WoW and The Social Contract

I dated a guy once who claimed he conceived this great explanation of the reasoning behind governments, cultures and social norms:

See, at the beginning of time there were no rules or laws and it was anarchy. But then people realized that if they felt like surviving they had to come together. And to come together, they needed to trade in some of their freedoms for rules. Rules that would be enforced by a neutral party, a State or Government. The sum of those rules would be like a Social Contract.

To which I rolled my eyes and informed him that I too had studied John Locke’s Second Treaty of the Civil Government. If he wanted to appropriate someone else’s ideas, he should aim for something a tad more obscure.

I’m reminded of that ex whenever WoW blogs debate the necessity of optimization, argue whether or not raiding or heroics are for “everyone” and discuss douchebags in PuGs. Not of his arrogance (he actually wasn’t arrogant at all when it came to WoW, which you’d find rather surprising if you knew the guy) but rather of his definition of the term “Social Contract“.

What it all comes down to is Social Contracts.

Optimization Depends on Your Social Contract

When you join a group of players, you’re expected to abide by certain rules, the, OMG plug, “Social Contract”.

Each group has its contract. The contract will always include, officially or unofficially, a section of the “attitude toward end game” spectrum and some “resource sharing” rules (loot/bank rules) . Sometimes it’ll include language norms, international relations policies (or how to act around non-guildies) and more.

If you follow the Contract, you’ll fit in. If you don’t follow the Contract at all you’ll be exiled (in the form of the traditional /gkick). If you partially follow the Contract, you’ll be a reject and have Cookie‘s rotten food thrown at you.

Whether or not you should optimize your character depends on that “attitude toward end game” clause. If you’re playing (and I mean, really playing, not just socializing) with people adopting a strict wring-the-most-out-of-it attitude, then yes, optimize or get out.

If you’re playing with a group who’s unwritten clause states “we’re here to hang out with more than 5 people and if we happen to get a purple while doing so, then all the better“, optimizing will cause you so much stress that you’ll cry yourself to sleep at night, burn out from WoW and never want to play again. (Slight exaggeration.)

Since most groups are somewhere between those two attitudes, you’re best associating with those whose social contracts include an attitude similar to your own.

But…but what about those who don’t want to optimize and who want to be in groups who do?

Well, every society has its deviants. Bottom line is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (unless you bend the rules by sleeping with the head of State, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Doesn’t foster much self-respect). Play the way you want to play with those who also play the way you want to play.

Raiding and Heroics for All?

This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the Social Contract for now, so lets forget our friend Locke for a second.

Whether or not Raiding and Heroics are for all depends on your definitions of “Raiding” and “Running Heroics“.

To me, Raiding and Running Heroics are broad terms. Raiding means being in a WoW group of more than 5 people (like an actually group, not just more than 5 people standing together) and engaging in combat. Running Heroics means being in a 5 man group with the difficulty arrow pointing to “Heroic“. And as far as I’m concerned, anyone who’s able to operate a computer is capable of doing that (well, the heroic option requires being over level 70).

Now, your definitions may include something along the lines of, you know, actually killing something your level. Or even more scandalous: killing something your level somewhat efficiently. In those cases, well, yeah, those activities have certain attitude and dedication requirements.

And back to the Locke, your definition of Raiding and your definition of Running Heroics will determine your sanity level while straying into no-Social Contract zones – aka the Dungeon Finder.

PuGs are taxing because of the lack of Social Contracts

PuGs don’t have Social Contracts. Well. If you consider the TOS, they do, but the TOS doesn’t cover much and most people don’t ask for it to be enforced very often.

The key to avoiding turning into a raging beast in PuGs is to accept that there is no Social Contract. People are going to act as they please. Sometimes it pleases them to fight efficiently, be polite and have a smooth run. Sometimes it pleases them to ignore fight mechanics, show up without preparing their character and be total douchebags.

If you’re lucky enough to get a couple of like-minded players in the group, you might end up with makeshift Social Contract. If 3 or more of you agree that this dps just isn’t going to cut it, then this dps will end up in exile. But if you end up with players that agree with each other but not you, you’ll be the one exiled.

Battlegrounds and the Social Contract

One thing I’ve always found fascinating about Battlegrounds is that there is a loose Social Contract beyond the TOS. It’s a zone of violence, a zone of letting off steam and zone of letting normally offensive things go. There are limits and the State (aka Blizzard) will act on TOS violations, but, really, it’s generally accepted that battleground chat will be full of colourful language, of whining and of frustration. It’s part of the Social Contract, of the unwritten agreement we sign by hitting the “Enter Battleground” button.

