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A Dash of Gank Spoils the Stew?

Demon's Souls is, by all accounts, a heartlessly difficult game, yet also possesses some of the most interesting and innovative multi-player features in an otherwise "single-player" experience. But does the Black Phantom mechanic cross the line?
I started today's blog with lots of pre-amble about Demon's Souls, but decided to cut it and a long section describing in detail the mechanics of the game. Instead let me cut to the basic mechanic I need to explain my article: when you die in Demon's Souls, you resume play as a Soul with reduced health. You can only play multiplayer games between living and dead players: either a living player pulls souls into their game to play co-operatively, or a dead player invades a living player's game to steal their life.

The problem I want to cover in today's blog is this: one multi-player mode (pvp) allows players to deny others the opportunity to play in the other multi-player mode (co-op). When a Black Phantom invades your game and kills you, you are dead, so you can no longer play co-op until either you or one of your friends comes back to life.

Let me put another analogy. Immaigne you're playing co-op Halo. All of a sudden, a PVP ganker enters the game and kills you. Your co-op button is now grayed out until you beat the game single-player (or you gank another player's co-op game)! This strikes me as absurd.

Personally, I don't like ganking in games. If a game has too much gank in it, I just won't play it. The problem is when a game has just a little gank, and how well I can avoid it. I enjoy playing EVE Online, even though I hide out in high-sec space. That's ok. I still team up with friends and we do missions or exploration sites. We have fun together in our own way. But Demon's Souls is more ruthless in its ganking: there is no way to hide from gankers, no "safe space," no mode that allows co-op without gank. My friends and I can't play together, because whenever we try, the living one among us is cut down by a Black Phantom, and now the game mechanics won't even let us initiate a co-op session.

It seems like such a small, trivial thing, too. It seems so easy for the designers to have added an option to turn off Black Phantom play. This could be abused, to be sure, by players who toggle it off every time they're alive (so they can't be invaded) and turn it on again every time they're dead (so they can invade). But there's other options, like a fixed setting when you create a character, whether or not this character will forever be banned from pvp (never invade or be invaded) or will forever be open to pvp.

Yet it's just not there. Players aren't given any choice. If they want to play the game at all online, they do so at their own peril.

Jamie Skelton's column on MMORPG.com about seeing red is about pvp vs "carebear" players and the split of games into "pvp" and "non pvp" servers. She points out, rightfully so, that PVPers need carebears because killers need victims to prey upon. However, she fails to note that carebears do not need PVPers to enjoy the game, and actually enjoy the game more when there are no PVPers.

Ultimately, it seems to me that a multiplayer game must stay one course or the other: it must appeal to PVPers or carebears, because it cannot make both happy. If you make a game with restricted PVP, the PVPers are unhappy because they have no victims to prey upon. If you make a game with unresitricted PVP, the carebears are unhappy because they do not want to be preyed upon.

So, which type of gamer should Demon's Souls have targetted? I think this is an interesting discussion because the PVP element is relatively small to the scope of the game itself. Not only can be it be played offline with no multiplayer interference at all, but I can picture a game without the Black Soul mechanic and it is still perfectly fun and thorough. Nothing is lost by taking it away. The question is merely whether or not what is gained by adding it is of sufficiently positive value.

What do you think? Should Demon's Souls stay a PVP game and the carebears be damned, or should the carebears be catered to with some patched option to disable Black Soul invasions so they can play co-op in peace?

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