There is a lot of foundation that goes into this discussion. I will not rehash all of it here as that is many books’ worth on its own, but I will try to create a bread crumb trail.
Precept #1: Rules are artificial, created by humans in an attempt to control our world
Simply put, there are no hard and fast rules. We have ideals, morals, and self-fueled compunctions. For example, we don’t want to die, so we don’t want people to kill us. As a result, we create a rule that says, “Don’t kill people or <insert punishment>.” These are the necessary components of a true rule: a directive and a consequence of you do not follow that directive. We have reasons, rationales, justifications, and what have you for the rules we create; we call these reasons Religion, Morality, Law, Philosophy, etc. These things do not make rules any more true or immutable.
Precept #2: People have inclinations that exist with or without rules, sometimes rules will create inclinations, for or against those rules.
Rules are man-made and not unbreakable (otherwise they’d just be facts, not guidelines). The presence of rules *does* impact those they are placed on, but not always in the way that is desired. People will act in their own interests, regardless of their motivations. Sometimes they will want to act against the rules, sometimes they will want to follow them, but in both cases they may choose to follow the rules rather than risk the consequences.
The rules will only ever, then, force compliance of action, not of intent. Here is where virtue lies. It is virtuous to act in a fashion that is considerate of the whole. Ideally, the rules are aimed at such action, though often times virtue has little to do with the rules.
So here is the meat:
Remove the rules and see the true person show through
Whether you want to support a given rule, or you are only forced into compliance, rules create a tension. When you remove that rule, or more often the enforcement of the consequences for not following the rule, you release the tension like a spring. This may leave people feeling free to act that way, or it may result in them acting the way they really wanted to.
Here is where we see the true inclination of the person.
Let’s use a more specific example. Society has its own rules, we call them etiquette. For example, we respect the rule of the queue. If there is a limited speed at which a service can be accessed, we create a line. First-come, first-served. It is polite (i.e. social rule) to join at the end of the line, while breaking into the middle of the line, or stepping to the front is impolite, and people will call you out on it. This sort of social justice is the consequences. Often (though not always) this is sufficient reason compared to the gains to not cut in line. Now consider traffic. Within your car you are isolated from direct contact with other people. Now consider a highway off-ramp that, for whatever reason, is slowed. Social etiquette gives the simple answer: join at the end of the line and wait like everyone else. However, because you are isolated from the social justice (you cannot hear people yelling at you from other cars), there are little or no apparent consequences. What do we see then? Inevitably there are some people who see the line and say, “I’ll just go up and then wedge my way into the line farther up so I don’t have to wait as long.” It is a clear violation of the social code, but without the usual consequences, the people who are inclined to be rude and self-important have no reason not to be.
Why is he talking about traffic? World of Warcraft creates a virtual world where you will interact with thousands of real people through the interface. The virtual world is policed by social justice, but like traveling in a car many people have found ample distance from the reality that there are real people present, or they feel like the virtual world is sufficiently distanced from the real world such that they do not feel the same rules apply even if people will try to apply the same social justice. In WoW, many of the harshest consequences are removed. Let’s have some more examples:
1.) You land to pick a flower/mine ore and a creature attacks you; someone else flies up while you are fighting and takes the resources.
2.) You are questing and reach that big objective creature. You start casting your trusty spell when someone else rushes up and tags the creature, forcing you to wait for the respawn.
3.) You are forming a raid group to go to your current raid instance. One of your group’s scheduled members decides they’d rather go get a drink with friends and does not tell anyone on the raid team.
These are easy and obvious breaches of social etiquette, but there are many more. Some are as simple, subtle, and jarring as simply being rude or confrontational to other members of a random dungeon group.
Without the consequences, people will show their true colors.
Following the Rules does not imply virtue
I’ve used the term virtue several times. In simplest terms, my concept of virtue is acting of your own will and compunction in a manner that is considerate of the whole, of yourself, other people, and the world in which you are acting. All of these things will feel the impact of your actions.
Behaving in accordance with the rules is not, in and of itself, virtuous. Following the rules because you “have” to is simply compliance. The apparent results (i.e. not breaking the rules) may appear desirable, but WoW is a perfect illustration of what happens when you rely on rules alone to set the standard of what acceptable behavior is.