Just Rewards

    Do people really get what they deserve? In The Fellowship of The Ring, Frodo and Gandalf have a conversation shortly after entering the mines of Moria in which Frodo comments that “Bilbo should have killed Gollum when he had the chance.” Gandalf then feeds Frodo several bites of fatherly wisdom, which includes a line that goes something like; “Many who have life deserve death and many who are dead deserve life, but can you give it to them?” In other words, life isn’t fair and people shouldn’t be too hasty to pass judgment on one another. Yet, from a very early age most of us are told to play fair. In America, some school systems have even gone so far as to remove competitive games and sports from children’s activities because they don’t want any child to feel inadequate. Unfortunately, this only works to perpetuate the myth that the world is fair. For this reason I find reward systems to be somewhat amusing.

    Please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I do not condone “playing outside of the rules” or cheating. Actually, I believe quite the contrary, people should do the morally correct, or honorable thing and let the action be its own reward. I also believe that positive reinforcement is a good thing if used in moderation. However, excessive use of reward systems results in false expectations being ingrained into the mind of the individual being rewarded. Many of the reward systems that we have in real life and in games are based on a “gives and gets” relationship. If you do action “A” then you get reward “A” (Note that this is not the same as saying if you do action “A” that you might get reward “A”). Some childish examples include, eat your beets and you can have some cake; or let the doctor give you an injection and you can have a piece of candy. It doesn’t take long before children begin to expect rewards for various actions or events in their lives.

    Many of you may laugh because I used children’s examples, but you must realize that adults do the same thing. How many times in your relationships have you built up false hopes only to be disappointed? How many times have you done the same thing to others? Normally, it is just a case of one persons actions not meeting another’s expectations and the issue could have been resolved if it had been discussed previously, but we don’t’ always tell others what we expect of them. For this reason I have come to not expect anything from others unless I specifically tell them that I am expecting something. That way I am always surprised and grateful when somebody does something for me rather than disappointed when somebody doesn’t do something for me.

    Another issue that I have with reward systems is that they encourage people to expend the least amount of energy required to get the reward. I am not saying that everyone is lazy, and I know that not everyone is a minimalist, yet very few people go “above and beyond” the minimum requirements to accomplish the objective. Additionally, many of the people that do go “above and beyond” only do so to accomplish an objective on an alternate agenda or because they expect additional reward. Does all this mean that I see the worst in people around me? No, it merely means that I see them for who they are and accept them that way rather than what I expect them to be.

    In my opinion Diablo II‘s reward system seems to be more in-line with real life than some of the other fantasy games. The idea that certain monsters can drop certain items of the game with no guarantees is more real and challenging to me than games where a set item is always dropped after slaying a particular creature. Sure, Diablo has several quest rewards that do not change, but the majority of the items (the ones that everybody wants) are totally random. Thus, the player who has only slain Pindleskin once on Hell difficulty has the same odds of getting a Stormspire as the player who has ran Pindleskin 10,000 times. The only guaranteed reward that I know that I will get is the experience points from slaying the creature (provided that I don’t get myself killed in the process).

    I say that the rewards are more life like because when I go to work everyday the only guaranteed rewards that I will receive are my hourly wages and related benefits as agreed to with my employer. There is no guarantee that I will receive a promotion soon, or that I may get a bonus, or that I will even get an annual raise. Certainly by doing a good job and working hard I can better my chances of receiving those additional rewards in the same way that playing Diablo longer and slaying more creatures increases my chances that I may one day find the high-end items of the game.

    Neverwinter Nights and Morrowind are two games that I have played recently that have reward systems which are different than Diablo. Neverwinter Nights (NWN) has an interesting reward system for completing tasks and/or quests. In NWN you can accept the afore stated reward that was agreed to before you started the quest, or you can persuade the reward giver into giving you a bigger reward, or you can decline the quest reward. If you decline the quest reward then you trigger an intermittent positive reinforcement and the reward giver may give you an item or nothing at all. Additionally, your charity may increase your alignment towards good. I haven’t tried to threaten anyone for a larger reward so I am not sure if you can negatively impact your alignment but it would seem logical that you can.

    Morrowind has the old style reward system where you get certain items from slaying particular beasties and the high-end items of the game are all located in the same place regardless of how many times you play the game. Fortunately, Morrowind is one incredibly long game so I don’t think that I will play it more than one or two times all the way through, thus I am not so worried about all the high end items being available in certain places. I must admit that I just don’t understand the mentality behind downloading the list of all the high-end items in Morrowind and then running around just to collect those uber items. Granted, I don’t think that it is as bad as someone who hacks, dupes, or downloads all the uber Diablo items off the internet, but it just seems to take part of the challenge away from the game.

    One thing that we can all be sure of is that wherever there is a reward system in place, somebody will always do their worst to cheat the system to get those rewards. In the real world I can understand this mentality. I may not agree with it, but at least I comprehend the logic behind the actions. In games, like Diablo, I just don’t understand the need for it other than to experiment. I have the attitude that a person can do whatever they want with their licensed game but they should keep the experimenting to their own game play. If somebody wants to open the game code to activate the constriction ring on their single player game at home then they should feel free to do so. But what is the point of duping items or hacking items on multiplayer games? I’m sure that it is pretty easy to download all the items of the game off the internet for use in open multiplayer games but what is the purpose? Again, if a couple people get together to try things out, like when making a mod, but everyone in the game knows what changes have been implemented, I see know harm. But, bringing those items into a multiplayer economy or claiming that you found all of the items just seems like a very shallow victory. Where is the reward in that course of action? Is sacrificing ones personal integrity for some degree of recognition really worth it? To me, that is like taking a picture of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston and placing my head on top of Brad’s body to make it look like Jen is with me. Sure, I can do it, but the action doesn’t make it so.

    Disclaimer: Fortuitous Ephiphaneia is written by Drandimere (Paul J. Darling) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.

    You may also like