[MUD-Dev] Historic lessons on fluid identity

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Sat Sep 29 22:41:24 New Zealand Standard Time 2001

Historic lessons on fluid identity

The identity, or rather the lack of it, has plagued muds. Many of
the laws in Raph Koster's list directly or indirectly refer to it
and to the fact that people are less inhibited in anonymous situ-
ations. We even have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that it is
a problem that can not be solved. Players will be anonymous if they
so choose, and there is no amount of coding that can get a- round

This may be true, but we are ignoring all lessons we could learn
from history, if we decide to leave it at that and just decide we
have to live with virtual sociapaths.

The fact is that a fixed and traceable identity is a very recent
invention. Fingerprint identification traces back to somewhere in
the mid 1800s (if I reall correctly, I could look it up but there is
little point). This was the first technology that was develop- ed to
link a criminal to the site of a crime.  Only recently has this
technology evolved to the point where a fingerprint can be taken
reliably.  Dental records are only applicable in countries, and
situations, where the majority of the population has regular access
to a dentist. DNA identification is only a couple of deca- des old.
Today probably eighty percent of the world's population lives in a
situation where there is -no- reliable identity.  More so, they live
in a situation that is not dissimilar to muds where one can simply
move to another town and effectively become anony- mous and
untraceable. Less than two centuries ago the entire po- pulation
lived under such circumstances.

How did they deal with it?  Considering that human nature has not
changed significantly study of old societies might be revealing, but
I think all strategies that people have come up with over the
millenia boil down to:

Lock your door.

Societies built walls, both physical and social, around themsel-
ves, to keep strangers (and potential dangers) out.  To enter a city
you had to check in with the gate guard (or sheriff ;), and leave
your weapons behind. Unless of course somebody in the city would
vouch for you, or you were a citizen.  This 'primitive' technique is
emminently applicable to muds, and can even allow player societies
to ensure their own protection.  To enter a city one must already
pass through a checkpoint, and the community can "rent" a guard from
the game, or the staff, to keep unwanted visitors out, or at least
force them to be unarmed Further guard squads can sweep the
community to look for players who circumvented the entrance
restrictions and either lock them up or expell them.  Visitors who
misbehave can easily be removed from the society by marking them as
unwelcome with the guards. A citizen who misbehaves can be exiled in
much the same way.  When a player changes identity to hide his
crimes this makes no dif- ference as the new person is 'unknown',
and thus automatically repelled from the society.  To gain entrance
one must first earn the trust of the other players. While it will
not prevent a tru- ly determined player, it does restrict his
ability to do harm, simply by forcing him out, and it also makes it
difficult enough to do that very few are willing to go to such
extremes.  (and if they do they are really going to be cases for law
enforcement, the real one that is).  Further, it gives the victim a
very real sense of control over his or her fate, which is extremely
im- portant to prevent the assault from being traumatic.

Yes - at last - You. I Choose you. Out of all the world,
out of all the seeking, I have found you, young sister of
my heart! You are mine and I am yours - and never again
will there be loneliness ...

Rolan Choosing Talia,
Arrows of the Queen, by Mercedes Lackey

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