We were playing that game where somebody asks a question and everyone has to answer it. The rules for this game are not written down anywhere, but everyone knows them. If you're the one asking questions, the objective is to ask questions that make people uncomfortable. If you're an answerer, you're obligated to answer truthfully and pretend that it's fun. Alcohol usually helps.
I remember that my friend Mike was the asker of questions. Besides Mike and myself there was another friend of mine named Bill and one other person. I knew him at the time and considered him a friend, but his name escapes me now.
This was well before online gaming as we now know it even existed, yet the very first time I played online (and every time since) I was instantly reminded of this day, the question that was asked and the answers that were given.
"What's the one thing you would do if you knew you could get away with it, and nobody would ever find out it was you?"
This was the question Mike asked that day. His questions usually ranged from "Who would you have sex with?" to "How would you do it?" So this one was a bit of a departure.
Bill's answer was that he didn't really need to worry about that, which was true. His dad was a lawyer. There was practically no limit to the kind of trouble he could get out of. Although he kept trying to find one.
My answer was that I'd rob a bank. My thought was that if I could rob a bank, and nobody would ever know that I'd done it, then I could invest the money and be able to buy whatever I wanted for the rest of my life. Best thing was: nobody would get hurt, and banks have too much money anyway. Everybody liked my thinking on that one. Rebellious, yet humanitarian.
Then came my friend's turn, the one who's name I can no longer remember. His answer was that, if he knew he could get away with it, he'd rape a girl. No specific girl, mind you. Any girl at all. He had reasoning to support his answer, which like his name has faded from memory, but if I recall correctly it was very well thought out. In other words, he'd been planning it.
Which brings me back to online gaming. As I attempt to play the MultiplayerGameoftheWeek, I am struck by how frequently gamers will break rules, exploit bugs or generally behave like complete jerks. I've played against thousands of online gamers over the years. I tend to forget their names and everything about them in the time it takes for the next round to load, but a few stick in my mind like mahogany splinters.
One fellow, TiTTyl0vEr, had the unfortunate habit of punctuating every one of his kills with the phrase "Take that muthafuka!" This would have been amusing had it been original. Another opponent, who calls himself th3_r45t4h_d00d, spent days perhaps, playing Halo2 CTF in order to devise a scheme whereby he could grab a flag from the enemy base without even being in the room. This plan involved a carefully placed vehicle and some complex timing. It was obviously an exploit of a clipping bug, and will probably be fixed sooner or later, but it struck me for a number of reasons.
First, the amount of effort involved in cooking up this scheme seemed to me to be equal to or even perhaps exceed the amount of effort involved in assaulting the base and taking the flag the old fashioned way. Not only that, but it didn't really work all that well. My fellow defenders and I never saw him actually take the flag, but we knew immediately that it had been taken and we hunted him down and killed him before he ever made it out of the base.
It reminded me of my neighbor's method of snow removal. After the last big snow storm, he brought home a junky old snow blower from somewhere and spent literally half an hour trying to get it to start. Then, when it did fire, it worked so poorly, that he had to force it through the snow and cover each foot of ground three times to clear all of the snow. By the time he had finished clearing his sidewalk, I had shoveled my entire my driveway, washed the dishes, taken a shower and was enjoying a tasty adult beverage in front of the television, with my feet up and my girlfriend by my side, whispering tantalizing suggestions to each other as to how to spend the rest of the evening.
Like my neighbor, had th3_r45t4h_d00d not been so intent on bringing his ridiculous plan to fruition he may have actually accomplished something. But to me that's really beside the point. What struck me the most about th3_r45t4h_d00d's tactics was his explanation for them.
After the game, while we were all still in the lobby comparing scores, I asked him how he managed that trick and why he did it. He explained the mechanics of how he did it easily enough but stumbled on the why. The best explanation he could come up with was "I dunno. Because."
Not to put words into th3_r45t4h_d00d's mouth, but my take on that was that he exploited that bug because he thought he could get away with it. In other words, he knew what he would do if no one were looking, and when he thought no one was looking he did it.
My friends and I were shocked by my friend with no name's answer. It was a bomb dropped right into the middle of our placid, innocent existence, and the shockwaves are still rippling through our lives. Even more horrifying than his answer though, was his reaction to our horrified response. He was surprised. It hadn't occurred to him that we might not approve. I haven't spoken to him since.
The Internet is a pretty clear reflection of real life. I'm not the first to observe this, of course, nor will I be the last. As we do in real life, most of us do fairly innocuous things online. We play games, we wank to pr0n and we occasionally do the odd bit of work. But there are some people who believe that the anonymity of the Internet allows them to do whatever they want and get away with it. Sadly, they are often correct.
In response to the rampant violation of rules and exploitation of bugs in Halo 2, Bungie has recently announced that they will no longer tolerate asshats. I applaud them, but their measures will only be effective if those of us who do obey the rules help to enforce them. In real life as well as online, the onus is on those of us who care to pay attention and to be proactive. We must say in as clear and loud a voice as we can muster that it does not matter if anyone is paying attention or not. This is our society, our neighborhood, and there are rules. You cannot come into my neighborhood and act like an asshat. I will not allow it. I do not approve.
Maybe it won't make a difference. The Internet is a big place, and there are lots of dark corners. But I like to believe that should my friend with no name ever get the chance to act on his despicable impulse the memory of our horrified faces and our strong words will come flooding back to him. Perhaps he'll realize that whether anyone is looking or not, whether he can get away with it or not, there are some things that he cannot do because they are wrong.