In-game leadership: Of Guild leaders, squad commanders, and Niccoló Machiavelli

Yes, a far more intense title than my normal posts. As my last post notes, I’ve got a bit more free time on my hands now so I’m re-reading many of the game theory/gaming books I bought to help with my Masters thesis.

The first one I picked up is a book I would never normally have looked twice at- World of Warcraft and Philosophy, edited by Luke Cuddy and John Nordlinger. My friend and I came across a copy in the university library while we were looking for books, and he picked it up out of vague interest. Not being a fan of MMOs (and having attempted to play WoW several times and failed), I thought no more about it until he pointed out a couple of articles in it that were very relevant to my own research areas. So I dutifully gave it a go- and bought my own copy about a week later.

Anyway, Machiavelli. From what I know of the man, he may well have been as blunt and forthright as the Assassin’s Creed series portrays him. But I do know that he never actually said that “the ends justify the means”. Like many foreign texts, mistranslation and lack of periodical context mean that his original meaning is hidden behind this rather profound phrase.

The actual quote, borrowed from “World of Warcraft and Philosophy” and originally from Machiavelli’s work The Prince, is as follows:

Everyone sees what you seem to be, few touch upon what you are, and those few do not dare to contradict the many who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no impartial arbiter, one must consider the final result.

Let’s put this in simpler terms. As Moses Wolfenstein (an awesome name, I must say) notes in his article, many raiding guilds in WoW are not the democratic entities they seem to be. When it comes to raid time, the raid leader says move and you move; not out of a need for power over the rest of the party, but to coordinate the various roles and skills to the best places in order to take down the target and not get wiped. For the greater good, you might say- or, a choice of actions made through considering the final result.

Sidestepping away from WoW, the same tends to happen in multiplayer games where the players need to work as a team towards a common goal. I’ve experienced it myself while playing Left 4 Dead– I don’t play the game particularly often, and whenever I do play I am happy to let someone more experienced/who plays it often take the lead as they’re probably going to know the map and the rough location of the Special Infected waiting to leap out and kill us. The group of us that used to play tended to make use of voice chat as the best way to relay orders and warnings. There were often points when we knew that we were about to get ambushed, but the chosen (or sometimes self-appointed) leader often had a tactic to ensure we killed rather than ended up being killed. This “prince” with the superior knowledge had considered the final result and instructed his troops to what he believed was the more effective course of action.

See, Machiavelli’s not that hard! However, we live more under a democracy than we do a monarchy (in terms of who has the most impact on the structure of daily life), and there are plenty of counterpoints to his views. Enough to fulfill a whole series of posts, but I don’t think I’ll subject you to more academic stuff just yet.

If you get a chance, take a look at World of Warcraft and Philosophy. It is definitely not as heavy-going as it sounds, and there are lots of really interesting articles that will make you look behind the obvious at see why MMOs work so well with our fundamental human nature.

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~ by Tegan on April 27, 2012.

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