Monday, August 20, 2007

Religion and Politics in a Star Trek MMORPG +

Originally Posted by Frederickkay:
I dont immidiatly believe internal debate would be bad for the game, what do you mean with breaking the magic circle.
The "magic circle" is just the idea that when you're playing a role-playing game, when you pretend to be a character in an imaginary world with other people, it's as though you're all inside a magic circle within which all that stuff is treated as though it were real. The other side of this is that everything outside the magic circle -- the real world -- should not be allowed to break the circle; when it does, it prevents people from enjoying the feeling of being inside the game world.

This doesn't matter to everyone, but it's really important to some gamers. For them, a lot of the fun of the game is wrapped up in the stuff behind the gameplay. It's not just about increasing a number or owning somebody -- it's about experiencing the story and logic of the world in which the gameplay occurs.

So when these gamers are trying to play the game that way and somebody starts talking about last night's football game or their English Lit homework, it breaks the "magic circle." It makes it impossible for them to get the value out of the game that they're paying for.

Bringing real-world religions inside the magic circle of a Star Trek game would produce the same effect. Instead of doing Star Trek stuff, people would sometimes focus -- out loud -- on "their" religion, or on putting down someone else's religion. Next thing you know, there's a big fight and nobody anywhere near it can just play the game.

Some people are jerks, so this kind of thing is going to happen no matter what. The question is whether any MMORPG developer would decide to make it more likely to happen by actively bringing contentious real-world religions inside the magic circle of the game world.

Originally Posted by Frederickkay:
The only thing I think should be implemented is a good way to channel this debate. A special philisophical chat channel with poll questions and good chairs to guide the debate would help allot, keeping regular channels free from people flaming each other for their believes.
It's good to be constructive, but experience suggests to me that people simply will not restrict their opinions to OOC channels. There'll always be people who want to make religious remarks in public channels just to stir up trouble, and there'll always be people who feel they have to respond aggressively to such remarks.

And then the whole thing snowballs. By the time a GM steps in, the damage is already done.

Overall, it's a cost-benefit thing. As I see it, the potential benefits of having real-world religions inside the magic circle of the game world are considerably less than the likely costs (including actual financial costs) of building features around those religions and managing the flame wars that are bound to erupt when people feel their real-world religious identities are being questioned in the game world.


On the possibility of ethical questions as part of gameplay in a Star Trek MMORPG, I'm still thinking carefully about whether or not any game developer can be objective enough to pose such stories fairly. Moralizing (as Star Trek sometimes did) is bad enough on a passive-entertainment TV show; I'm pretty sure I don't want my character penalized with negative XP for choosing the "wrong" answer -- i.e., the one that doesn't conform to some game developer's real-world sociopolitical biases -- in an online game.