Cleaning Up Thunder Bluff

It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them. -- Mark Twain

Massively multiplayer environments of all sorts are under attack from within. Gankers and vultures of all sorts litter the landscape of any MMO that allows for player-vs-player combat, we have griefers a-plenty for the ones that don't. Unless you're playing Neopets, online servers are full of foul-mouthed, racist junk-monkeys. The hate-filled miasma they spatter around them has reached the point where many people who could be on those services won't go, and those who do brave it won't go without a posse and riot gear. Virtual community sites, blogs, message boards and lists spawn their own sort of virulent, cruel muck with moderators scrambling to keep things scrubbed down to a socially acceptable level.

Is this the brave new digital world? Why do we put up with this? What do we do to stop it?

First, I think it might help to back off a bit and get rid of some loaded words. I do not believe this is in any sense in the same realm as a physical attack, or even a face-to-face verbal attack. But there are those out there who have had their personal lives attacked. And while there's no physical components, finding out someone has photoshopped pornographic photos of your mother and broadly disseminated them as Kathy Sierra did or even just finding that someone has hijacked your Xbox LIVE account is definitely is not something to just write off as "boys will be boys".

Where the line can be drawn between those types of issues and being told to bend over and face the Warthog so someone can simulate a sexual act with you in a game is very fuzzy. A lot of the words we can use to describe this have too much baggage to them, and people get caught up in that rather than the issue. We need a noun that isn't so loaded. I'm going to use the word "assault" to describe the situation. Assaulting others with just words is well defined and documented, especially in a sexual context. You can also assault someone with images on a screen. Both of those seem to apply most closely to the situation. Look at the legal definition of assault in most jurisdictions, as well as the term harassment.

It's not just the graphically-oriented virtual environments. Anyone who's ever been caught up in an old-fashioned early '90s newslist war can tell you predatory users have been around since acoustic couplers and they don't require shiny pixels to do their dirty work. These people have figured out how to make sticks and stones out of their words. Anyplace where people interact online is full of all sorts of behavior that would get you in deep trouble in real life. Why do we put up with it online?

People treating each other like this isn't "just the way it is." Unless your office environment is criminally dysfunctional, I bet you don't have to worry about being shivved by the CEO and having your new shoes taken off your dead body on the way to the coffee machine in the morning just because they match his suit better than the ones he has and he's four steps higher up the org chart. If you sent an email to one of your customers or co-workers that just said "M.I.L.F.?" or asked her for pictures of her boobs you can guess what would be coming next. It's not just work; if you pulled any of these stunts in a bar or other social gathering you'd be facing consequences there, too. If these same people are functioning in the real world, they have the basic skills to not act like jerks online.

We can speculate about the technical issues and blame the systems, but in the end that's not the core problem. There's always a bigger hack, to mangle a phrase from Quigon Jin. Hacks or strategies that allow predatory players to assault others aren't new. My own personal encounter with it being used in a predatory fashion was in a MUD I used to hang out on over 10 years ago. Or you can read an account of one on another MUD. Whether you're talking about giving someone a virtual roofie or the older, cruder VoodooDoll hack approach there's always going to be someone misusing any angle they can.

They aren't built into the systems for malevolent reasons. Someone doesn't just decide to make sure there's a huge back door with a neon sign that says, "Hackers enter here". VoodooDoll and other sorts of puppet commands were a part of the default command set of several of the old MOO/MUD systems. They were designed for system admins to help users out of jams by simply moving the character using the game's system rather than the risky business of twiddling around in that avatar/account's code. It was the user who found a way to invoke that command out of context that was the problem here.

Turning the online systems into everyone's nanny isn't the answer, either. I think they need to do their part, but we can't expect them to do it all. Think about how we handle other large scale interactions with rude people like driving. We have a fairly complete set of rules that describe how everyone is supposed to act behind the wheel, and you have to prove you know what it is to drive. Add a couple state troopers camped out on an overpass with a radar gun to keep drivers who follow them from the worst depredations safe from the rude little punks whose parents who bought them that ugly little imposter-rocket that just whizzed by you 20 m.p.h. over the speed limit, or that guy in the continent-sized SUV who is firmly convinced he does in fact own the road. The online systems need to have cops and their speed traps, but the state troopers are few and far between, and they have one hand tied behind their back. I wish we could impose a license test to connect to the Internet, too, but we can't.

