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Dec 21, 2005

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Comments

1.

This dichotomy is much the same as for system security. The amount of access you grant to a system is inversely proportional to the level of security provided. As with all things, there is a balance to be struck.

Philips' decision to back out the initial LSL preventative changes (in order not to break numerous legitimate SL objects) is a brave one. Linden must now rely on the implied threat of the FBI kicking down the door of extreme griefers, and to some extent, their own ability to quickly detect and remove offending objects (an intrinsically non-scaleable losing battle, but a required effort nonetheless).

Additionally, judging from their reactions, the SL community will self-police to some extent, since they are clearly not happy with the DOS objects. Stigma memes and social mores can be powerful deterrents. Time will tell where the final balance will be struck in SL, but clearly as the population of SL grows, we'll be seeing new challenges like this. Watch carefully, kids; there are some lessons for us all in how this unfolds.

All in all, IMHO, SL is a tremendously innovative and successful virtual world, and I feel they are up to the challenge.

2.

I realize this may be picking nits to the point of almost being off topic, but it seems to me that the events described are not really 'griefing'. They seem to fall more appropriately under something like 'hacking" or the like. I think that "griefing" though unpopular to many is a legitimate form of gameplay where players use the constraints of the game system, operating as intended, agressively against others.

Do we really want to confuse completely legal, if distasteful and unpopular, modes of gameplay with criminal vandalism of a digital world?

3.

In response to Monkeysan's comment -- is this really hacking or cracking, though? LL gives users the ability to create whatever they want, within the limits of SL, and a few people are creating objects -- within the limits and rules of SL, no less -- that solely exist to irritate other players.

Might it be similar to a hypothetical game where every object can be attacked, harmed and destroyed -- monsters, trees, and players -- but it is "against the virtual law" to kill players? The game itself provides the capability to harm other PCs.

4.

I think these events point out that griefing and hacking aren't entirely independent in a world where users can make functional objects. This enables people to take griefing to a whole new level beyond corpse-camping and the like. You can grief people by giving them objects that make unwanted porn appear, or by teleporting them away against their will (both of which have happened in SL). And you can 'grief' the world by causing its performance to drop and even for the servers to go down. This is pretty clearly analogous to a standard DoS attack, but at the same time it's not quite the same as hacking in and taking over a system. The system was being used as designed -- just not as LL would prefer, given that such use disables the world for everyone.

Watch carefully, kids; there are some lessons for us all in how this unfolds.

Ain't it the truth. From WoW to the SWG NGE to this, we're awash in really interesting lessons.

5.

To me, this says, "Second Life has failed to learn from the TinyMUD-type worlds/servers that preceded it." (Second Life is, as far as I can tell, exactly like a TinyMUD-derived environment, except it has 3D graphics rather than text. It is, in fact, much closer to TinyMUD roots than even an Everquest-like game is to DikuMUD roots.)

Runaway self-cloning objects shouldn't have come as a surprise. Indeed, it's somewhat surprising that this hasn't happened before, simply by accident. And Farmer's object is another solid example of, "Yup, seen that plenty in a past life."

In other words: Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it.

6.

I'm actually a little shocked this hasn't been an issue for SL before if the potential was there. As Amberyl says, this is an exact copy of stuff that's happened in virtual worlds before.

So the interesting question, I think, is more along the lines of, "Why did it take so long to happen in SL?"

--matt

7.

I think this is an important development, because LL is in effect saying that they aren't going to nerf the code to make the world safe -- they are going to hold visitors/customers accountable for their actions, knowing that those visitors have the ability to raise havoc.

In the real world we have the power to go into a china shop and smash everything to bits, but if someone does this we don't say: silly shop owner -- what did they expect, selling stuff that is so easy to break.

This is historic, I think because LL is in effect saying that in their world not everything that the code permits is permitted, and that not only is destructive behavior a violation of the ToS (in effect a violation of a contract) but is in fact criminal behavior.

8.

OMG! I find myself *completely* agreeing with Peter. Wow. :-)

9.

Ludlow > In the real world we have the power to go into a china shop and smash everything to bits

A problem is SL is, and many things virtual, is that we find our selves arguing by analogy, and any analogy brings with it a set of baggage.

SL is like a china shop in that there are things in there that one can buy and that these things can be broken, but SL is not like a china shop in several potentially relevant ways.

Why don’t we think of SL like a sand box. Now in a sand box can it be a crime to kick over other peoples sand castles? This does not feel as bad, because (I think), with sand we assume that things are intrinsically impermanent and to some degree un-stable.

What’s more we can wipe a sand box and start again – just like second life.

We can take moulds of things and re-create them almost like they were before – just like second life.

There is an interesting tension between the owner of the sand and the creator of any given sand castle – just like second life.

If the owner complains that someone went and messed with the sand castles – we would say:

If you want something permanent with lots of legal protections around it – Don’t create a sand box!!

just like second life?

10.

Ren Reynolds>Now in a sand box can it be a crime to kick over other peoples sand castles? This does not feel as bad, because (I think), with sand we assume that things are intrinsically impermanent and to some degree un-stable.

It would feel bad if you just bought a sandcastle from someone and then it got kicked down.

If we're saying that SL is a sandbox just like a real sandbox, then we're also saying that people are fools for paying large amounts of money for things that can be kicked down at any moment with a high degree of probability.

I can see why LL called in the FBI; given SL's closeness to the real world, if anyone was going to do it, it was LL. That's not going to stop you or me from creating malicious software if we're so inclined, though, because we don't live in the USA and the FBI can't touch us. What would hurt us is if LL took the payment for fixing the damage off our credit cards - now THAT would be effective. Using Peter's china shop analogy, if you broke it, you pay for it.

I'm less surprised that this hasn't happened before than I am that LL didn't have any limits in place to stop it. When we first let users play MUD1 from the outside world, one of the players thought it might be fun to write a macro (command file) that recursively created subdirectories on the game's account. The TOPS-10 operating system we used was, however, able to stop subdirectories being nested greater than 5 levels deep, and also prevent a subdirectory from holding large numbers of other subdirectories. The damage was nowhere near as great as it would have been. Of course, some users did have a genuine use for more subdirectories, and in that case they could be given an account which was not subject to the limitation checks. LL could go the same way - have scripts written by trusted users be subject to no limitations, but make regular users have to demonstrate a need for the privileges.

There are many ways that programmers can screw up computers, given the chance. They can create infinite loops, they can divide by zero, they can bust the stack by recursing too far, they can write vast quantities of data, they can send the wrong instructions to the hardware and fry it - there are many ways to bring down a system if you put your mind to it. With power comes responsibility, and if you give programmers power, you have to make sure they're responsible. If they're not responsible, you have to limit their power.

The way that DEC found all the ways of crashing their operating system, by the way, was simply to pay users money if they told them how to do it.

Richard

11.

Ren Reynolds>Now in a sand box can it be a crime to kick over other peoples sand castles? This does not feel as bad, because (I think), with sand we assume that things are intrinsically impermanent and to some degree un-stable.


Richard > It would feel bad if you just bought a sandcastle from someone and then it got kicked down.

Yes it would. But not /as/ bad as if you had bought some antique china and not /that bad/ if you could just call someone and it was instantly re-built and not /that bad/ if you had only paid 2p for it. It’s all relative.

>If we're saying that SL is a sandbox just like a real sandbox, then we're also saying that people are fools for paying large amounts of money for things that can be kicked down at any moment with a high degree of probability.


I’m not quite saying that. I’m saying that the sand box is an alternative analogy, one that has different assumptions and puts a different weight on certain values. If we have to use analogies then I would suggest that the sand box with sand sculpture is closer than the china shop one.

I’m not particularly suggesting that there is a ‘high degree of probability’ that things can get kicked down, I’m suggesting that there is a possibility and that the possibility is probably higher than china in a china shop, certainly I would suggest that the virtual things that we have right now are potentially more transient than physical objects we are discussing here (again I'm not being absolute about things), though I think that the more important point is that they can be replaced.


Anyone purchasing anything within SL should be mindful of Clause 4.3 of the Terms of Service: “All Data On Linden's Servers Are Subject to Deletion, Alteration or Transfer.”

So I’m not saying that people are foolish for paying large sums of money, after all people will pay over £100 to see an opera and that’s just a couple of hours of entertainment. What I’m saying is that there are some asymmetries in expectation all over the place here. I have thoughts on the Linden side of this and the implications for them which I’m working on.

12.

Regarding why it's taken so long; I've not been in SL long myself, but from what I can see, it seems more a cultural thing than anything else.

Because there aren't really any objective competitve yard sticks (Level, Epic Gear, Rare Spawns, etc.) there seems a lot less desire in the majority of people I've encountered, to 'win' SL, most of whom are either playing for social, chatty reasons, or seem to be treating it a bit like a virtual Lego set for their own amusement.

I could see that the later type may inadventently cause trouble, as a by-product of their own tinkering, there doesn't seem to be many people interested in doing it purely to cause havoc, since bringing the system down means they can no longer use it to tinker. As for the social types, the above mentioned stigma effect is probably quite a strong deterent. Without cronies to brag to, that kind of damage isn't nearly as satisfying, I'd guess.

There are some 'arms race' style PvP areas, where scripts compete against scripts, but to be honest, for straight PvP, there are many better games out there, so even the SL PvP enthusiasts are more software engineers than hyperactive bunny-hoppers.

