if ('class topics' != 'syllabus')
Social Texts: MOOs and MUDs 1.0 (posted 8 March 2004)
Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace”:
I understand how MUDs got their acronym, but why are they sometimes referred to in Aarseth as games? It doesn't seem that they have overall objectives, at which you can win or lose.
personally i don't reall see what the big deal is other than the countless psychological and sociological forces at play here, this author's description of the meeting emmaline(sp?) gathered together and it its own entropic decline is fascination. i was given the impression, more or less, that this earlier kind of chatroom was akin to a human ant-colony, a protean social space doomed to consistently evade strict moral and legal codes.
but i dont feel that this sort of thing, kind of debate is new relative to the time period of the MOO described. could an author be considering guilty of rape in which a character, or an "I" in a book he/she writes is raped? perhaps this author is so skilled, a virtuoso with prose, and describes the character, whose thought you have been swept away with in the first-person singular case, as being raped?
in my little e-pinion with which i attempting to share with you right now, i do not any solution - or what one could consider a solution - to Bungle's case, even granted the feelings of those victimized. i mean, the person really just was acting a jerk.
Having been on the recieving end of similar activities online, I can only say that the difference between that and reading about a character's rape is very, very strong. It's MUCH more viscereal- it really gets to you.
No matter how well a traditional author writes, it's still HIS creation. No matter how little you've invested into an online character, it's still YOUR creation.
Believe me, you can really feel the difference.
I'll try to further illustrate the point I was trying to make at the end of class. To a large extent I agree with (andrew I think not 100% sure) that people were overreacting to the Mr. Bungle case. However, I do also agree that the "virtual rape" was emotionally taxing, and does have a significant negative impact, which does deserve attention.
The problem I have is that the Mooers who were talking about actualy legal action action the real person behind the Mr. Bungle charater are just trying to find some means (whatever they could find) of rectifying the negative impact that Mr. Bungle made.
Since the wizards had decided that they were not going to administer the everyday squabbles on the Moo, Lambda Moo essential became an anarchy. The players were willing playing in this anarchy, and (the non-newbs) should have known that things of this type could have happened.
So I think what should really happen is that the MOO communtity (wizards and players) should create a structure for the virtual environment, whether it be a technical fix, a social contract, laws, governing body, etc ... to have a system to deal with these sorts of issues. The fact that Mr. Bungle could do such a thing just is a prime example for the need of some organization and governmental system. I think that resorting to real life consequences and actions (laws and accusations) is silly. By trying to solve this issue using the real legal system, people are missing the inherent issue which is within the MOO itself, and not outside.
but isn't that in essence a waste of time?
there are more important problems one should concern themselves with over than a few isolated 'thought-crime' incidents.
I agree with Andrew to an extent. Why couldn't the woman just click out of the window if she was being so emotionally traumatized? Why stay there and let herself be "raped?"
It truly disturbs me how people can become THAT immersed in this alternate cyberworld. I witnessed it firsthand when a friend of mine fell in love with someone she had met in a similar RPG chatroom. She had never met him in real life or even spoken to him on the phone, yet she was 100% sure that he was "the one." It was a pure obsession that lasted nearly a year until he "broke up with her," for another girl in the game. My friend was devastated for so long that even now, 3 years later, she can't mention his "name" without wanting to cry. Noticing all of my sarcastic quotations, huh? I just can't believe how she let her virtual world take precedence over her real life and destroy her spirit the way it did. For her, the line between the virtual realm and reality completely disappeared.
I can only think of one reason for her actions: loneliness. She never wanted to go out and hang out with the people she knew in real life. As a result, this chatroom became her bubble for socialization...at the time she had found her best friend, her worst enemy, her soulmate and her lover - all without meeting them in person.
Because of this incident, I'm inclined to believe that the only people who become so fixated (like the woman in Seattle) with these online communities have underlying problems related to loneliness, social anxiety, and depression.
I was looking through next Fall's schedule of classes at internsips, and in the English departments description of one, I noticed that the Romantic Circles page maintained by the university has a MOO. I haven't logged in, but heres the address for anyone who wants to..
Also, a question:
these MUDs/MOOs are just precursors of Multi-User online games like Ultima Online, for example (an old boyfriend used to be obsessed with that game), or SimLife?