The fact that there's money involved in this doesn't give anyone carte blanche. You pay for the privilege of driving too, but you don't expect the DMV to magically protect you from from the stench of a roofer's truck loaded with hot tar. So why do you expect Microsoft to protect you from all the smacktalking tweenage twits who plunked down their cash to play on Xbox LIVE too? It's like expecting the road itself to give out traffic tickets to drivers who flip you off.

We don't have to take online abuse. I wouldn't put up with it in the real world. I certainly wouldn't expect my child to. And yet, if I want to participate in most online environments, it's what I have to do. You can report people who abuse your character in most of these systems, but it's often virtually impossible to really get rid of the offenders. The online systems for dealing with player misbehavior are overloaded and they have to be as careful as they can that the person making the complaint isn't abusing that function and actually making it as a form of attack.

I don't have all the answers. But I do have a few things to think about here.

  • Designers need to think. If you're going to hand off an awesome amount of power like literally being able to control someone else's character like a Muppet within your system, then abuse of that power has to be addressed within the system. The same applies to killing each other, taking items from each other by force or by trade, or any other interaction allowed by the system between players. Even if it's a good feature in and of itself, more attention needs to be paid so that your cool player vs. player setup doesn't turn into the Infinite Fountain of Gankers.
  • Players need to think. They need to think about where they put their money, their effort, and just how they're going to deal with the line between this world and that one. This applies to both sides of this.
  • Society needs to think. This is a whole new ballgame, and just letting the digital worlds grow wild is not working. We cannot let the social mores of the online life be dictated by the technical savvy and predatory instincts of a subset of the users. It's becoming too important to the rest of us.

The mainstream is beginning to notice the current state of affairs. Slate had an article over two years ago when two of their 30-something writers tried to head off into Halo 2, one of the most populous games on Xbox LIVE. Most of the text of the article is their impression of the place as a cesspool full of foul-mouthed little brats. Things are getting more serious now. No one was really afraid that those two writers adding at 14-year-old to their Friends List was pedophilia as they suggested. But recently Wired reported an incident in the online environment Second Life that the Belgian police are investigating as a rape.

This isn't the Old West. Having our online environments held hostage to the black hats with the bigger guns is no way to build a digital frontier. Unless we want others to step in and make these decisions for us, we as a body of online participants need to find a new set of social structures that allow us all to interact with the maximum freedom but also with the maximum of safety.

If we wait for the new sheriff in town to fight this battle for us we might not like the town we're left with.

Comments

Perhaps communities/forums/blogs should be equipt with the functionality to publicly vote offending accounts be banned. It's not a permanent fix, but its a start.

It's sad that people use the online community to create fear or emote hate.

This issue is one of the biggest reasons I'm happy I found Gamers with Jobs. Until I purchased my 360 I never played online. Every single story I'd been told was rife with 13 year old boys calling each other baggins and "OMG U R SO GAY! LOLz", and various other forms of asshattery. Not one person ever said "Naw, online multiplayer is actually kinda fun."

I'm happy to say that the GWJ crew shattered that l'il stereotype nicely. Sure, I still don't go into public matches, but god damned if playing Gears with y'all ain't some of the best times I've had playing a game in a long, long time. I wasn't excited about the Halo 3 Multiplayer beta before, but now I'm sad because I'm missing out on all the camaraderie in that game too!

I hope that the sexism and homophobia people experience in public online play currently is just growing pains. That as more and more people start playing online it will eventually disappear. Hopefully we'll start seeing more moderator on the networks, that people will start marking reputations on Xbox Live accordingly.

Interesting article, but removing users anonymity is the only way to force people to behave civilly. It's the only way to bring real world consequences to bear on people who violate the rules.

If, say, people are assigned one online identity forever, they can be held responsible for any threats/misdeeds they perform online, then the majority will behave. Blizzard is interested in protecting their bottom line, not policing the griefers. Can it really be that bad if so many people are on WoW?

That system would no doubt be rife with abuses as well. Identities are stolen all the time, this would be no exception. Voicing unpopular opinions is protected speech, but when you can't say anything anonymously, who is going to? It'll stay with you for the rest of your life.

I don't think there is a solution to this. If you can't deal with people being rude/vicious, don't post. If the users of a game are too foul-mouthed for you, start your own session, make your own rules.

I come to GWJ because it's relatively tame, people don't flip out when you express a contrary opinion (mostly), and for the most part everyone is tolerant. I know it's not like that elsewhere (understatement), so I come here.

Excellent article!

I'm going to play devil's advocate and say that despite annoyances which can surface in online gaming, I really do like that it is our Wild West. We are already restricted enough in real life, so it really is a great form of escapism from the real world full of DMV's, political correctness and such.