I think recent changes in billing options, and a free first account for brand new players, have seen a big rise in new players though, and sooner or later that rare deviant malcontent is bound to turn up.

13.

Richard: I'm less surprised that this hasn't happened before than I am that LL didn't have any limits in place to stop it.

That's the nub of the issue I think: we often think of this as a technical problem with a technical solution, but it's not. Once you open the door to having multiple people in the same space, there's no technical, programmatic way to prevent them from hassling/griefing/kicking over each others' sandcastles. Once you open the door to letting these people change the functionality of the world via objects, there's no technical way to prevent them from griefing the world. For every hole you plug there will be another that opens up, until you so restrict the system that the original purpose is no longer possible.

It's worth noting that this also applies in terms of programmed civics, as was seen with the (narrowly averted) demonstration of the Achilles' heel of pure democracy on A Tale in the Desert, where "the people" (led by a small conspiratorial group of "social/civic griefers") almost disabled their own society while acting completely within the rules of the system. I suspect there is a Godelian aspect to this that no functional system can ever fully describe or predict the full extent of behaviors possible within it that also have the potential to disable it.

Ultimately I think the more reality with which we invest our online creations, the more we're going to want to treat them as real, persistent things -- and as we do this we move from the momentary annoyance of having a sand castle destroyed to the criminal offense of breaking things in a china shop.

The fact that we mark our online creations with real-world money (especially but not only in places like SL) is a necessary but not sufficient condition for this sort of reality-marker, IMO. The other piece of the equation is hidden in what Ren quoted from SL's ToS: "All Data On Linden's Servers Are Subject to Deletion, Alteration or Transfer."

So long as that's the case, users don't own china shops; at most they are hovering over creations made of sand that may disintegrate at any moment. That none of us feel that way about online creations or objects sets us up for recurring disillusionment. These creations are neither wholly real nor wholly illusory, which makes them a whole new kind of thing.

14.

Ren, I think you are running together two issues. One is the damage that griefers might do to another players virtual property (minimal at best), and the other is the damage they might do to SL and its ability to function as a business by repeatedly taking it offline. To say that SL's business is itself a sandbox and we are free to trash it whenever we want just because we can doesn't make sense to me.

Richard made an interesting point in his "you broke it, you pay for it" comment. I wonder if SL couldn't rewrite the ToS so that any damage and cleanup expense caused by a griefer would be billed to their credit card. Even the nonpaying customers have cards on file with LL, and if the contract stipulates that they can be charged for damage, that would sure calm things down in a hurry. Think of that time you moved out of your apartment and the landlord billed you for a dirty bathtub or chipped formica on the kitchen counter.

15.

Ren>Yes it would. But not /as/ bad as if you had bought some antique china and not /that bad/ if you could just call someone and it was instantly re-built and not /that bad/ if you had only paid 2p for it. It’s all relative.

That's right, it is, but people need to understand the possibilities and their likelihoods in order to assess their worth. If you buy a sandcastle below the tide line, you'll want to pay less than one above the tideline, simply because the latter has more permanence.

>I’m saying that the sand box is an alternative analogy, one that has different assumptions and puts a different weight on certain values.

But it's hard to put such weights on those values if you don't know the probabilities. Is LL going to impose restrictions on object-creation if they get attacked again? If they do, will those restrictions apply to objects you've bought? Would you have paid that much for them if you'd known they were likely to be zapped? Yes, we know that the LL EULA says they can zap anything, but that's not good enough to make a rational basis for estimating an object's worth. I know my house could be destroyed by a meteor, but I also know it's unlikely enough that I needn't worry about it. If I had a house in SL, would I need to be worried about the likelihood of its being hit by a LL change in world physics?

>I’m suggesting that there is a possibility and that the possibility is probably higher than china in a china shop, certainly I would suggest that the virtual things that we have right now are potentially more transient than physical objects we are discussing here

I think we're probably trying to convince each other of the same point here..!

>What I’m saying is that there are some asymmetries in expectation all over the place here.

I wonder whether the law would take the expectations of the buyers and sellers or the expectations of the people who own the system?

Richard

16.

I agree with Mike’s point about the growing reality with which we invest virtual worlds. That leads me to take something of a “players’ rights” stance. From that point of view, problems of griefing exist in part because of developers and managers of virtual worlds are unwilling to face that it is a social not a technical problem and that they can not design it away. I believe, however, that the tension between giving players abilities and limiting those abilities in the name of common good needs to be addressed with a technical underpinning.

We already have mechanisms that allow us to limit the impact of player abilities. It is just that they are necessary but not sufficient to managing the issue. I believe we should focus on integrating those technical mechanisms with social mechanisms that balance players’ involvement with designers’ goals and operators’ practical realities. And at this stage of our development we should handle those issues within the context of the virtual world in question. How might we do that?

Analogy provides important aids to understanding, but I fall into that camp that believes virtual worlds are fundamentally different in important ways. For example, there is the potential for players to have god-like powers. Those powers are granted through exposure of the game’s internal mechanisms. As Lydia and Richard have pointed out, MUDs faced those problems early in their development.

Carrying on with that example, we already have a lot of historical and fictional exemplars for how to control the powers of gods. So we should be able to solve the problem within the fiction of any world we construct. These controls fall into two categories – granting powers and limiting powers once granted.

In virtual worlds each of those options has ramifications for implementation overhead. But those constraints, at least at run time, are being relaxed by expanding hardware and communications capacities. So a generic mechanism for placing limits on god-like power within the context of any particular game is possible with depletion mechanisms we already use. Richard alluded to this when he voiced surprise that limits were not already in place.

One version of this – if all action by a player, either through direct control of an avatar or through indirect action of a constructed persistent object, depletes an energy budget then behavior is inherently limited. Wizzards loose manna, replication costs coins, the mechanism is not important so long as everything costs something and that cost can not be bypassed or passed off to another. Now we are back on familiar game balance ground. And the fewer the mechanisms implemented the more direct the balance issues.

LL might, for example, place a financial cost on each action. Simple movement would be trivially inexpensive, creating objects more expensive, and recursive calls very costly. It is even in line with some of the pay-to-play aspects of the world already in place. LL management may well feel differently, but I would argue for players having a say in setting the prices and punishments. Management can always have veto power – but only effective social participation can address a fundamentally social problem.

I don’t mean to minimize the operational challenges of this kind of system. It streamlines the balance mechanisms at the cost of adding overhead to every operation. And implementation cost is certainly an issue. The hooks may just not be there in the code. But I believe the core mechanism is sound and only through some similar mechanism can

17.

Ren, in RL, when a bully kid comes on to a beach and kicks over a sand castle carefully created by other kids, the adults at the beach reprimand him. It's considered mean-spirited and he's rightly called a bully.

You may view SL as a sandbox; I don't. And least, not all of it is a sandbox, and in fact "sandbox" is a concept designated only on certain parcels in the world. In fact, it's a home for many people. There is a real tension in SL what I call sandboxers, tekkies and artists who want creativity and the outer limits of scripting to trump everything, and householders who want to live, make businesses, have secure spaces, etc.

It's a world, not just a 3-D coat hanger for junior game dev resumes. I keep coming back to that in every jousting I have with the Feted Inner Core of tekkies and graphic designers who were the early adapters of SL and continue to be the darlings of LL. It's fine to fete the creators and we all appreciate it -- but creativity, even when you want to foster its open-endedness, should not extend even to destruction of the world itself, temporarily or permanently.

That's what it has been doing. Just because somebody *can* replicate something aptly called a "grief sphere" doesn't mean they *should*. Perhaps someone thinks of some "peaceful uses of the atom" like giving "giveinventory" across sims being used for notecards from InfoNet or something (though I'm heavily critical of the bias and funnelling of that agency). So that doesn't mean that you can't study the TOS a little harder, and figure out that existing language about "spam" and "disturbing the peace" should be invoked against people who "giveinventory" in the forum of a million stupid grief balls that crash the grid.

You wouldn't be having this conversation if it was your own website, or somebody else's website, and a denial-of-service attack. We could say "the Internet allows you to mount DNS attacks so Terra Nova asked for it."

No. Nobody asks for having the grid crashed, and literally thousands of US dollars of business lost that day, not only for Linden Lab, but all the people who use the platform for business. Look on the home page and see that the figure for transactions these days runs to something like $100,000 USD a day. Even if a lot of this is "play money" that stays inside "the game," for a number of people, it's their compensation for hours of creativity making content, or providing services, or running businesses or non-profit educational services, or whatever, and it's how they pay their tier and other expenses like phone bills, etc. Why does the right of creativity and the open-endedness of the platform get to trump its actual use and enjoyment for people?

Our creations and our homes and businesses are not in fact things that can be "destroyed any minute" as much as we have to hear this silly notion again and again in phonied-up hypotheticals. The reality is -- yes, reality -- is that these virtual worlds persist for months...years, even, unless there is malice aforethought to wipe them or destroy them.

I have builds I commissioned a year ago that still remain in place. Of course, at any moment they may be wiped by LL or a griefer or whatever. The REALITY is, however, that they do NOT -- they PERSIST.