Obviously they still exist in themselves (like on the romantic circles site i posted etc), but are they now mostly showing up in marketed computer games that have a graphic element, too? Are these still considered MUDs? There are definately a lot of similarities (I think...someone correct me if I'm wrong, I'm not too familliar with this stuff)
The current graphical games are called MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) and are roughly descended from MUDs. There is some disagreement about this, but most will aknowledge some form of lineage.
Raph Koster, who has worked with MUDs and MMORPGs for years and is now Chief Creative Director for Sony Online Entertainment (who produce EverQuest and Star Wars Galaxies, among others) has made up this timeline of online worlds:
It's fairly detailed and starts with the publishing of The Hobbit.
I strongly recommend this article on player types to understand how people act and interact in these games:
To connect to LambdaMOO, you'll need a telnet client (like we use in the lab to connect to WAM). You may have one associated with your Web browser; in the address window, try typing:
Please be a good guest.
Jennah, the RC MOO is the one we'll be using on Wed.
There's no doubt that some people use online environments as outlets for depression, anxiety, etc.--which is not necessarily a bad thing, incidentally--but that stereotype doesn't hold for the majority of users. There's been a lot of quantitative research on the demographics of online communities, and their users are as various as any group of people in the "real world."
Moreover, I would argue that a MOO is only one form of virtual community. A classroom is another. Think about how highly structured the environment in Susquehanna hall is. You (plural) don't talk to me that way you would your friends or roommates; I don't talk to you the way I talk to my friends. The power dynamic is conspicuous: you're getting a grade and I'm giving one. My point is that _any_ social situation is mediated by a set of arbitrary rules and boundaries that distance it from the Platonic real, and the MOO is no different for being mediated through an internet connection.
Right. Let me take offense immediately to Pam's implication that people who become very involved in their online world have problems with depression or social anxiety or loneliness. Attachment to an online community and identity is no more "disturbing" than caring about one's so called "real life" community. These aren't fictional characters that people are dealing with online, these are groups of people trying to form connections that go beyond conventional social situations and geographical limitations. The stronger the bonds of a community, the closer people get-- I've had an online community that's been together for over 8 years now, and I don't differentiate the strength of those ties from those with my supposed "real life" friends.
A few people have also asked why the woman didn't just close the game window if she felt so harrassed or violated... it's not really that simple. Closing the window would mean allowing some bad tempered outsider to force her to leave her community, a place that was obviously very important to her. If, say, someone has to deal with a group of teenage males who live in her apartment building and sexually harrass her (verbally, say, to make the parallel fair), why should the woman have to leave *her* community?
Yes, an online community is a structured and perhaps artificial environment by some standards. But why should the expectations of a safe community be less? I would agree that real world punishment for offenders is unrealistic for many reasons, not the least of which is the global nature of the internet and the lack of standards for laws around the world. But some sort of self regulation is necessary. And to a community trying to maintain its stability, real or virtual, I would say it is hardly unimportant to prevent this sort of needless harrassment.
Anastasia, I would argue that these often are fictional characters, but certainly not always. These games are associated with role-playing--i.e. with creating a new identity. The majority of users I interect with don't role-play or don't solely role-play, but there really is no genuine way to know the difference.
As for the woman in the apartment complex, that is not *her* community. The community, in a sense, belongs to the owner of the building. IF the woman complains to him, and he doesn't take action, she *should* leave his community. She should leave because she should realize that paying to live in unacaptable social environments is supporting that negative community.
The same thing very nearly applies to the case of LamdaMOO. If the wizards had abandoned it, except for technical issues, then they had, as someone else pointed out, created a social anarchy. Anyone who enters into and interects in that anarchy has acepted those terms and their consequences and is supporting the system. If the user believes that a system which allows a voodoo doll to rape a character si wrong, then he is acting within the wrong environment.
I'll try to expand on an analogy I used in class:
1) using a computer to hack a bank account is wrong because
2) the 'non-real' zeroes and ones the hacker is playing with are connected to a real-world item: cash. Altering these virtual objects has the same effect as walking into a bank vault and taking/destroying the real-world objects they respresent.
1a) using a computer to violate an online character is wrong because
2a) the 'non-real' zeroes and ones the hacker is playing with are connected to a real-world item: a person. The character represents you directly- it is the /only/ identity and existence you have online. Altering these virtual objects has the same effect as walking into your home and invading the privacy of/humilating/emotionally abusing the real-world objects they respresent.
