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Jul 03, 2006



As long as we remember that hubris still exists, that not all results are generalisable without fully understanding the factors and that griefing and identity fraud have existed in many variations before TSO :)

Taking yourself too seriously isn't something you can escape by being right.



These places are models for the kind of society
we _are_ already living in. Is that so hard to grasp, dammit?!



The argument is not that we take ourselves too seriously. The argument is that we take events within gamespaces too seriously. Our counter-argument is that they *should* be taken seriously, because they point to other trends in online life, and that online and offline life are rapidly converging. We've never made the argument that fraud and identity theft originated with TSO and that the world was a pristine place before its launch.


Virtual worlds, and events therein, should be taken as seriously as they are, which like many other things, is sometimes serious, and sometimes not. You can lose perspective and inflate the significance of events beyond their real import just as easily as you can fail to appreciate their significance. You can generalise where it's not sound, and you can miss the underlying patterns completely.

My argument is just about retaining perspective.


I bet the same people that say game worlds are taken too seriously would have a different perspective about professional sports. If a bookie pays a boxer to take a dive, are we being too serious if we want them prosecuted? Is the sheer number of penalty cards issued at World Cup this year not worth a serious discussion?


oh man, the cards have been awful!


But, as we’ve maintained all along, it is not in fact only a game. These places are models for the kind of society we’ll live in, in the not-too-distant future. They’re worth paying attention to — close attention, since much of what happens in them has a direct bearing on the way we will live... [T]he societies that are developing in these places point the way toward the societies of the future, whether online or off. To a great extent, if you want to know how we will live tomorrow, look at the way we live now in a place like Second Life.

It's this kind of Wired-style, pay-attention-to-us-or-you-lose grandstand preaching that turns many people off and generates the kind of criticism of virtual worlders bemoaned around here.

I apologize if it seems harsh, and I really respect Mark's work, but I see this reaction all the time IRL and its not simply a reaction of ignorance.


The problem with perspective is that sometimes... you only have a split second when you hold up the "Perspectiscope" to figure out if you're looking at something very far away magnified, or very nearby made to look smaller.

"It's only a game." Yep. If you put together a gang of buddies to play some backlot softball, and you screw around for 3 hours and then go back for beers... it is, truly, only a game. Who won? Who cares. Have a beer, my friend.

"It's only a game." Nope. Not if you put 900 hours into an online character and, as a "lark," a "friend" logs on as you and screws away much of your hard-earned loot, pisses off 75% of your guildmates and violates 28 instances of the EULA and gets you banned.

Out of context -- without perspective -- a game is no more or less important than any other activity. It is an undefined modifier. But we tend to balance these things in "twos" in our culture. Yin/yang and all that.

At the other end of the see-saw with "game" on one end is "real." We "play games" we "live life." We "cheat" at games, which isn't as bad as "breaking" laws. Games are for kids, jobs are for grown-ups. We generally like to have that kind of parity, because it helps us put things into, again, perspective.

Is this activity lots of fun? Is the joy is in the "doing" rather than the "product?" Are there rules that, while interesting and fun, are not hard-coded into the universe or law? If so... I may be tended to think of it as a "game" rather than a job, hobby, craft, chore, etc.

The "it's only a game" statement is similar in tone/effect to "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names may never hurt me." OK... literally true, but we still have laws against libel and slander. In certain zones -- when certain perspectives are applied -- the law recognizes that words certainly CAN often hurt you. Probably more than sticks and stones.

The problems come when we take aspects of one area of life and apply issues that seem to merrit comparison to other areas, when they do not. That's what has made digital copyright protection so difficult; we want to treat it like physical theft. Or like paper copyright. Or something else that we have references for. It's... problematic. We don't know which end of the Perspectiscope we're holding up.

Same for games/MMOs/VWs at this point. Yes, Mr./Ms. Anonymous... for many in RL, it *IS* so damn hard to grasp. And I will use your post as a reason:

Why on earth should we take an anonymous comment seriously? At all? There is absolutely no "real world" mojo to attach to it, as far as someone who doesn't regularly inhabit blogs, bbs, cyberspace is concerned. If you don't tag yourself, many "old school" folks will say, you deserve no cred. If your tag is essentially anonymous -- i.e., not associated with a verifiable real world person -- you get almost zero cred.

Why? Because you've got no skin in the game. And I mean that absolutely literally. You say this is the kind of "society" we are living in now. OK. What kind of society exists where a person can be created, make a statement, and uncreate themselves after that statement is made? Most papers will not print an editorial without a name and address attached. If you ask, they will sometimes withhold such... but you still have to give it. Why? Because without some kind of responsibility attached to your statements, there is no...

