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Dec 14, 2003

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» Discussion of Alphaville Herald being censored on Sims Online Stratics Message Boards? from The Alphaville Herald
Rumor has it that the Sims Online message boards run by Stratics had an interesting thread discussing the termination of Urizenus, but that it was... [Read More]

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Rumor has it that the Sims Online message boards run by Stratics had an interesting thread discussing the termination of Urizenus, but that it was... [Read More]

» Law and speech in cyberspace from Future Now
Today's New York Times has an article on a dispute arising from an article critical of The Sims Online. "In his online newspaper, The Alphaville Herald," Peter Ludlow "reported on thieves and their scams. He documented what he said was a teenage prosti... [Read More]

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Comments

1.

Ah, the cynic in me.

I notice that the Herald removed Squirrel's post (too arms! censorship!) recommending the Salon article despite the fact that it did not mention him by name. I did not read the full post, just the headline, so perhaps there was substance; but I doubt it, seeing as it is gone. I, too, would have tidied up the sty.

I notice also, that the focus is no longer on child abuse, but Ludlow-abuse. Nice. At least we kept our eye on the ball.

C'mon, Greg, was there not a short enough path from this site to that tripe already? Without wasting front page space? Without providing another thread to spam the "Recent Comments"? And, no, the irony of this post in light of that last question is not lost on me.

Bleh,
Jeff Cole

2.

Glad to hear you've got squirrel's back, Jeff, and he'll be glad to hear it too, but his article (the usual squirrel abstract musing about MMORPGs in general and having and little or nothing to do with alphaville) was sent to the spell-checker and not the censor.

I'm also surprised to learn that this was at one time a story about child abuse. I thought it all began with issues of *reporting* in-game reports of child abuse (and the Maxis deafness to one such report) and the question of whether MMORPGs should be free to "lock out" critical observers, or for that matter, observers that report (in a neutral light) activities that the game owners are deathly afraid of having exposed. I'm not expert in child development, so for all I know it's good if kids cyber themselves silly with adults in the game. Just don't try and keep it a secret from their parents (or interested researchers and policy makers).

And when did this become an issue of Ludlow-abuse? No one feels bad for me, obviously. However, there have been some fine eulogies for the avatar Urizenus and the innocent pets that perished with him.

3.

Nah, I don't have squirrel's back.

I am not sure that use of the phrase "child cyber-prostitute" to sell your 'journalism' constitutes "critical observ[ation]" or
"report[ing] (in a neutral light)." (single-quotes, mine)

It's certainly not the headline I would want were I Maxis-- especially given its dubious accuracy. That your 'journalism' provides next-to-no, if any, value-added (no analysis, no context, not even HTML to make it easier to read), it's just the kind of headline that ends up in the mainstream press (moreso than Salon.com) as true. See also Rickey's paranoia re: TV gunning for MMO*s.

That your defenders must invoke images of Hitler and tortured puppies suggests this isn't even a molehill.

You were a pain in the ass, and Maxis merely excised the emerod.

Salaciously,
Jeff Cole

4.

hmm, if you had a good point jeff, you wouldn't have to resort to butchering and rewriting what I said. To whit:

--
I am not sure that use of the phrase "child cyber-prostitute" to sell your 'journalism' constitutes "critical observ[ation]" or
"report[ing] (in a neutral light)." (single-quotes, mine)
--

I didn't call it "critical observation", I said "critical observers" in the sense of observers that are critical.

I didn't use the term 'journalism', so I don't know why you put it in quotes to make it appear that I did. But as for the title, well the kid *is* a minor and the kid *claimed* to be a cyber-prostitute. And frankly, if he is what he says he is probably not unusual. I'm sorry if the title offends your sense of something or other. And I'm especially sorry for the journalistic lapse of not even using "HTML to make it easier to read."

And as for "reporting in a neutral light", again you deliberately misquote me. That is, I talked not about journalists or reporters, but *observers* who *"report"* in a neutral light, what is happening. And I wasn't even necessarily talking about me, but observers in the abstract. People who come by and report what is happening in the game. And by "neutral light", I think my subsequent comments, which you cleverly elided, amplify what I meant by that: "I'm no expert in child development, so for all I know it's good if kids cyber themselves silly with adults in the game." That is, we never said anthing remotely to the effect: OMG, this is bad! I for one simply don't know if it's good or bad.

Finally, you claim that my defenders "must invoke images of Hitler and tortured puppies", but these images must have completely slipped by me. Did someone actually invoke Hitler and tortured puppies? If not, I don't understand why you would suggest as much.

5.

Peter, I am not offended in the least by your title.

"Journalism" was in single quotes precisley to distinguish that I was not quoting you (hence, the "single-quotes, mine").