The interim solution to this problem is simply playing with people you know, in secure and safe groups. Anytime you open up the floodgates to a huge population - just like real life - you're going to get more than you're fair share of losers.

But that's freedom, and freedom of choice. If you don't want to play with randoms, play with your community exclusively. When you want to slum it with the masses, choose to slum it up.

You can go out with a group of friends and have a great night on the town, or you can walk solo down the city streets, past some shady areas and unsavory individuals. But at least when you're online, you're a simple button click away from exiting either scenario.

That being said, I game 99% exclusively with Goodjers on XBL. And when I don't, I choose not to put on the mic - not because I feel insulted or harassed, but because I find people annoying, and I find southern kids with potty mouths even more annoying.

Edit: I thought about this a little more. I think one of the biggest problems is that we're adults playing in a kid's pool for the most part. I have nothing against kids, but remember, a lot of kids get thrilled at the thought of pissing off an adult. I'm sure I did when I was a little snot nosed brat too.

What would be really cool is having a pool for the kids and a pool for the adults. Now, I know there are some mature kids out there, so it kind of sucks to not include them, but if you approach it the same way you would having an age limit for entering a bar or club, then it makes sense.

Adult only servers!

Kudos on the writeup Momgamer.

Two stories from my past remind me of my associations with the darker side of online gaming, which really is the free license that is implicitly given to the users of these games.

1. Everquest, circa a long time ago. I watched over the chat server as some Bosnians were spamming derogatory statements toward America and Americans and using the game as (inappropriately) a public political forum in which to speak their minds. Awesomeness abound, but a friend of mine who does not have a sense of tact, but a way with words responded after getting an earful of this for a good 45 minutes (I assume, by all the chatter that many of the other players were fed up and had attempted to contact GMs for resolution of this matter, but nothing had yet come of it), he responded to them by saying, "Why don't you go ahead and email me the building plans for all of your schools and hospitals so that we can better target our bombs."

Ouch. And lovely, at the same time. Did it work? No -- anonymity allows everyone the ability to strike without reckoning. What does that say about us in general? I don't know. Not sure I really want to. The internet is exactly like the Wild West we see in movies. There are cities that have laws but often not enough lawmen to police and there are then these "spaces in-between" that are unexplored (and always seemingly depicted by desert or plains panoramas) and are loosely connecting each independent society to the next. 360 live would remind me of Dodge City or Fort Worth during their rough and rowdy heydays, while GMJ reminds me of possibly Mark Twain's San Francisco or early Chicago.

The second story is loosely connected and speaks of the community of intolerance and finger pointing that we have to be careful that we don't necessarily construct when we envision a new internet.

I was a female Troll on EQ1 and I was stuck in the Wood Elf City without food. Some of you know, without food, you don't move and in EQ1, this could be a hefty problem, especially with the travel times involved. So I asked for food. And asked. And asked. I sat for 30 minutes, wasting my life away, asking for food from one of the trillions of people populating the server. I was even sitting at a zone entrance that was heavily travelled. I was offering 10x the normal price of food to whomever would stop and drop some off. I tried everything; ooc, auction, /tell, but no one would even acknowledge my existence. Short of deleting this character and restarting, I wrote "Will have stimulating intercourse for food."

I received a reply immediately, "Your language is inappropriate and I am sending the GM your name right now." Brilliant. Yes, so I used language with a different connotative meaning, but this has been going on forever, this saying one thing and meaning another bit. We argued and it ended with me telling him to 'Go burn his books somewhere else.' Highlight of my online career, sadly enough. I still think, by the way, if I logged on to EQ1, my little troll Kumrub, would still be sitting at that zone wall.

I think I wandered off topic there.

Swat wrote:

That being said, I game 99% exclusively with Goodjers on XBL. And when I don't, I choose not to put on the mic - not because I feel insulted or harassed, but because I find people annoying, and I find southern kids with potty mouths even more annoying.

Ditto that, plus add in folks who post public games but proceed to boot out everyone but their friends. Seriously, wtf is up with people?

I wrote "Will have stimulating intercourse for food."

Pun. Accidental or pre-planned?

p.s. Am I the only one that continually mistakes the title of this piece as "Cleaning Up Thunder Butt"?

Great piece! I will follow the links later.

In MMOs the problem is compounded; It's quite easy to meet a griefer or have a bad experience, while at the same time it can be difficult to find a good group to run with. Meanwhile, being griefed seems to be more memorable than having a "hassle free" evening.