Perspective. No context.

And that is what the article linked to at the top of this post is all about. Somebody created a "dupe," a "clone," of a kid and posted it on MySpace. That's nasty. But it's as easy as pie, eh? Putting crap into the Wikipedia that's blatantly false about somebody is also easy. Creating a website with false medical information that could get people killed is easy. Spam is waaaaaay easier than junk mail, because of the low cost barrier to entry per piece; i.e., zero.

Web services makes all this stuff easier. My long-winded point is that this ain't about games. It's about "e." MySpace isn't a game. And griefing in a game isn't really about games. It's about grief.


I'm not sure you're responding to me, here, but if you are, I'm not really after 'cred'. I'm just pointing out that such enormous, portentous statements as in the conclusion to Wallace's piece, even when qualified by words like 'to a great extent', don't do much service for anyone—it's either preaching to the converted or grandstanding for the uninitiated.

I tend to agree with Wallace on many points. In fact, I use the anthropological saw, "show me the games of your children and I'll show you the next 100 years," in my own book. But in the actual piece under discussion, no context is offered as to exactly in what why and in what ways people should be taking VWs seriously. Without that, the uninitiated simply hears a lot of bold futurist claims that appear unsupported.


In other words, I'm making a point about the rhetoric, not the value or substance of much VW writing.


monkeysan > "no context is offered as to exactly in what why and in what ways people should be taking VWs seriously"

I'm not sure that that's true. In fact, I'm sure it's not true. The OP very concretely refers to behavior in TSO being predictive (though that may be too strong a word) of behavior in other online social contexts, and uses that as evidence that people who study behaviors in online games shouldn't be lightly dismissed. Other than that, it has about as much context as most blog posts. Or most posts to comments threads, for that matter.

Which is your book, btw? Sounds like it would be right up my street.


Monkeysan wrote Smartbomb, I believe.


hah! Well that one I already have. Nice work, btw.


Don't get me wrong, I like a lot of your work, and I think that virtual worlds are worthy of study (or I wouldn't be doing it myself).

I'm not really going with the hype on this one though, and I think "predictive" is indeed too strong a word.

Sure, TSO and mySpace probably share some properties that allow this sort of thing to happen in a similar(ish) way in both enviroments - all that's really required is the ability to mistake identity in such a way that persists effects on the original person.

Of course, in some ways, the two instances are very different - in TSO, the discussed example is about a mixup between avatars - both representations, original and impostor, exist in the same world. That's pertinent because you can look at, say, eBay, and see how their system allows users to track more than just names, but also rate people directly (but I can't, for example, rate someone in my family who doesn't exist in that system). Grief someone on eBay, and they'll give you a bad rating, and to a larger extent, it won't matter if you picked a name that's like someone with a good rating.

The mySpace incident is about the confusion of avatar / representation to a real person - it's much closer to being an issue with identity verification than something to do with TSO. In some ways, it shares properties with the problems of providing safe chat rooms for minors, away from exploitative sexual predators who thrive on the anonymity.

So I think that in my view, the particular example is somewhat weak, since I think it misses that the issues of avatar-avatar identity and avatar-person identity have different properties and need different solutions, especially when framed into a peice of text that makes me think of people running around going "We didn't listen!! [to TSO]" (yeah, that's a little melodramatic myself). Because of the way I see that, it just nags at me that this appears to be encouraging futher comparison of things with subtly different properties, that could lead to the wrong conclusions being formed.


Daniel expressed most of my concerns better than I did.

I guess I just worry that sometimes we end up putting the uninitiated off with overstrong rhetoric. I've done the same with my own stuff, and that may best explain why I was sensitive to it here.

And yes, for good or ill, Smartbomb is mine.


Daniel, I think there's a much stronger link between avatar and identity. Look at how easily monkeysan became Aaron (or Heather, for all I know).


What do you mean by that? Is a "strong" link between avatar and identity really indicated by it being easy to imply that link?

I could say, for example, that I'm really Tony Blair, or, for the sake of credibility, Daniel Speed. You might well accept the latter easily, but there's actually nothing "strong" to support that - I could just as easily be a Tim Burkins, or an Andrew Petchcliff.

Ahh, but we could compare the IP addresses of historical postings by 'Daniel Speed', assuming we kept them. We could, with at least a small degree of confidence, say that it was slightly likely that *this* Daniel Speed, was the same posting avatar as previous ones. An account / password system would increase the likelihood that I was the same poster / user (and that I couldn't, for example, co-opt monkeysan's posting nickname and pretend to be him without any difficulty) but would do nothing to ensure that I was who I said I was.