Suffice to say that I find your current work tripe.* Given that, and that there is already an active thread that links to the Salon story, I meant only to wonder why the front page needed an update and if any interested person here was not aware of the Salon piece?

As for Hitler and his tortured puppies, I just assumed that since you responded to that same thread minutes after you responded to my first post in this thread, that you had actually read that thread. I understand now that I should not have so assumed.

Good luck with your research and site,
Jeff Cole

* Not that there per se is anything wrong with tripe. I like it in menudo ... and in other "parts-is-parts" New Mexican favorites I grew up eating. I just don't like it in my academia.

6.

If it's all the same, I'll let the usual academic peer review process take care of evaluating my work, not that I don't value your input. Thanks for the good wishes, and I like tripe too -- in all kinds of food.

7.

Now James Grimmelmann over at LawMeme has picked up the story and says:

". . . [I]t only reinforces my sense that among groups running major online games, Maxis is the least competent."

It would be illuminating to know which level within Maxis make the decision to ban Peter. Assuming that banning can't be done without some level of oversight, one might expect that this decision went rather far up the food chain. If so, they made the decision that the negative impact of the banning (and subsequent network effects) were significantly less than the potential brand damage his stories might cause. Given that "The Sims" is worth hundred's of millions of dollars, you can see them making that decision.

The interesting experiment would be for someone to put up a Star Wars site with the same style and content and see Sony's response.

8.

I don't want to enter this fray *at all.* (And I haven't even commented on the AH previously for that reason). The newsworthiness of this for me was "Salon does a story on VW issues." Not my standard subject, I admit, but if Ted and Jules were quoted in Salon re the latest flavor of Cheetos, I would probably find a way to relate it to VWs.

9.

I wish even online journalists who don't seem to have the standards of the old print and electronic media would do some basic inquiries and establish whether "Dorian" and "Evangeline" -- the alleged child cyber prostitute is a) a 15-year-old male hacker in Flint, MI (that's what we've heard); b) a 37-year old soccer mom in Kenosha, WI trying to prove that games corrupt children; d) a 50-year-old unemployed Wal-Mart clerk with too much time on his hands pretending to be a child online; c) a giggling Maxis employee trying to make the game more interesting. We have absolutely no way of knowing because we only interact with Sims in TSO virtually, and like all of us, Professor Urizenus has communicated with Evangeline in the game or on e-mail, not in a RL f2f interview (if he has done so, he has provided no evidence of the fact). Neither he nor slate.com has engaged in the kind of rigorous, journalistic fact-checking you need to do with the game company, Evangeline's parents, other players in the game, etc. Trust me, there are far worse things going on in this game than this alleged kid's cybering and griefing, and the SSG is not at all a benign entity (see my posts on Alphaville Herald). The real story for the media in TSO is the shocking proliferation of violent BDSM (sado-masochism)cults throughout Alphaville and other cities that have a deliberate aim of recruiting people online to bring them into RL alternative sex and lifestyle networks, where they will be under the sway and dominion of people using all the classic methods of cults, from brainwashing to humiliation (under the guise of establishing trust) to barring any examination or criticism of their activities under the banner of a demand for lifestyle tolerance. Someone's lifestyle isn't our business, until it begins to take on the dimensions of a coercive cult that lies about its aims, and recruits minors. TSO is so rife with problems that the best thing this company could do is to throw the code for TSO up on the Internet as shareware so that the cultists can separate themselves out on their own privately-funded servers and create their own games and contents, and be more readily subject to real-world authorities if they engage in criminal activity, and so that a wide diversity of other kinds of communities can get born, free of the cultists' and griefers' menace as well as self-interested corporate-interference, and could be allowed to flourish away from the restrictive Maxis TOS, so that people can create the worlds they want with player self-policing rather than corporate policing or dubious "shadow government" non-democratic and non-transparent policing. This game is widely believed to be a failure, with less than 100,000 subscribers, and it is time for an open discussion of whether its technology should be put in the public domain so that the public can be able to control the monster this company has created.

10.

