[MUD-Dev] Ethics & Identity

Scatter scatter at thevortex.com
Mon Oct 12 18:30:54 New Zealand Daylight Time 1998

At <URL:http://www.scu.edu/Ethics/publications/iie/v7n2/turkle.shtml>
is an interesting piece on identity and ethics on the net. It's 
partly a book review, but has some questions which I thought might
interest some on this list:

-- cut --

"Is the real self always the naturally occurring one? Is the real self
always the one in the physical world? As more and more real
business gets done in cyberspace, could the real self be the one
who functions best in that world?"

These questions have important moral ramifications. What are the
ethics of swapping identities? Does someone who signs onto the
Internet under a different persona violate the virtues of honesty,
trustworthiness, and integrity, or do the rules of the game allow
such tinkering?

You might conclude that all is fair among consenting players. In
fact, such games can be seen as a way of sparking moral
imagination. As Turkle puts it, "We can use it as space for
growth." By trying out new personae, we can, she argues, learn
more about our true selves and the nature of artifice. Then we can
return from cyberspace enlarged by our experience. "Virtuality
need not be a prison," she writes. "It can be the raft, the ladder,
the transitional space, the moratorium, that is discarded after
reaching greater freedom."

But suppose, for example, that you sign on as an aggressive male
in search of what is known on MUDs as TinySex; that is,
simulated sex carried on through conversations. If it is true that 90
percent of sex is in the mind, then such an encounter might be
almost as emotional as the real thing.

Now suppose that the player behind the identity you meet is a
10-year-old child. Should you enter into a highly emotional
encounter with such a person?

Playing in a MUD may be entertaining, stimulating, and
growth-enhancing for a healthy adult. But for an immature
individual, it might also be frightening or traumatic. If there is a
chance our actions might cause harm to another, are we morally
obligated to refrain from playing the game?

And what if the player behind the identity you meet is, like Julia, a
bot? When one player learned that Julia was just a computer
program, she reported feeling "shallow, void, hollow, superficial,
fake, out of control of the situation." What is the programmer's
obligation to reveal the bot's identity - or lack of it?

-- cut --

Scatter ///\oo/\\\

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