Sunday, December 19, 2010

You can dislike a change without disliking change

In a fairly minor coincidence I've run into the same fallacy twice this week, so it's been on my mind. The fallacy goes like this: If I warn you I'm going to do something different, I should then be immune from criticism about the specific different thing I do.

The first example is an event going on in Lusternia. Just like how on a TV show, something big happens once a year because the season ends (Babylon 5 made this really obvious since seasons corresponded to calendar years, so for several years in a row, huge events happened on New Year's Eve or thereabouts), in Lusternia, once every 29 game years (that is, every real-world December) the world goes to hell in a handbasket, resulting in imminent doom, the apparent release of the Soulless Gods, the weakening of the Great Seals, and ultimately, a big contest in January and February for ascension to a state of godhood. Everyone knows it's going to happen, and like any event, it will inevitably feature a lot of crap being piled on everyone, a lot of nigh-unkillable critters invading everywhere, a quest that involves gathering eleventy-frillion of something, a lot of reasons for the nations to backstab one another plus one or two reasons for them to work together, and a lot of absence of the Elder Gods (partially so we can't appeal to them to save creation, since it's in their best interests to do so but it wouldn't be a fun event, partially because they're busy behind the scenes running the event, and partially so they can have a little time off for the holidays). So far so good.

But there are a few bad things that sometimes come into these events, things that must seem like a good idea briefly but which some of the admins haven't realized are actually terrible. The unkillable, rampaging denizen one is de rigeur despite the fact that it totally demoralizes and drives away loads of new players; every event, they do that, then after there's enough complaints they change something so it only attacks higher-level players, but by then the damage is done, and then the following event they forget all over again. We're used to that. But this year they've pulled out two chestnuts of awfulness. First, there's the pointless makework grind: something you have to do every ten minutes, which is frustrating, unfun, tedious, carries absolutely no reward (not even gold or experience; in fact, it costs supplies), and which absolutely must be done. In this case, it's constant forest fires, which is about as interesting and creative as replacing your favorite TV show with non-stop commercials. Second, there's the kind of plague that forces characters to try to avoid one another. Way to make a social, multiplayer game more fun: force us all to avoid our friends.

All that might be okay if it were part of something bigger and laced with interesting things, but right now, it's just basically being jerked around. All the danger, the obligation, and threats could be fun if they were part of something fun, but as it is, they replace everything we might want to do in Lusternia with two things: tedious time-wasting chores, and avoiding people. I've been waffling about being critical about it on the forums; sometimes I have, and other times I've thought I shouldn't, but not because I don't think criticism is unwarranted, just because I don't think it'll be fruitful. But criticisms, from me and others, have been plentiful, and have elicited the same old reaction: "You shouldn't complain about having something new; these folks worked hard to make this, and we should appreciate that."

Well, I do appreciate the work, but that doesn't change the outcome. If you spent a thousand hours making a sculpture and it was ugly, the hours wouldn't make it not ugly. Maybe you can say "I don't want to hear if it's ugly," but then, maybe you shouldn't put it in a public place if you don't want a public reaction. Unfortunately, if you try to disclaim a criticism by also acknowledging appreciation for the work being done on your behalf, the disclaimer not only doesn't have the intended meaning, it seems to make things worse because it sounds patronizing, no matter how intended.

But the bigger fallacy is the argument that, because it's "something different" that means it should be appreciated regardless of what it is. There's also an overtone that because we knew it was coming, we shouldn't complain. (This all gets mixed together, along with old standbys like "if you don't like it, log off," the fallacy of which hardly needs pointing out.) It comes down to suggesting that if you don't like this particular new thing, you must not like new things, or newness itself. When you put it like that, the fallacy is obvious, which is why I've put it like that; yet the argument seems to compel a lot of people. I would certainly welcome an event that was a good adventure and a good story (and doing both at the same time takes a lot of balancing), but this is neither. (Most events in Lusternia are one or the other at best, but rarely both. Some of that is due to the limitations of the multiplayer form, but most of them are just that the kind of things that the people who run events seem to like are rarely good stuff. So many of them feel like the railroaded D&D modules of 1989.) In the end, you put something in front of a lot of people, you have no recourse if they level criticisms except to demonstrate how the criticisms are unwarranted, or to take them. To be sure, the critics should also be fair with their criticisms and appreciative of the attempt, and often are neither, but that doesn't change it.

A similar situation has come up with the now-annual New Year's Eve trivia game. Last year, the person who runs them came up with a "twist" that sounds great on paper, and which turned out to be tactically interesting, but which really didn't work. It was predicated on breaking up people's teams and forcing them to turn on one another (a little) and be separated from one another. This caused a lot of negative emotions at the time, and really undercut the fun. Ultimately, people don't go to trivia games to have a tactically interesting game, and then just happen to have friends around; they go to trivia games to have fun with friends, and just happen to have it facilitated by a trivia game. The game runner forgot that and got the priorities reversed, and it bounced back. She took a risk and it didn't pan out.

The resulting criticisms, so far as I know, were good-natured and joking in tone, though still critical. This year, the announcements of this year's game are very defensive and fly the same fallacy. While it contains reassurances that teams won't be split up, it goes on at some length about how there will be some unexpected, unannounced twists, and it's our problem to deal with them, be prepared for them, and not complain about them. It equates us being resistant to the particular "smackdown" game of last year, with being resistant to any game that isn't "the same old thing." And that's horribly unfair. I don't think anyone really objected to there being a change (though some people may have worded it that way); they were objecting to that particular change which happens to have been poorly conceived.

I hardly want to argue with her about it because she's obviously a little too stung by last year's incident, and because this is all in good fun anyway. But it is a pernicious fallacy, and while we can laugh it off when it's referring to idle pursuits like the ones I used as examples in this post, it's the same fallacy when it applies to vitally important things, like the politics of an entire nation, like environmentalism, like futurism, like values, like social change. It's a very common tactic to brand anyone who favors a particular change as being in favor of change for its own sake, or anyone who opposes a particular change as being inflexible. But it's just like an ad hominem attack: it's not that it's a change that matters but what the change itself is. Every change is subject to its own evaluation and criticism.

1 comment:

Kelly said...

Yeah... While I realize you have to stir the pot some now and again to provide something to do, the events are not super-well thought out in anything but in terms of the world itself. I was thinking pretty much the same last night, that it's easy to scare off new players with such things. I speak from experience, of before I played Lusternia. I tried Achaea again after having played it some before. It happened to be during an event where huge monsters would begin large and lengthy attacks which required anyone not leveled high enough to cower somewhere safe. While it did let us get to know others forced to remain hidden, and we could help in little ways when fighters would come in and need healing and such, being kept from tasks that would allow our own levelling and learning for often great lengths of time eventually made me drop it.

I guess we need large-scale events to keep the higher levels of characters interested, give ascension chances in the "age of ascension".. it generally makes those of us who have no interest in it or those not strong enough or so new they don't understand it's not always so chaotic miserable. But plagues are just an all around bad idea, as is restricting movements of uninterested or incapable individuals. And I've never been a fan of things springing up to cause war and more animosity between different groups.

I guess there needs to be some "realism" to these events, and I appreciate their general purpose and the amount of work and creativity that has to go into them each time. But outside a concentrated, comparitively small group that is interested enough to be involved consistently, it disrupts too many aspects of the game that keep the rest interested and engaged, and certainly gets in the way of anyone new being able to properly learn and become involved when things are in chaos because of an attack, or potential teachers are unable to interact with anyone else.