[MUD-Dev] The Terrorist Class

Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no> Ola Fosheim Grøstad <olag@ifi.uio.no>
Tue Feb 16 19:28:41 New Zealand Daylight Time 1999


Harassement and jerks are phenomenas that are generally viewed as
undesirable by most admins. Now, how would you go about implementing a
terrorist class on your mud? Is it at all feasible to implement a
_believable_ terrorist class?

Troy Whitlock has written an article about terrorism in the context of a
postmodern ("the surface is everything", opposing modernism which is aiming
for reductionistic understanding) MUD in which the users "tried" to apply
Derrida's deconstructivism (philosphical direction in which one tries to
break down the existing terms/paradigms).

I hope this (large) snippet from Whitlock's entertaingin "TECHNOLOGICAL
HIERARCHY IN MOO" can serve as a basis for discussions / brainstorming:

---------------------------------- 8< --------------------------------------

<SNIPPING FIRST PART>

John Unsworth, Director of the Institute for Advanced Technologies
in the Humanities, at the University of Virginia, is also the head
wizard of Post Modern Culture MOO. It was created as an offshoot of
the popular electronic journal, Postmodern Culture, as a site for
real-time text-based conferencing on journal-related activities. As a
feature of the technological platform, it was also hoped that it
would be possible to explore concepts in Post Modern thought
through the development of interactive programs. It was host to a
rather small and homogeneous group of individuals familiar with
the journal, or its companion listserv, PMC-Talk. But when PMC
MOO's address appeared in an addition of the popular Wired
magazine, the community of PMC MOO quickly changed.

**Author's Note**
I have tried to layout my perspectives with less than an impassive
tone and my definitions are as much a reflection of my encounter
with the medium as they are practical considerations.

My life in cyberspace has been relatively confined to life in a
particular identity, in a particular historical context. I have been a
sojourner to many virtual worlds, but it was at PMC that I first
discovered MOO. I have rambled about LambdaMOO enough to feel
at home, yet never at home enough to build one. I served in quite
an active capacity as a wizard at the (yet to be revived)
experimental PointMOOt; I have seen the best and worst the job has
to offer. But all of these were an extension of my experiences at
PMC. I discovered it shortly after Wired published the address,
from a post to the Alt.Postmodern USENET Newsgroup. I arrived
just in time to see the old hierarchy die. Things were hostile then,
and I must at once admit, I was an active participant in the praxis
that followed.
****************



Back then, PMC MOO shared a server with a library computer at
North Carolina State University and as it's population increased, it
was beginning to increase its demands on the host computers
memory. The MOO had to be moved to a new server at the
University of Virginia, and thus the stage was set for the
Apocalypse. There was to be a literal destruction of our
environment, object by object, a celebration of deconstruction. We
were encouraged to participate in "The End", though there seemed
to be no guarantee that we would all be welcome at the new site.

The community of PMC MOO was well fragmented. There were
many exclusive networks of programmers who seemed to be
competing for power, in the absence of an established political
structure. The wizards made relatively few demands on the
community, nor did they often participate in the emerging sub-
communities, in fact it was a rare day indeed, to even see one
around. Veteran members of the community seemed dissatisfied
with the "quality" of conversation and the behavior of some of the
recent immigrants. A rash of "spying" and limited "intrusions", as
well as a great deal of rumor and gossip created an air of suspicion
and paranoia.

One day I was hanging out with Palefist, a very prominent and
skillful programmer, a multi-media designer living in Montreal. He
had only recently come to PMC, but his programming skills were
particularly advanced. His personal demeanor is as his name
suggests; he was a very powerful figure. Yet, he was well respected
and was always quite polite and dignified. We were conversing in a
rather public place and happened to encounter a female-presenting
user being harassed by two very male newbies, competing for her
attention. Almost without thought, Ogre and I stole their belongings
[29], planted them on the "other", initiated an imaginary
disagreement between them, and spoofed them into a fight. A small
blast of spam dissuaded them from continuing the confrontation.
They became very confused and quickly left. Needless to say we
were quite amused with ourselves, as well as overwhelmed with
the principles that we had discovered.

We continued our discussion, turning to the current state of affairs
and the ultimate "end of it all". We began to relate our discoveries,
about the nature of power in the MOO, to the hostilities and
tensions in the community. I suppose we felt that the we were
actually fatalistically compelled by the realization itself. It occured
to us that the Apocalypse was an oppurtunity to create something
subtle and unique; something that would turn the MOO upside-
down, that we might peer at its soft underbelly.