The fact that LL itself could pull the plug on the world at any minute is like constructing analogies of the heat-death of the sun occurring some time soon for Earth. Sure, it's a distinct possibility. But not likely. And many people have constructed the world on that basis, and more and more, this is the REALITY of the virtual worlds that you cannot discount.

There's always this extremist thinking on this subject coming from the tekkies-- all creativity has to be extremely protected for the sake of...more extreme creativity. The development of the platform has to be protected for...the sake of developing more extreme creativity on the platform...Analogies about wiping out sandcastles have to be invoked because...they *might* be wiped in some *remote possibility* and as we all know, any *probability* then becomes "a viable argument" merely because it might happen some day.

But in fact, the center of gravity of this world is very different. The center of gravity is the probability -- very likly, and persistent -- that each day when you log on, your beautiful house is in fact *still there*. And *most people* don't kick it over or destroy it, but in fact seek to enhance the neighbourhood. We actually inhabit this set of more likly probabilities each day, and don't inhabit the grid-crashing that occurs less frequently, and don't inhabit that world of the kicked-over sandcastle that you like to invoke for the sake of prevailing in a hypothetical argument.

I like the "you break it/you buy it" analogy Uri has brought forth. None of these script kiddies have the $5 million or more it would take to actually lease servers, work the code, and make a world or a game like this. If they want to fool around with fun scripty thingies that crash servers, let them get their own servers and play with them.

Don't play with the ones I am renting, thank you very much.

Honestly, you all think these worlds belong to game companies and their chosen junior game dev partners, and they can just endlessly script in the sandbox and endlessly play around and lather, rinse, repeat. I'm here to tell you that they *belong to us, too, because we pay the bills on them.*

18.

Prokofy Neva wrote: [In Second Life] our creations and our homes and businesses are not in fact things that can be "destroyed any minute" as much as we have to hear this silly notion again and again in phonied-up hypotheticals. The reality is -- yes, reality -- is that these virtual worlds persist for months...years, even, unless there is malice aforethought to wipe them or destroy them.

The reality is that they could vanish at any moment. The illusion is that since they have been around for months they will be around for years to come. The depth of this illusion doesn't dispel the reality, nor does it change the reality in the slightest.

... The fact that LL itself could pull the plug on the world at any minute is like constructing analogies of the heat-death of the sun occurring some time soon for Earth. Sure, it's a distinct possibility. But not likely.

On the contrary, this is somewhat more likely than the sun going nova. The reality is that Linden Labs is a business in a precarious, fickle industry. I have no idea what the financial status of LL is. But I'm willing to bet they aren't sitting on a pile of cash that is sufficient to keep them going and keep the servers turned on for the next five years. I suspect that they're either looking for additional funding or have recently secured another round, but that they also are facing a task of perhaps needing to double their number of paying users (again, educated guesses on my part). LL is by all appearances not likely to shut down any time soon (and I hope they continue to have great business success). But it's important to keep in mind that in this business nothing is assured. Any feeling of permanence you derive from your SL "home" (or your WoW character, etc.) is completely illusory.

...Honestly, you all think these worlds belong to game companies and their chosen junior game dev partners, and they can just endlessly script in the sandbox and endlessly play around and lather, rinse, repeat. I'm here to tell you that they *belong to us, too, because we pay the bills on them.*

I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but this just isn't correct. The world does belong to the game companies and they can (and will) do whatever they like to your characters, objects, etc. Yes, you pay the bills, but as a customer -- not as an owner. As Ren noted earlier, everyone using SL explicitly agreed to this from the beginning: Clause 4.3 of the SL Terms of Service: "All Data Is Temporary. ... THIS DATA, AND ANY OTHER DATA RESIDING ON LINDEN 'S SERVERS, MAY BE RESET AT ANY TIME FOR ANY OR NO REASON..." Clause 5.3: "...YOU UNDERSTAND AND AGREE THAT BY SUBMITTING YOUR CONTENT TO ANY AREA OF THE SERVICE, YOU AUTOMATICALLY GRANT ... TO LINDEN:... THE PERPETUAL AND IRREVOCABLE RIGHT TO DELETE ANY OR ALL OF YOUR CONTENT FROM LINDEN'S SERVERS AND FROM THE SERVICE, WHETHER INTENTIONALLY OR UNINTENTIONALLY, AND FOR ANY REASON OR NO REASON, WITHOUT ANY LIABILITY OF ANY KIND TO YOU OR ANY OTHER PARTY" (bold and all-caps in the original)).

19.

Mike wrote:

The reality is that they could vanish at any moment. The illusion is that since they have been around for months they will be around for years to come. The depth of this illusion doesn't dispel the reality, nor does it change the reality in the slightest.

But this distinction between reality and illusion is a rabbit hole. As both Richard and Prokofy have pointed out, what counts is how well-founded our expectations are about the persistence of the world around us and our place in it, and this holds whether you're in SL or conemplating buying a meteor-vulnerable house. We all make our plans (and, in fact, fundamentally understand how the world works) based on assumptions that are at root no better than reliable (to different degrees). It's certainly true that investing effort in SL is comparatively risk-filled, but certainly not laughably so. To suggest that its residents labor under an illusion is unfair.

Richard wrote:

I wonder whether the law would take the expectations of the buyers and sellers or the expectations of the people who own the system?

This to me is the key question. In architected worlds, whose expectations are reasonable (from a legal point of view)? The architects' or the residents'?

20.

I just want to make something clear: the fact that an attack of the sort that crashed the SL grid could happen did not come as a surprise. Hell, the LSL wiki (resident run but now hosted on Linden servers) has an example script for self-replicating objects. And people have managed to crash single sims or groups of sims (accidentaily or purposely) with less (i.e. the kind of script even a programing n00b like me could write in less than ten lines) for as long as SL has been live.

Don't play with the ones I am renting, thank you very much. [...] I'm here to tell you that (the servers) *belong to us, too, because we pay the bills on them.*

Beware mixing your verbs, Prok. Renting != "belonging to", or owning, as you probably know. Your point isn't completely lost though, since even a renter has a certian amount of rights regarding the place they occupy. I don't "own" the appartment I'm living in, but I expect that the landlord will fix the broken heater (if any of us ever getting around to complaining about it) and that the police will arrest and convict someone that comes in and vandalizes it.

21.

Meep. Forgetting to close my itallics tag italicises the whole page. Fixing!

22.

Thomas: In architected worlds, whose expectations are reasonable (from a legal point of view)? The architects' or the residents'?

From a legal POV? Read the sections of the SL Terms of Service above. It's pretty clear (and unsurprising, IMO) -- the world operators hold all rights (more, even, than the ones I excerpted here). Any rights 'residents' think they have are privileges granted solely at the discretion of the world operator, and can be removed at any time, for (as they say) any reason or no reason.

Now from a commercial (and possibly ethical) POV, the users of the system have some say, in that if the company exerts its rights too frequently or too bluntly, they're likely to be left without many users pretty quick (see: SWG post-NGE).

But I think it's important to keep these two separate. The entitlement that a customer feels has little claim on the rights that an actual (not virtual) resident has. When users of a system conflate these two, and when they insist that they do in fact own their creations and the world they exist in, then they are laboring under an illusion.

The extent to which a game/world operator will go to maintain this illusion by giving the users the ability to create new objects, even at the risk of world-griefing, is an interesting question.

23.

Peter Ludlow wrote:

This is historic, I think because LL is in effect saying that in their world not everything that the code permits is permitted, and that not only is destructive behavior a violation of the ToS (in effect a violation of a contract) but is in fact criminal behavior.

I'm not sure that's historic really. I've called in the law in our games previously, for instance, when people used in-game code (tells and messages) to send me death threats. I'm sure I'm not the first to have done that in response to in-game actions that the code permits either.

Urizenus Sklar wrote:

I wonder if SL couldn't rewrite the ToS so that any damage and cleanup expense caused by a griefer would be billed to their credit card. Even the nonpaying customers have cards on file with LL, and if the contract stipulates that they can be charged for damage, that would sure calm things down in a hurry.

Won't work due to chargeback procedures. Without a signature authorizing that charge, all the credit card holder has to do is tell his card company that LL charged his card without permission. The charge will be reversed, and LL will be fined a small amount.

--matt

24.

Well, you could sign/fax in CC documents if you want access to certain functionality, like llGiveInventory (the culprit, in this case).

Also, as for the China Shop analogy, you have "please do not touch" signs all over the place, so really, the analogy is completely unsound.

25.

Blaze wrote:

Well, you could sign/fax in CC documents if you want access to certain functionality, like llGiveInventory (the culprit, in this case).

Even here, I believe what you'd need to do is authorize LL to charge your card with a security deposit, like a hotel does. LL couldn't just charge your card later for damages, I believe. The problem is that in something like a hotel, there's a fixed time period (usually relatively short) that the deposit is going to be held. In a situation like this with LL, that time period would be more or less indefinite. I'm not sure how many users would put up with LL basically holding onto a big fat chunk of their money.

--matt

26.

Whether or not an "illusion," the point is that there is now a heft and a weight of the virtuality by its statistical probability that it is online when you log on. Just like the Internet is "there" when you log on. People don't go around making policy about the Internet based on the idea that it "might not be there because it's all electrons." It takes only one blackout in say, on the Eastern seaboard, to "make the Internet go away" but you don't live your life and do your RL work based on the premise that "oh, it's all pixels". So why be that way about virtual worlds?