I would like to chime in on the Ludlow/Cole exchange, and the big picture here, as it involves me. Jeff Cole and others who expressly don't like our site have every right to let others know it's not worth the time. You are most certainly not the first and I'm sure not the last to think the items the Alpha' Herald prints are stupid, uninformed, or trite (or was that "tripe"--- ah, so much buzzing confusion). If you don't like it; it isn't your preferred flavor, you can leave it on the plate (or in the trash, as the case may be) and warn others not to give it any precious time. As yet, I don't believe we've tied anyone down and compelled them to read the Herald. Although, considering some of the discussion, maybe that would be something we could work into use as means to reforming our penal correctional facilities. There we go with my silly musings again. The point I'm trying to make is that if you don't appreciate the research we're doing on the Herald, that's cool. However, there are a number of people who have expressed to me that they kinda like the "unorthodox and refreshing" nature of the Herald site. It's true that you can't please all the people, but we try to be fair and ultimately we have a personal stake in carrying this out. Using it as a partial view into issues relating to virtual reality is why I signed on to the project, and it's allowed me to think about on-line issues of immense personal interest to me (particularly legal issues involving reports of 3rd party harm and intellectual property rights). Ludlow needs no defenders, but when people start questioning and obstructing a right to research on-line issues and post ideas (however unappealing they may be to some), then that gets me a little freaked out (certainly not to the Hitler/puppy extreme, wherever that may be). It's just something about all that first amendment garble that floats around in the front of my head. He made this opportunity available as an avenue of research to me and for that I am immensely grateful, and he's devoted a lot of time to trying to research VR topics in an interesting manner. We are not a commercial site (I have the overdue poor grad student bills to prove it). We will continue with our research, however useless it is deemed by anyone. Perhaps there are those who truly believe that a commercial company can and/or should in all fairness make use of a selective enforcement of TOS conditions to impede our work in creating and using the public forum we've chosen for pursuing our research project and discuss issues in VR. So be it. Such actions will continue to be questioned by me and others who fear the implications of such a policy to stifle (even really, immensely, amazingly, unprecedentingly, un-html formatted, and plain crappy) research and thought exchanges.

11.

You used the word "research" a number of times in your post both before and after talking about how people have expressed their like for the "unorthodox and refreshing" approach of AH. When I hear research, unorthodox, and refreshing all mixed together, it tends to set off some red flags for me. Many people also enjoy the unorthodox and refreshing approach of tabloids, but I think that Jeff's point was that we should keep sensational, tabloid-style journalism seperate from academic research. Tabloids have their place (and you may feel free to wave a free speach flag over them however much you feel the need), but academia isn't that place.

--Phin

12.

Well, I am a grad student and my professors have misguided me horribly (Ludlow, what the hell is up, man?) I thought free speech *was* allowed in academia too, but you say this isn't the place. I apologize. I consider this part of a true research effort. Is it too unacademic? When I hear someone talking about "academic research" being kept away from "sensationalism," it tends to set off red flags for *me.* I don't know who gets to decide what is sensational and what is pristine enough for academia, but I'd prefer to let each individual choose and enlightening stuff just may float to the top. Is my research crummy? Maybe; that's why I'm a grad student and no one is paying me the big bucks. I'm driven to do this by my own passion, things I want to find out about, and I don't appreciate anyone trying to stand in our way (let me emphasize once again--- even if one truly thinks our "research" is crap which many also believe and do express most definitely). You know, Ludlow has all the credentials to make the puritan academics smile, so if you need more legitimacy, maybe that provides it for you. Or maybe not. When I see people working in whatever fashion suits them, without making money for what they're doing, asking questions, writing down thoughts and commmunications, asking for input--- that qualifies as "research" for me. I feel a little silly even trying to justify the manner in which we choose to carry out our project. Take it for what it's worth, or don't take it if it isn't even worth your time. I'd rather let people pursue their interests freely than stopping everyone working on what they consider research and asking them to justify his or herself to my satisfaction; but maybe that's just me. You can label it sensationalism, a joke, whatever. I most definitely didn't mean to present myself as "academically-qualified enough" to be doing this; I sure as hell *don't* have all the answers. I just prefer to be open to finding some (maybe in refreshing and unorthodox places). That's all I can offer to justify myself, and so I'll shut up and take my place in back the "true academics."

13.

Candace> "I'm driven to do this by my own passion, things I want to find out about, and I don't appreciate anyone trying to stand in our way (let me emphasize once again--- even if one truly thinks our "research" is crap which many also believe and do express most definitely)."

That's my whole point, though. Who the heck is trying to stand in your way? I'm just saying your research looks like crap to me and that I think you come accross as a tabloid sensationalist. Surely I should be allowed to wave a free speech banner over my right to say this just as vigorously as you can. It seems to me that both of us are exerercising copious amounts of free speech, so I'm a little confused about why you keep bringing it up in this forum.

--Phin

14.

Free speech has consequences. This is one of the rough realities all of us (former?) idealists have to deal with. You can exercise your right to free speech as much as you want, but don't expect others to support what you're saying without any disagreement. Especially if they perceive what you say as a threat.

15.

>I'm just saying your research looks like crap to me and that I think you come accross as a tabloid sensationalist.

Criticism note. Thank you for sharing.

16.

