In which Changing The World is Its Own Reward

Filed under: Reflections — Tags: , , , , — halbyrd @ 10:15

I’ve been seriously thinking over the question of spirituality and morality; namely, does having the latter require the former? David Malki, over at Wondermark, has put up a series of rather talky web comics over the past few days that has helped to crystallize my thoughts on the matter. You can have a look over here, or just look at the reproduction of the thread below:

Now personally, I don’t agree with this position. I’m an agnostic atheist; i.e. I don’t believe there is a God–mainly due to lack of conclusive, verifiable evidence–and I’m not sure that we can even meaningfully talk about a being that exists outside of space-time altogether. That said, there are the seeds of some good ideas in here:

“…there is no Heaven, no Judgement. Your time on Earth is all you get. You better make the most of it.”

This is one of the things I believe, and I believe that this attitude, coupled with a functioning sense of personal responsibility, has done more to motivate works of great good in this world than any promises of a reward in the hereafter. After all, if there’s one thing people have a problem with, it’s delayed gratification. How can anyone expect a promise of a reward in the next life to motivate people when you can’t motivate the average shareholder to look past the next quarter’s earnings?

If we’re going to motivate people to make the world a better place, we need to be emphasizing the personal and collective benefits of those altruistic actions. You don’t fight unemployment and underemployment because it gives you warm fuzzy feelings, you fight it because making everyone a productive member of society reduces the tax burden on us all; you do it because giving people legitimate ways to succeed cuts out the huge portion of crime motivated by sheer desperation. The reward for making the world a better place to live in is that the world is a better place to live in. Promising spiritually-flavored warm fuzzies is superfluous at best, and as some behaviorists are starting to realize, may actually be counterproductive.

“…’Doing God’s will’ is no longer an excuse for hurting others.”

I don’t think I need to explain why this is a good idea, but I have some related thoughts. It’s my position that the people who curse and hate and kill ‘in the name of God’ are just as irresponsible as the nihilists who say ‘if there is no God, no punishment waiting for me after death, then screw the rules, I’m gonna get mine and screw everybody else!’ For some, ‘it will be as God wills’ or ‘it’s all going according to His plan’ are ways of accepting that the world is ultimately out of their control; these people are fine. What’s problematic is that for far too many, those same sentiments are used as justification for selfishness, callousness, cowardice, and any number of other manifestations of the abdication of responsibility both great and petty.

For a child, the threat of punishment is often enough to keep them from doing wrong. It works because the child makes a basic risk-reward comparison, and decides that avoiding the threatened punishment is more important to them than the perceived reward of the bad thing they were going to do. When you become an adult, however, you move from a pain-avoidance motivated sense of morality to one that is guided by your own internal sense of right and wrong. I don’t avoid rape, theft and murder because I’m afraid of the consequences if I get caught and prosecuted; I avoid them because my own internal moral sense tells me that these things are wrong and repugnant. I didn’t develop this moral sense out of any fear of divine punishment, I developed it from an innate sense of empathy. I don’t want people violating me sexually, taking my things, or killing me; and it’s not fair to expect others to refrain from those actions if I don’t afford them the same courtesy.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; likewise do not do unto others that which you would not have them do to you. This is the core of my morality, and it is also the core of my altruism. It is simple, robust, and functions with or without any external system of reward and punishment. It is this basic fusion of empathy and reason that forms the basis of all moral codes, whether religious or secular in flavor. This is how adults think; if we’re going to progress as a species, we need to focus less on adolescent games of I’m-right-and-you’re-not, and focus more on getting people to grow up.



On Reformation

Filed under: Reflections — Tags: , , , — halbyrd @ 11:53

A while back, I made a rather lengthy post about why I was fed up with World of Warcraft. Since then, Blizzard has announced the next expansion, Cataclysm. Rather than being more of the same, however, Blizzard is using this expansion to address many of the problems I had with WoW in a way they’ve never tried: by giving the game a complete overhaul.