The perception of RL that I have around me daily is pretty illusory, too, given that at any moment, terrorists might attack New York again and this time I might not be so lucky, eh?

Honestly, the virtuality of our reality is what makes the reality of our virtuality that much the stronger.

Elle, the point is that we pay the bills and have expectations about this property we rent. If we make it a home or a business, we don't expect the landlord to let his kids come in and fingerpaint all over the walls and break the china.

You know, LL issues a TOS that says 'ALL DATA IS TEMPORARY' but I know someone named 'God' and 'His Prophets' that also issued all kinds of statements like 'The Bible' with things like 'All flesh is as grass..." or "Remember man, that thou are dust/and unto dust/thou shall return" and so forth.

Let's not make too much of impermanence.

27.

Prokovy Neva wrote:

Whether or not an "illusion," the point is that there is now a heft and a weight of the virtuality by its statistical probability that it is online when you log on. Just like the Internet is "there" when you log on. People don't go around making policy about the Internet based on the idea that it "might not be there because it's all electrons." It takes only one blackout in say, on the Eastern seaboard, to "make the Internet go away" but you don't live your life and do your RL work based on the premise that "oh, it's all pixels". So why be that way about virtual worlds?

I'm not sure why you're trying to conflate the internet (a collection of data linked by an open protocol) with Second Life (a collection of data that exists only within the confines of a privately-owned and privately-run virtual world). Nobody has to agree to any specific contract to use the internet. Everybody agrees to a specific contract in order to use Second Life.


You know, LL issues a TOS that says 'ALL DATA IS TEMPORARY' but I know someone named 'God' and 'His Prophets' that also issued all kinds of statements like 'The Bible' with things like 'All flesh is as grass..." or "Remember man, that thou are dust/and unto dust/thou shall return" and so forth.

Oookk....This might be relevant if the Bible (or any other book you want to pick) was a contract one had to sign onto before using whatever service. But as it's not, what's your point?

--matt

28.

Addition: My point being that a big deal is made of the impermanence of virtual worlds because they are explicitly impermanent. You agree to this fact when you agree to the TOS. Second Life will be shut down at some point, just like thousands of virtual worlds before it.

29.

Well, we could get all warpy on this and discuss concepts like "covenants" in religions that imply obligations by both parties, and things like "reincarnation" and "being born again" and such could be likened to getting alts, etc. But...that takes us off-topic.

My opint is that your constant emphasis on impermanence holds no water, if you'll forgive me. A world like TSO that everyone said was going to die 2 years ago keeps chugging along...a world like SL that everyone thought would die 2 years ago still persists...after something begins to last that way, you simply cannot see it as impermanent. Add to that the phenom of people migrating out of one dying world into the next new world, like people migrated out of TSO or SWG or AW or There to go into SL...and now leave SL to go to WoW or Project Entropia or Eve...People take their virtual worlds with them.

It doesn't matter if Second Life will be shut down, any more than "my heart will stop pumping some day". Meanwhile, just like first life, you live second life. It has an actuality that you do not seem willing to grant virtual worlds, and I think that hinders your development of analysis and policy about them.

30.

One thing that is helpful to remember whenever we think about the application of law (even something as bedrock as contract law) in new circumstances is that the law is *not* determinative. I'm venturing out of my home territory here, but as Susan Crawford has said (if she will forgive the paraphrase), residents and developers should forge ahead in new territory, and law will follow from the practices there generated. The list of examples of law revised (in decisions, legislation, enforcement) to accord with accepted practice (i.e., newly established expectations) is extremely long. While the ToS of Linden Lab is a powerful document, it is not the end of the story. If that is the case, then the pioneers in SL are no more laboring under an illusion than many entrepreneurs, explorers, and other risk-takers.

Perhaps some of our own wise legal academics would care to weigh in?

31.

"Without a signature authorizing that charge, all the credit card holder has to do is tell his card company that LL charged his card without permission. The charge will be reversed, and LL will be fined a small amount."

Yes, I thought about that, as well as the deposit strategy in response, but I submit that a lot of these griefers are underage kids using mom and dad's cc, so at least the charge brings the matter to the attention of mom and dad and *they* can call the cc company to get the charge removed. But then LL can refuse to honor the card in the future too.

I also wonder: if the contract specifies that you will be billed for damage or customer service work to clean up your shenanigans then why not just send a bill to the card holder (forget about charging them), and when they don't pay turn it over to a not so friendly collection agency.

I mean hotels are always after me to pay for the damage after one of our Second Life Herald throw downs.

32.

Peter Ludlow wrote:

I also wonder: if the contract specifies that you will be billed for damage or customer service work to clean up your shenanigans then why not just send a bill to the card holder (forget about charging them), and when they don't pay turn it over to a not so friendly collection agency.

I've always wondered how that works. It seems like you'd have to eventually be able to stick a bad mark on someone's credit record, or the collection agency doesn't have much of a threat behind it. Anyone know what the process is for doing that?

--matt

33.

Prokofy Neva wrote:

My opint is that your constant emphasis on impermanence holds no water, if you'll forgive me. A world like TSO that everyone said was going to die 2 years ago keeps chugging along...a world like SL that everyone thought would die 2 years ago still persists...after something begins to last that way, you simply cannot see it as impermanent. Add to that the phenom of people migrating out of one dying world into the next new world, like people migrated out of TSO or SWG or AW or There to go into SL...and now leave SL to go to WoW or Project Entropia or Eve...People take their virtual worlds with them.

Well, listen, there are sort of two planes to talk about this on. On the one hand, of course, I fully understand how players view these worlds. I make these worlds because I was a habitual player for many years and love them.

On the other plane, however, is the legal reality, and that is simply pretty clear-cut under current law. I understand, of course, that law that deals with new areas is not nearly as determinative, but there's been no indication, in the US, at least, that things like EULAs are going to be treated differently just because there's a shared fantasy around the data at hand.

You know, interestingly, I suspect that truly long term, one of the most viable models for world survival may be what Batmud (http://www.bat.org) does. They are one of the older continually operating virtual worlds (started in 1990) and are under control of a not-for-profit corporation called BATry (http://www.bat.org/batry/) whose mandate is to just keep Batmud going. I'm not sure how control of BATry works, but I'm pretty sure the people running it now are different from those who were running it when I was an admin there back in '93 or so. Where a for-profit might decide to shut down when it's no longer profitable, these guys have virtually no costs aside from hosting and bandwidth, and they easily get enough to cover that with 'donations' from the players, and so as long as there's a decent succession scheme in place, it could run until there are almost literally no players left.

--matt

34.

I'm operating on limited information here, so take what I say with due reserve.

You give someone a tool or a chess piece and they use it to knock other chess pieces off the board, what did they do wrong? They violated a user rule in a computer simulation designed to encourage people to discover and bend rules.

Involving an outside agency in a much bigger game where the players have absolutely no creative input (real life), and you effectively induce a great deal of icing up of the creative process. What is needed here is not fewer tools, but more.

It sounds like the LL has failed in their project. May someone else succeed in giving players to ability to develop and craft tools that will protect themselves. Allow them to code safety boxes or some kind of space where code is limited and made testable. Allow them to create tools which suppress duplication or whatever it is. Allow them to provide their own security services, and the creative energies of many will likely outstrip the destructive energies of the few.

35.

Ren > Why don’t we think of SL like a sand box. Now in a sand box can it be a crime to kick over other peoples sand castles?

If someone deliberately, maliciously and without consent kicked over one of these, or these could most jurisdictions not find some recourse in the criminal law to deal with the perpetrator? Besides, maybe this attack wasn't about kicking over a sandcastle - but rather about kicking over the sandbox itself.
As to impermanence - I don't see the relevance - plenty of property is impermanent and yet protected by law (eg. perishables, ice sculptures, etc.).

Thomas > law will follow from the practices there generated

If by "law" you mean the legislature - then your guess is as good as mine what they will take into account. The videogame legislation proposed in several American states is generally not being designed by gamers, and there is little reason to think VW legislation will necessarily be either - it will depend on the motivations for legislating. But courts will be bound by the resulting statutes (assuming they are constitutional, intra vires, etc.).
If by "law" you are talking about the common law, or the principles of statutory/contractual interpretation, courts often look to community practices and the understanding of participants for interpretive guidance. That being said, such guidance is not going to override clearly established legal principles (eg. with respect to consent of minors), and there are certain practices that no court is going to condone, no matter how established they are within a given community. The limits on sports violence are a good example - a court will treat punches to the face differently between boxers and volleyball players - but no amount of "community practices" are going to convince a court (in Canada, at least) to allow death matches with live ammunition.

I think Thomas is on the right track, though. A court is clearly going to have to place the SL griefer attacks in the context of SL, and more importantly, when we are talking about the criminal law, the reasonable understanding that the *griefer* had of his/her rights/obligations, etc. To return to the sports examples - hockey players are generally not charged with assault simply for breaking the rules (eg. tripping, high sticking, etc.) - as long as the rule violation falls within the accepted norms of deviance in the sport in question. Bertuzzi clearly crossed that line last year - and was charged and convicted of assault. Dozens of NHL players have undoubtedly been penalized this week for rules violations without crossing the line into criminal assault. What this tells us is that the implicit practices and norms of the community will play an important role, and while the EULA/TOS/ROC may be useful indicators of those norms - the inquiry in a criminal case will not end there.