Suppose, when the VR they keep promising us comes about, that a Bad Person develops a means by which putting a virtual knife into a virtual character causes some kind of electrical feedback in the real user, harming or even killing them. No one would possibly argue this is not a crime, and it's not at all implausible this could be done using the kinds of devices scientists speculate will eventually used for access into the online world. Why is emotional damage less important, less privileged, then, than this physical damage? What makes it 'less real'?
I actually have no problem if you disagree with this analogy- however, what I'd like to see is someone pointing at a specific part of the anaology and saying 'there- there's where it breaks down, and here's why 1) and 2) are NOT the same as 1a) and 2a)." Right now the argument just appears to be, "It's not- it's obvious." I'd like to see more.
I'm going ot reveal myself in a way I normally do not, but..
James, The problem with (2) is that electronic money is not a representation of physical money, it is a representation of the same thing which physical money symbolizes. Paper money, as an object, is nearly valueless. As a symbol, however, it is very significant. Money, in any form, is a symbol of the productive labor of the person who earned it. It is a symbol of that person's worth (hence why we call a person's total posessions his net worth). Yes, it does have the same effect.
My problem with (2a) is that, in this case, it does not have the same consequences. Mutilating one's genitals in real life has significantly more severe consequences, both physically and emotionally, becuase the physical consequences compound the emotional consequences. Were a woman raped in that manner, she would never be able to have sex or give birth again. For most women, that a pretty devasting blow.
I will not argue that the virtual rape was morally acceptable, but I am convinced its effects are very different from those should it have been a physical act.
Another point, the virtual character wasn't harmed in any "physical" way. She can go have consensual sex any time she likes. She is not her master, but her master's puppet. Things that happen to the master don't happen to the puppet. If the player loses his job, the puppet will no necessarily lose his. If the puppet loses his job, the player will not necessarily lose his. There are significant differences between the character and the player; they are not the same /person/. The only person is the player.
Okay, that was two points leading to one conclusion, but they got jumbled.
To clarify my first two sentences: The character doesn't behave like a normal human. Like;y, it doesn't require 2000 calories or eight hours of sleep a day. I was trying to draw a distiction between the player and the character along physical lines. They cannot be the same because a human is an animal and must follow all of the natural laws governing animals. The character is not an animal, is nothing like an animal.
The second point was that actions don't cross over. Soemthing which happens to one of the pair doesn't have to happen to the other. The reason for this is that they are seperate entities--the player is a human; the character is property.
Therefore, the violation which occurred is a property violation. Certainly it can or does have emotional impact, but it is not a personal cviolation.
Anastasia, I apologize for offending you. I was afraid that some people would take my post as a generalization and/or attack towards all who partake in online communities. I carefully (yet unsuccessfully) tried to indicate that my conclusion only pertained to those in the most extreme cases.
By describing the story of my friend, I may have digressed from the main topic argued in class. But in her situation the characters were in fact fictional - it was an RPG chatroom. Lassarina fell in love with Spirilis but when Spirilis left her for Andromeda, it was the real person controlling Lassarina's character who suffered the heartbreak. I concluded earlier that this consequence was a result of loneliness simply because my friend has openly admitted to it. Three years later, she cannot believe that she fell so deeply in love with a fictional character.
I thought that "A Rape in Cyberspace" was based on fictional characters as well, which is why I correlated that story with my friend's.
There's more on my mind, but I have to go to work. Again, I'm sorry to anyone who took offense to my last post. It was not directed towards everyone who is part of an online community.
I've had to miss quite a bit of the last two weeks of class and was wondering if some one could let me borrow their notes.
Also I was hoping a group would like to get together and swap some notes for the midterm.
In comment on the whole "rape" debate, the reason it isn't simply about logging out if she was being raped or traumatized is self-defense. You think there has to be something you can do to defend yourself or some how regain control. Sonce some one else had taken control over the character she could not scream for help or say no. She couldn't even say it was not her controling the character.