Setting aside for a moment the merits of Peter's case, it's interesting that his reporting has generated so much heat. In my experience, the existence of so much heat reveals something in itself.

Reporter says "X". Critics say "Your methods stink! You're an irresponsible sensationalist! Your research looks like crap!"

Can we infer anything about X from the way the statement is received? One thing I think we can know pretty clearly: in the mind of the objectors, X is almost certainly close to the truth. You see, what if "X" was "The Moon is made of purple flowers." That version of X is completely untrue and everyone knows it. It wouldn't get anyone worked up. Even if it was something offensive but still obviously untrue, such as "George Bush wants to turn the moon into his own private empire," no one would yell.

X must have some kernel of truth to it. In my experience, the things that are most hotly denied, whether in a public or private context, are not only always true, they are truths that the denier really really wants not to be true.

With that in mind: would any of Peter's detractors like to put forward a case (ideally, using the far superior research methods they say Peter should have used) to the effect that underage cyb0ring is so rare in MMORPGs as to be negligible from a policy and ethical perspective? Please, persuade us all that Peter's claims are of the "Moon is made of purple flowers" variety. Because right now, based on the outrage, I am thinking that his claims are generating ire only because they come too close to an uncomfortable reality.

17.

Ted> "Can we infer anything about X from the way the statement is received? One thing I think we can know pretty clearly: in the mind of the objectors, X is almost certainly close to the truth."

Let me get this straight. To follow that line of thinking, if I say, "your research is crap," and someone else hotly denies it while waving free speech banners, their denial means that my statement must have some kernel of truth to it?

Baloney. (Oh wait. Does that mean I've just proved the statement, "X must have some kernel of truth to it," by denying it?)

By the way, my response to Candace didn't include the exclamation marks, and in saying the research looked like crap, I was only echoing back her own words, else I would probably have stuck with tabloid sensasionalist or maybe paparazzi if I'd thought of it.

It seems to me AH was gunning for a sensation and a sensation is exactly what they got. I find it a bit ironic that they then complain about the form the sensation took, but I suppose it just gives them the perfect opportunity to make an even bigger stink. I do wish, however, that they'd chosen a differnt forum, and will trust their free speech banner extends over my right to say so.

--Phin

18.

>if I say, "your research is crap," and someone
>else hotly denies it

Hmmm, did you mean this hot denial which I made two posts up?

>>I'm just saying your research looks like crap
>>to me and that I think you come accross as a
>>tabloid sensationalist.
>
>Criticism note[d]. Thank you for sharing.

Or did you mean Candace's "hot denial" in which she, in effect, said, hey we're doing in something new and fresh and we're enjoying it and having fun and if you don't like it move on.???

Who knows, maybe this research is going nowhere. My instincts suggest otherwise, but I've been down academic dead ends many many times in my career before. This won't be the first time. So again, I thank you for your constructive criticims.

19.

Peter> "Hmmm, did you mean this hot denial which I made two posts up?"

Peter> "Or did you mean Candace's "hot denial"..."

Neither. In this particular case, I was interested in pointing out flaws in Ted's logic, not in your research. I've clearly stated elsewhere my views on that, as you well know.

--Phin

20.

At this point, I have to wonder why you expect a higher standard from a virtual world journal than standard print/commerical news agencies. There are very, very few news sources that don't ride on sensationalism (maybe I've just missed'em all?)

Granted, I don't see the academia news agencies, which I suppose there are some of. When AH was first announced on Terra Nova, there was happiness all around. Only when this particular issue reared its head did anyone start saying there was anything wrong with AH.

Phin > You missed one conditional in Ted's logic: "In the minds of the objectors". It's not necessarily true; it's perceived as too close ot the truth.

21.

Michael> "At this point, I have to wonder why you expect a higher standard from a virtual world journal than standard print/commerical news agencies."

I don't expect a higher standard. Peter happens to post to this forum while neither Hiraldo Rivera, the editor of the National Enquirer, nor Jerry Springer choose to do so. If any of them ever do, I may very well voice opinions regarding their journalism.

Michael> "You missed one conditional in Ted's logic: "In the minds of the objectors". It's not necessarily true; it's perceived as too close ot the truth."

Good catch. Below is my argument restated to include this conditional, though I'm not sure it is particularly weekened by the inclusion.


Let me get this straight. To follow that line of thinking, if I say, "your research is crap," and someone else hotly denies it while waving free speech banners, their denial means that they must perceive my statement has some kernel of truth to it?

--Phin

22.

Phin, this is about the 10th time you've called my research "crap," or quoted yourself as saying it is crap, and this seems like about the 10th time I've thanked you for your valuable and constructive criticism. I understand your position. We *all* understand your position. Here, I'll write it on my blackboard: "Phin thinks my work is crap." I'll leave it there all semester to guide my future research. So thank you again. I'm grateul to have a critic that has studied my work as carefully as you obviously have and who can put together such thoughtful and constructive suggestions for how I may improve it. So I thank you again.