What this comes down to for me, is that I feel there's a responsibility for people who study things and claim to be experts who can help us learn from mistakes that have been made already, to actually be experts, to know about their fields, and not to misrepresent what they know, nor irresponsibly draw conclusions based on flawed premises if trust is going to be placed in valuing their opinions. This sounds much harsher than I feel about it, and I'm not accusing you of the above, but I do think your post drew a somewhat flawed comparison, and then went on to use that as justification for using the same sort of expertise to define our society in the future, and that's a somewhat scary step, even if I don't disagree with the point of what you're saying (about virtual worlds and communities being entirely relevant and worthy of study).



let's do a thread entirely anonymously and see what we take out of it!

If my comment was to be neglected why did you bother to address it? Maybe because knowing that TN exists already means something in terms of mind set, reputation,... or was it just that my commment appeled to you emotionally. Now how rational is that?

My point: May be you control the language you speak and write, may be it is the other way round. Or is it both ways?

Andy, I defintely appreciate your comments on TN!


Andy, one more question:
If reputation and identity are so critically important in terms of social and economic context (and eventually rational decision making) why is the individual vote kept secret in most countries?



I appreciate your comments, too! Thanks for the kind word.

I didn't mean to say that I didn't value anonymous comments; I've spent long enough in various virtuallia to not be bothered much by anonymity, as long as someone "without portfolio" isn't asking me for my SSN or home phone number. My point was that the "greater world" can view the easy anonymity and creation of various personnae that come with online worlds as "shifty." In real life, anonymity is often associated with a desire to do harm, or to at least do something you don't want traced back to you. There is also, again, the desire for "context." If I can provide reasonable assurance that I am a law enforcement officer with 22 years of experience, my statements and beliefs on crime, gun control, etc., will be met with a different environmental review than if I am a 13-year-old girl. Not that one is "better" than another... just different. In the absence of any kind of context -- pure anonymity -- much content is without lots of its flava.

Now... context can be provided within a virtual environment, as has been pointed out. eBay is a great example. I don't have to know who you are in real life at all to trust you as an eBayer. Just that you have a 99.95% positive rating. 398 out of 401 people are very satisfied with your sales. Super. That's all kinds of context, as long as what I want to do is buy your used copy of GTA. If you want to date my sister... well... that's the wrong set of data, but better than nothing, eh? "What's he like, sis?" "He's got 4 gold stars on eBay!" Er... OK...

If someone here at TN were to establish (such as yourself) a long history of good posts/comments, I wouldn't need to know a durn thing about their RL in order to then take future posts a bit more seriously than a newer, anonymous comment... that was a bit far afield. But if some jug-head with no cred, no history, no relationship comes in and contradicts the opinion of a couple seasoned TN commentors... whose opinion should I take more seriously? The ones with whom I have a relationship (context) or Mr. Purely Anonymous?

As far as voting is concerned, actually it's not a secret, except for the vote you cast. The requirements for voting, your political party affiliation, where you go to vote, whether you voted (so you can't do it more than once), your registration status, etc.... there's all kinds of public data related to your right to vote and record of doing so. The actual vote is kept secret, because privacy in this case is key to the process. That's not anonymity; you have to prove you are who you say you are to vote. The same holds true for medical information, lawyer/client privelidge, etc. The information is private, but your relationship isn't anonymous. There are almost no official, important activities I can think of where you get to do anything "anonymously." Even on a jury, the individual votes, though kept secret from the judge and courtroom, are recorded in case they need to be reviewed as part of an appeal. You are not anonymous; you have some privacy.

Again... that's what scares lots of people about the Web, MMOs, VWs, etc. The fact that more and more is "getting done" in these places, that they are becoming more interesting and important, and that you can "be someone you are not" there with little regard for many traditional consequences in many cases.


Oh... And I am most defintely in control of what I say and write. I am not a memetic carrier ; )

More of a mule.


I notice that a lot of discussions on Terra Nova are at different levels due to assumptions permissible. For instance, Daniel said,

I think that virtual worlds are worthy of study (or I wouldn't be doing it myself).

It would be nice to be able to tag such descriptions, "I believe virtual worlds are worth studying" or some such. But I can also come up with a half dozen potential problems with a few different systems... =P

But some of us have been standing in the choir being preached at enough that the discussions that convince people that, e.g., VWs are interesting and worthwhile, get extraordinarily tiresome.

