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Sep 24, 2003



Sims Online also seemed to be a haven for the, ah, shall we say, 'hormonally uncentered.' But in fantasy games I have heard of an unnerving practice: hungry adolescent males front female on the false presumption that a) everyone else in the world fronts their own sex, and b) fronting female is more likely to open the hearts of RL females.

The ugly events that this kind of behavior could produce make me think that companies will eventually have to work hard at establishing the true identities of the users and then enforce some kind of sorting by age groups. I would be in favor of that just because it would improve my gameplay (I went through junior high school once already, and it was enough for a lifetime). I also think it's mandated by common law notions of space restrictions being based on the maturity of the user - no kids in bars, no grown-ups in the sandbox.



I've never heard of any pedophilic approaches on the current mainstream MMORPGs. I really don't think the medium is an impediment here, actually it may be quite the opposite since the structure of MMORPGs forces you rely and trust other people. Trust is gained in MMORPGs by course of actions (not just words) so there are more vectors for predators to gain the trust of their victims for later exploitation.

I really don't think There or 2ndLife are going to pioneer the 'social' aspect of games. The true pioneer here, with a substantial user base, is The Sims Online. That was one game I swore I would never let a minor play - what I saw was a pixellated dating service with a game-like coating. I did see all sorts of 'sexual preferences' expressed verbally and visually. It seemed to me that was a core axis of the game and a clear reason people were there.

There certainly has many aspects in common with TSO, and I uspect people's motivation for playing There are similar to TSO's. 2ndLife, on the other hand, has a very-very clear "content creator" slant, and much less immediate and onsite inter-dependence among players.

If TSO isn't being slammed with such publicity and lawsuits, then either they must be doing something well that has to be replicated in order for other 'social'-only games to succeed, or predators haven't taken notice, or the problem really isn't there.

I also agree with Edward here, that an "age filter" tied to a person's real and verified age is a desirable feature. I must be getting old and tired of playing in the sandbox.

I do find it a little disturbing that people play opposite-sex avatars. I actually quizzed quite a few fellow players I know in real life and my narrow mind has a hard time getting 'it'. Somehow I only play avatars that have my own sex. Whereas most people don't seem to have any particular inclination. It leads me to wondering if I'm a sexual deviant of some sort since I certainly seem to be in the minority group.


Interesting. I dropped out of TSO after the beta since I thought it was lame. Fascinating to see that it's found its niche as an online dating service (with wish fulfilment, of course).

I'm confident that Ted's thought about segregation (on age, or other aspects) is likely to occur. In part this will probably be commmunity-created and in part may arise from the developers. We already have it in the PvP shards on gaming systems. I noticed (though haven't yet signed up) that Second Life has a space where you can die.

I was chatting a while back with one of the people at There and they are, obviously, aware of the possibilities of an adult-themed space within their world (but obviously want to keep it G/PG-rated for the moment, to attract the widest user base and not scare off the VC or attract fire from the net-is-a-cesspool columnists). It's probably inevitable that these worlds will become zoned in various ways--"adults only here", "PvP here", "junior high kids here"--and possibly patrolled as a consequence. Just like IRL.


I guess it all depends on where you do the segregation. You can do it via the graphics and the marketing like the Disney offering. You can do it with the theme (like Endless Ages). You can do it with the macro-level ingame mechanics (example: separate servers). You can do it with the ingame micro-mechanics (zoning or certain tasks). Or you can do it by economy (expensive games). I'm sure there are more ways. All the approaches have advantages and disadvantages. It boils down to how broad you want your audience to be, how much of a continuum you want in your different audiences, and how stringent you want to become with rouge elements.


Update about the Microsoft decision, pulled from C|net's news.com:

" Alex Kovach, managing director of Lycos U.K., which runs a fully moderated chat room for around 100,000 users, said on Wednesday that chat is here to stay and it's not going to go away just because Microsoft has decided to shut down its chat services.

