GAMETECH: The dawn of penal servertude

MOST games have rules, but few have laws. In fact, the only law gamers usually pay any attention to is that of Gordon Moore, who observed that the rate of internet trolls tends to double every two years (or maybe it was the number of transistors on a circuit). Gaming has traditionally been about winning or losing, not about law and order.

That all started to change, of course, when online communities began to take shape. Suddenly, behaviour and social etiquette could make or break a game’s fun factor. The rules expanded from button-pressing to, well, pressing someone’s buttons.

This is especially true in massive social games like EverQuest 2, where the entire experience relies on the conduct of other players. So the developers of EverQuest decided on a solution — this week, they created a penal colony.

A special server dedicated to the banishment of disruptive players, this penal colony is designed to give ‘rule-breaking’ players a special place of their own to run riot. Unlike most other punishment systems for online games, such as temporary suspension of accounts, there is no coming back from the penal server. Once you’ve been sent away, that’s it. Goodbye civilisation.

“As gamers, we recognise there are some players who like to step outside our rules,” the developers Daybreak said. “Ultimately, players who break the rules, or want to, will have a world of their own to do... whatever they will.” A team of Game Masters will decide on who gets banished, but players can also request a visit to the colony through the petition system if they wish. (That’s the digital equivalent of going on holiday to Australia.) Daybreak are calling this system an experiment, but it will be interesting to see if the penal colony becomes as populated — or indeed as popular — as the normal servers. After all, E.V.E has proven that there is a market for law-breakers in online gaming, though that game’s economy is far more suited to pirates and theft than EverQuest ever will be.

What’s strange is that games are now jailing people. Back in the day, games used to lock up our computers.

PACKING A PUNCH

Speaking of jail, did you know that games lead to increased aggression? You didn’t?! That sounds like a good reason to punch you in the face! Jokes aside, the American Psychological Association (APA) has published a report that “demonstrates a consistent relation between violent video game use and increases in aggressive behaviour”. The report comes after the APA comprehensively reviewed scientific literature published on the topic from between 2009 and 2013.

This topic is important, whether we tend to agree with these results or not. While the report declared a link between video games and increases in aggression in children, it didn’t define what “aggression” meant. It also was very clear that there was no link between playing video games and actual acts of violence or aggression.

“We know that there are numerous risk factors for aggressive behaviour,” the APA said. “What researchers need to do now is conduct studies that look at the effects of video game play in people at risk for aggression or violence due to a combination of risk factors. For example, how do depression or delinquency interact with violent video game use?” That’s a worthy area of research and, hopefully, one that the APA will broaden to include the beneficial effects of video games on children too.

WAITING FOR A HIT

One game children shouldn’t be playing is Hitman, in which players become Agent 47, an assassin for hire. Agent 47 has taken another crack at Hollywood this month, but once again he’s missed the mark. Unlike the titular character, Hitman the movie isn’t making a killing.

In fact, not only has the movie flopped at the box office so far, it’s been murdered by the critics too. As of writing, the game-turned-film has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 7%. It follows on the heels of Adam Sandler’s Pixels, which currently stands on a 16% average rating. This will come as no surprise to anyone, of course, but it’s a shame that the success of Wreck-it-Ralph continues to be an anomaly, that rare feature film that does video games service. Agent 47 — not a hit, man.


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