Consider the can of worms opened. Fair staff ethics is an ugly beast of a controversy that has reared its ugly head in every MUDing community since the birth of the genre. Why does staff need to do to be ethical? What equates to fairness? The answers are not so simple, because there are variables to every situation, and the definition of what is ethical is almost always subjective.
To me, it’s obvious what is unethical: giving the same players in your game positions of power time after time, showing abject favoritism (or hate) towards individuals publicly or privately, breaking your own player and staff policies. Perhaps you have no staff policies, but you do things for your own characters that your players cannot do themselves, or perhaps you avert your eyes when your fellow admnistrators break the game’s policies. Of course, all of the above choices are a big ‘no’, and will cause you to lose your players’ loyalty and your game’s credibility. Quickly.
It can be necessary to take a step back from your game if you find yourself crossing ethical lines. You might need to remove yourself from your mortal characters, your fellow staff and players, and even your administrative duties for a time; use your break to take a long, hard look at the way you do business. If you weren’t the administrator of a MUD, but were just, say, a manager for a Human Resources firm, would the things you do fly with the rest of the company and its clients, or would you find yourself in hot water with your bosses?
Every game administrator, new or old, can benefit from a critical analysis of their administrative habits. Things that you may have thought were perfectly fine for you might not be perfectly fine for your players. And while you’re not likely to ever find an unanimous opinion in our community on fair staff ethics and policies, forcing yourself to consider all of the different viewpoints can be a very useful tool in sidestepping the biases of your (unfortunately) flawed, human brain.
It needs to be asked: what constitues an ethical staff? Due to aforementioned biases it can be hard to tell, but measures can be taken to optimize fairness in your game. Automation of as many systems as possible, democratic approaches to various game problems, and clearly defined letter-of-the-law (LOTL) policies are all good places to start, but beyond that you need to identify how you handle the business of your game.
Is your organization a hobby, or a business? People tend to take their hobbies less seriously than their business, and that’s okay. It’s when you let other people participate in your hobbies that it becomes unfair to them not to take it absolutely seriously. Treat your game like a business (even a nonprofit business) and you will find that professionalism becomes your standard. Your players will notice. They are your business’s clients, and they deserve your respect. After all, without them, you’re just wasting your life administrating GhostTownMUSH, and that’s not fun for anybody.
Are your players your associates, or your friends, or your subjects? It can be equally dangerous for you to befriend players as it can be to alienate them. By becoming friends with your players, you set a precedence for bias, and at the very least the game’s morale will suffer for the knowledge of your inevitable friendship with some, but not all. On the other side of things, you cannot treat your players like you are above them. They are not your employees, not your children, and not the serfs out working the land for m’lord. In fact, you work for them. Again, GhostTownMUSH is no fun for anybody, and that’s where you’re headed if you subscribe to the mind set that running a game makes you some sort of Internet King.
Instead, it might be beneficial to you and your game if you treat your players like your associates. You’re all members of the same community; you serve different functions, and you are capable of some things that they are not (and, vice versa, players are capable of a lot of things that the staff are not) but you and Joe MUDer are in the same place, doing the same thing. Respect each other, as associates, and flourish.
Accountability is the lifeblood of staff-to-staff policing. Make your hierarchy as horizontal as possible and put into place system of democratic checks and balances. A lot of the time, it really only takes your associates calling you out for you to stop your shenanigans, and the same goes for your associates. There needs to be someone with a gavel at the head of the table, but the vote is what runs the room — provided you didn’t hire a full team of crooks.
And finally, the key to keeping staff cheating (for either their own characters or their friends) to a minimum level, is to design a game where the sole source of fun does not lie in the ownership of in-game resources. Design a game that doesn’t need to be won — especially not by you! Design a game where everyone can have a good time regardless of statistics or currencies. Make it fulfilling to be weak, or injured, or incarcerated, or broke, or despised by the other characters in the game. Players will find out which characters the staff plays, they will find out if the staff cheats, and you’ll be on the train home to GhostTownMUSH faster than you can type ‘medit Pedro strength 1000.’ It’s happened at least 9,001 times through the history of our genre.
In short, be fair, be free. Make it so that everyone’s investment into their characters, their experience, their fun, isn’t trampled underneath your own personal agenda. After all, isn’t the point of developing a game to ensure that as many people as possible enjoy it?
Samantha Rae Crowley began building and programming eight years ago on the original Dragonball Infinite MUD. Since then, she has ran numerous games, and works as a developer for the private C2K World of Warcraft server. She enjoys Kit Harrington’s face, muay thai, and Vampire: the Masquerade.