Now, with respect to the W-hat attacks - it is difficult to argue that deliberately crashing the SL servers is within the "accepted limits of deviance" in the community. One could, of course, envision a VW where crashing the server was considered an acceptable tactic (can't imagine why - but hey, some people juggle geese). The hacker game of "capture the flag" is a perfect example of people trying to break into each other's computers/servers without breaking the law. The goal in some such games is to take out the opponent's server - not a problem with consenting participants. One could also imagine taking out the Matrix in some version of The Matrix Online as a legitimate diegetic goal. The key question in all these examples is where to draw the limits of the magic circle. If the perpetrator is within the magic circle, then the criminal law should generally not be applied. This is the difference between subverting Monopoly by stealing from the bank and kicking over the board/setting the pieces on fire - although the cheater subverts the rules, they are still acting within the magic circle and ought therefore be dealt with within that system - kicking over the board is outside the circle, and can therefore be treated much as we would the kicking over of any other piece of property.

Peter > I mean hotels are always after me to pay for the damage after one of our Second Life Herald throw downs.

That's what you get for having assets worth going after and being so easy to track down. More difficult sue those you can't find, or who have no assets. Next time you have a throw-down, "borrowed" ID/credit cards might help avoid such repercussions... [1]

[1] nothing herein is legal advice (or any other kind, for that matter) - but feel free to ring me if you get caught trying this in BC - i give you good rate ;-)

36.

I just wrote a play.
It's called "Waiting for the Code."

If only that great code writer in the sky would fix the damn code. All our problems would be solved!

Until then, let's all exploit the weaknesses!

37.

Is Second Life a Sandbox or a China Shop? I find it interesting that a large portion of the debate revolves around the permanence of the objects in Second Life vis-à-vis the TOS provision giving Linden Lab the right to delete all content. Yes, the TOS does give Linden Lab this right.

However, in my opinion, it is nowhere near that simple. The retention of Second Life’s customer base is directly correlated to the continued existence of that very same customer bases’ content in world. I believe if would be easy to prove that deletion of content would lead to customer loss. Customer loss, in turn, would lead to loss of viability of business.

Neither analogy, Sandbox or China Shop, is particularly accurate. Perhaps a consignment store is a better one. While the shopkeeper does not own any of the contents of this store, he certainly cares for them. If someone was to come in and destroy the contents, and the shopkeeper did nothing, his customers would stop coming back and he would go out of business.

38.

Matt > "I'm not sure why you're trying to conflate the internet (a collection of data linked by an open protocol) with Second Life (a collection of data that exists only within the confines of a privately-owned and privately-run virtual world)."

In fact, Linden Lab has more or less declared (at State of Play 2005 and elsewhere) that they are moving toward making Second Life into something very closely resembling "a collection of data linked by an open protocol." They aren't there yet, and it remains to be seen whether they will ever get there, but the fact is that they're moving in this direction, toward open-sourcing their world to a large degree and hoping to turn it into a kind of 3D World Wide Web. I won't comment on the viability of such an entity, but that's what they're pushing toward.

In light of that, Philip's turn toward law enforcement doesn't look so out-of-left-field. That's what you do when your site/hosting service is hit with a DOS attack; you go to the authorities. It's just that Linden Lab is the only entity hosting this particular flavor of 3D-WWW at the moment. Ten years from now, if SL takes hold, thousands of people will host their own little corners of this particular branch of the 3D-Web, on their own little servers, resting in their own little homes. If that should happen, we will come to think of it as no more impermanent than today's Web.

It's just that at this point, some of us have drunk the Kool-Aid and others haven't. Personally, I can't decide whether my own glass of Kool-Aid is half empty or half full. It's mighty tasty, though.

39.

Re: >I'm not sure why you're trying to conflate the internet (a collection of data linked by an open protocol) with Second Life (a collection of data that exists only within the confines of a privately-owned and privately-run virtual world).

The reason is that the SL developers themselves constantly invoke this conflation, talking about themselves as the "www of worlds", hinting that some day they will have people hosting their own sims, discussing how they might some day go open source, etc. etc. It's a constant climate of discussion in SL. Whether or not the data set is open or closed, the point is that you don't require some supreme act of faith to assume the Internet will "be there for you" in the morning when you log off at night. Virtual worlds are just one more stop on that highway.

40.

The details here are very vague. It seems that some said that Phillip's avatar (at a virtual campfire) said SL turned over to the FBI names of individuals who made a DOS attack on SL? Has SL issued anything formal? Has the FBI responded? What does the Red Wing program have to do with thd FBI thing?

If someone deliberately tried to bring the SL servers down, it would be hard to see how this would not qualify as a legal wrong. Peter is right that a ludic framework might justifiy it in some other conceivable game, but from my very dim sense of the facts here, I don't think anyone is claiming that intentionally crashing the SL servers is permissible behavior, if someone did that.

41.

Mark Wallace wrote:

In light of that, Philip's turn toward law enforcement doesn't look so out-of-left-field. That's what you do when your site/hosting service is hit with a DOS attack; you go to the authorities. It's just that Linden Lab is the only entity hosting this particular flavor of 3D-WWW at the moment.

Oh, I don't think that calling law enforcement has anything to do with SL being impermanent or with whether there's an analog between it and the internet (though I don't think there is at this point, given that it's still a service run exclusively by one company with the explicit ability to simply shut the service off with no liability.)

As I mentioned earlier, I've called law enforcement as result of players using in-game code to be incredible jerks. If the law will help keep griefers in line, I'm all for using it. I see any separation between "the virtual world" and the "real world" as fairly arbitrary, given that the virtual world is a subset of "the real world" to me.

--matt

42.

Greglas: What does the Red Wing program have to do with the FBI thing?

Quoting my own final paragraph from the original post:

Is there a happy medium that lets people be creative and gives the virtual world the enormous benefits of user-created content, but which protects the bulk of the user populace and doesn't leave them open to self-replicating data bombs, pushed porn objects, teleporting auto-cannons, or even more nefarious objects? Or, despite the siren-song of distributed, freely created content, does the risk of user-created content with scripted functionality ultimately outweigh the potential benefit to the user base and the corporate owners of the world?
These instances are related because of the power that scripting objects gives to players/users, and how they inevitably use it.

Other world developers have pretty much decided that completely open-ended user-created content isn't consistent with an enjoyable long-term experience for most of the users of a virtual world. There have been a number of (post-text) games and virtual worlds that have considered this, but only Second Life has really taken the idea and run with it. My question is, is this sustainable (as a world and as a business) at a large scale, and/or where are the balance points between user capability and user enjoyment? Is SL unique, or a bellwether?

Similarly, there have been many serious efforts to make a 3D web, a single world or system of worlds (with transferrable objects and avatars) distributed across many computers rather than being located on one company's server farm. The issues in doing this successfully are staggering; very smart people have gotten hip-deep in this and had to back off. Which isn't to say it won't be done, but only that the difficulty shouldn't be underestimated.

43.

No, the details are not vague. Philip's statement was checked, and it was confirmed. He chose to make the statement at an inworld event which itself was griefed by a bomber (not a grid crasher, a lighter form of attack, but still something that crashed some people's games, and bumped others, including Philip himself, around the sim.)

On the Linden forums some weeks ago, Ginsu, the LL inhouse counsel, made a formal statement that all persons who committed such grid attacks would have their names turned over to the relevant authorities. So they are following through on it (despite some odd claims that they are "only half doing this" or "it's vague").

I imagine while it is under investigation they aren't going to say much more about it.

The Red Wings replicating object is a separate and unrelated story.

44.

It is a good point that we have no official confirmation of this from Linden Lab. This is being discussed all over the blogosphere, but so far it is based on a report from Herald Reporter Dow Jonas, who said that Philip Linden said it moments after C4 attack during a town meeting bounced Philip all over the sim.

I trust Dow Jonas to faithfully report what Philip said, but it is possible that Philip just *said* this was "already in motion".

45.

Seems I was not that clear. I am not saying that the Sand Box is the best analogy to debate Second Life. I was noting that it is an alternative to the one that Ludlow employed and that while an analogy might be illuminating its also limiting and frames our thinking. (there’s an ongoing debate about the use of space as a metaphor for the internet, for example). I happen to think that the Sand Box idea does convey things that the China Shop occludes.

On balance I’d rather just talk about Second Life as it is, but I guess things like the law often do not work that way. Hence we are often left discussing the limits of the analogies we are using. Fair enough, but if we are doing that then it might be useful to use bunch of them.

So SL is a bit like a Sand Box and it’s a bit like a China Shop, if we are in analogy land it makes no sense to say it is one or the other we can only say that: ‘in respect of X SL is like though noting that it might also be like something else in the very same respect. But at least in showing that things are messy we are at lest holding onto the limits of the tools we are using.

So,
In respect of the relative impermanence of objects within the world SL is a bit like a Sand Box, tho many object last longer than most sand castles and some don’t.

In respect of the ability to re-create objects within the world SL is a bit like a Sand Box, tho some object can be re-recreated to digital perfection (thought this does not necessarily bring back certain person and social values that have become associated with them).

