2001-09-12: Calandryll on The Virtues
Calandryll on The Virtues
Sep 12 2001 4:07PM
This was originally posted to Development at uo.com. 
I've been giving a lot of thought to this Comments from the Team, wracking my brain, trying to come up with an interesting topic that would generate some debate and give some insight into my own philosophies about a system. The problem was, I had a tough time coming up with a topic that I had not already talked about and that I was also passionate about. After reading posts on the boards from players about different topics, and thinking back to the ideas that interested me most as a player, it suddenly became very clear what I should talk about.
The Virtues. No system of ideals affected my own role-playing more than the virtues. My guild's charter was based on the virtues, my character's role-playing focused on them greatly, and the first design post I ever wrote on a UO fan-site board was a virtue system. Looking back, that design was horribly unbalanced and really didn't capture what the virtues are all about. Which is why, now that I have a couple of years of professional experience with UO under my belt, I would like to talk about them.
So let’s start with what the virtues are not. The virtues are not a system of government or laws, a way to judge a good person vs. a bad person, or a reputation system. As Lord Blackthorn taught us in Ultima V, trying to use the virtues in such a manner will only lead to disaster. You cannot judge a person as "un-virtuous" and declare them a bad person. A person can completely ignore the concept of the virtues and still be a good person. In fact, in many ways the virtues contradict each other. For instance:
You are a town guard. You see a man stealing bread from a local vendor to feed his starving family. You also know that the man who runs the vendor just barely makes enough profit to feed his own family and the theft could hurt him. Do you a) bring the thief to justice to save the vendor's business, or b) show compassion and let the theft slide this one time? Now I know many of you will answer neither and try to come up with a different solution. But humor me with this example. No matter which you choose, you will be "upholding" a virtue and at the same time "breaking" a virtue. But, neither choice is "wrong" and, depending on your outlook, either choice can be considered "virtuous". So how do you judge someone who makes one of those two choices? I submit to you that you do not. The virtues are not about judging people.
So what are the virtues then? To me, the virtues are about a few things, but two things that stand out for me are personal fulfillment and helping others. The virtues are a personal choice and every person can and will interpret the virtues differently. They are not about laws or about trying to force behavior, more so, they are about intentions and beliefs. If you subscribe to this line of thought, it makes coding a system of virtues difficult, but at the same time, it's also what makes the virtues so wonderful and unique. Coding a system based on something that is not black and white and is so subject to interpretation is not going to be easy...and such a task would have to involve some compromise. But, I do believe that any system based on the virtues needs to capture the essence of the virtues and be meaningful to those that choose to take the path.
Another question I hear a lot is "should people be rewarded for following the virtues?" I believe the answer to that is "yes." The Avatar in Ultima IV was rewarded whenever he completed a task and "attained" a virtue. But, I do not believe that Ultima IV is a good example of how the virtues should be implemented in UO. One does not "attain" a virtue. The virtues are not a goal. They are a path...one that is never ending and always changing. While we absolutely should use the single player Ultimas as a guide when thinking about the virtues, we cannot allow ourselves to blindly ignore the aspects in those games that would not work in a massively multiplayer game. Again, given that this would be essentially coding a system that a computer would have to interpret (which basically means converting something to numbers), based on a system that is about personal growth and keeping into account that there are hundreds of thousands more people playing the same game than in a single player game like U4...the task is more complicated than it appears on paper.
The reason I write these comments is because I feel very strongly that we, both players and developers, need to understand exactly how the virtues fit into UO before even considering implementing them as a system. I've changed my view on the virtues so many times as I've changed roles in the UO community. As a player, I wanted them to be a reputations system. As a community manager, I actually saw them as a way to punish poor behavior (Blackthorn's mistake) and/or help reduce support calls. But as a designer, I see them as something much more than that...but I'll be honest, I'm not completely sure what exactly. I do know what I think the virtues are not, but what they are is really the tougher question.
Jonathan "Calandryll" Hanna Designer, Ongoing Content