Once you've found a good group to game with (and I agree, it's fun to play with the goodjers - butt pats all!) its easy to ignore "the rest", but meeting new people you enjoy playing with and broadening your circle of friends is a different kind of fun.

I've pretty much lost that because I'm not willing to go back and plunge into the horde in the hopes of finding another good group. Not while we've got a good thing going here.

haven't read the article yet, but just a word of warning, slashdot has a link posted.

At a risk of my thoughts getting lost in the sea of long posts, I've always dreamed of a simple solution to the privacy issue. Instead of building artificial walls that prevent people from doing stuff, focus on recording everything that goes on. That's one thing that information age has going for it. You want to control speeding? Install a chip that records the car's speed and uploads it to a cellphone station every 5 mins. Worried about people reading secrets? Instead of locking them with passwords that one keeps under the keyboard, log every single access to an asset. Worried about use of admin tools in a game? Log every single use of them.

Just the fact that you're being monitored by an all-seeing-eye will stop 90% of abuse all over the place. It will give people the good ol' fear of an omniscient god. And for those 10% that still won't play by the rules? Well, at least you'll know who they are.

Doh, I forgot to mention...

That was an execellent article, Momgamer!

MoonDragon wrote:

At a risk of my thoughts getting lost in the sea of long posts, I've always dreamed of a simple solution to the privacy issue. Instead of building artificial walls that prevent people from doing stuff, focus on recording everything that goes on. That's one thing that information age has going for it. You want to control speeding? Install a chip that records the car's speed and uploads it to a cellphone station every 5 mins. Worried about people reading secrets? Instead of locking them with passwords that one keeps under the keyboard, log every single access to an asset. Worried about use of admin tools in a game? Log every single use of them.

Just the fact that you're being monitored by an all-seeing-eye will stop 90% of abuse all over the place. It will give people the good ol' fear of an omniscient god. And for those 10% that still won't play by the rules? Well, at least you'll know who they are. :)

Companies would fight over the rights and ability of selling access to this information. If one entity owned it and controlled it, they would have too much power/influence/something....

Despite the benefits of such a system, there are detrements, the details of which do not specifically come to mind.

If you were to hang out with teenagers consistantly in real life, you would be just as horrified as if you were hanging out online. I'm 23 now, far from old and wise, but I'm certainly not as big a dumbass as when I was 14. There probably was not a thing out of my mouth from the age of 14-18 that could be spoken to my mom without filtering involved. Public servers are the equivalent of listening in to the horrible teenage conversations one's own children have when not in the company of adults.

SWAT hit it on the head- we are in the kids pool. Its up to the user to actually rope off an area and declare it the "not a jackass zone". It's no different than going to any public area, like a beach. Maybe I shouldn't plant my chair in the middle of the frisbee players, or the spring breakers. Maybe I don't want to play volleyball with the guy pointing at vaguly arabic beachgoers and calling them towelheads. (If you don't think this happens on a real beach, you havn't been to Florida) Its not the park district's job to police legal but inappropriate behavior. They set ground rules, now its your turn to sit in the shady spot under the palm tree. To end this convoluded metaphor, its much easier to find your shady spot online, because commands like /ignore allow for the removal of jerks.

I don't think its the responsibility of designers alone to deal with the shortcomings of their audience. It's really a problem that plagues all of the internet. Moderation systems are few and far between, and its difficult to implement them without making them a weapon. Moderation also involves dealing with the irritation and then deciding that it is below you, and moving on. Its also taking time to find aspects of the content you enjoy and modding them up (such as friending people you have had good experiences with) It's not something that a designer can sit down and program, because ultimately its up to the individual to find the game experience that is acceptable to them. If the designers can do anything, it would be to emphasize the tools they have created to filter content and encourage recognition of posative players. The "what if's" for designer programming can extend for hours on end, so I won't muse the details further.

While it is an annoyance, some people act way too offended by griefers, brats (both young and old), and the like. It's just a game, if someone is making you that upset by doing something to your pixels then you're probably taking it too seriously. It reminds me of the thug waanabes who are ready to throw down at the slightest offense.

Nosferatu wrote:

haven't read the article yet, but just a word of warning, slashdot has a link posted.

gxfnfgvb wrote:

This is why women shouldn't be allowed out of the kitchen.

Not every online community is filled with problems. Three Rings has built feedback into their games to allow players to penalize others for harassment. In Puzzle Pirates players can be blackspot'ted, which doesn't allow them to talk or play any of the puzzle games for 10 minutes, or you can report someone to the OceanMasters (basically the in-game Sysops) if they are cheating or abusing multiple people. The OM's do ban people from the game for continued disruption or cheating. This system does allow for complaints from other users about disruptive behavior. Blackspots it's sometimes apparent who did it to you (if you are indeed being disruptive towards one person), complaints to the OMs are confidential.

