Twixt’s play can be interpreted as a form of trash talk, common in competitive sports. However, there were several incidents that forced a re-evaluation of the context and the seriousness of player reactions to Twixt. The first of these was the rather sudden and unexpected expulsion of Twixt from his Champion-based supergroup.

    The event that marked the beginning of Twixt’s forced isolation from the Champion community occurred about three months after Twixt had begun using competitive tactics inside RV. After droning one of the more respected members of his supergroup (playing as a villain), Twixt received this curt, private communication from the group’s leader:

    • 03-21-2007 22:32:25 [Tell] you’re banned you really pissed him off
    • 03-21-2007 22:33:05 [Tell] Twixt —> hoho, sorry
    • 03-21-2007 22:35:43 [Tell] yea real bad too twixt, he doens’t care about the mob or the debt the drones is bs

    And that was it. The subsequent lack of reconciliation from any of Twixt’s previous longtime acquaintances within the supergroup seemed to indicate a culmination of that group’s increasingly hostile and previously repressed feelings toward Twixt and his play.

    There were also—during Twixt’s early play in RV—some messages with more serious tones and emphases.

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    • 10-09-2006 [Broadcast] leave me alone you FUCKING CUNT
    • 10-09-2006 [Broadcast] i swear if i ever meet you i will physically kill you for real

    Throughout the duration of his competitive play inside Recluse’s Victory, Twixt endured threats of computer sabotage, real-life violence, and a variety of less speculative (and more achievable) in-game harassments and abuses. This pattern of escalating feelings and emotions was repeated very similarly on each of the three servers Twixt visited. Because of the intensity of these private messages and because of his opponents’ frequent supra-game tactics of unmercifully spamming Twixt’s private message channels, it was often necessary for Twixt to turn off the game’s communications functions entirely. This then effectively prevented me, as a player, from re-establishing social communications with other players, whether or not I wished to do so.

    During the period in which Twixt moved from the Champion server to the Infinity server and, eventually, to the Freedom server, his notoriety as a player increased, and the negative reactions to his play were increasingly justified and reinforced through stereotypical (and false) characterizations of that play. These characterizations were repeated in lengthy public forum discussions in which Twixt as a game player—and as a person—was denigrated and marginalized.

    Surprisingly, considering Twixt’s single-minded behavior within RV, few of these discussions, whether in public or private, acknowledged Twixt’s allegiance to the rules of the PvP game. In the beginning, Twixt played by these rules largely in silence; as time went by, I became increasingly verbal in an attempt to explain Twixt’s goals and motivations. Without exception, however, the rules of the game, while not alien to Twixt’s opponents, were deemed irrelevant in judging Twixt’s play.

    • 05-28-2007 [Broadcast] Twixt: so why ignore the rules of the game
    • 05-28-2007 [Broadcast] Get your head out of your ass
    • 05-28-2007 [Broadcast] There are no rules Twixt
    • *
    • 02-24-2008 [Broadcast] Twixt: well, actually, i have been quite verbalhere on freedom attempting to explain . . .
    • 02-24-2008 [Broadcast] we don’t care
    • 02-24-2008 [Broadcast] stfu

    One of the least confrontational and, correspondingly, most informative Page  152 messages summarizing the attitudes other players adopted toward Twixt’s play was this one, submitted late in Twixt’s career:

    Thu Mar 06 2008

    . . . Twixt seems totally unable to comprehend other players as real people, and plays his own solipsistic game deliberately making others miserable.

    . . . From his posts and RV broadcasts/actions, it’s very clear that there really is something wrong with him that shouldn’t be made fun of or laughed about. He writes in the exact same way as my paranoid schizophrenic uncle, going on and on about everything solely from his point of view, as if he is talking to himself while peppering his paragraphs with consistent typos and unecessarily long words.

     His motive has remained unchanged ever since Issue 7—he plays this game because he believes it is his sole (and very serious) responsibility to maintain Hero supremacy in RV. He fights to win the zone and ruin every villains’ day. It’s almost like he’s an NPC, and if you consider him in that light everything makes a lot more sense.

     I truly believe he simply does not understand the feelings that lay behind people shouting and screaming at him in RV, and just continues to soldier on with his mission, wondering why the other Heroes aren’t helping him rid RV of the bad guys with a sincerity that can almost make you sympathise with him.

