One thing I have discovered from all my Football Manager Live playing is just how well-mannered, well-meaning and well wicked (guy) an MMO community is capable of being. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve lauded long and hard in the past about how EQII’s collection of virtualists are amongst the very best in the business when it comes to friendlioscity and helpfulability, it’s just that with FML there’s a very specific social mechanic at work that warrants further expounditurisation (sorry, I’ve obviously unknowingly swallowed a fake-word thesaurus at some point today. I’ll try to keep myself in check).

When you boil right down through the layers, FML is essentially just one big PvP game. All the matches you play are against other human-owned teams. Even if you’re playing against an AI manager, that AI will be using rules set down by the human player before he or she logged off. For the most part though, you play matches against other managers that happen to be online when you are, and it’s in these arenas of footballing combat that something strange happens.

I haven’t had much experience with your Worldly Warcraft but I gather that when a PvP encounter happens it’s usually an affair filled to the brim with bitterness, spite, retribution and ill-feelings on all sides, especially when you die to a fourteen-year old script kiddie who proceeds to bounce his genital areas about your prone cranium, proclaim your sexual inadequacies to one and all, and lambaste your amateur status in the game. And I understand from People In The Know that this is quite a similar pattern for most PvP-style games.

Here’s where FML differs. When you enter a match against a human opponent, set up your team, finalise your tactics and declare yourself ready, the strangest thing occurs in the chat box on the right-hand side of the screen. Both managers, with an almost 100% record on this, and with no prompting at all from official rules or game mechanics, WISH EACH OTHER WELL. I’ll say that again. Before the first ball is kicked, both players greet, exchange pleasantries and then offer a round of ‘Good lucks’ to each other – a virtual handshake at the side of the pitch.

It doesn’t end there either. Should one of your overpaid primadonnas (soccer players) actually manage to get his act together and put the ball in the back of the net, nine times out of ten the opposing manager will offer a word of admiration and respect. “Nice goal,” they’ll say or, “Good shot!” Come the end of the match, as the players trudge wearily off the field, one side bested in spherical foot-based combat by the other (or possibly a draw), both human players will WITHOUT FAIL exchange another round of respectful badinage. “Good game, well played,” is the most common phrase used, but many variations of congratulation and commiseration can be had.

The point is, every match, every one of these PvP contests remember, is a mannered, friendly, enjoyable, entertaining and encouraging affair – fought between players showing the utmost of respect to each other. And none of this has come about through enforcement by the developers, there’s no game mechanic that’s been put in place to encourage this type of behaviour. It’s just emerged naturally, as an accepted form for the community to follow, perhaps due to the generally well-behaved nature of the sport it’s simulating, but mostly because the game is just so positive and upbeat an experience to play, that you just want to be nice to everyone else playing.

Imagine trying that in a WOW-type environment. Accepting a duel from a hyperactive teen-Tauren and insisting you /shakehands before the first fireball is thrown. You’d be a smouldering heap of bouncing crotch-attracting ash before the words “Good luck, sir. May the best man win” had even gotten past your lips.

But imagine also for a moment, if you HAD to do that. Let’s say there was some kind of mechanic in place that wouldn’t let a PvP duel start until both players had clicked a ‘Good luck’ msg button or something. What sort of effect would that have on the virtual environment as a whole overall? Would enforced politeness bring about a gradual mental shift in players that just eventually had everyone being nice (or at least respectful) to everyone else, or would it fuel a seething cauldron of suppressed rage and hatred that would one day boil over and destroy us all?

Impossible to say until someone tries it of course, but at least I’m safe in the knowledge that in FML no one is forcing you to be nice, you just choose to be that way because you feel like it. There’s always the option to bad mouth your opponent, even if you don’t use it, but at least it’s there. It’s just interesting to me that the game has organically developed an attitude of respect between its players as the default setting, rather than a combative, animosity-filled environment in which only your fellow guildies provide an oasis of pleasantness.