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Sep 12, 2003



This is not a new story. As Jessica Mulligan has maintained for years, once you release a game (or in this case, a social application), you don't "own" it any more; the users own it. And if you're smart, you'll let them take control and serve their needs rather than desperately trying to re-impose your own original vision. That's especially true if you're in a fee-making business, because serving customers is always a better approach than pissing them off.

I don't see that "fakesters" ever impinged in a negative way on "friendsters," that is, people who wanted to use the application for its original, intended purpose. Instead, they were a bunch of goofs off in their own corner, having a good time. Shame on whatsisname for getting his knickers in a twist.


I'd say that MMOG designers have learned that fakesters aren't that desirable. The term we use is pseudonymity. Fake identities aren't cool, but masks that are well-established and develop their own accretion of history are fine.

This maps fairly well to the sort of thing the Friendsters/Fakesters were doing. Obviously disposable identities aren't welcome (UO being the exception that still hangs on--boy, do I wish we'd had unique names), but pseudonyms are welcome, and for that matter, any manner of falsity is welcome, as long as there's a consistent name it can be attached to.

I'm sure, after all, that many of the Friendster profiles are a bit, ah, shall we say, untrue.


To paraphrase Wayne and Garth here: I am not worthy to have comments from you two.

That out of the way -- I think you're both right. Greg is right that JM is right that it doesn't make business sense to throw away a working community that wants to do X, just because you had a vision of Y. MUDs and MMORPG's aren't like films or plays, they're like improv, or -- more accurately -- communities.

But Raph is right that anonymity and disposability often make for bad business because they create a kind of tragedy of the identity commons -- people will grief & gank because they're not accountable, even to the virtual community. (I think this is probably expressed somewhere in one of Raph's laws, and was certainly discussed at length on MUD-Dev a while back). Certainly it is a balancing question that MMORPG makers have an incentive to get right -- so I guess we can trust the markets to provide a solution for this.

But one thing that is interesting for me is exactly what it means to have investments in "established masks" as Raph calls them and how that might tell us something about our policies of investments and identity IRL. For instance, the First Amendment, historically, has protected rights to anonymous speech -- that seems a nod to a societal interest in some degree of fakesterism. Yet the law generally treats identity as singular, not plural, and doesn't provide much protection for invented personae. E.g., an invented persona can probably be defamed without any type of liability. This takes us back to Julian's Rape in Cyberspace, in a way -- harm to establish masks is not generally recognized as harm, because it was a harm to a fiction, not a person. Is that the right result?


"This takes us back to Julian's Rape in Cyberspace, in a way -- harm to establish masks is not generally recognized as harm, because it was a harm to a fiction, not a person. Is that the right result?"

I tried playing evil characters. It's exhausting. This suggests "being evil" even as a role in a game has some effect on me that "being normal" does not. Likewise, I feel good when I do good deeds to "others," though the others are apparently virtual identities.

I am sure this is all partly because in a virtual, but interactive, environment we remain constantly aware there is a real person there. This is unlike movies or books, which are detached from thier authors and actors by distance and times (even if those may have an emotional investment).

In other words, I don't think this is a simple issue. In some communities real role-play can happen without the players being overly affected. In others, the players are deeply affected. Any deed I do that affects someone else, when I intend that effect (even if it's directed at a virtual mask), I must consider as improper.

I don't roleplay evil online anymore. I can't know my "audience."


Harm to some sorts of established masks is very much accepted as a norm in law. Defaming a company, for example, or a trademarked symbol--or even someone's pseudonym. There's definitely analogues. I would bet that it's not quite kosher to defame Rodney Dangerfield's public persona, or Pee Wee Herman's (if we hadn't done it to himself)... it's a form of attacking their livelihood.

The protections against anonymous speech have always existed to permit someone to speak out against forms of authority and government more than anything else (that's the commonest justification given for them--the ability to speak freely without fear for one's livelihood or life).


Well, right you are about Pee Wee, Rodney, and Coca-Cola (Inc. and the product), but defamation of avatars is probably *not* the kind of thing you'd get a court to recognize -- unless you could establish that the avatar was known to be linked to a RL identity. See this by Mark Lemley, uber-IP scholar, para 49 particularly:


(Especially fun, because he's using Ender's Game as an example.) The problem is that you can't defame a fiction, and to the extent the established mask is completely a fiction (not a trademark or a person who has been transformed by celebrity) one can defame "it" freely.

As to the First Amendment right to speak anonymously -- the Supreme Court has given several justifications for it, I believe, but I'm not sure there's a coherent theory except in the minds of people wanting to find one. It seems to me that Justice Stevens, in the most recent decision on the topic, suggested that who you are is something that you say, and like all other things that you say (or don't say), it should fall within the ambit of the First Amendment. Interesting idea.

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