One of the great things about being in Cambridge is that you have the opportunity to meet a great deal of international students – an opportunity that sadly many students do not take. Anyway, while talking to friends from India and Singapore, I discovered that the age-old tradition of ‘ragging’ is still in use across the world.
If you’ve read Tom Brown’s Schooldays, or have any experience with boarding schools, you’ll know what ragging is. Essentially, it’s the practice in which older students will make new students carry out time-consuming tasks that may or may not involve physical labour (and even injury). Its use varies greatly between establishments, and you might see it in schools or colleges. Often it is institutionalised, or at least not prohibited.
I was fairly surprised to hear that ragging is still alive and healthy, and expressed my disapproval. However, my friend from India made an interesting point. Ragging at his college was also aimed at groups of students, not individuals, so an older student might order half a dozen new students to carry around some heavy trunks for the day. At the end of the day, the older student would take them all out for dinner.
The argument goes that far from being a complete waste of time, the ragging helps new students bond together. I countered by saying that ragging was nothing more than a mixture of the usual scapegoating tactics to provide a common enemy and your stereotypical corporate bonding day – which is what it is. Of course, all this served to prove is that it’s not a new concept, not that it’s a waste of time.
If you look at any Cambridge college, my friend said, you’ll see that none of the people within a year in any college actually know each other, even if they’ve been together for three years. But look at my college, and everyone knows each other, and it’s because of the ragging.
This actually makes sense to me. Shared and emotionally salient experiences help you quickly form bonds with other people, and while ragging undoubtedly irritates new students no end, it does work (at least, anecdotally). Universities in the UK do attempt to help new students make friends through Fresher’s Week, but in my experience it really is a dismal effort. Organising a few pub crawls and parties hardly begins to make a group gel together, and besides, not everyone is interested in alcohol, especially at a university like Cambridge. As an aside, my theory is that the organisers of Fresher’s Week activities are caught in a deadly cycle wherein they are only catering for people identical to themselves, and they feel that this is justified since it’s tradition.
Of course, there are numerous potential pitfalls associated with ragging; you have to ensure that the students don’t begin to actively hate the perpetrators, and you have to ensure that they all actually dislike the tasks they are given. The latter is easy – heavy lifting is despised the world across, but you have to handle the former carefully. At the college in India, they held a party a month after the start of the year in which everyone threw eggs at each other, and then subsequently there was no more ragging (and of course, there the obligatory dinner after a day�s hard ragging). The key thing here is that the ragging was conducted in good faith and humour � if that isn�t the case, then things could turn ugly.
Now, it wouldn�t be mssv.net if this didn�t have some sort of relevance to massively multiuser online entertainment. Clearly shared and emotional salient experiences are the best – and some might say, only – way in which to build strong communities. However, this is something that recent immersive fiction games have completely overlooked – with their emphasis on single player games, they eliminate the shared experience of struggling through puzzles and speculating about the plot. While I was playing the AI game, much of the community spirit that grew up came about via the process of cursing the game designers for creating such devilishly difficult puzzles – a high-tech, indirect form of ragging, but ragging nonetheless.
(The analogy is not perfect – some people like solving the puzzles. But the process remains, like ragging, a difficult one that sees you interact with other players and share tips and stories. You can identify with fellow players because they are going through the same experience as yourself)
But why should game designers bother making online communities? Why, because they make money! Not only do online communities provide valuable feedback and generate publicity, but they also amplify revenue sources – a player is much more likely to stay with your game if he is part of a strong community he identifies with than if he is on his own, all other things being equal.
Immersive fiction game designers are, at the moment, completely ignoring the potential of the Internet. By creating effectively single player, episodic games, they might as well sell CDs with the game content – it’d probably be cheaper and faster. The real potential for immersive fiction games lies in exploiting the interactions between large numbers of users, and ragging, as a method of developing ties between users, deserves more attention than it has thus far received.