Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Pixel Border

Via casual digging, an article on gold farming in China. This is well-covered territory on "the Newb" (what the cool kids call it nowadays) and you know I'm a sympathizer. I like the whole global marketplace feeling of it all and I had this crazy idea we should just hire the farmers. While I was reading some of the comments in today's article, I started thinking... [cue the thought bubble]

Gaming is an act of contractions.

There is a line we cross everytime we start up the PC, fire up the Xbox, flip on the PS2 or umm... (give me a second, one will come to me... oh, got one) juice up the DS. Let's call this the Pixel Border. On one side of the border is you, in your real life, doing your RL thing. On the other side of the border is the gamer you, in the games you play, packing plasma weaponry and tossing spells on a whim. One is made of cells, the other pixels. Yet even with those differences, across both sides of the border, the commonality should be you. Your experiences, beliefs, personality and quirks should transcend the border and be sourced by both sides.

But this isn't true for gamers. Depending on which side of the Pixel Border we're on, we are different, even contradictory. In regards to gold farmers, we are upset about them because we think they make things unfair. Thus on the game side of the pixel border, we believe in a 1 to 1 ratio of effort to achievement. Anything that messes with that formula is unacceptable.

Yet on the world side of the pixel border, we believe in a different type of fairness. Take air travel for instance. We understand that if you buy an economy ticket, you will have to wait in the economy ticket line to check in. If you buy first class, you wait in a shorter line. But what if you had bought a first class ticket and found someone, with an economy class ticket, in line with you and then plopping down in the seat next to you? We'd think that'd be unfair. In the world, money brings privileges. In games, we believe that only effort should bring privileges.

So you see, gaming delivers hypocrisy into our lives when we cross the border. This is especially true for MMORPGs. A couple more examples:

World | Games
Flaunting of material wealth considered crass | If it glows, I want it more!
Stealing is wrong | Anything unwatched is free game
Innocence is adorable | Get a clue newb!
Strangers do not trade or barter | LTS!
Dancing on tables is weird | If you're a dwarf, it's required
Stripping in public shocking | Hey, look at my underpants!

I could go on but most of the rest are silly. The thing is, there is a strange balance that we all seem to understand. The contradictions are okay. No matter how virtual, some things are real. So you can kill someone in-game, no big deal. But feelings are real, so attacking someone personally is still wrong. We have become experts at crossing the border and acting appropriately when in Rome.

What bugs us is when someone doesn't understand the border. When I'm playing WoW and someone in my group says, "I just got a speeding ticket", it completely throws me off on how to respond. What do I say, "I'm sorry, here, let give you a defense buff??" We like the Pixel Border defined, preferably guarded and only those with proper papers can pass.

Going back to the initial topic. The gold farmers are unwelcomed because they respect the Border. Gold farmers sneak across the Border, bringing with them things we don't like. They speak a different language, take our resources and don't do things like we do. So we say: stay on the other side and leave us alone.

But how realistic is this request? Borders are notoriously drawn in an arbitrary and myopic way. As MMORPGs expand in the real world, each of us are going to have to constantly redefine our Border. When FFXI blended Japanese and North American servers and players from across the world were thrust together, the Border changed. Suddenly, I had to factor in Japanese players, their language and style, while playing my virtual game.

In the end, the presence of gold farmers is another contradiction that gamers as a whole will have to live with. This is regardless of whether or not you're supportive of them. I think by now we need to realize they're a part of the industry. But hey, don't worry, accepting them shouldn't be too tough, we're experts at this contradiction stuff.

No comments: