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Jan 12, 2005



[stewie voice]Yes! Victory is mine![/stewie voice]

Oh, wait a minute, the other half of that prediction was that once TV figured this out, they would come after us with both barrels.... Err, umm, move along, nothing to see here.



I think it is a mistake to try to say anything about what "griefers" are doing and why based on what "victims" feel.

It is of course interesting to see what "victims" claim as "grief", but warning alert: some people consider themselves to be victims by default, no matter what the circumstances are. To get to the bottom of how "victims" deal with the online world you have to get into their physical world/social world situation... Not easy.


I am unconvinced that choosing to spend free time in a perfect police state sends any sort of message at all.

I guess I'm just not a fan of slippery slope arguments and I find this one particular untenable.

Yes, we live in a democracy, but that has never meant absolute freedom. Freedom of speech is a right that people very often misunderstand. This is a particularly poignant point while discussing MMO's run by private businesses.

To me, the choice to support and play within a perfect police state is a calculated choice. It also has limits. The recent attempt by NCI to introduce nProtect Gameguard to NA Lineage II met with immense protest and distaste.

Nor are players of MMO's somehow trapped from discussing private things privately. In this day and age where every MMO client has a windowed mode or where clans are moving more and more toward voice chat, it's just not hard to have a private conversation outside of big brothers game.

So long as the mindset exists that games are supposed to be fair (and really, I don't see that view going any where) your playerbase will be willing to make some sacrifices to give you the tools to protect them and their investment in your game.

And you'd be wise not to take that for granted. Exploit early, exploit often is not a tag line you want your game to earn. I feel comfortable in saying it will impact your bottom line long term.


"As more of our work and personal lives become embedded into virtual worlds, perhaps the central question becomes - what does it mean when police states become seductive and fun? What does it mean when police states are chosen as places to escape to?"

Police states don't "become" seductive and fun. I don't see an option on this menu where I can choose between a VW with a police state and one without. We don't choose police states. We choose the only VW escapisms we have.

Sadly, though, save for the changing your physical appearances, the "police state" you describe will be here within 5-10 years - And here is my prediction for 2010: It won't the governement that will have your every conversation stored and every location you visited recorded, and every word you utter subject to on-the-fly translation or reinterpretation or even accent correction, etc. It will be your cell phone carrier... Perhaps mandated by a yet-to-be-cutely-named piece of misdirected legislation, perhaps part of the need to sell premium services beyond connectivity, perhaps the need to do *something* with all that spare CPU/storage on future phones, but more than likely a reality given a combination of these three drivers.


Sean - I totally agree with the slippery slope critique. While the analogy to a real police state is weak, the idea that fascinates me (as Andres points out) is the total control (especially over communication channels) that online environments have. And granted we can currently leave the medium altogether, but how soon is it until everything we do is digitally mediated?

And will those systems always remain separate or are they more likely to merge? And if only a few corporations control most of our communication channels, do we really trust them to be benevolent and working towards the greater good?

Are MMORPGs a glimpse of how work and social life will become in 5-10 years? And if so, how comfortable should we be with the idea of such perfect control of communication and existence?


...but how soon is it until everything we do is digitally mediated?
And will those systems always remain separate or are they more likely to merge? And if only a few corporations control most of our communication channels, do we really trust them to be benevolent and working towards the greater good?

How long until we find the 'police state' escaped from VWs and into reality? Reminds me of Holodecks running amok.

It only takes technology coupled with bad legislation. I can't predict whether the seemingly 'police state' you talk about will be rejected and revolted against, culturally acceptable in the future, or a mixture - which seems the likely scenario: Unacceptable when viewed from today's vantage point, 'fact of life' when immersed in it, and anarchy when viewed from the future. It does seem this is the tendency.