23.

Edward Castronova wrote, "Can we infer anything about X from the way the statement is received? One thing I think we can know pretty clearly: in the mind of the objectors, X is almost certainly close to the truth."

Ted, that's an utter load of crap and you know it. I'm not running a child porn brothel regretting the fact that Peter has stumbled onto the "big secret" of the Internet: that it's only good for child porn and bomb-making instructions. No, I'm upset for a much larger reason.

Edward also wrote, "Because right now, based on the outrage, I am thinking that his claims are generating ire only because they come too close to an uncomfortable reality."

No, I'm outraged because this is supposed to be a site about discussing the issues of virtual worlds intelligently. This site also tries to be the site that attracts the attention of those that have the power to affect laws, etc. Yet, one person who claims to be a researcher doing nothing more than posting sensationalist crap on his blog comes in and gets approved without question. Here's the core of my beef: how's Joseph Senator from Heartland, USA going to react when he sees a headline that contains the phrase "child cyber-prostitute"? Is he going to care that my game isn't TSO? No, we get misguided laws trying to "protect the children" from the "dangers" of the internet based on less sensationalist garbage than what we've been subjected to.

No matter how you slice it, it's not going to be good for the industry or those of us trying to make an honest living off of it. But, what if this is a real problem? As Ted said,

Edward also wrote, "With that in mind: would any of Peter's detractors like to put forward a case (ideally, using the far superior research methods they say Peter should have used) to the effect that underage cyb0ring is so rare in MMORPGs as to be negligible from a policy and ethical perspective?"

"Superior research methods"? You mean something more substantial than a single interview where the interviewee dodges the question quite artfully? Fine.

An informal survey taken over the 40 players online on Meridian 59 server 101 at 3 AM in the morning, Pacific time, on December 21, 2003.

Of the 40 characters online, I got 34 responses. I did not verify that each character or each respondent was a unique person. When asked age, the breakdown was as follows:

Range of ages: 16-62.

Number of respondents:
under 18: 2 (16, 17)
18: 2
19: 2
20: 2
21: 9
22: 1
23: 6
24: 3
25: 1
26: 2
>26: 4 (35, 43, 45, 62)

The 16 year old is the daughter of a couple I've met offline. I did not feel comfortable asking her her "experience" with cybersex given my friendship with her parents. However, given that I know that her parents and her all play Meridian 59 on the same family computer, the possibility of this person engaging in cybersex is rather low. If she does, then she does it with the knowledge of her parents.

I mentioned the topic of Peter's interview to the 17-year-old, he could not understand my question, because the client-side profanity filter had been turned on. This means it would be virtually impossible for him to have cybersex as we know it. When I was finally able to communicate the topic to him, his response was "I think that [cybersex] is disguisting." The account is paid for by this person's mother, with the express intent of allowing him to play the game.

So, out a sample size of 40 respondents, I found no child cyber-prostitutes in my game. Does this mean I win? Can I have Peter pulled down off the cross he's so artfully nailed himself to as my prize?

24.

Brian> "No, I'm outraged because this is supposed to be a site about discussing the issues of virtual worlds intelligently. This site also tries to be the site that attracts the attention of those that have the power to affect laws, etc."

I think I speak for the site owners when I say that we agree with the first of your assertions but not the latter. I've posted a couple of things about Peter Ludlow's interviews because they demonstrate some interesting features of virtual worlds that are worthy of discussion--to wit, that TSO has an adult dirty chat component that's not well documented, and that world owners have particular ways of dealing with reports about issues such as these.

I'm quite comfortable with the nature of these posts, and even given the invective that they've caused I'd post on them again. These two issues are, I think, valid issues for a site that seeks to discuss virtual worlds intelligently. And I think that, if nothing else, the benefit of putting this sort of post up is that it gives you an opportunity to rebut the findings (interesting data, btw). We've talked previously about having social histories of various worlds, and this thread has generated some interesting information along those lines.

Now, I'm mindful of your second assertion: that it's all too easy for the Senator from Podunk to grab the headline and run with it for her own political ends. But I don't think that we've been sensationalist here, and I'm not going to (completely) ignore a topic of significant interest to the vw community because of the (relatively slight) danger of the material being taken out of context. This said, you'll notice that we haven't posted on the BDSM community stuff reported on in Alphaville Herald.

I agree that we need to be mindful of the dangers of being tarred with the same brush as Manhunt or GTA3. But, I tend to think that the answer to this sort of concern is more discussion and analysis, not less.