The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, while they added significant chunks of content–new zones, new races, new dungeons, and even a new class–were basically patches on the same old game. Changes both major and minor happened to class mechanics on a regular basis, but the core nature of the game has not changed much. The new content zones are where much of the realm’s population resides, and everywhere else is a howling wasteland, devoid of any human presence. Home faction capitals have a small presence, but the population there is fleeting, only there long enough to finish whatever business they have in the Auction House.

Cataclysm is set to change that paradigm, however. Certain things that are expected of an expansion will still be there: the level cap will be raised, new zones will be introduced, new raid dungeons opened up, and everybody will have a new set of loot to chase after. As with The Burning Crusade, two new races will be introduced, one each for Horde and Alliance players, with their respective starting zones. Every class will get a few new abilities, and the number of available talent points will go up. The graphics engine will receive another update, adding a new layer of spit & polish to the proceedings. So far, no major surprises.

Here’s where things start getting screwy, though: the new content isn’t going to be limited to the new zones. This time around, the two major continents of the original game, Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms, are getting remade top to bottom. The events of the eponymous cataclysm will serve to literally reshape the land, with old zones taking on a new complexion. New quest lines are being written for every zone, and the type of questing is shifting increasingly toward story-focused tasks. Largely gone are the old standbys of FedEx (take x to y) and bounty (kill x number of y monsters for lazy sod z), except in early levels where their simplicity allows new players to get used to their class mechanics. With two new continents’ worth of stuff to explore and do, getting around is going to be a lengthy proposition. Towards that end, Blizzard is finally implementing a long-asked-for feature: support for flying mounts in “old world” Azeroth.

Perhaps more significant even than the mass of new content are the changes to core gameplay mechanics. Aside from the usual slew of balance tweaks, the way abilities are learned and used is being changed. Previously, each ability was improved by purchasing successively more powerful ranks from the class trainer. Now, the abilities will scale with level and associated core stats, with new abilities being added where needed to further flesh out each class’ repertoire. On the subject of stats, many secondary stats on gear are being merged or eliminated, with their function being rolled into core stats where appropriate. Spell-slinging damage dealers will care about Intellect for more than their raw mana pool, healers will care about spirit for mana regeneration–yes, even Healadins. Hunters won’t care about Intellect anymore, as they’re being moved to an energy-based system that better fits their class mechanics–and incidentally allows Blizzard to put some sanity checks on their damage scaling, so they won’t be ping-ponging between impotence and infinite godlike power.

Another significant pair of changes involve talent specialization, and the very process of leveling up. The idea of glyphs to “customize” your spec was well received in Wrath, and is being expanded into the Path of the Titans. The idea here is that you will progress through the final five levels through a gated series of quests, rather than through simple XP grind, and get a chance to pick out glyphs that compliment your intended build along the way. Many of the “boring-but-essential” talents, such as those that boost damage or critical strike chance, are getting moved either here, or getting rolled into specialization mastery bonuses. In effect, such bonuses become perks handed to you for investing a certain number of points in a given talent tree. The Mastery stat, which is replacing a lot of secondary stats on gear, is designed to complement this, further boosting the potency of your spec bonuses.

They’re being rather more tight-lipped about how things are going to work over on the PvP end of things, but one presumes that area of the game is getting similar attention. My not-so-secret hope is that they will finally implement the dual-system ability mechanics the game has needed for so long. As my previous post complained, it’s nearly impossible to get the one set of ability mechanics balanced so that changes to the PvE end won’t unbalance PvP, and vice-versa. Better by far to formally acknowledge the split, and set things up so that abilities have different behavior when in world PvP zones, Battlegrounds or Arenas. This leaves random in-world PvP a bit hard up, but that stopped being interesting to anybody but gankers and griefers years ago.

Time will tell if all this pans out, naturally, but the effort is laudable. They’ve managed to rekindle genuine interest in a game I’ve been following only diffidently, and one that’s quite aged as well. Here’s hoping that Blizzard’s grand experiment pans out.

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