The Tip.It Times

Issue 199gp

Responsibility and Dooooom!

Written by and edited by Tip.It

There's a guy in Lumbridge called the Doomsayer; he says "Dooooom!" Jagex released him in July 2007 as part of a new feature for telling the game to stop displaying the same old warning messages over and over again. It's quite a nice idea; when we go to a dangerous place, we get a warning message to tell us about the danger. After we've been in there a few times, we get the option to make that warning message stop appearing. The Doomsayer lets us turn the warnings on again. Simple and effective.

RuneScape's use of warning messages has changed considerably over the years. A long time ago, there weren't so many. The ogre shaman enclave under Gu'Tanoth came as quite a surprise to me when I did the Watchtower quest back in RuneScape Classic; without any warning I found myself locked in a cavern full of dragons with no anti-dragonbreath shield or teleport runes. That's a pretty dangerous situation in a game where combat must last for a minimum of 3 rounds! Also, clicking on the ogre shamans turned out to be a very bad idea. I wouldn't have survived if a kind player hadn't told me where to find the exit.

Things are very different today. Now, if you approach that cave for the first time during the Watchtower quest, you see a cutscene in which a dragon attacks an ogre shaman, and the shaman blasts the dragon. It's a decent way to tell players "There are dragons in here, and it'd be dangerous to attack the shamans." Players know the risks, so they can prepare themselves appropriately.

Less elaborate warnings exist on a multitude of other features. Very shortly after release, Waterbirth Island's dungeon had a warning added to its entrance, advising players that they might die in there and lose items. The Mos Le'Harmless dungeon had a warning about the need to carry a light source and appropriate protective items. The Shantay Pass had a particularly annoying warning about the dangers of the desert heat and slaver activity, even though anyone who'd completed Tourist Trap would be plenty familiar with the desert, making that warning redundant. We get warnings about losing items by dropping them during random events! Then there's the little matter of the Wilderness warning screen. Not to mention all the dark caverns in the game that threaten death to anyone whose light source goes out; they have warnings too.

Why is RuneScape so full of warning signs in the first place? After all, an experienced player wouldn't stumble into an unknown area without an emergency teleport. (Any player who's made that mistake and suffered for it should be well on their way to becoming an experienced player!) Many players don't explore new places for themselves at all, preferring to wait until their favourite fansite has a guide with a list of recommended items. In my case, wandering blindly into the ogre shaman cave, I certainly couldn't have blamed Jagex if I'd died there like the newbie I was.

Jagex, on the other hand, seems to have gone for a different approach. If someone can die or lose items to a situation, there's a pretty good chance that Jagex will have put an official warning on it. It's very kind of Jagex to go to all this trouble, but it's getting a bit patronising. People learn a lot from their own mistakes, and from other people's experiences (such as by reading a fansite). When an official screen pops up to tell everyone that there's something nasty around the corner, we're no longer learning in the same independent way. Unlike in life, where a mistake can have huge repercussions, RuneScape's a game, and the damage of making a mistake is mostly limited to the game's own universe. We might occasionally lose a few items, but they can usually be replaced eventually. In return, we get experience and self-responsibility.

This over-protective attitude isn't something for which we should necessarily rush to blame Jagex. When a new danger appears, there'll typically be a thread or two in a nearby Rants forum in which the poster will complain that they died and/or lost items and that they should have been warned. This can happen even with quest boss monsters; I remember in particular the day when the Sea Troll Queen first appeared, there were numerous complaints that people had died because they weren't properly prepared for such a hard-hitting monster. If this is the feedback Jagex is receiving, it's understandable that they've tried to fix the perceived problem.

It's this sort of complaint that leads to seemingly petty updates, such as the changes that made spinach rolls, Paramaya Inn tickets, hollow reeds, monkey nuts and leaf-bladed spears untradeable, as well as many other items. People got scammed into buying junk, either because they thought it was worth having or because they mistook it for a more valuable item, and Jagex addressed the problem by making the most common scam items untradeable. They also created that nifty feature that makes the trade screen flash when an item's been removed from an offer. More recently, of course, the trade restrictions have provided the ultimate solution.

These complaints can't be dismissed entirely as the whines of noobs. In the overcrowded banks where players had to do most of their trading before the Grand Exchange arrived, it was relatively easy to misread the trade confirmation screen in the rush to complete a complicated trade. Even highly experienced players have been scammed out of items by the old tricks where the scammer removes an item from the trade offer, or substitutes a cheaper item that looks similar; everyone has brain-glitch moments.

Furthermore, there are a few features in RuneScape that are considerably more dangerous than one might expect. The mole cave and Lumbridge Swamp caves are located in "safe" areas, but they're dark dungeons with features that can put out players' candles and lanterns, presenting a remarkably high level of danger in comparison to anything else around Lumbridge and Falador. They've been heavily abused by malicious people who'd lure unsuspecting newbies to their deaths. Where the threat is not intuitive (who'd have thought that a big mole might have a special attack that involves putting out candles?) it's perfectly fair that some kind of warning should be present.

The question, ultimately, is whether or not we feel it's our responsibility to avoid scams, death, item loss, etc. There are two ways this can go. Firstly, we can read the warnings and see the alerts popping up on our screens, keeping us secure in the knowledge that Big Daddy Jagex will catch us if we're about to do something silly. Secondly, we can cast aside all these warnings and take responsibility for our own characters and items, with the caveat that we could never complain if we got killed or lost items to something that we'd otherwise have been warned about.

This second approach may sound appealing, but I honestly feel that it'd be a bit too harsh. On the other hand, the first approach has some fairly serious problems too. If Jagex is taking upon themselves the responsibility to warn us when we're about to go somewhere dangerous, they've got to do it correctly. The old problem with luring across the Wilderness border was a prime example of this; there was a clear warning in place that usually stopped people entering the Wilderness unwittingly, but it was possible to get inside the Wilderness before the warning appeared if you were trying to open the Trade window at the same time. So the protective feature was simply not working well enough to offer the protection it promised. That's clearly unacceptable, but unfortunately it seems to have led directly to the creation of the world's most unpopular Ditch. Furthermore, by this logic, Jagex would be obliged to install warnings on more and more bits of the game whenever someone considered a feature to offer a possibility of item loss. This is a potentially infinite list, and we'd go insane trying to click through all the boxes. I once saw a player complaining that he'd accidentally sold something to a shop that he didn't mean to sell, and he thought there should be a warning message with a confirm screen on player-to-shop trading. How irritating would it be if Jagex had implemented that request?

Looking further afield for a moment, the two approaches apply to things like the chat filter too. It's often suggested that Jagex should remove the chat filter, and that players should take responsibility for what they say and read. Jagex certainly could remove all the filtering, provided they made it clear on their site that they were offering an uncensored chat channel; the game would be rated as unsuitable for children, and it'd be filled with people constantly yelling obscenities for fun. I don't think it'd be an improvement! Instead, however, we have the situation that Jagex is unendingly trying to tweak their chat filter, while players seek more and more ways to say forbidden things. So this solution's not particularly promising either, but it's usually tolerable. (Except for the occasions when they accidentally censor "fletching".)

In summary, returning to the question of in-game warnings, it looks like neither of the black-or-white approaches is going to be ideal. The Doomsayer solution, whereby most warnings can be turned off after they've been seen a few times, may actually be the best of both worlds, even though the warnings can seem so patronising.

Did You Know...
...that Cooking Gauntlets reduce the chance of burning Lobsters, Swordfish, and Sharks, but the range in Lumbridge Castle reduces the chance of burning for ALL food? (Thanks to The Tal Shiar Alliance!)

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Will you use Menaphos to train your skills?

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