In respect to running SL as a business and the possibility of people breaking stuff and the knock on impact on that business, well, I’m not sure what SL is like other than SL or other online businesses.

46.

About 100 posts ago, Amberyl said, "Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it". This is an often heard refrain from the "been doing this a long time" crowd. This can either be a productive comment or an unproductive one. To be a productive one, there needs to be access to these historic learnings. Obviously one way is to have one or more of these people on your development staff. Another avenue is to read, and take to heart, the books from Bartle, Mulligan, and others. A third is to study the web-based discussion like LegendMUD. However, my guess is that even the sum of all these sources don't capture everything (or even a good chunk of it).

So going back to Amberyl's advice, "Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it", my question is "If history is not codified and documented, how can we avoid repeating it?"

47.

Matt > As I mentioned earlier, I've called law enforcement as result of players using in-game code to be incredible jerks.

Have any of the cases ever gotten to court? (Whether Matt's or any others anyone knows of...) I'd be very interested to see how they were dealt with - or even hear anecdotes of law enforcement reactions [feel free to mail me if you don't want to post about it].

Urizenus > we have no official confirmation of this from Linden Lab

FWIW, on November 23 there was a posting [login required - full post pasted below] on SL forums from Linden Labs general counsel Ginsu Yoon:

Grid-wide Attacks: Disclosures in Law Enforcement Investigations
In the last month there have been several attacks in which users of Second Life have intentionally released objects or taken actions intended to disrupt activity in the Second Life grid. These attacks result in substantial real-world economic harm, and Linden Lab intends to protect its interests using all legal means.
Although most people using Second Life are enjoying the fun and creativity that the platform provides, a few malicious individuals are intentionally acting to impair some or all of the Second Life grid. Please note that personal and account information of these individuals will be disclosed to appropriate law enforcement agencies for further investigation, including U.S. state and federal authorities and agencies in applicable international jurisdictions.
Again, we'd like to thank all of the residents who make Second Life such a great experience, and we are sorry that a few people choose to engage in harmful activity.

48.

Peter Edelmann wrote:

Have any of the cases ever gotten to court? (Whether Matt's or any others anyone knows of...) I'd be very interested to see how they were dealt with - or even hear anecdotes of law enforcement reactions [feel free to mail me if you don't want to post about it].

Neither went to court. The one I'm willing to talk about, involving death threats sent to me in-game, was taken more seriously by the police than I had expected. I called them not really because I was scared of the little jerk but because I wanted to punish him in whatever way possible for being such a pain in the ass. So, when I called the police, I gave them kind of a half-assed description of what was going on, expecting them to just blow it off anyway.

Instead, they immediately (I mean, within half an hour) sent an officer to my house to examine the 'evidence,' saying that they take any physical threat very seriously (to be fair, I also live in the sort of place where my guess is that the cops are called more often for things like a trophy wife's Mercedes not starting). I logged into Achaea, showed her the logs of what this kid had sent me (she was entranced, as she'd never seen a virtual world before), and she opened a case on it. I was able to track down the kid's phone number in Wisconsin, where he lived, without much difficulty, and the cops called him up. The officer said the kid sounded like he was in the process of wetting himself, as clearly he hadn't expected this kind of reprecussion. I took pity at that point and declined to press charges, and never had any trouble from him again (though I still banned him from the game).

In LL's shoes, I would absolutely choose to press charges to the fullest extent of the law if such an option were available.

--matt

49.

David Reim wrote:

About 100 posts ago, Amberyl said, "Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it". This is an often heard refrain from the "been doing this a long time" crowd. This can either be a productive comment or an unproductive one. To be a productive one, there needs to be access to these historic learnings. Obviously one way is to have one or more of these people on your development staff. Another avenue is to read, and take to heart, the books from Bartle, Mulligan, and others. A third is to study the web-based discussion like LegendMUD. However, my guess is that even the sum of all these sources don't capture everything (or even a good chunk of it).

So going back to Amberyl's advice, "Learn from history, or be doomed to repeat it", my question is "If history is not codified and documented, how can we avoid repeating it?"

1. Bring on someone with more experience.
2. Go look at the previous examples! It's not like MOOs and MUSHes can't easily be found by just going to www.mudconnect.com or by using google.
3. In this case, history has been codified and documented. It's well-understood that if an opportunity to grief exists, it's going to be used.

I seriously doubt LL was unaware of the possibility that this kind of thing can occur, so it's probably a moot question in this particular case. They don't strike me as ignorant people. Perhaps they've just decided that the cost of prevention is greater than the potential damage from leaving that feature accessible.

--matt

50.

Have any of the cases ever gotten to court? (Whether Matt's or any others anyone knows of...) I'd be very interested to see how they were dealt with - or even hear anecdotes of law enforcement reactions

Otter, chief wiz of Redwall MUCK where I was a staffer several years, regularly reports serious greifers (hackers, repeat bans, sexual predators, of which a handfull appear every now and then) to various law enforcement agencies (especaly important as Redwall's population skews torward teens and pre-teens) in addition to using bans and other technological resources. The "various" authorities range the gammut from school principals to the FBI. I can't say that there's been any documented results with the FBI, but local law enforcement have been more up to the task. At least one person at a college has gotten himself arrested by campus police (I forget what for).

I like to think that places like Toontown and Teen SL could take a few lessons from the way Redwall is run.

51.

Oh, and I forgot to mention: the ISP is an excelent and oft overlooked authority to contact. Most of them have TOS/EULA/AUP documents that forbid using their service for illegal means. Having one's internet service cut off kind of makes it a lot harder to come back to the virtual world with another credit card, no?

52.

Peter, I'm aware of Linden Lab's threat to go to law enforcement agencies, posted on the SL forums. What I'm saying is that apart from the report from Dow Jonas, there is no official confirmation from Linden Lab that they have gone to the FBI in response to the latest grid crashings. All we have is an ingame remark from Philip in avatar, that this has happened.

53.

Elle Pollack wrote:

Oh, and I forgot to mention: the ISP is an excelent and oft overlooked authority to contact. Most of them have TOS/EULA/AUP documents that forbid using their service for illegal means. Having one's internet service cut off kind of makes it a lot harder to come back to the virtual world with another credit card, no?

I used to regularly report users to their ISPs if they continued to try to enter our games (illegal intrusion) after their privileges to use our systems had been revoked, but I gave up. Most of them (and I'm looking at you AOL!) don't do a darn thing to enforce those policies in any consistent way. They seem to employ a "don't ask, don't tell" policy and would rather just not deal with it.

00matt

54.

Matt Mihaly wrote:

1. Bring on someone with more experience.
2. Go look at the previous examples! It's not like MOOs and MUSHes can't easily be found by just going to www.mudconnect.com or by using google.
3. In this case, history has been codified and documented. It's well-understood that if an opportunity to grief exists, it's going to be used

#1. Yeah, I mentioned that. Although, a single person's experience surely doesn't cover all historic learning.

#2. That's not a practical suggestion. Simply "cruising" MOOs and MUSHes is going to do little to encapsulate broad industry learnings.

#3. I didn't imply that, but the original poster, Amberyl, did. I agree with you that I would be surprised if LL hadn't considered abuses of their scripting language.

55.

Peter Edelmann>One could, of course, envision a VW where crashing the server was considered an acceptable tactic (can't imagine why - but hey, some people juggle geese).

MUD1 had a command available to the wizzes (admin-level players), CRASH. The thing was, wizzes could do so many things that would cause the virtual world to crash that I pre-empted their experimentation by providing a command that would crash it anyway. Thus, when someone told me that if they picked up the rain and dropped it in a room that already contained it they could cause a crash, the answer was: big deal, you can cause a crash anyway with the CRASH command. People did occasionally use the command, too, which was a nice incentive to mortals ("Blimey, wizzes have powers to crash the game! Gimme!")

If mortal (ie. non-admin) players could cause a crash, that was a different matter. Mortal-initiated crashes were fixed as soon as possible.

In SL, causing the world to crash is almost certainly not a legitimate action. If it were, then LL would have provided a CRASH command, which they haven't. If the player says "well the software let me do it", then LL can reply "well the software lets us bill your credit card for the entire contents of your bank account". This is the standard response to players who feel that it's legitimate for them to do anything that the software allows (usually on the grounds that if it weren't allowed then the developers should have banned it - a dubious position which can lead to the ruin of a game, eg. trying to ban profanity).

Crashing SL was not a SL action, it was a RL action. Taking a RL response is appropriate.

Richard

56.

I think you bring up an interesting point that I was trying to get to earlier, Richard:

...This is the standard response to players who feel that it's legitimate for them to do anything that the software allows (usually on the grounds that if it weren't allowed then the developers should have banned it - a dubious position which can lead to the ruin of a game, eg. trying to ban profanity).

There is a common feeling amongst many players that the developers, being the ones who created the world's physics, economics, civics, etc., literally ex nihilo, have thus purposefully defined the navigable action-space of the game. It sets the stage for an ethos of "everything not fobidden is compulsory" -- everything that can be done may (perhaps must) be done. Otherwise, why would the devs, as Creators, make it possible to do?

I know this view is flawed: it leaves out the reality of unintended consequences and the emergent complexities of complex rule-spaces (to say nothing of the murky area of tacit social contracts). But, from many players' POV, the social contract with the devs does not include "playing nice" or doing what the devs say -- after all, the players are told time and again that this is their world to do with as they please.