    Eventually, because of the recalcitrance of Twixt’s opponents, it became increasingly difficult to interpret the social rules, orders, and behaviors associated with cooperative play—particularly cooperative play apart from and in opposition to any attempt to achieve PvP game goals—as anything other than a means of repressing individual play and players such as Twixt. From Twixt’s point of view, playing by the rules of the game, winning the RV zone competitions, only increased the obstacles he faced and the insults he received. In fact, after Twixt had become sufficiently well known, the consensual goal within RV was, for extended periods of play, simply to “kill” Twixt.

    • 02-24-2007 [Broadcast] before i di ei jsut wanna kill twixt atleast once
    • *
    • 03-21-2007 [Broadcast] Kill twixt for me please
    • *
    • 05-26-2007 [Broadcast] Kill Twixt once for me, dudesl. I’d have helped you but . . . well, you know.
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    • *
    • 11-19-2007 [Broadcast] any other heros want confuse>? to kill twixt lol
    • *
    • 02-23-2008 [Broadcast] u guys shld kill twixt
    • *
    • 02-03-2008 [Broadcast] kill twixt for me!
    • *
    • 03-02-2008 [Broadcast] please do kill Twixt

    Established player groups within RV were also quick to communicate their opinions of Twixt to other players. These communications bordered on coercion, applying the same tactics against potential Twixt allies as against Twixt himself: ridicule and the threat (or actuality) of social ostracism.

    • 04-29-2007 [Broadcast] why you helping twixt for by the way ?
    • *
    • 06-15-2007 [Broadcast] lol someone actually helping twixt
    • *
    • 08-14-2007 [Broadcast] i hope you aren’t helping twixt
    • 08-14-2007 [Broadcast] nope . . . im not

    These social pressures had strong effects on competitive play within RV. Players who played similarly to Twixt (e.g., those who made frequent use of the teleportation power) became subject to the same harsh treatment as Twixt. As a result, these players either altered their behavior or left RV entirely. This diminished the number and variety of characters and strategies players used within RV and, correspondingly, diminished the opportunity and likelihood of either new toons or tactics emerging to challenge those of the zone’s more dominant and vocal players.

    Social Play and Repression


     
    There is a great deal of literature on the nature and treatment of deviant behavior (Goode 2008). Equally relevant here, however, are those studies in cultural psychology noting similarities among how members of a dominant culture represent non-members. These representations use precisely the same tactics—predominantly inferences of inferiority (immaturity, ignorance)—that were used in CoH/V to label and typecast Twixt. A well-known example in this regard (as noted in Cole 1996) are those charac- Page  154 teristics nineteenth-century Europeans attached to the native cultures of their foreign conquests: for example, “an inability to control the emotions, animistic thinking, [and an] inability to reason out cause or plan for the future.”[9]

    Lending some potential credibility to these characterizations has been the ambiguity of the relationship between claims of a particular culture’s superiority (by members of that culture) and the “evidence” used to validate those claims. That is, success on the battlefield or in the marketplace (or, equally, in a game) might depend on a great number of variables, many beyond human control and understanding. Nevertheless, these isolated and random outcomes are then taken as indications of a particular culture’s intellectual or moral superiority—without any accompanying or subsequent tests of verification. Admittedly, such tests would, under normal conditions, be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct, let alone replicate. However, it is largely for this reason—the inability to verify claims of one culture in opposition to those of some other culture—that social constructivists have recommended abandoning the more essentialist assumptions of functionalism and instead focusing on those methodologies by which individuals come to accept or reject their otherwise empirically arbitrary and objectively indeterminable social status (e.g., labeling theory).[10]

    Similarly, many studies of deviant behavior have assumed that the same social structures that react to and condemn deviant behaviors are those structures in which those behaviors originate and are best understood. These, too, are fundamentally constructivist assumptions implying a relative notion of deviance, in which deviant behavior is not necessarily a violation of anything absolute or essential.