And with that, Sayeth The Lord, I hereby propose that we close off discussion and move on to other topics.

25.

Brian, what on Earth are you going on about? You find few children on Meridian 59 at 3AM pacific 6 AM Eastern, and this is supposed to show us what? There are no children online ever on TSO -- a game which EA claims to be PG 13 and which is supposed to cater to a broader demographic? That cyberbrothels are rare on TSO?

>one person who claims to be a researcher doing
>nothing more than posting sensationalist crap
>on his blog comes in and gets approved without >question

I'm honored that you've read enough of my work to draw the conclusion that I'm doing "nothing more" than sensationalist crap, but I do feel I should point out that the interview with Evangeline was in fact the 4th article the paper had run on him. The aim of this particular interview was not to expose cyberprostitution (which exists, but doesn't particularly interest me) but to give some background to a character that is in large measure the Mr. Bungle of Alphaville. It was, in effect, a profile of one particular character who IMHO has played an important role in driving other players to form their own online governance structures in response.

This having been said, cyber brothels are not particularly rare on TSO. One of my undercover utility sims actually lived in a sex-for-pay place in another city (Calvin’s Creek) – my avatar was a tuxedoed elderly greeter (and no he didn’t turn tricks for the elderly ladies!). The owner of that place ran a “cyber-club” which did age verification checks, but that is the only case I know of where someone took the time to check ages of either clients or the “employees”. I wasn’t especially interested in studying the sex aspects of the game either, so I rarely went to visit that city. (I also had a reporter visiting brothels and he was going to write up a report on those visits -- grad school has slowed him down, but he has lots of stories.) Most places you just drop in, strike a price, and cyber. My point here is that there is nothing fantastical at all about Evangeline’s claim that she ran a brothel. There are also numerous free lance sims running around with names like "Hooker for Hire" and with their prices for various services listed in their bios. This doesn’t make Evangeline's claims true, it just makes it them mundane if true.

I wasn’t in the game when Evangeline (then one of the many Merrill sisters) ran Hotel Erotica so I can’t speak authoritatively about it. I know it existed and I know it was advertised as a cyber-brothel (the web page still exists; you should *definitely* check it out: Hotel Erotica). I also know someone who claims he went to her as a client, but he says he only paid a few hundred simoleans for her services (a far cry from 500K!), so if she is exaggerating something it is probably how much she got paid. On the other hand, it is conceivable that a gifted cyber-prostitute could make that much money if they could really satisfy a customer. I guess we won’t know for sure unless some satisfied customer comes forward.

Who are these cyberprostitutes and how old are they? Nowadays simoleans are so cheap (up from $10 US to around $27 US for a million) that it is much cheaper to just buy a million simoleans on ebay than to work as a cyberprostitute. My guess would be that most cyberprostitutes are either people doing it for roleplay or kids that do it because their parents won’t let them buy simoleans on ebay. But at this point we just don't know.

Finally, Brian says:

"Here's the core of my beef: how's Joseph Senator from Heartland, USA going to react when he sees a headline that contains the phrase "child cyber-prostitute"? ...
No matter how you slice it, it's not going to be good for the industry or those of us trying to make an honest living off of it."

Ah yes, Brian, now I do see your beef. By all means let's cover up what's happening in TSO. We wouldn't want to say something that would be bad for the industry. Even less would we wish to actually correct the problem by asking EA to police a game that they claim to have PG-13 content.

26.

Sorry, Dan slipped in with a plea for closing off discussion.

27.

Peter> "Sorry, Dan slipped in with a plea for closing off discussion."

It's ok. I never really thought anyone would actually listen.

28.

Phin> To follow that line of thinking, if I say, "your research is crap," and someone else hotly denies it while waving free speech banners, their denial means that they must perceive my statement has some kernel of truth to it?

Well, yeah. Denial signals an uncomfortable reality. But don't argue with me, I'm just the messenger. King Lear, I.4:

------------------------
GONERIL
Come, sir,
I would you would make use of that good wisdom,
Whereof I know you are fraught; and put away
These dispositions, that of late transform you
From what you rightly are.

KING LEAR
Life and death! I am ashamed
That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus;
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them. Blasts and fogs upon thee!
The untented woundings of a father's curse
Pierce every sense about thee! Old fond eyes,
Beweep this cause again, I'll pluck ye out,
And cast you, with the waters that you lose,
To temper clay. Yea, it is come to this?
Let is be so: yet have I left a daughter,
Who, I am sure, is kind and comfortable:
When she shall hear this of thee, with her nails
She'll flay thy wolvish visage. Thou shalt find
That I'll resume the shape which thou dost think
I have cast off for ever: thou shalt,
I warrant thee.

