Thursday, October 04, 2012

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Play Star Wars: The Old Republic? Take This Government-Funded Survey on the MMO's Political & Moral Choices

Old Republic Morals and Politics survey

Click here if you play Star Wars: The Old Republic to take a short and fascinating (in my biased* opinion) survey on the MMO's political and moral choices, and how they relate (if at all) to your real life values. It's for a report funded by a US government grant from the National Science Foundation which seeks to explore ways in which MMOs "provide experiences of meaningful accomplishment and how this engagement may portend the social use of digital technology for mass persuasion and motivation". So for example, if you roleplay as a Sith Inquisitor on the quest "Interrogate Alif" (pictured above) the survey asks if you tortured the prisoner (one of the options), and later asks your opinion on the use of forced interrogation in real life.

The research is led by my friend Robert Geraci, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College, and the goal, as he puts it, is to understand how "how participants in virtual worlds derive meaning from their activity within those worlds." In this particular MMO (since it's part of the Star Wars franchise), there's a wealth of political and moral choices players make that have resonance with the real world.

More from Robert:

"For the purposes of this paper on SWTOR, we want to know how players use the game as a way of grappling with political thought. In keeping with this, we have this new survey online to help us sort out how contemporary moral and political issues are engaged in game settings, and how gamers see the settings as different from or similar to real life. There have been a number of public criticisms of gamers recently, including of SWTOR's players, that imply or directly state that players do horrid things in them as a result of malicious intent. This seems unlikely to us, and we want to know how players of SWTOR see good and evil in the game, and what relationship that has to good and evil outside of the game. That will help us learn how the game contributes to meaningful political practice even though it remains 'just a game."

So click here to take the survey. And because it's part of a government-funded research project, the results will be made public -- and definitely published on New World Notes.

*Disclosure: I briefly consulted with Robert on the construction of this survey, but not as part of the NSF grant, and only after the basic research was well under way.

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Kwich

Well I think the real information we get on morals is how your friend can accept a study and how parts of the US government can run the study of finding out "provide experiences of meaningful accomplishment and how this engagement may portend the social use of digital technology for mass persuasion and motivation".

That is sick! Those are the tools of propaganda and dictatorship and has nothing to do with the core beliefs of democracy.

In democracy you should convince people (at least 50,000000001 %) with opinionated facts and not with lies and fairy powder.

This is what turning me sick, not that some player uses torture in a game.

For most of us gamers (like 99,99999999999%) there still IS a great difference between real life and virtual life.

Best regards,

Kwich

Arcadia Codesmith

Players who deliberately inflict grief upon other players have clear and identifiable sadistic or sociopathic traits.

Upon NPCs? Please. You can't torture code.

robert

hmm. in my defense, i think you're taking this in the wrong way. the question of mass persuasion is one that is with us in mass media already. we aren't trying to sort out how one could go about tricking people into believing things, as advertisers are already experts in this area. rather, we want to know 1) how games can provide players with meaningful experiences and 2) how games are involved in the dissemination of ideas.

as a matter of fact, if SWTOR helps people think through a) the basis of political legitimacy and b) the morality of political decisions, then i'd say the game is doing something really interesting and powerful. whether it is doing either of those remains an open question, but i'm pretty sure the game is not turning people into slaves of a fascist government. ;)

Iggs

This is laughable! There are no correlations of ANY kind between the factors you are trying to derive some from. I leveled 5 lvl 50's so far 3 on empire and 2 on republic and i make my "moral" choices strictly based on what i want to get out of the story based on my views of that characters class at the time of the character creation. So my choice to be "evil" or "good" are made based on person preference for that specific character and also highly influenced by the fact that the game does not reward neutral choices and going opposite can almost hurt you in end game. All that being said 95% of the "moral" choices in each of those stories were made based on me picking the answer that would yield me the best predetermined result.

Desmond Shang

While I haven't played this game, the questions of ethics and morality do enter my game decisions, even with nonplayer characters.

It has nothing to do with the obviously contrived, artificial characters in the program. But everything to do with what kind of person I see myself to be, what appeals to me as 'fun' and what sort of mark it makes upon me.

Does anyone really enjoy pretending to torture, even if it's clearly a contrived situation? Would you then wander the game landscape, with all human players knowing that you had to obviously commit deed X to get skill Y? Awful.

There is a degree of realism at play though; I was quite happy to blast all the centipede segments to bits in Centipede (yeap, that was a new video game for me at one point). But if a game verges on a fairly convincing recreation of human torture... eh, no thanks, I have better things to do with my evening.

robert

hi iggs, i think you're actually representing one of the common positions that is deliberately encoded in the survey--that for many players, it's just a game, and that playing through it in ways appropriate to the character is a fine and reasonable thing to do. on the other hand, you're also downplaying the fact that other people make different choices from you (the survey has been taken by 200 people so far, so i can assure you that your position is definitely not the only one represented). what we want to know is not whether or not there are people who see it as a game where you play out the character, but to what extent people do so or not, and to what extent they see those choices as relevant to life. i don't want to speak for people without getting their input...hence the survey and the open comment field. when all the data collection is complete, we should have a pretty reasonable approximation of how SWTOR players see the political and moral choices at stake in the game.

melponeme_k

Oh I completed this garbage alright.

Then I gave them a piece of my mind in the comments section.

To the Hague for War Crimes all of them in the military and the government pencil pushers.

Hamlet Au

Now's a good time to check the NWN comment guidelines and decide whether one's opinion is expressed in a civil and productive way:

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2006/02/nwn_tips.html

Rin Tae

I can't take the survey as I am nto palying this game so I can't tell how well it is on making the player think about moral decissions. But I know this from other games even when I don't play much.

What I do have noticed is the difference between playing a game and playing the character. I love to RP, so for me it is always the second and the decissions made are guided by what I think the character would do. And this might be not the best decission according to the game-score but doing it otehrwise would feel alien to what I would try to play and imagine.
Havign a game that allows for moral choices and presents them in a good way might be what for me makes it fun to play. But I like imemrsion and to imagine the characters thoughts and actions ... and this is very different to those who jsut play it and look for what gets the biggest number of points and the best revards.

So I guess any survey like this would have to ask, if the one answering the questions feel themselves more as a 'gamer' or a 'roleplayer'

Arcadia Codesmith

One thing that drove me crazy in The Old Republic... there's a quest where you can swipe documents from a crooked senator and turn them over to an activist to expose him. However, following through on it causes you to incur "dark side" points.

I guess if you view light/dark on the order/chaos axis, yes, you're performing a chaotic act. But letting the Senator off the hook, though the lawful choice, is also the evil choice. So you get a light side "reward" for doing the WRONG thing.

Whoever wrote that gem is messed up.

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