All those systems *will* merge, and not because some dark power dictates it, but because of the increase in efficiency and effectiveness integration delivers. Your cell phone will not go off anymore during a movie, because it knows exactly where you are; however the smart agent you hired from 'Insert name here corp.' will send you a vibrating page if your boss is trying to reach you. You'll answer the door to the groceries delivery, whom you never called, but the fridge notices the expiration date on your milk is past, and your agent watched you eat milk cereal every morning, or realized you were consuming them at the same time from the fridge and pantry. Your bathroom counter will warn you before you gulp down that over-the-counter mood enhancer that has interactions with your antibiotic; and you'll get a sample of Mylanta antacids since you keep ignoring the agent's verbal warning, combining those two drugs, and the antacid lab is running a promotion. We can go on down this path *very* far. Every step we take we trade something for that convenience; how far we'll go is anybody's guess.


Andres Ferraro>How long until we find the 'police state' escaped from VWs and into reality? Reminds me of Holodecks running amok.

It already has. If Nick had ended his article with a reference to religion (rather than virtual worlds), it would have worked just as well. There's this all-seeing, all-knowing eye who will punish you if you step out of line and who controls your every waking moment, can change the world on a whim, can change you on a whim etc.. People have believed they lived in such a world for thousands of years, and most of the population still does believe it in one for or another.

Plenty of people seem happy - even comfortable - to live in a universe controlled by an unresponsive dictator. Why shouldn't that extent to virtual worlds? And if virtual worlds are a slippery slope to getting people to accept tyranny, then why aren't religions?



One of the trends I've been watching for some years now is the virtualization of reality -- the conversion of real-world objects into ones and zeros.

The closer a thing is to being pure data or information, the more rapid the virtualization, but it's already possible to see the large-scale trend clearly. Text and numeric data are easy to virutalize; audio is also fairly easy (which is why audio CDs were available not long after the personal computer); still images are also easy (digital cameras); and video is only slightly less easy (laserdisks, DVDs). And sure enough, all these forms of information are becoming thought of as "normally" in ones-and-zeros form... and have you noticed the number of lawsuits related to who controls this information once it's in a ones-and-zeros form?

Next on the list will be things whose value resides in what they mean. You won't be able to get the thing itself as ones and zeros, but where you can create a highly accurate representation of the real thing, its meaning will be carried into that representation. Over time, we will become accustomed to "as-good-as" thinking. Owning an original thing (such as fine artwork) will still be desirable, but considering an ultrahigh-fidelity copy to be "as good as" the original will become more acceptable. Ever-increasing storage sizes and options will support this process.

Today (2005/01/13) I'm using an inexpensive 5GB USB flash memory device that fits in my pocket, listening to an MP3, and writing some text that will soon be placed on a server where anyone from anywhere on the planet can read it. A year from now that statement will seem hilariously outdated. The virtualization of what until recently could only be physical is already pervasive... and we're just starting down this road.

The thing about this journey that requires our attention is that virtualized things are at the same time both harder and easier to control than "real" things. They're harder to control in that once a thing is just ones and zeros, it's easy to make a perfect copy of that thing -- it's just data. But virtual things are also easier to control than real things because ones and zeros by themselves don't mean anything -- they have to be converted using some mediation process/device into a form we're capable of perceiving and understanding. Because those tools are hard to create, someone other than the user owns those tools... and it's that non-user ownership of the means of access that leads to the question of "who controls it?". The ownership of these mediation tools and devices and processes and standards will be the technical and legal battleground of this century.

The "browser wars" and the related lawsuits over operating system monopolization were just the first salvos in this struggle. Control over mediation between user and data is going to get a lot messier before it gets rationalized. Think of it as virtualized trench warfare....

This is all stuff that others have no doubt written perfectly good books about. It's just worth mentioning here that the issue of control over access to virtualized things is real. Addressing this question of control in a way that's fair to information owners while respecting the rights of information consumers is only going to become more urgent.




"And if virtual worlds are a slippery slope to getting people to accept tyranny, then why aren't religions?"

Religions *are* a great way to do mind control and pretty much do whatever you fancy.

However, VWs bear little resemblance to religions. VWs thrive on the difference from the reality they portray or allow you to participate in. Religions, on the other hand, thrive on ignorance of alternate realities.

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