Anybody interested in casual puzzle gaming or in learning more, http://www.puzzlepirates.com/
Free to play, which is another interesting twist from most of the MMOs.

Let me see if I can remember one of the haiku I failed to submit for that conference call contest.

Savage wilderness
Light shining through the darkness:
Goodjer civilization

Hey look, we're alive again!

I've said it before on other threads, but I will repeat it here: The solution is walled cities. The issue seems to be that communities are so hungry for more members (especially when everyone from Digg to WoW gets their money because of thier membership and use levels), that they don't stop to think about who they're letting in the front gate. GWJ has a social wall in that it's self-selecting to a degree, and for that I am thankful.

Now, on to less serious stuff:

BlackSheep wrote:

I wrote "Will have stimulating intercourse for food." ... my little troll Kumrub

Just a thought: Perhaps you wouldn't have gotten into that argument if you had a less suggestive name.

BlackSheep wrote:

360 live would remind me of Dodge City or Fort Worth during their rough and rowdy heydays, while GMJ reminds me of possibly Mark Twain's San Francisco or early Chicago.

Al Capone wasn't a griefer. It was strictly business.

Capone or Certis wrote:

I am going to St. Petersburg, Florida, tomorrow. Let the worthy citizens of Chicago get their liquor the best they can. I'm sick of the job--it's a thankless one and full of grief. I've been spending the best years of my life as a public benefactor.

Rudyard Kipling wrote:

I have struck a city - a real city - and they call it Chicago. . . . I urgently desire never to see it again. It is inhabited by savages.

I'm going to stop myself before my Chicago love drowns the thread!

Thank you for the great article. Too often I have had to distract my children from the monitor when they are watching me play due to someone's inappropriate language or behavior. It gets a bit uncomfortable to answer the question, "Daddy, what does **** mean?" heh.

wordsmythe wrote:

I've said it before on other threads, but I will repeat it here: The solution is walled cities. The issue seems to be that communities are so hungry for more members (especially when everyone from Digg to WoW gets their money because of thier membership and use levels), that they don't stop to think about who they're letting in the front gate. GWJ has a social wall in that it's self-selecting to a degree, and for that I am thankful.

Initially I'd typed up a response that talked about my experience with the Guild Wars community and the desire to get hits and users rather than welcome participants. It ended up veering a bit too far off topic though, maybe another day.
Suffice to say that walled cities are one solution, but different sites and mediums require different methods.
Above all I think you need to get the community to help police itself, which works well here.

Exactly, wordsmythe. To any visitors linking to this article from Slashdot, GWJ (or it's community, respectfully known as "Goodjers" or "Goodgers") has an extensive pool of great, mostly (snicker) mature people who frequently play together. This has resulted in a very strong community, which we are proud to be a part of. It has also let us play pretty much any online game under the sun with a great group of people. The energy and enjoyment from a typical Goodjer Halo match is infinitely more enjoyable than the alternative

Vulgarity, sexual chat, disgusting images, and such don't really bother me all that much. I have been interacting with people via BBS, online games, internet, message boards, whatever for nearly 20 years so I'm sure I have become insanely desensitized over the years. I can see how some things would be disturbing to some people. Unfortunately I think I will always prefer a system that allows for these types of things over one that is overly restrictive. Most games offer an option to ignore people and even in games the size of WoW they are pretty good about cracking down on harassment.

I think where the line should be drawn is when real life threats are made. Sometimes people in these games do act in ways that might encourage people to locate them in the real world and give them a swift kick to the ass. Unfortunately I don't really think much that is done online or in a virtual world really justifies that sort of thing. I think once threats move outside the game and involve harm/harassment outside of the game that law enforcement should definitely become involved.

IMO parents worried about their kids being exposed should probably look more into restricting their children's access, or explaining things to them so that when they encounter this sort of thing they aren't damaged for life or meeting up with internet psychopaths in the real world.

A few things that I think might work or at least help out in online games would be:

-making servers/games for adults only (obviously some things can still be against the ToS to avoid having an online sex fest)

-changing the typical /ignore feature to allow you to ignore people on an account level and not restrict the size of ignore lists so that you can keep as many people from talking to you as you like.

