Superstitions and MMO’s


The Daedalus Project was an online survey of MMORPG players which is currently in hibernation, but the archives are still available. In relation to the survey Heather Sinclair, a member of the Dungeon and Dragons Online development team, made an interesting comment:

“From beta all the way through months into launch players were CONVINCED that if you used the diplomacy skill on a chest it would improve the loot you got.. this was SO widespread that you literally could not get in a pick up group without them querying about the diplomacy skills of the party and someone forcing everyone to wait while the highest diplomacy skill player cringed before the chest sufficiently. No matter how many times we posted on the forums that this was a myth and it doesn’t do anything, they kept doing it. It got so bad our community relations manager even put it in his sig. Finally we made chests an invalid target for the diplomacy skill, then players whined that all the points they put into diplomacy were worthless because we “nerfed” the skill! Even now I’ve seen endless variations on the theme, from people being CONVINCED it’s based on a certain stat, or a certain class, or amount of times you’ve repeated the quest, or level of your character, to the point that there is always some voodoo you must do to satisfy someone in the party, if that voodoo does not produce sufficiently acceptable results, they’ll switch to another superstition.

We’ve had similar problems with some of our boss encounters, for example, on my first dragon raid, I was regaled with a long list of things I MUST NOT DO or else the raid would be wiped. Not one of them was valid, but they were incredibly detailed and equally silly. (Things like you can’t switch weapons, press hotkeys, cast spells, attack anything but a single leg of the dragon, that sort of thing). It was pointless to argue about, they wouldn’t accept the fact that their rules were really all superstitions.”

The avid reader of Gamers Decrypted will have heard me speak of B.F. Skinner before. In my post The Virtual Skinner Box I discuss how MMOs are a kind of conditioning station. Once again I will speak of the famous experiment “Skinner box” and gaming, but only briefly this time. One of B. F. Skinner’s experiments in 1948 involved inducing superstition in eight pigeons. Together they were placed in a a Skinner Box and were given a food pellet every 15 seconds no matter what they did. Eventually every single one of the eight pigeons had fixated on a particular superstitious behavior such as walking around counter-clockwise or a left-to-right head-swinging motion etc. The Daedalus Project mean to say that if we consider that MMORPGs systematically use many operant conditioning methodologies, one could theorise that there might be a connection between us and the pigeons!

Have a look at some of the superstitions admitted to the Daedalus Project:

Bovine Assault
“Many years ago, in Asheron’s Call, outside the city of Rithwic I came upon a new player that was standing around as a cow was beating the living crap out of him. I moved closer to save him, as he was taking no action to thwart the rampaging dairy cow. I drew my weapon and he called out, ‘Please don’t kill the cow!!!’ Perplexed I stopped and he explained that he was deliberately letting the cow eat him without reprisal because he had heard that if a monster attacks you, it would ‘raise your defense, and that’s very important later in the game!’ I didn’t have the heart to tell him that it would literally take years of continuous bovine assault before it made a substantial difference.”

A Special, Happy Place
“In EverQuest there were several folks in my guild who believed if their characters got drunk enough they would actually be teleported to a special location. I think this rumor started because somebody got so drunk they couldn’t tell where they were walking (since being drunk warps the way the game draws the graphics) and got stuck in a weird place under Freeport or Qeynos. So these guys kept getting smashed on long camps to try and go to this ‘special’ location, which really screwed us one time when the MOB we wanted appeared but half of the group was too wasted to attack it. No matter how much others tried to convince them that there was no special place they never stopped believing it was true.”

Paint Brush of Souls
“There is an area deep in a temple in FFXI where you have to go through a ritualistic sort of procedure to open a secret door. First you have to acquire an item (the Paintbrush of Souls). This item gets taken to a particular room. Once in the room you have to ‘talk’ to a few objects in a certain order, then face your character at a blank canvas. The game tells you that your character starts to paint on the canvas, then puts a mark at the end of the line to let you know that you have to hit Enter to continue.

The trick to opening the door is you have to wait approximately thirty seconds before hitting Enter. You must give your character time to finish their painting. (The game gives no hints on your progress, nor when you are done. You just have to be patient, and wait a minimum of thirty seconds.) In FFXI, you can chat in real time in a variety of different ways. If you hit enter to send a chat message during the painting, it would abort the waiting period. I can’t tell you how many times I had been in that area, where a raid leader would swear up and down that the *only* way to open the door is for *everyone* to be absolutely silent for two full minutes; if anybody typed anything at all, the door wouldn’t open and it would be YOUR FAULT!”

-“The Daedalus Project” by Nick Yee

Because of the nature of superstitions they are difficult to observe in ourselves. The only superstitious behaviour I can think of in myself is my habit of dancing around the NPC enemies in PvE which is a deeply conditioned behviour that I can’t kick. In PvP there’s a clear advantage in moving around but in PvE (unless you’re avoiding AOEs) it becomes a useless habit bordering on superstition.  Have you ever experienced superstitions in yourself or players you’ve met?


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