Also in response to Erika, I don't see the line as that definative. It's more like an area of gray. The person inhabits that character when they portray them. There are different levels but nevertheless for a short time or (especially if the time fromeach visit is added up) a long time you are that character. You embody their responses and thoughts, you also eperience their life and take it away with you in your memories and can apply parts of it to your own life, depending on how realistic your character is.
The emotional attachment to those memories is not as strong nor are they as affecting but they are remembered and they are affecting.
PS Sorry for the double post
Just a note to everyone to say how impressed I am with the dialogue here: intense and passionate to be sure--intense and passionate debate seems to me to be precisely the reason we're all still in school--but also civil and respectful of one another's viewpoints. Well done.
Just a bit on the idea of online communities and depression, social anxiety, loneliness (I'm a PSYC major - w00t!)...
I say that with almost 40% of the population being diagnosed as having some form of anxiety disorder, with anti-depressants being the #1 prescribed pharmeceutical in the country (beating out heart medication), and with stress being labeled the top workplace hazard of the professional sector -- we would do well to characterize depression, anxiety, and loneliness as being not the fringe but the norm.
And more importantly as our society grows even more large and complex, so too do our sub-cultures grow much more small and tightly-woven. The academic departments continue to specialize in ever-more-specific aspects of ever-more-specific classifications of study. Music has gone from simple folk songs to a list of individual categories, each having individual followers, that is far too long to count on fifty hands - let alone two. You could even throw in your feet to count - I dare you.
That an individual would seek indentity in a specific group of people gathered for a very specific purpose in a very specific setting should not come as so surprisingly to us, given the previous argument. We wander towards the areas of existence where we belong, where we are considered to have value for simply being ourselves. If an individual does not find that in the confines of his own community, or within the confines of his own physical space, he'll look elsewhere.
And when that person finds his community within the space of a Multi-User Dungeon it is more than simply an investment of identity. The investment is (I dare say it!) an investment of soul. A piece of this person's soul has been added to the collective consciousness / unconsciousness of the community - as it is in any community - and that makes the events and people within that Multi-User Dungeon community much more real to the person than you would expect, coming from outside of this particular experience as most of you are.
We simply do not give the thought of online communities as having that transcendental quality. Indeed, people often remark on the "cheating" aspects online communities contain. That the online nature bypasses the difficulties in relating to others, and the wholeness of relationships are therefore violated. They are deemed "false relationships" or "fictional relationships" under this viewpoint.
But indeed if these relationships are fictional ones due to the different standards of communication in place by the online component, we must also acknowledge standards of communication in place by the CULTURAL component to be no less fictional. Can one tell if a relationship between two Japanese lovers is any more or less difficult than a relationship between two Europeon lovers? Two African lovers? Two Irish lovers? Surely the standards and practices of relating to one another are different across cultures. But would anyone call the European culture as "cheating on the difficulties of sexual relationships" simply because public nudity is an accepted passtime? Do we see the relationships between two Europeans "false" or "fictional" simply because they get to see each other naked more readily than we do in our culture? Speaking of which, I should visit Europe sometime. ;-P
What makes the study of Multi-User Dungeons and MUD Object-Oriented interesting in relation to ergodic literature and cybertext is the process of community in action. Very rarely do we get a glimse into the customs, traditions, and mores of a society as easily as we do in MUDs. That this "studio-live" aspect of it is recorded entirely in and takes place within the entirety of, text, is of prime importance. A simple 26-letter formal system can relay all the aspects of a living, breathing civilization IN REAL TIME. And there's nothing more interesting than that.
The discussion about the MUD incident and MUDs in general peaks my interest because I think it's all about how real one believes virtual reality to be; is it really just virtual?
I think part of it is just virtual; the answer to this question varies, depending on who you talk to. Some people connect to chatrooms and MUDs knowing that they'll get a somewhat more intelligent experience than web-bots like Eliza can provide; responses/actions are never guaranteed, and thus cannot be predicted. This may fuel some to treat virtual reality as only virtual, as a VERY SMART artificial intelligence, even if real people are involved. But others who frequent the MUD see the text on "the other side" of the screen as coming from real, living human beings.
The feeling of anonimity might prompt some to live-out their fantasies (how normal or sick they are) in this virtual world; and indeed, if you did this to Eliza, you would get nothing but predictable responses. But in a MUD or chat room, each response would be different. And for people who realize this virtual reality isn't just fake reality, one's actions might have great impact.