Moreover, some players (and this is often, IMO, the heart of grief-play) change the game from playing against other players or against the world to playing against the developers. There's a sort of alpha-male thing going on in many cases: the thinking may go "if I can 'beat' the devs then I must be smarter/better/more worthy of adulation than they are." It's a poor way to build one's self-esteem, but for many players (especially young males who don't have a lot of opportunities in their physical-world lives) this may be seen as a viable path.

So to me the situation remains: given any ability to participate in the creation of the world, some people are going to ruin it for others, even if it means ruining it for themselves (in that case, their personal 'loss' is miniscule against the 'win' of having beaten all the devs and all the other players by forcing their will on everyone else). I don't believe there's any technical way out of this, nor any psycho-social way to condition against it, in or out of game -- the threat of the FBI in some ways merely raises the stakes. Given this, will the bastards always win? Is it possible to have a sustainable, scalable virtual world where non-griefing people want to come if it's always at risk of being nuked one way or another by griefers?

SL's answer is clearly 'yes.' I hope they're right, but I have my doubts as their population continues to scale up. Finding and surfing the 'edge of chaos' between stultifying virtual world order and malicious virtual world chaos is going to be an important ongoing area of virtual world research.

57.

1) Code isn't law, it's just code.

2) The point about the FBI is that it doesn't make a lot of sense to have a (law-related) discussion about this without understanding specifically what behavior is being complained about.

3) Re the future consequences of all this--SL's scripting tools and lack of a ludic structure invites these kinds of social conflicts. But some people like that kind of environment. SL seems to be doing fine at the moment.

The trick would be to open up VWs in ways that give users greater creative freedom (a la SL) but still maintain some of the structure that makes MMORPGs involving. In a way, WoW doesn't seem encouraging in that regard. It doesn't offer players much permanent agency over the environment--but it's more popular than SL.

58.

Greg, the design of the internet "invites" DDoS attacks but most of us like it as an environment. This certainly doesn't mean that law enforcement shouldn't be involved in DDoS attacks.

59.

Cory --

I agree -- I actually emphatically agree. That was my point in saying "code isn't law". Code is a technology, like a brick or a bat. You can do a lot of things with bricks and bats -- you can, e.g., hit people on the head with them. That's generally against the law, even though clearly within the power of the technology.

When I said SL invites these problems, I just meant that, in handing out scripting powers to users, you're handing out more practical power to the users than they have in mainstream VWs (MMORPGs). Also, because SL is non-ludic, it is less clear what constitues "fair play" and what is "cheating" in terms of things you can do within the environment -- again, this makes just a little harder, I think, to establish lines about what is permissible behavior. So that's what I meant (user power + no game rules) when I said SL "invites" this stuff -- I just meant significant social conflict seems more likely in SL given your architecture.

Certainly didn't mean that you deserve these problems or that you shouldn't do whatever you want to do to deal with them! :-)

60.

Greg >without understanding specifically what behavior is being complained about

I agree that there are some details we don't have - and there haven't been charges laid to anyone's knowledge. However, the behaviour being complained of seems pretty clear from the materials linked in the OP - even if the intent of the perpetrator is (perhaps) debatable. The basic point is that in-world tools were used in an (at least) semi-deliberate fashion to crash (parts of) the SL grid. I think we can usefully discuss the legal ramifications of such a scenario in theory - not like we have to give anyone legal advice here, after all ;-)

So should the law get involved? I think our analysis has to take place in two (and 1/2) stages: (1) was this against the rules in SL? (2) is it far enough outside the norms of SL for the law to get involved? (2.5) the criminal law?

(1) Is using the master's tools to take down the master's house part of the game? Not according to the master of this particular house (Phillip/LL). A vocal contingent of SL residents agree with Linden Labs on this one (and among that vocal contingent are some who agree on little else, which would indicate this is pretty widely viewed as a breach of SL norms). I think even the W-hats recognize grid-crashing as deviant (it's what makes it fun). I think it is important to underline that, AFAIK, no one is saying the griefer accessed SL illicitly (eg. broke in, used a fraudulent credit card, etc.), and that the attack was carried out only using in-world tools legitimately available to any SL subscriber. This was a "normal" resident, using "normal" tools - not someone who hacked a wiz-bit or created an out-of-world botnet for a DDoS.

(2) Earlier, Greg said that it was "hard to see how this would not qualify as a legal wrong" and I would tend to agree - the question is what kind of legal wrong are we talking about? Such behaviour may well meet the standard for civil liability in torts and/or breach of contract - Linden Labs and other residents most likely suffered damages due to unreasonable behaviour. I'll leave that discussion for another time.

(2.5)The FBI, however, doesn't deal with "legal wrongs" but with criminal offences - which puts us in a different ballgame, so to speak. I think we can safely assume that there are criminal statutes which would apply to illegitimately crashing someone's server. Without getting into the details of the statutes - should criminal sanctions be applied to a case like this one? The fact that the behaviour was impermissible in Second Life is a necessary first step - had it been permissible, there is most likely no crime.
That being said, I think we need to distinguish impermissible from criminal. The criminal law will tend to focus on the accused and his/her reasonable understanding of the situation (to establish criminal intent). In liberal democracies, it is important that citizens be able to know with some degree of certainty when they are and are not subject to criminal sanctions. Even assuming a clear intent to crash the grid - did the W-hat griefer understand that such behaviour was so far outside SL norms to be criminal? Not necessarily. One of the arguments if this got to trial could well be that the griefer in question believed what s/he was doing was within the accepted limits of SL deviance - and that punishment should lie in SL, not in court. The SL EULA/TOS/ROC will not be particularly useful in this respect, even if a criminal court were willing to assume the accused was familiar with their contents (unlikely - hell, I don't even read most EULAs I click through). The SL EULA/TOS/ROC are broadly worded to try to cover any possible deviance in SL, including many things the W-hats [among others] have been doing with impunity for months (since SL was in beta, I'll bet), as well as a number of things that aren't even considered deviant among most residents. So where does a W-hat learn about community norms? Other W-hats, most likely. At that point, grid crashing may be part of the game (and there are plenty of W-hat forum postings saying Phillip overreacted by calling the FBI - posts using familiar "This is just a game" rhetoric). Linden Labs has established an environment with a certain level of private ordering. There is a scale of deviance which SL has in the past dealt with on its own - some of that deviance has come awful close to grid crashing. Linden Labs evidently feels this case has crossed the line into criminal law - but the context of what has been tolerated in the past may yet come to haunt a criminal prosecution.
Note that the escalating levels of violence in the NHL are precisely what made Bertuzzi's case a limit one for the criminal law. Nothing in the explicit rules of hockey made such behaviour even remotely acceptable, and if it hadn't happened on an NHL rink it would have been a no-brainer for prosecution. And yet there was a great deal of debate - the NHL did not push to have charges laid (and in fact tried to deal with it themselves). Was Bertuzzi breaking the explicit rules of hockey? Sure - and no one will argue otherwise. But was he committing a crime? That was less clear-cut and a lot of the debate had to do with the environment of what had become acceptable/tolerated (or at least reasonably foreseeable by participants) on professional hockey rinks at the time.
Thus, the actions LL are apparently taking in this case may be important to future cases even if this one never gets to trial - it helps establish some clear, unambiguous limits to the magic circle. And criminal prosecution is all about clear, unambiguous limits - because any ambiguity will tend to resolved in favour of the defense.

61.

Peter> And criminal prosecution is all about clear, unambiguous limits - because any ambiguity will tend to resolved in favour of the defense.

I was with you up until this point. Yes, I understand what you're saying doctrinally, but my reading of many hacking cases (recent CFAA cases in particular) seems to indicate that courts will find behaviors that I personally consider ambiguous (as a question of Internet norms) to be within the unambiguous scope of criminal statutes. Just a personal opinion, but I think stereotypes and rhetorics of "hackers" play a larger part in how judges decide these cases than they should.

Re Bertuzzi -- yes, that was/is an interesting political issue for the NHL, but my sense (at least under US law) was that the criminal issues in the hockey cases have been, as a doctrinal matter, pretty cut and dry. Prosecutors don't charge this stuff usually, but if they really decide they want to charge, I can't think of a criminal case making a carve out for "magic circle" of sports -- can you?

62.

Greg >courts will find behaviors that I personally consider ambiguous

Are you saying your courts get it wrong? Must be a problem with judges in the US ;-)

Greg >I can't think of a criminal case making a carve out for "magic circle" of sports -- can you?

Many of the hockey cases at least discuss the issue of the limits of acceptable deviance in a hockey game. The problem with the hockey cases, at least in Canada, is that they tend to deal with aggravated assault (often with a weapon - hitting/spearing with the stick). One key issue in assault is consent, and in Canada you can't consent to agg assault - particularly if there is risk of grievous injury or death. So the "magic circle" issue is somewhat moot when there was a demonstrated intent to cause bodily harm. This excerpt from the directions to a jury in a hockey violence case are pretty representative of the recognition of the "magic circle" I'm talking about:

Hockey is a fast, vigorous, competitive game involving much body contact. Were the kind of body contact that routinely occurs in a hockey game to occur outside the playing area or on the street, it would, in most cases, constitute an assault which the sanctions of the criminal law would apply. Patently, when one engages in a hockey game one expects that some assaults which would otherwise be criminal will occur and consents to such assaults. It is equally patent, however, that to engage in a game of hockey is not to enter a forum to which the criminal law does not extend. To hold otherwise would be to create the hockey arena a sanctuary for unbridled violence to which the law of Parliament and the Queen's justice could not apply. Bear in mind, and this is most important, that regardless of implied or expressed consent, there are legal limitations to the consent that a person can give.[R. v. Maloney [1976] 28 C.C.C.(2d) 323 (Ont. Co.Ct.).]