-including a sort of reputation system coded into the game sorta like the "warning" system they used to have on AIM. Players could put negative reputation points on players who are offensive. You might even be able to force people to comment on why they are giving them a poor score and make these available for other players to review. Possibly include a means for players who have received negative marks to appeal this as well to avoid people just making others look terrible as a form of reputation based "griefing".

-I also think that games with a tight nit community tend to keep this type of behavior at bay. Maybe encouraging folks to be decent to one another in some way might help?

I dunno I personally try to treat everyone the way I would like to be treated. I have a fairly long memory and in many cases will refuse to party/guild with folks I have had previous bad encounters with. However I also like pretty disgusting and bizarre humor. So I would hate to see games where people are total nazis and I have to spend more time trying to be PC than I do trying to enjoy myself.

There is room for abuse in ANY system we could possibly create.

souldaddy wrote:

There is room for abuse in ANY system we could possibly create.

I don't know what you've heard, but this is not the case in my bedroom. Your sister is safe with me!

This article remains me of another article that recently found fame on the internet. It goes to the very heart of this topic and plainly suggests prevention of trollers, griefers and other such destructive personalities on the web. O'Reilly Radar: Call for a Blogger's Code of Conduct

I believe that the community itself is the law enforcement of the community. It takes a combined effort of the administration and community of a forum or email list or blogger group to police their own. There are tools to help facilitate this. A scoring program that many communities utilize (Karma) or through a thumbs up and down method that Digg.com uses for comment posts on articles. A troll can quickly be pushed below the readable score and much of the community simply ignores them at that point. Or if an officer or administrator catches a extremely flaming post or comment quick enough they can erase that post or comment in an existing discussion giving the troll no satisfaction of seeing their gasoline soaked comment burst into flame.

However the most effective tool against giving these people power is through a simple technique called self control and evasion. This I believe gets down the core reasons behind any online persona that chooses to cause turmoil, chaos or grief to everyone else. Why do they do what they do? Is it because they want attention? Do they want to get a rise out of their opponents to cause them to make a mistake? Perhaps they weren't hugged enough as children or not disciplined enough to know what respect is? Maybe their ego is very fragile and hence they feel a need to lash out to anyone that will listen when they find themselves losing. It could be any number of reasons instinctual, psychological and social.

So whenever you find yourself in a situation where you are up against one of these people there are two things that you yourself need to do to not give them anymore power or ammunition.

Self Control: Exert your own self control on the matter. Do not respond and do not give the griefer that satisfaction that they have gotten to you. This could be as simple as not posting to their comment, not commenting on their post, not referring to them in a follow up, not making commentary even remotely about them. Simply ignore their presence. Many of us have been trained otherwise and many feel the need to make some snarky comment back towards them. As if this comment will somehow validate or invalidate the argument. Perhaps it makes them feel better to fight back but honestly it makes no difference. It merely adds fuel to the flame and gives them the opportunity to comment back furthering a flame. In an online environment the same rules apply. Do not respond to typed or said commentary, hopefully it will stop in a short time. If self control does not work then move to the next step which is also occasionally the first step.

Evasion: This can be achieved in many different ways. From simply muting that person, muting open dialog, putting someone your ignore list or not reading their commentary or responding to them. You are no longer simply not responding to their interaction but you are evading them. Sometimes this could be you moving servers or changing channels. Sometimes however evasion needs to be a first step. For example take any open and highly popular games forum. Planetforums comes to mind. Arguments of any sort of nature on these types of forums is a fruitless cause that leads no where and wastes countless hours of reading and responding. If you know this before hand then there is really no reason for you as a responsible person to even respond or visit those forums. Total evasion of known areas popular to griefers and trolls. You wouldn't go into a neighborhood that you knew you were going to be harassed in. You wouldn't visit a country that you know has serious issues versus your nationality. The goes for the internet environment. Be responsible in your internet visitation and actions.

Self Control and Evasion are the two most powerful tools a normal user can utilize to prevent bad internet behavior. More powerful tools can then be utilized by Officers and Administrators to further or permanently remove bad seeds including baning logins or IPs. Finally the last resort is requiring a real life identity to go with online identities. A forum owner can require any amount of personal information and can utilize many sorts of online tools to verify identity. Certainly these measures are more evasive and personal but the deterrence to any online persona to be disruptive is diminished considerably when they themselves are no longer anonymous. If the user doesn't accept this then they simply do not participate in that forum. There is no automatic right to be able to participate in a forum or community and the owner does not have to let you join. The same as I don't have to let anyone into my own house.

Exercise restraint, utilize common sense and follow simple values.