--------------------

Yeah ... SURE you will ...

29.

Peter> 'Phin, this is about the 10th time you've called my research "crap," or quoted yourself as saying it is crap, and this seems like about the 10th time I've thanked you for your valuable and constructive criticism. I understand your position. We *all* understand your position. Here, I'll write it on my blackboard: "Phin thinks my work is crap." I'll leave it there all semester to guide my future research. So thank you again. I'm grateul to have a critic that has studied my work as carefully as you obviously have and who can put together such thoughtful and constructive suggestions for how I may improve it. So I thank you again.'

Peter, your "thank you" is misplaced. As before, I was posting to follow up on Ted's assertions regarding hot denials and what that might say about perceived truth. (Actually, in light of your reaction to my postings, you may want to direct a bit of your thanks in his direction instead...or perhaps take the issue up with King Lear.)

In addition, I have not studied your work carefully and make no claims whatsoever about my status as a "researcher" in this regard. My former comments regarding your research were only my, admitedly, poorly informed opinion.

Furthermore, my comments were motivated more by a passing curiosity regarding how those who wave free speech banners typically react to someone actually engaging in a manner of free speech they don't like than by any real strong feeling or interest in your research. In other words, I was interested in seeing whether or not you would make the connection between me saying "your research is crap" and you saying something like "Maxis allows minors to cyber themselves silly." The question would become even more interesting if I were generally making a nuisance of myself while saying this sort of thing on a blog you moderate. BTW, do you have message boards over there at AH?

--Phin

30.

Dan Hunter wrote, "And with that, Sayeth The Lord, I hereby propose that we close off discussion and move on to other topics."

Dan, I respect what you write in your post, and agree totally. I would like one last chance to rebut Peter, however.

Peter Ludlow wrote, "You find few children on Meridian 59 at 3AM pacific 6 AM Eastern, and this is supposed to show us what?"

Uh, 5% of the active population was under 18 at that time, even if it was early in the morning. I would assert that this is pretty typical for the game. (Although I do admit it was surprising to find a 63 year old playing my game!) My research was built on data that is a lot more solid than yours. I actually got responses to my age question, whereas you had to infer an age from your single interviewee. Trying to invalidate my data is only going to work harder to invalidate your single point of data.

Peter also wrote, "I'm honored that you've read enough of my work to draw the conclusion that I'm doing "nothing more" than sensationalist crap...."

I've read your posts on your blog/site. I've read your responses here. You'll pardon me if I don't go to my nearest university library to research all your work before calling a headline that includes the phrase "child cyber-prostitute" sensationalist. Or, maybe I can use Ted's twisted logic and say your denial shows that I've hit too close to the mark for your comfort with my "sensationalist" comment?

Peter also wrote, "The owner of that place ran a “cyber-club” which did age verification checks, but that is the only case I know of where someone took the time to check ages of either clients or the “employees”."

You do realize that the players could have lied about ages, right? That's what makes the pseudo-anonymity of the internet such a frustrating aspect to things like this. Even if you ask, you have no way to verify real ages. You have no state-issued ID that you can check, with a sheet on how to spot fakes. You have nothing but the words that appear on your screen to verify ages with, and that's pretty weak.

This shouldn't be news to a researcher doing research online: people lie online. It's quite easy to do with the pseduo-anonymity of the Internet. Hell, I could be misrepresenting who I am, claiming to be "Brian Green" to lend more authority to my position due to his game development experience and reputation. Further, there is a group of people that delight in nothing more than causing problems through their lies, they're called "griefers". Evangeline has proven to be a griefer through other actions, thus everything he/she says should be considered in that light.

The question I have to ask myself is whether you are one of these "griefers" with your behavior, Peter. You seem to be basing your assertions on faulty research, at least based on what you published. I, along with the other people brave enough to withstand your implied accusations of supporting child pornography, are trying to point out where the flaws in your reseach are. It's my fondest hope that you are doing what you think is right, and that this isn't just a stupid, damaging publicity stunt.

Peter also wrote, "Ah yes, Brian, now I do see your beef. By all means let's cover up what's happening in TSO."

No, let's actually verify our data before we make a federal case out of it. Can you positively say the typist is only 17? Don't just point to your interview, either, because Evangeline never actually answered your question.

Does "prostitution" happen in TSO? I won't deny that, because it obviously does. Damion Shubert (former developer of Meridian 59, currently producer of Shadowbane at Wolfpack Studios) gave an amusing anecote about Meridian 59 meeting a "prostitute" in game, making that M59's "oldest profession". What I will decry is the use of the modifier "child" in there, especially when you have not verified the identity of your interviewee.