"By switching them off, Microsoft looks like it is taking the moral high ground, but in reality this is irresponsible," Kovach said. "Now it's more important that people provide responsible chat. Otherwise it will get driven underground, and the risks will increase." He said Lycos, part of Spanish Internet conglomerate Terra Lycos, employs around 100 chat moderators across the United Kingdom and uses a combination of human intervention and software to create "a safer environment". "


Per Dan's remark about zoning, Second Life (which has been out of beta for a while now) is zoned in a couple of different ways. The world is split into "simulators" or "sims" for short which are basically zones (and also denote servers). Each zone is rated PG or Mature. Here's a quote from the Second Life community standards doc:

 PG – A “PG” next to the region name in the lower right hand corner of your screen indicates that you are in a PG region. No use of intense strong language or expletives in chat/IM. No nudity/sexual content in textures or sounds. No content depicting sex, strong violence, or anything else broadly offensive. No open soliciting of chat sex or avatar nudity.

 M – An “M” next to the region name in the lower right hand corner of the screen indicates that you are in a Mature region. Sex chat, nudity/sexual content in behaviors, textures or sounds OK except if illegal in the real world. Profanity OK except for hate speech or hate activity depicted in objects, textures or sounds.

 Unsafe – The health meter that appears in the lower left hand corner of the screen indicates that you are in an “unsafe” area, i.e. an area where violence or aggressive physical interaction between residents is allowed. Some regions are entirely unsafe, such as the Outlands, while in others it can be set by land owners. The default setting is “safe”. When the health meter is turned on residents should beware – this means they can be impeded, imprisoned, hurt, and even die. Death isn’t painful, but could be very inconvenient, because it means being immediately returned to their home location. Escape from an unsafe area is always possible via the “Teleport Home” option.

Conduct is policed by the Lindens (the Linden Lab folks as they are called in-world), but I don't believe it's active policing -- more responding to complaints from users and investigating. Each week they post a "Police Blotter" in the forums summarizing the compaints and what action was taken (account suspension or warnings given).

Something else interesting to note -- currently to get the free trial account to Second Life you must enter a valid credit card number. Linden Labs has been tinkering with the Trial Account for a while now: alternately allowing/dis-allowing trial members the ability to move about the entire world and alternately requiring/not requiring a credit card. As I recall the response from the more "mature" members of the SL community were not happy during the period when trials didn't require a CC and trial members could roam the world at will b/c you quite a few more griefers showing up.

I've been looking forward to the day when MMO servers are segregated by age, but now I wonder if segregation would actually assist predators?


"I've been looking forward to the day when MMO servers are segregated by age, but now I wonder if segregation would actually assist predators?"

It would assit them as far as presenting a clearer target. But you shouldn't ruin something good because of a few spoil-sports. I would say go for designing with the majority in mind and deal with the spoil-sports on a case-by-case basis.

And while clear-cut segregation presents a better-identified target, it also makes it easier to spot the bad apples and provides justification for disciplinary actions.


Thanks to Scott M for clearing up a lot of my misconceptions (been meaning to get into Second Life all week, but my first life kept getting in the way of my attempts).

The differing mechanisms of zoning in 2L are very interesting. Of course there are zoning features in other worlds, as DivineS points out. Other examples include levels, expansion packs, maybe even guilds...

...hang on, kids want to get out of the bath. More in a tick...


Ok, that's gotta be the l4m3st excuse for going AFK...

What I was trying to say was that I think that zoning is going to be a fascinating topic to watch. There are lots of modes of VW zoning, and lots of reasons for engaging in it.

The really nifty thing is that the early cyberlaw works talked about how zoning was being translated from the physical world into the online. But the zoning they were talking about (see e.g. O'Connor J in ACLU v Reno) was primarily metaphorical. But now we can actually *see* the zoning occuring in the world, so the metaphor becomes visible.

Not sure what to make of this yet.

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