Those who don’t know of or who don’t like the Battleground Social Contract, however, don’t usually enjoy their Battleground experience.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day, playing happily with others in WoW means finding a group that shares your ideals, a group that will have a Social Contract that you want to follow.

And playing happily with strangers in WoW means accepting that the Social Contract may be loose or non-existent. At those times, you might have to focus on yourself to keep your spirits up, or, in extreme cases, know when to head into exile.

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9 Comments on “WoW and The Social Contract”

  1. Rhii Says:

    Hehe, the first thing I thought, about four lines in was… “you dated John Locke? Ophelie, you’re older than you look!” Heehee.

    Ahem, anyway, I like this post and for the most part I agree with it. However, I think the social contract is still there, even in places like BGs because beyond whatever group standards we self-police in WoW, there’s also sort of a basic bottom line of decency. It’s pretty low in BG chat, but it does exist and sometimes it surprised me where it pops up.

    For example, I have been doing a lot of BGs this week, and in one there was a warlock whose name was a careful misspelling of a horrific racial slur. And he had a mouth like the inside of a sewer pipe. And about two minutes into the WSG people started replying to him with “why should I listen to you, racist scum?” and “did that racist a-hole just talk? I have him on ignore” and “don’t worry, he won’t be named that for long, I reported him.” I was surprised in the pleasantest way.

    • Ophelie Says:

      Well, I did say that there *was* a Social Contract in BGs, just not the one you mentioned ^_^

      There is always the TOS as an enforced upon demand Social Contract, but any other Social Contract that might emerge is random. You *can* end up in a group of like minded people who’ll have some rules as common ground, but you might also end up in a strongly devided group, or a group of like minded people who are against you.

  2. Grimmtooth Says:

    A minor quibble. I would say that there /is/ a social contract in pugs, and that the major reason they are stressful is so many people don’t live up to it. The implied contract is that if you’re in there, you’re there to do violence to wandering loot pinatas.

    The interesting thing here is that the implied contract of the pug is morphing into something more along the lines of the BG ‘contract’ in that our expectations have become so eroded that we just roll our eyes whenever we experience rampant asshattery in a pug. I’ve given up.

    • Ophelie Says:

      With PuGs, I think that yes, everyone wants to get to the end with the least amount of hassle (with a few exceptions…), but you’re getting people from all walks of WoW life, with different standards of what a PuG Social Contract will be. And unless you’re lucky enough to be able to vote-kick someone, you can’t enforce a Social Contract, and without the power of an authority, you’re essentially in a State of Nature.

      The implication wasn’t intentional but now that you point it out, you’re absolutely right! I stated my impression of the Contract with BGs and the lack of Contract with PuGs as a semi-fact, while in reality it was kind of my own opinion. To me BGs are for raging due to the nature of PvP. Instances are not. But that’s just my view, and it’s entirely possible that the majority of players see the game differently. I don’t mind idiocy and assholeness in PvP because to me, PvP is a safe outlet for crap. I usually don’t mind idiocy (but assholeness does get on my nerves) in PuGs because I know there’s nothing I can do about it and my options are either to be miserable or to ignore it.


  3. [...] Bossy Pally explains the various ins and outs of social contracts as they relate to [...]

  4. Mike Says:

    Interesting how I got to your blog through a series of clicks from other blogs but I dig it. It’s an excellent balance of real life and wow, which I don’t think many people can practice, much less write about.

    This particular post is mostly something that I’ve felt for a long time and simply not had the appropriate words to express how I’ve viewed “social contracts” and behaviors. Slightly deviating from your suggestions and plugging in some of my own thoughts about PUGs (uggh): I think the social contract exists in PUGs, but its binding is limited or empowered by whether or not the participants “buy in.” I look at WoW as a virtual capacitor with regard to how players interact with others (especially in PUGs). Every player is a power supply of involvement and WoW can either be an outstanding regulatory instrument in how the input is distributed, or a complete wall to “normalized” social behavior. I speculate that those who perform poorly compared to those who do not have had limited actual human interaction. It is difficult then for these people to ever truly develop a sense of proper social behavior (or its variants), if the foundation for behaving around others is built from a failed “capacitor” relationship.

  5. Gladiola Says:

    I loved this post and its analogies! Great writing, as usual!


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