The illusion of a "Revolution", an inversion of the power hierarchy,
a shock to jump-start the community; these were our goals. Our
means to this end would be Palefist's brilliantly constructed MOO
Terrorist Player Class. This player class provided non-programmers
access to the same illusionary technologies that a programmer used,
but with a little more zip. That is not to say that it was juvenile or
vicious . Palefist was very stylish and committed to good taste. The
player class was not programmed to spam (as this is just bad form),
but it did provide an all-purpose spoof verb, to "describe a mood,
action, or throw your voice"  [Appendix I].  It provided easy
functions for stealing and planting objects, and featured a secret
"Terrorist" intercom system. Probably the most disruptive feature
of this player class was its "bomb" verb. This verb would allow
users to send a "black sedan filled with explosives" to toss Molotov
cocktails anywhere in the MOO. The resultant virtual explosion
would send victims to the Hospital in the main PMC MOO complex.
But Palefist was careful to craft the bombs to only affect
programmers. We felt programmers were the only legitimate
targets of our revolution, the ones responsible for the current state
of disillusionment, and "a group of people with enough experience
and the wherewithal to handle themselves and the situation" [ 30].
Choosing to empower players over programmers further
heightened the effect of the inversion of hierarchies.

This was all done in the spirit of play. Afterwards, the general
consensus was that it was at least interesting, if not entertaining. It
was spontaneous, it fostered the development of new networks, and
it was "ultimately harmless". A few people found it irritating, but it
was after all the "Apocalypse". Perhaps it is a faulty assumption to
believe that one should be "safe" in cyberspace; the absence of a
"fringe" negates questions about "rights".

Our experiment was for the most part a success. It was an
interesting use of programming and for the most part, its intrusions
were rather limited. Further, the imagery of the "revolution"
definitely added to the sense that there was some form of
"radicalized community". Unfortunately, this did not translate into
more inter-group cooperation, rather contributed to divisiveness
between groups. It wasn't very long before other programmers had
created their own verbs, both to protect themselves and to wreak
havoc on others.

The "Apocalypse" soon blossomed into an all out war. A few took
advantage of the chaos to act out personal vendettas, engaging in
ruthless manipulation of personal space. Palefist was able to
exercise some authority over the "Terrorists", as owner of the
player class, but other player classes were developed that allowed
for far more abusive uses of technology. Many long time users were
disgusted by the "social darwinism" that had evolved, and left. The
wizards were simply not organized enough to maintain order, but
that would soon change.

The wizards solidified their authority at the new site, by
establishing a code of behavior, "Obnoxious behavior is uniformly
and universally discouraged here... Repeated nuisance behavior will
cost you your player" [31]. They felt that our ideas reflected an
understanding of Post Modernism as "anarchy" or an "absence of
rules". The wizards refused to assist or even acknowledge the work
new users were doing, or address the questions "community" that
were raised. They maintained a rigid resistance to suggestions of
change. We felt that we were engaged in a deconstructive critique,
a Post Modern praxis of play. We hoped, that by calling the norms
and assumptions of the community into question, we might
reinvigorate the fragmenting "public sphere". The wizards claimed
to be promoting a Post Modern theme, but they insisted on the
totality of their authority to define it, very un-PoMo.  Palefist
noted, "they complained that new users were more interested in
playing around and making things than talking about Post Modern
Culture. I thought this was a shallow take on the situation, because
we were *living* PoMo, and more often than not, it was a chance to
explore it more deeply than exchanging notes" [32].

The project of "Terrorism" soon changed to a discursive campaign.
The list, *Theory, a forum for the discussion of Post Modern theory
as it relates to MOO, became host to a healthy discussion of the
exercise of power and authority on the part of the Wizardry. They
maintained little contact with the community, seldom offered their
resources to programmers, and yet felt justified in imposing their
vision on the MOO. It was in fact their privilege to do so, as was so
often pointed out, but the lack of organization and the refusal to
acknowledge and empower the other hierarchies that had
developed within the community, stagnated its development [33].

Soon new programs evolved to challenge the very vague "code of
conduct" that had been imposed. A character named Sedate, who
was and remains to be - the archetypical "fool" of PMC, created a
program called a "Random Pager", allowing messages to be send
randomly and anonymously across the MOO:



Random Pager: (#4077)
----
NOTICE!!!

By adding this feature to your list of features, you are hereby
absolving Sedate, player (#2803) from any and all actions and
consequences caused by this feature object (#4077).
If you do not agree with this, then type @rmfeature #4077.
If you do not, then you are agreeing to the stipulations contained
herein.

Features:

@page (message)
@page Welcome to PoMo City!
Random_Player sees: Random_Player pages, "Welcome to PoMo
City!"

Disclaimer!

The owner of this feature object (Sedate, #2803) in no way
endorses using this device to send rude messages.  This device is
for the sole purpose of sending `nice' messages like "hello , how are
you today" or "my what nice weather we seem to be virtually
having." or of a similar nature. [34]

Of course this is not how it was used. As owner of this verb, Sedate
appeared (at the technological level) to be responsible for all the
pages generated by it. Players abused this anonymity at Sedate's
expense. It wasn't long before he was "newted" [35]. He was given
no warning or explanation. Some felt this was long overdue,
whereas others were enraged by the continued imposition of
"harsh, arbitrary limits". They saw this is kind of control as
manifesting "Modern" concepts of hierarchical authority,
supposedly rejected by the "Post Modern" wizardry.