And I am completely off-topic. *hums*


In many cases, I am anonymously nobody so that somebody can't anonymously be me.


YO yo yo its me jessica back again ok go to preteen chat .com and find jhj thats me and go to www.miniclip.com/clubpenguin and if your a boy sign in as mr cupid and your password is hanson and fine lamegamer or lamegamer2 that me and maybe we could talk!!!:) and email me at [email protected] ........... and who ever made this website is a gay fag !!!!!!!!!:) :$ :( :@ :# :* Just kidding!!!!:)


YO yo yo its me jessica back again ok go to preteen chat .com and find jhj thats me and go to www.miniclip.com/clubpenguin and if your a boy sign in as mr cupid and your password is hanson and fine lamegamer or lamegamer2 that me and maybe we could talk!!!:) and email me at [email protected] ........... and who ever made this website is a gay fag !!!!!!!!!:) :$ :( :@ :# :* Just kidding!!!!:)


That was strangely on-topic in a discussion about the issues of identity...


Yeah. Weird. SpamGhost in the machine...


Weird website?...............................................................................


Weird website?...............................................................................


...and it's eintirely coincidental, is it not?

I become more and more convinced that TN is not only a text-based game platform but some weird form of art in the making.

Keep it up!


Good one, monkeysan.

Mark, are you forgetting that some of the most creative theater and satire in SL was done around the spoofing of people with alts? You make it sound like only vicious thuggery through alts designed to steal and confuse and harass was the norm with these alt-makings.

Don't you remember how fun it was to spoof Mia Wallace. Somebody made someone with a very similar name, was it Mya Wallace or something, and they had on the exact same sort of Tiki Polynesian outfit with the big boobs and blonde hair and they went around doing a parody of this avatar who had collected the most balloons of anybody and claimed to be the most popular.

Or could you forget all those fake Dyerbrooks, who created noir bars of doom with skulls and crossbones and tiles spelling out "Death Becomes You" with names like "Die R Brooke" or whatever? I mean, what fun would that game have ever been if we couldn't make the spoof clones?

Remember that time I made Wont Wrong as the alter-ego of Will Wright (har har) and then some stranger appeared declaring themselves to be Mrs. Wrong or something and with a saying on her, "If I can't love Wrong I don't want to be Wright" etc. (I never did figure out who that was! Scary!)

Many cool and freaky stories like that. If you can't stand be satirized, then don't make waves as an alt. It's a game, of course.

In SL, they are business-oriented and I'm told by Lindens that I have to trademark my name "Prokofy Neva" if I want to get rid of all those harassing "Prokofy Nadir" and "Prokofy Fugu" types in the list who are days old and with no payment info of course lol. One of them even griefed the 3rd birthday party.

The cloning of accounts designed to commit fraud of course also goes on in SL among many other frauds. It's like the Nigeria of game worlds in some respect. Lots of very costly stuff is put forward on an open platform with huge open access to anybody in the world , and naturally some want to find a way to generate the cash to get the expensive stuff, or steal it. It's like RL. It's very hard to start and earn cash there so scams abound -- pyramid and Ponzis, invisi prims grabbing cash over payment prims, etc.

As for monkeysan's points, I do definitely tend to agree. There's such breathlessness about all this stuff sometimes when all it is is just real life on electrons.

But...Mark is absolutely right that this is how it's going to be, it will be a big part of people's lives, it's important to shape it now or the worst aspects of RL will take it over.


Well, to take a contrarian view, to claims like, "It’s that the societies that are developing in these places point the way toward the societies of the future, whether online or off." It's just as much the case that our online lives are products of historic and cultural developments. Identity frauds and cons certainly did not originate with the creation of "online communities."

And perhaps too much is placed on the concept that these places are "online" or "virtual" and thus, are alien and their study should be in a separate box. On the one hand, if you just assume that these worlds are just another behavior setting, you no longer need to justify why we should be studying or reporting on them. On the other hand, you loose much of your ability to claim to be reporters of a phenomenon with a priveleged view into the future.


One curious thing about TSO is that you don't even have to create an alt. You can change the name of your avatar at will, with all of your skills, friendships, etc. intact. You can do a one week griefing escapade and then just go back to being your old self, if that's what you want to do.


The problem with perspective is that sometimes... you only have a split second when you hold up the "Perspectiscope" to figure out if you're looking at something very far away magnified, or very nearby made to look smaller.


The problem with perspective is that sometimes... you only have a split second when you hold up the "Perspectiscope" to figure out if you're looking at something very far away magnified, or very nearby made to look smaller.
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