Enjoyed the read, it is thought provoking articles like this that make me so happy someone turned me onto GWJ.

I like the Old West analogy. From my readings however, the Old West is much more like an episode of 'Deadwood' instead of 'Gunsmoke'. It was dirty, ugly and brutal. The "Law" was barely present and civility even more rare. I would say we are frontiersmen/women and pioneers, out there on the ragged edge between pure lawlessness and the mores of a civil society. You either cut it or you don't and if lucky head back East to the relative comforts of the "City Folk". Eventually the rest of society follows in our footsteps, settling and gentrifying what we fought hard to tame.

Certainly our trials and tribulations are much different than those pioneers and in all but the most rare of instances our lives are in no real peril. But sadly though, some day we might all be like ol' Gus from 'Lonesome Dove' and make one last run, chasing what is left of the buffaloes, looking back somewhat fondly on when things were truly wild.

Ok, now I understand much better what your complaints were in the thread over in P&C. Despite the fact that we appeared to be disagreeing over there, I've actually thought a lot like you for a long time. I've been watching this develop for most of my adult life, and I've put some time into thinking about it.

The most fundamental rule of online communities is this: they degrade over time without very active management. Why? Because good people come and go; they have many options. Assholes accumulate. They find the best place that will accept them and stay there. Gradually, enough semi-assholes show up that the tenor of the site drops somewhat, meaning that slightly more-assholish people show up. If the good people start objecting, the semi-assholes will get defensive about the greater assholes, because they feel attacked themselves. If the site runs on majority opinion, it will gradually get worse and worse, as each new wave of assholes attracts even worse people, and good people gradually give up and leave. Eventually, all online communities without active and committed management become the virtual equivalent of slums. GWJ's continued good tone is a testament to Certis and Elysium: they're good people and unwilling to tolerate jerks. Without them, GWJ's community would likely disintegrate as a larger entity.

The second issue is that, online, we don't have the instant sorting capability we do in real life. Humans are very good at being social; we have an incredible amount of brain circuitry devoted to that. We can sort out very quickly people who might or might not be interesting. Online, we don't have any of those filters. This can be good -- I'm friends, for instance, with some apparently-rather-grizzled bikers that I wouldn't have otherwise met -- but it can also be bad, in that you're forced to deal with people you would instinctively avoid in person.

In real life, there's a lot of assholery. It just hides from the mainstream; it's in dive bars and high schools. We sort those people out in RL fairly quickly, but it's harder to do that online.

The thing about "no consequences" is, I believe, a symptom, not a cause. Some people make up new asshole troll personas at the drop of a hat, but those people are generally not that hard to exclude, given some effort. People like finding friends online. People like connecting. Gabriel's Greater Internet f*ckwad Theory only applies, I think, to young males.

Worrying about and trying to "fix" online society as a whole strikes me as control freakish and kind of scary. Instead, just find people you like and hang out with them. It's the old Buddhist thing about putting your own house in order before trying to clean someone else's. The way to make a good BIG society is by making lots of good SMALL ones. GWJ is one of those little ones.

Over time, I think the psychotic jerks will gradually be marginalized. They'll always exist, as we don't have the social cues that keep real life assholery minimized, but as people learn how this works and learn how to use the equivalents of /ignore, we'll be able to assemble in groups that correspond pretty well to how they work in real life. The assholes will still exist, but they'll hang out together, on sites like Little Green Footballs.

As an example of a good internet group, I'd use my Second Life friends. I don't play there much anymore, but I have a group of people there I see for two events a week. Griefers don't last long, we have a good time, and new people cycle in and out every week. It seems quite healthy, low key, and, well, kinda normal. Except, anyway, for the fact that some folks are eight feet tall or mecha butterflies or something.

Second Life is unusually good in that area, in fact, because it gives residents lots of tools to manage things themselves. You seemed extra-horrified about the rape thing there, but what you don't realize is that you have many more tools to protect yourself in SL than you do in, say, WoW. In Warcraft, all you can do is get the admins involved if you don't like someone, or maybe mute them if you have room in your mute list. In SL, you can actually exclude them from an area of the world that you own; you have very strong control over land that's "yours". So it's quite possible to build exactly the kind of group you want. You have a lot of power over a small area. That may be SL's single biggest innovation. The advent of virtual land ownership gives the ability to form virtual spaces with strong controls by users. That's a big deal, I think. It could be done other ways, but 'land' ownership is a metaphor that works pretty well. It maps closely to real life, so we more or less understand how it works without much training.