And, there's the rub. If you had written about prostitution in general, backed up with verifiable facts (as you've posted in this thread), my attitude would be completely different. If Maxis had banned you for just talking about the prostitution issue, I'd add my voice to the cries that they were being unfair. But, since you decided to add the "child" modifier in there and add a level of emotional manipulation that didn't need to be there, I have to take a stance against your assertions based upon the information provided.

With that, I'm done with this topic. Our opinions have been aired.

Edward Castronova wrote, "Well, yeah. Denial signals an uncomfortable reality."

Ted, again, that's a load of crap. Do you mean to tell me that if I were to accuse you of being a rapist, then you deny it, that it's only because I'm too close to the truth? I would think your denials would come because I'd be an idiot making groundless accusations in an attempt to insult you; essentially because you know it is not the truth, which is exactly the opposite of what you are asserting.

Can denial sometimes indicate an uncomfortable reality? Sure, I won't argue with the Bard's words in that regard. But to claim that every denial is born out of discomfort is just plain stupid.

I hope you saved the receipt from those logic courses you took. You better go get your money back. ;)

31.

O.K., as per Dan's wishes we needn't continue this thrash here. Phin has continued the debate on the AVH site, which is probably a better place for it. About the sim that claimed to be a cyberprostitute, yes he's 17, but will be 18 in March. This means the activities in question took place when he was 16. This is data that comes not just from what he says independently of the interview but from his talent agent. But no, I haven't seen his birth certificate, so maybe his agent is trying to pass him off as a minor too.

But like I say, if he is a minor there is really nothing exceptional about this case. Let me reiterate as well that this was just one interview, and the interview was undertaken because he is a simlebrity and an important figure in the history of alphaville and the formation of governance structures like the Sims Shadow Government. I haven't drawn any conclusions from this one case, nor have I proposed any policies based on it. It is just an interview with one kid who happened to be a cyberprostitue and is now a newbie scammer and is a "famous" member of the Alphaville community and an important part of its history.

32.

I didn't realize that Ludlow is calling AV Herald a *research tool* and that the interviews he publishes in it -- merely cut-and-pastes of his YM conversations with players--are being put forth as *research*. It's neither good research nor good journalism. When students at Duke University researched TSO, they at least went to the trouble of calling respondents on the phone and speaking to them for about 45 minutes, they didn't just accept e-mails. I thought AV Herald was merely something this professor was doing for fun, in his spare time, as a kind of role-play and a public service to the dark world of Alphaville. If he claims this is to have the validity of research or even low-level journalism, I would have to ask why he publishes private e-mails without consent, re-enters the game after being banned under a new name, takes what interviewees say at face value and publishes it without ever trying to check a fact, editorializes against those who try to uncover the dark side of AV and debate it in ways in which he will not, and never ascertains the RL age and location of his respondents. There's also the question of whether living in the neighborhoods of the "dark side" and appearing as "one of them" is an appropriate way for a journalist or researcher to conduct his inquiry. Or is role-playing an anthropologist who must live among the "savages"? I have cleared up one mystery, though, and that is how he can run such an active website and spend so much time in the game: he is being paid for this by the U of Michigan evidently. Nice work if you can get it! Beats pounding gnomes!

P.S. If I'm the informant he is referring to about someone using the alleged services of Evangeline, let me point out that she piledrived me (an action in the game that takes away your energy) when I put $400 in her tip jar, so no prostitution or cybering actually took place, unless paying $400 for a piledrive falls into his definition of "prostitution". I have yet to see some really hard testimony about Evangeline. Yes, she ran the Hotel Erotica but we may not be able to prove what went on there any more than we seem to be able to find more than a few scam victims of her newbie house.

33.

Dyerbrook, you should include links to all these alleged offenses.

Also, it would be informative if you noted that your main beef (or at least a main beef) with me is that I won't bite on your ridiculous and utterly unsupported contention that the BDSM community in Alphaville is some sort of cult that is recruiting innocent sims into the lifestyle. Oh, that and your belief that the Sims Shadow Government is in cahoots with the BDSMers in this conspiracy. *rolls eyes*

Changing the subject for those who are still reading, we just posted a nice little discussion piece with Ted Castronova on the possibility of EA pulling the plug on TSO and letting the Alphaville inmates take over the asylum (i.e. whether they would give up the TSO engine if the resulting engine could be unbranded and with the avatars re-skinned).

34.

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35.

The last comment re "baby car seats" was off-topic and was probably posted by a spambot. But it is kind of poetic, isn't it? Especially what with the 2 ellipses... So instead of deleting it, I've just altered the URL to reflect the true nature of Mssr. BCS, Inc.

36.

Baby car seating,
Sorted by brand and price range;
Safety for children.

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