The gaming world, particularly the multiplayer hemisphere, is rife with diverse moralities that run the gamut from zealous, near-self-sacrificial restraint to über-Darwinian brutality that would make even the Zerg proud. We all know someone who would rather finish a round 0-27 than succumb to using “cheap” tactics or an overpowered weapon. On the other hand, we all know that one guy who would strap C4 to his grandmother and send her to the enemy HQ with a plate of freshly-baked cookies just to maximize the body count. The striking range of our beliefs about the proper way to behave in gaming warrants a discussion: what do we make of “honor codes” among gamers?
Let us begin by establishing a working definition for “honor” that will serve our purposes here. To say that one has “honor,” we mean that someone has developed acceptable standards of conduct while playing a game, and players maintain their honor only as long as they abide by such standards. Violations of these honor codes can evoke a number of reactions. The two most common are: (a) an individual is appalled that another player violated personal and/or communal values, to which the offender is not bound by any authority…except the righteousness of the victim’s vengeful wrath, and (b) an entire server or community erupts in protest when a player or wave of players break(s) the generally-agreed-upon but unwritten rules of fair play. Of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t also give a shout-out to every noob who dies once and floods general chat with “[expletive] hacker.”
There are numerous examples of tactics that are almost universally frowned upon by gamers. For example, in multiplayer FPS, four of the fastest ways to lose respect are to, in no particular order, spawn camp, dolphin-dive (Battlefield games), bunny-hop, and circle-strafe – a special thank you to Counter-Strike for immortalizing the last two. These actions are especially reviled if the game in which they are used does not implement some sort of combat trade-off for using them (i.e. lower accuracy while hopping/circling or a firing delay while diving). Granted, the presence of such trade-offs usually relegates these tactics to ineffective panic-button reactions. There is some debate as to the merits of these tactics and others, as more than a few people claim it takes considerable skill to be effective with them. If you’d like to Hadouken those individuals, please take a number.
Let us consider the competing arguments. One side claims that there is no compelling reason NOT to use such tactics – the developers put them in the game, and until they are removed, all is fair in love and war. Furthermore, they will make the point that “it’s just a game, so why does it matter?” The other side, however, asserts that just because certain behaviors are possible doesn’t mean they are permissible, and that how you play really does matter – particularly because it can drastically affect the experience of others. Who is right? Neither? Both? Could the answer depend on context?
There have been numerous instances in which a community reaction is so severe, widespread, and persistent that developers release a patch that nullifies or removes the contested item or behavior. In that respect, it could be argued that the misbehavior of a few actually led to an improvement of the game, an improvement that may not have happened if the spotlight had not been shown on the behavior. Do you abide by an honor code when playing multiplayer games? If so, when and why? If not, why not? How do you react when another player violates your, or the community’s, honor code?