Basically, I don't think this battle needs fighting. My perception of what you're saying is, "I want to force everyone online to adhere to my behavioral standards." That won't work, ever. All you can really do is join groups that enforce standards you like.

Alright, hold up. First of all, games that host PvP-optional settings are designed, obviously, for players to kill the hell out of one another. The reason why people seem to take it to the 'next level' is obvious as well. Because the digital world is simply a reflection of the real world. The internet, for the most part, is an ungoverned anarchist state. Just imagine people in an anarchist state, throwing bricks and chairs through windows and lighting things on fire-- then imagine those same people in an anarchist state who now magically have anonymity, invisibility, and invincibility... and probably super strength and excessively large penis sizes. They're going to act just like people would in the real world, except probably to a more destructively effective degree. This is how it is, in order to change it, you'd have to change and rework a world full of tainted human minds. (PvE server is..... -> that way.)

People who can't mentally or emotionally handle this anarchist state should stick to more moderated channels, or at the very least shield themselves in their own anonymity before adventuring into the blackened masses and cesspools.

Now you have to remember, the internet can be as large as the world, yet fit inside your silly little screen. So let me try to break things into perspective to you. I'd use Martin Luther King as an example, yet Hitler is cooler... so I'll use Hitler. Hitler stands on a podium and starts blabbering about something or another, I'm not a history buff, simply because I'm lazy and a large portion of human history DOESN'T involve ninjas or pirates, but I'm digressing... you see, Hitler decides that he's going to change the world, or something, who cares what he decides, anyway he speaks in front of what can be best known as the "World Stage", and gains a strong following. However, he also gains a lot of "aggro" (it was originally a British term before it was a gamer term, so imagine somebody speaking it with an accent while they munch on crumpets) and a whole army amasses for the sole purpose of killing him and ending his newly founded regime. "Now Fox, what the f*ck are you talking about?" It's simple. Every blog site, message forum, and newscast is in themselves... mini world stages. So of course there are going to be radicals for and against the people who post on the web, it's the way of life, the thing you have to do is either ignore them, remove them from the site, or defeat them with words... while maintaining your Norton firewall, just in case.

In short, the internet is the entire world combined into one thread, but is not part of the world in itself. It cannot be truly governed, no matter how much one tries.

So Mr. CEO might actually kill you and take your shoes, if there weren't laws put down in the real world to prevent that. And hell, if there weren't any laws, I would probably consume my time partaking in a lot of sexual harassment. But there are laws, and that's what makes this world sit on different standards than the net.

As for your comments on how to deal with online gaming (specifically PvP) situations....

Designers usually DO pay attention to the PvP aspects in their games, hence PvP servers, sanctuary areas, excessively powerful guards with rocket launchers that you'd swear were just put there to annoy the hell out of you. Yeah-- they have that covered.... and if they don't, then people stop playing their games and they lose money. They're penalized through their wallets, and money is more persuasive than even Mr. King.

I will give you the comment about how players need to deal with 'the line' between the real world and the net... but only because that's common sense. If you don't like something, don't continue playing it or doing it, go find something else to spend your time on. By yourself, this action is inherently useless, but if everybody who felt that way were to act in the same manner... that alone would shape existing channels, or at the very least, open new forms of entertainment solely for that specific class of individual.

I assume it'd be pointless for me to continue any further, the general point of what I'm trying to say is, unless you lock yourself in your proverbial house (i.e. Dwell in one spot on the net where you feel secure), you're not going to be safe from being offended, harassed, and abused by SOME people. Like the real world, all you need when heading out into the net is a little bit of wit, tact, and a lot of salt. But I'm just rambling now, so I'll stop before I lose what few shades of credibility (and probably dignity) that I have left.

InsaneFox wrote:

And hell, if there weren't any laws, I would probably consume my time partaking in a lot of sexual harassment.

Charmed, I'm sure.

rabbit wrote:
InsaneFox wrote:

And hell, if there weren't any laws, I would probably consume my time partaking in a lot of sexual harassment.

Charmed, I'm sure.

What? It's probably true-- uncivilized vagrants such as myself can barely be contained by these silly human morals and values....

And by 'vagrant' I mean... well... I stole a pen from the bank the other day, granted it was an accident and I didn't realize it was in my pocket until I emptied out my pockets on my dresser, but ya know, I really think I stuck it to the man that day....

The funny thing is, I just visited the Slashdot thread for this article, with five moderation points, and I spent them all filtering out trolls and flamebait.

I hope we find good social approaches to improving online communities, because the technical approaches sure don't scale.