The court then goes on to cite Agar v. Canning:
[...] injuries inflicted in circumstances which show a definite resolve to cause serious injury to another, even when there is provocation and in the heat of the game, should not fall within the scope of the implied consent. [Agar v. Canning (1965), 54 W.W.R. 302 at p. 304; affirmed 55 W.W.R. 384]

In one of the few simple assault cases, the Court finds the accused guilty mainly because he attacked another player after play had stopped, and was therefore no longer in the game:
There may be circumstances in which, while playing hockey matters become heated and fighting erupts and during the course of a fight, one participant delivers a blow to the head of another, even if the blow was not seen beforehand by the recipient and such a blow may be said to have had prior implied consent. Therefore, in determining implied consent, it is not enough merely to look to the nature of the act itself, but it is particularly important to look to the circumstances under which the act was committed. [...] In this case, Mayer attacked Papanicus after all the play had stopped and some time had passed. It was not a situation where the unforeseen blow to the face immediately followed and escalation of violence and emotion. [R. v. Mayer [1985] M.J. No. 503, 41 Man.R.(2d) 73 (Man. Prov. Ct.)]

The fact that the decided cases don't contain simple assaults during the game considering the amount of fighting in hockey is telling. Investigators and prosecutors are presumably using some kind of "magic circle" analysis in deciding not to pursue charges in such cases, undoubtedly because there is implicit consent. There is at least one civil case applying such an analysis - Roy v. Canadian Oldtimers' Hockey Assn.[1997] B.C.J. No. 262 (B.C.C.A.). refuses a claim from an injured hockey player. The check that dislocated the plaintiff's shoulder was against the rules, and merited a major penalty (game misconduct) - but the trial court (and court of appeal) found that it was within the limits of what the plaintiff could reasonably expect on a hockey rink. The act was thus a breach of the rules of hockey and meriting a penalty, but inside the "magic circle" within which the behaviour ought only be punished within the game. This is a legal recognition of the "accepted limits of deviance" in the game.

In the SL/W-hat case, I don't think we have the same problem with limits of consent. You can clearly consent to crashing your server if you like - and Richard would probably have had little recourse in the Criminal law against his wizzes when they used the CRASH command because of that implied consent. Was there implied consent to grid crashing by integrating the tools to make it possible and making them accessible to all SL residents? Therein lies some ambiguity - but unlike with agg assault, the law at least recognizes the possibility.

PS - For those who are interested in hockey cases, I have a couple dozen citations I won't bother posting here (one day, I'll get around to putting a site up again...). I'm happy to pass them along, though.

63.

Peter --

You and your Canadian law!

But yes, it looks like there are several implied consent cases in U.S. hockey too. See Charles Harary, Aggressive Play or Criminal Assault? An In Depth Look at Sports Violence and Criminal Liability, 25 Colum. J.L. & Arts 197 (2002). And implied consent is in the Model Penal Code at 2.11.

Still, my sense (in the US) is that the prosecutorial discretion you see in the majority of these cases isn't due to a real concern that the charges would not stick, but due to the belief that the prosecutions wouldn't be politically popular.

64.

I used to regularly report users to their ISPs if they continued to try to enter our games (illegal intrusion) after their privileges to use our systems had been revoked, but I gave up. Most of them (and I'm looking at you AOL!) don't do a darn thing to enforce those policies in any consistent way.

I'll grant you the AOL exception...which is why a lot of places (including us) banned guests with AOL IP addresses (serious wannabe players had to email an admin with their character info).

65.

Mike Sellers>Otherwise, why would the devs, as Creators, make it possible to do?

Yes, you're right, this is something that many of the most griefful players do believe, or at least use a excuse to defend their actions. They did this early on in MUD1, and that's where we developed the "hoist by their own petard" defence: "yes, the game does let you do this, but it also lets ME do THIS!". If the player believes that everything in code is ipso facto allowed, then the player must also concede that anything done to them by the code is also allowed. The player must then incorporate the developer's rules (or, conceivably, whims) into their decision on whether or not to do anything dubious, because that's what will decide whether their character/account survives or not, not what the code allows.

>Is it possible to have a sustainable, scalable virtual world where non-griefing people want to come if it's always at risk of being nuked one way or another by griefers?

No, but the risk can be reduced significantly. I could create a device for putting my own TV programmes on air in place of the BBC's, but I won't because I'll go to jail if I do. That doesn't mean some nutcase won't do it, so there is a risk, but it's a small one. If people could be fined/charged serious money for crashing a virtual world, they wouldn't do it either.

Richard

66.

This, combined with the moral discussion over choosing an avatar's actions, has really smacked a couple of the main ethical/legal issues of MMORPGs right in the puss. Nice food for thought.

It is great that LL has granted users some limited intellectual property rights over their creations in SL... but if SL goes dark, those rights amount to less than beans. You might end up with some nice .TGA files or a few Poser animation scripts, but... unless you're the guy that invented Tringo, all the rest of your efforts go up in a puff of pixels. The value is wholly in the sum of the parts. Anshe Chung, the virtual real estate magnate of SL, is well and truly hosed (as far as future revenue is concerned) if all her land falls off the edge of the server.

Why do I bring this up? Because the "reality" of an acknowledged exchange rate between SL and RL is about the only legal leg LL would have to stand on if they took an in-game griefing event to court, outside, as it's been called "the magic circle." They have the right to punish you in-game for whatever reason they want; the TOS specifies that they can kick you off for any number of very fuzzy reasons that wouldn't hold up in a court of law if you were trying to evict a real-life tennant from a real-life apartment; "vulgar, obscene, libelous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable..." I really like that "otherwise objectionable" pharse. That's about as open-ended as it gets. If they don't like my avatar's virtual stink, they can let me go.

Why? They own the joint. Private club; please step outside, sir. Please step outside NOW sir.

After all the talk about sandboxes and china shops, I think that the best analogy we have for SL at this point is, in fact, a private club that charges for membership. There are rules that are particular to the club, and that can get you kicked out, regardless of whether or not you are breaking a law "outside the magic circle." There is behavior that, even if it's within the rules, will get you shunned by other club members. And there are behaviors that are not only against the rules, but are also illegal.

In a club, there are three levels of ways to mitigate unwanted behavior.

1. Dick-heads who are simply badly behaved, but who don't break club rules, are ignored, shunned, made fun of, not danced with, have drinks dumped on them, etc. Eventually, they go to other clubs. This happens in all MMORPGs to "bad" players all the time, at all levels.

2. Obnoxious drunks (and the like) who break club rules (grope the help, swipe drinks, try to tilt the pinball machines, gamble in back, whatever) are bounced. These folks get "bounced." Now, a weak, stupid drunk can get bounced pretty easy. Where you have a problem, is a 220 lb., totally ripped, 6-foot tall, charming, famous quarterback drunk with an IQ of 130. That's a hard drunk to toss, especially if half the club really, really likes to party with him up to the point where he starts getting nasty.

3. Crooks. Somebody pulls a piece, you call the cops. Somebody sells crack in the john, you call the cops. Somebody threatens your bartender because she wont' come home with him, you call the cops.

It's often up to the patrons to determine the line between #1 and #2, because you usually have to complain to the management about somebody to get somebody else bounced. It is entirely the management's job to determine the line between #2 and #3, and I don't think LL has done a good job of describing what is "bounceable" behavior in SL and what is "illegal."

It is a hard row to hoe; I don't envy LL. They are pushing the envelope of this stuff, and I deeply appreciate what they're doing and applaud the efforts. World building is not easy.

But, if I may -- I'd like to offer one piece of advice from within the club analogy drawn up thusfar. In the college town surrounding the university I attended, the bars and clubs kept a black list. If you screwed up too badly, too often, you would find yourself without a place to party, at least in public. If you screwed up even worse than that -- let's say, got tapped for drunk driving or date rape -- even the liquor stores would black-list you. Yes, you could probably still find some place a few towns over to get trashed... but it was a lot harder.

If somebody makes an innocent mistake and creates an object that does harm, and goes to LL and says, "Hey! Help me out! I did a bad thing and need to un-make it!" That's one thing. If somebody shows, through repeated behavior, that their interest in "creativity" is "creative destruction," I think that other providers of creative spaces might like to be made aware of that. Perhaps a universal "griefers' registry" of some sort might help provide a non-governmental, yet scary enough prohibitive force to help... prevent "bad behvaior" before it becomes actionable in court.

67.

Andy Havens>Perhaps a universal "griefers' registry" of some sort might help provide a non-governmental, yet scary enough prohibitive force to help... prevent "bad behvaior" before it becomes actionable in court.

We discussed this a little in a thread in November (
http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2005/11/industry_bodies.html) but it didn't find much favour.

Its time will come eventually...

Richard

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