    Within CoH/V and other similar, socially oriented role-playing games, however, there are embedded rules for game play and in-game behavior determined entirely by the game code and interface; these rules exist prior to and apart from the many, varied, and sometimes contradictory social rules that later emerge among players. Twixt’s behavior within RV, for instance, was purposefully governed and guided by the rules of the RV game; and most players’ negative and critical reactions to Twixt’s play were peripheral to and, in many cases, contrary to those same rules. In this sense—that is, in the reification of game rules as “natural” laws—Twixt’s play was non-deviant, conforming to an absolute and essential set of values. In a similar sense, negative and critical reactions to Twixt’s play can be seen as non-conforming and “deviant” in prioritizing a limited set of players’ interests and concerns.

    Garfinkel’s original breaching experiments—and more-recent ethno- Page  155 methodological accounts of online societies[11]—have often focused on how individuals in unfamiliar social contexts learn, negotiate, or are taught prevailing social norms; they have focused less often on what those social norms actually are. In the context of CoH/V, since Twixt’s competitive play referenced explicit game rules as set forth by the game designers, there is a relative lack of ambiguity in making this determination.

    In real-world environments, “natural” laws governing social relationships, if they exist at all, are part of the same social system in which they operate and, for that reason, are difficult to isolate, measure, and confirm. In Twixt’s case, however, two unique sets of rules—one governing the game system, one governing the game “society”—offered an opportunity to observe how social rules adapt to system rules (or, more speculatively, how social laws might reproduce natural laws). And the clearest answer, based on Twixt’s experience, is that they don’t. Rather, if game rules suddenly pose some threat to existing social order, those game rules are simply ignored. And further, if some player—like Twixt—decides to explore those rules fully, then that player is shunned, silenced, and, if at all possible, expelled.

    As a simulation of real-world society, virtual societies within online games suffer due to the bound and predetermined nature of their system rules. However, as a platform for investigating the degree to which social orders are capable of revealing and unraveling broader system rules, online games such as CoH/V indicate that socially oriented and strictly cooperative group play, as a whole, is much more repressive and much less capable of exploring system potentials than is individual, idiosyncratic, oppositional, and competitive play.[12]

    Indeed, the strong, negative, and emotional reactions to Twixt’s play were almost always focused on preserving beneficent social communities and friendships in blatant disregard of game rules. The most important negative consequence of Twixt’s behavior in the eyes of other players, then, was not his failure to achieve game goals—Twixt’s opponents “failed” this test more often than he did—but his failure to garner and sustain social connections: the most repellant consequence of Twixt playing to win was that it made him disliked.

    • 04-12-2007 [Broadcast] Everybody hates Twixt, huh?
    • *
    • 12-23-2007 [Broadcast] yea he is hated by a few servers . . .
    • *
    • 01-22-2008 [Broadcast] just proves how much everyone hates twixt =D
    • Page  156
    • *
    • 02-15-2008 [Broadcast] you know, the guy even the heroes hate
    • *
    • 03-15-2008 [Broadcast] Twixt be quiet, every villain i know hates u even tho im a hero

    Remaining likable—socially connected—within the CoH/V community meant playing the game according to values other than those made explicit by code and interface. Players could only learn these values—much like those affecting social activities in the real world—by becoming (or already being) a member of the game’s entrenched social order.

    The Lessons of Twixt


     
    The most surprising result of Twixt’s play within RV was not merely the severity of the negative reactions to his play, but the degree to which game rules played such an insignificant role in those reactions. That is, a significant part of the social order within CoH/V seemed to operate quite independently of game rules and almost solely for the sake of its own preservation. It did not seem within the purview of social orders and ordering within CoH/V to recognize (much less nurture) any sort of rationality—or, for that matter, any other supra-social mechanism that might have adjudicated Twixt’s play on the basis of its ability to provide, over time, greater knowledge of the game system or, in a broader sense, what Sutton-Smith (2001) calls “the potentiation of adaptive variability.”[13]

    The CoH/V online society had a decidedly chilling effect on this variability function. Given the adaptive value of individual play in exploring and revealing system characteristics, the social pressures against this sort of play in CoH/V seem drastically and overly harsh, even unnatural. If either natural or system laws governing social order in the real world are in any way analogous to the game rules of the CoH/V virtual world, we might conclude that social orders in general are more likely to deny than reveal these laws. It is only through so-called aberrations or “deviant” behavior—in Twixt’s case, through what might be regarded as “breaching” (or “bad”) play—that system rules, mechanics, and laws can be made most evident and applied most indiscriminately within a cooperative and self-sustaining social order.

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