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How Sea of Thieves is like S&M: the morality of games that victimize players by design

Gamingtodaynews1f - How Sea of Thieves is like S&M: the morality of games that victimize players by design

Games are escapism. On my computer screen, I'm a hero. In real life I'm no one's savior, but I am a decent person. I treat people with respect. So when I really want to escape being me, to be something fundamentally different, I turn to the dark side of gaming. I've been a serial killer in Skyrim, I've tortured prisoners in Rimworld, and I even attempted a racist playthough of Mass Effect. I'm horrible to so many people, because they're not people. Not real ones. They're AI. My crimes are not against humanity.

But then there's games like Rust. Eve Online. And my recent obsession, Sea of ​​Thieves. This is a game about being a pirate. About sailing the high seas, trimming the sails, digging up buried treasure, and of course piracy. Piracy against people, against players. This time it's not a victimless crime. These avatars represent real people behind their controllers and keyboards. And it's not killing them that turns them into victims. It's not even the sinking. It's the taking all of their stuff.

These players have spent the better part of an hour getting loaded up with treasure. They have crossed referenced maps to find the right island, sailed across the sea, oriented themselves using landmarks, located and dug up the treasure, defended it from skeletons, and loaded it onto their ship.They earned this loot, They worked for it. And we're going to take it from them.

In Destiny when I kill someone I don't get to loot their corpse and take all their hard earned gear. It's not robbery, it's sport. This specific kind of cutthroat gaming has always existed, but now lives on only in a minority of online games. And they do it in a way fundamentally different from the majority of PvP games. Most games these days have matchmaking to pit opponents of equal skill against each other, to stop pros sitting on noobs. There’s a balance between the two sides of the conflict. It's always lv1, 3v3, or 5v5, They're fair battles arranged for sport, and fought for honor. But there's no honor amongst thieves.

On the open seas a solo noob can get preyed upon by two, three, or four veteran players. They'll be underskilled, outnumbered, and literally outgunned. It's not a battle, it's a mugging. One side is not a participant, but a victim. A victim who's had the proceeds of their fun taken from them. And their night ruined. I personally can't do this to people. I'd feel bad for doing it. Yeah, this is all virtual loot that doesn't mean anything, it's not real, but these virtual items require actual human work to acquire. Isn't it morally wrong to steal the products of another person's labor? Aren't you a bad person for doing so? These treasure chests are the result of their work, they are the manifestation of their fun. Which you take for your own, robbing them of their enjoyment of the game, I can't bring myself to do this. But I’ve agreed to have it done to me.


And that's what makes this OK. As everyone says, it's not called Sea of ​​Friends. By installing and playing the game you are implicitly agreeing to being a victim, so that others can take joy in your suffering. It's kind of like… S&M. You're not a bad person for doing this, for enjoying holding power over others. There's a savage, beastly side to most people. There are those who deny it (Vulcans), and those who embrace it (Klingons). For the latter, perhaps games can be a safe space to explore those desires without doing real harm. (I'm not excusing toxicity, real harm can be done through online video games, but that's a separate issue to sinking people and taking their stuff.)

This S&M analogy implies however, that the ones taking the beating are also enjoying it. They're not. They're often upset and salty as hell. In gaming, there's no safe word except for ALT-F4, but the sadists chasing you will still get your stuff. Unlike the kink, in games you can't withdraw your consent once you've given it. But that's the way it needs to be. Because if the wolves had no teeth, the game wouldn't be any fun, even for the sheep.

I’m one of the sheep the wolves prey upon. I solve riddles. I dive for hidden treasure, I have fun with friends and strangers alike. Looking online you'd be forgiven for thinking this is a game about everyone fighting each other all the time, wolves fighting wolves in a PvP death match. But this has been far from my experience. Part of this has to do with me being not juicy enough of a target. Part has to do with me being sneaky and learning to avoid attracting attention. And part of it is the way that the game's systems try to overcome the prisoner's dilemma through alliances and funny math.

Maybe it's just all the new players in the game, but I think us sheep may actually outnumber our predators. But we need the wolves in the game. Twice – yes only twice in a month of playing – wolves, pirates, have ruined my whole night by robbing me of an hour or two of my efforts. But I need them on the seas. Because without the Alien it's just Isolation. Without Freddy it's just five boring nights. Without Slenderman, it’s not even a game.

Without pirates, it's not the Sea of ​​Thieves. It's a game that's fun but it's a game without tension, without risk, without excitement. So pirates, you have my consent. Catch me if you can. But maybe don't be surprised if the only thing you get from this sheep is the horns.

What do you think of the morality of games where trolling and victimizing others is literally the designed experience?

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