I had created an object called the "DarkWhole", which brought me
into a confrontation with the wizardry as well. This object was
similar to Jorge Luis Borge's concept of the "Panopticon", it allowed
one to experience the entirety of the communicative environment
at once, to see, or rather hear, everywhere in the MOO. But to do so
it used a spying technology, a microphone placed surreptitiously. It
was a publicly accessible room so it could be  used by anyone, to
spy on any unsecured room in the MOO. Players began use and
abuse this device, and again, because of ownership,  my personal
object number appeared to be technologically responsible for the
invasion. Yet, there was no clear policy on "spying". Invasions of
privacy failed to fall within the category of "rights" which the
wizards chosen to protect [36]. The complaints generated against
me had no legal grounds, and the wizards were hard pressed to
legitimate their harassment of me. Their dictate that "repeated
nuisance behavior will cost you your player" was serving as a poor
source of  polity. How often is repeated? Who is a nuisance to
whom? What constitutes behavior?

The wizardry refused to address our complaints or our challenges,
feeling they were either misplaced and misguided. John Unsworth
ultimately sought to silence the dissent by brute force commenting,
"arbitrary decisions are quick and seem efficient... sensitive
mediateio is nicer but takes forever and doesn't always deal with
problems" [37]. Sedate was toaded and yet  another "code of
conduct" was announced. Spamming and spoofing were universality
outlawed. We found this particularly ironic, that they would outlaw
universally the technologies that create the environment. How
many lines constitutes spam? At what point does consented
attribution become "spoofing". But  we knew that the community
was already too large and diverse to police. There were a lack of
social networks for enforcing the rules, but as the Wizards now
trusted no one, this is immaterial. The propagation of abusive
technologies continues to plague the community. A sense of "vague
uneasiness" and tension remains, allowing daily life to be easily
disrupted by outbreaks of obnoxious behavior. The technologies of
"Terrorism" have long since been destroyed, but their logic
continues to dominate the discourse. Succeeding generations of
programmers have sought  to replace the alternate hierarchies
abandoned by the exodus of disenchanted citizens. Many of the
same themes have reemerged, but most often in a less charming
fashion.

My experiences seem to support the proposition that the
"fundamental coerciveness of a society, exists not in its mechanisms
of social control, but its ability to impose itself as reality" [38].  This
society,  its reality,  is impacted by the networks that develop
there, as well as the technological media that hosts it. Control over
the medium, informational power, should be diffused through these
networks, to allow the virtual space to reflect the sensibilities of its
inhabitants. I find it ultimately ironic that those who rail against
such a diffusion as promoting the "quest" for power in cyberspace,
are themselves engaged in such a political economy. Whether a user
@gripes, @gags, @redlists, @toads, whines, complains, casts
dispersions or flames, spams, spoofs, spies or moves; they are
exercising power: Power in the economic sense of exchanging
information, power in the discursive sense of building a community
of norms, power in the constructive sense of engaging and imposing
their will on the environment.



Appendix I:

%%  TERRORIST CLASS PLAYER INSTRUCTIONS  %%

Welcome to the Terrorist Player Class. Wear it proudly.
You are part of an elite cadre now, with special powers
and a duty to squash the bourgeois Programmer Class once
and for all! We must keep them off balance by striking
often. We must disseminate fear and confusion. To this
end, you have been given the following verbs:
--
steal <anything> from <player>
   Do not be shy, steal from the PC as they have stolen from us!
   You have a 1 in 10 chance of tipping them off.
   Some objects may be well guarded and therefore not possible to
steal.

ditch [player]
   Drop all your inventory or plant it on another player.
   This is good if you are caught stealing and have to get
   rid of the evidence, or if someone has planted objects on you!

echo <anything>
   Display any text to the room. Describe a mood, action, or throw
you
   voice.

radio <any message> (or # )
  Send a message to all Terrorists with your TerrorCom(tm)!
  Notify Terrorists you are on the MOO, with `#' on its own.

salute (or sal)
  Automatically salute your fellow comrades in the room.

slogan! (or slo)
  Toe the party line with a host of Pro-Terrorist, Anti-Bourgeois
  Programmer Class slogans. The greatest enemy of The People is
the
  complacency of the Programmer Class!

kill [player]
  Terrorists are trained in the lethal use of various weapons.

bomb <player>
  Get the comrades together for a drive-by bombing! Use this
  feature sparingly, as it will bomb the entire location the
  target is in. The bombs act indiscriminately, whereas before
  they only killed programmers. No one is safe. We have upped the
  ante, so to speak, toward the end of the MOO.

--Comrade Sabat has given the Terrorists exclusive use of
  his SuperPets (which eat people). Thank you brother!


               LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTION!

<SNIPPING FOOTNOTES+REFERENCES>

----------------------------------- >8 -------------------------------
The original URL is defunct, but the article can still be found at
http://www.usyd.edu.au/su/social/papers/whitloc2.txt

--
Ola






More information about the MUD-Dev mailing list