In real life, such selfishness is held in check by our relationships with people. If I’m too selfish, my wife won’t love me and my friends won’t like me. If I’m so selfish that I steal or rob from others, society won’t like me and put me in jail. I’m taught that such selfishness is wrong and has serious costs. I’ll lose respect, love, freedom and possibly even wealth.
In fairness, selfish greed is hardly the only motivator. Love, Fear, Hate, Greed, Envy and I’m sure a dozen other primal forces all war against each other to make up how we perceive the world and make decisions. Some, like Love and Fear, can be more powerful than Greed.
Even here however, it’s still about self interest and need. We fear things because something will be taken away. We love something because we place it’s worth above everything else. We envy because someone has something better than yours. Even hate has root causes in self interest. You hate because it causes pain, is less fun, or maybe it just takes away respect, love, freedom or power.
Not a moral judgment
I want to be clear that I’m not making any moral judgments. I am merely pointing out that self interest is the root motivator for why anyone does anything. Even a martyr who makes the ultimate self sacrifice of giving their life does so because they can’t accept the alternative. Self interest, at the most base level, is the motivator for everything.
In fact, self interest is not a bad thing. It’s a very necessary thing. It’s what makes us care. It’s why we feed ourselves. It’s why we work. It’s literally why we do anything – good or bad.
This entry isn’t about right and wrong. It’s about why people act. To understand why people act, you must first accept that the root cause is self interest. This is why I’m not an optimist about human nature. Given all possible options, a rational person will always choose the option which best serves their self-interest.
That’s not to say the best decision in terms of self-interest is always the most immoral choice. If someone strongly believes an act is immoral, then acting that way may not be in their best self interest. For that person, the most self-serving act might be the more moral one. An environmentalist isn’t going to suddenly start littering because it’s convenient. In their mind, the cost (pollution) is too high.
In other words, each individual’s own sense of morality is a factor in deciding what best serves them. An immoral person, in this sense, can act in a self-serving way that is counter to the morals of society. Whereas, a moral person would find it was contrary to their self-interest to compromise their ethics.
Driving philosophy about MMOs
I wanted to articulate this philosophy of self-interest because, for me, it’s a huge part of how I form my opinion on lots of MMO related topics. If I come across as cynical, this philosophy is the reason.
I don’t believe people are altruistic. I think even when they behave in ways that others think are altruistic, they did it because it was the best choice for them.
It’s why I’ll never support the Microtransaction model. From a self-interest standpoint, the best game design for the Developer is that which pays them the most amount of money. There are factors there, like not pissing off the user base with absurd pricing, but ultimately the best design is that which encourages players to spend the most money.
It’s why I don’t hold Players accountable for anything and hold Developers accountable for everything. Human nature tells us that Players will take every self-serving advantage they can. It is therefore, in my opinion, the responsibility of the Developer to create the boundaries (through game design) that keep people in check. If people start acting in a way that is unintended, the blame lies with the Developer – not the Players who should be EXPECTED to act in very selfish ways.
It’s why I believe a free market works, but also why I believe a free market needs some regulation. Self interest drives competition (which is good), but self interest without regulation can be abusive to consumers. Monopoly and price-fixing being the most obvious real-world examples. For MMOs, at one spectrum, I believe that social gaming (i.e. Facebook) is going to improve through competition. At the other spectrum, I think DRM and applications of Copyright law to enforce a Terms of Service contract are bad things for consumers.
It also explains the Intenet Dickwad theory (Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Dickwad). The critical component of the IDT is anonymity. By being anonymous, you are insulated from the relationships that act as a check-and-balance against extremely selfish acts.