Justice and order online

Another BBC News article about justice in online communities: Does virtual crime need real justice?

Wizards, warriors and witches are nothing new in the online gaming world, but have they been joined by real life criminals stealing virtual goods worth hard cash? South Korea's police are already on the case.  It might seem strange to talk about real crimes being committed in computer games that revolve around slaughter.  But for people who invest hours of every day in the character they control in multi-player games such as EverQuest, Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies and others these virtual crimes are just as painful to deal with as the real world version.  Players in some online games have had their virtual homes invaded by gangs who kick them out of the house and steal all their virtual goods.  Others have been conned out of powerful magic items that, in some cases, took months of work to obtain.

I remembered another article like this, about vigilante justice in The Sims Online, in SiliconValley.com back in June.

To hear the ersatz mob boss, Piers Mathieson, tell it, it all began innocently enough, with the desire to impose order on the chaos that is "The Sims Online."  The game's designer, Will Wright, deliberately created a blank stage on which players could act out their fantasies.  To Mathieson, the lack of a government to lay down laws in virtual online communities like Alphaville -- let alone cops to enforce the rules -- resulted in anarchy. "Grievers" arose -- players who delight in creating misery for other players -- stealing money, trashing houses or even appropriating another's online identity.

I wonder what kind of people these "Grievers" are offline, they took an interesting choice of name.  Does it occur to them they're making others unhappy, or is that the buzz they're after?  There are no rules in these games beyond what the players make, no morals or ethics imposed from outside, no police, no law, no God.  What kind of world is created when there are no repercussions for your actions?  Looks like a pretty grim one.  Hopefully there are still people enjoying the game, but are they looking around, wondering who's next?  Rules, and police (moderators) couldn't keep the CDP message boards under control, and that was a Christian environment.  We had suicide threats and lawsuit threats, emotional blackmail and complaints.  Too much stress, so we shut it down.

The blogosphere gives people far more personal space than a game, message board or bulletin board, I think that's partly why it feels like a more civilised arena.  Anyone coming to my blog is on my turf, I have ultimate control to delete comments I don't like, rearrange posts, pull the whole web site if I feel like it.  I'm in charge, no-one can threaten that, and I like a nice, orderly playground.  On someone else's blog, I play by their rules.  Everyone has his or her own private fiefdom.

Articles like this depress me.  I'd like to think that human nature was a little better than this.  I'd like to think we were better than gang rule, mob justice, theft and vandalism.  These people all have enough money to afford computers, a luxury consumer item, education enough to learn to use them, and considerable time to devote to leisure, which puts the lie to those who say it is simply lack of money and education that drives people to crime.

You can't have widespread order unless the people agree to it, and to some extent, self-police themselves.  Like traffic lights, they work because we chose to obey them even when there's no police around to enforce the law.  Most of the time it works.  When someone jumps the lights, it offends the rest, and causes accidents.  Human nature is not basically good.  We do have an inherent sense of right and wrong, but it can easily get warped, and good intentions alone are not enough.

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