[MUD-Dev] Historic lessons on fluid identity

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Tue Oct 2 21:38:37 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Mon 01 Oct, Matt Mihaly wrote:
> On Sat, 29 Sep 2001, Marian Griffith wrote:

>> The fact is that a fixed and traceable identity is a very recent
>> invention.

> No it's not. A fixed and traceable identity has always
> existed. People can recognize each other. That is a fixed and
> traceable identity.

So you can split hairs.  Besides, people are not at all good at
recognising each other, and you can with a little skill create
disguises that hardly anybody can see through.

Apart from all that, I was of course talking about identities in
muds in relation to the problem that it is very simple for players
to change identity simply by creating a new persona (if necessary
using a different email or computer).

The general claim, and you can take a look at the list of laws at
Raph's page, is that you can not prevent this, and that thus it is
impossible to prevent virtual sociopathic behaviour.

The fact that somebody knows you has no bearing on your identity.
Until very recently a dead body was just that, unless it was so
shortly dead that its features were still recognisable.  Only with
the extensive birth certificates, record keeping -and- very fast
communication between localised communities (telephone), has this
changed. Nowadays a body can often be identified even if only some
fragment of the jaws is available.  That is quite different from a
situation where your identity is determined by other people know-
ing you (which is the case with a significant part of the earth's

Historically speaking people's identity was traceable only through
their social relations and acquintances. Because the same thing is
essentially true on muds, we -can- learn from the ways that socie-
ties historically dealt with the problems inherent in such and un-
certain identification.

>> More so, they live in a situation that is not dissimilar to muds
>> where one can simply move to another town and effectively become
>> anonymous and untraceable. Less than two centuries ago the entire
>> population lived under such circumstances.

> Of course, there are large practical and psychological barriers to
> totally cutting yourself off from your previous life. They far far
> exceed any such barriers in the current virtual worlds.

Yes but that does not make it any less valid. And through the ages
countless people have done just that.

Functional anonymity is a social problem that has existed as long as
humankind, and the fact that in muds it is greater only makes it
more relevant to study the ways traditionally it has been dealt

>> 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.

> If you want to ensure near-absolute safety of your players, just
> don't allow them to ever damage each other in any way. Get rid of
> things like monsters attacking random people, etc.

Safety of the players is not the issue.  Not really anyway, though
it is questionable that making it impossible to harm each other is
possible at all in a sufficiently rich mud.  I was simply respond-
ing to an often heard statement on this list about grief players and
how the lack of fixed identity made it impossible to stop them from
being virtual sociopaths. I tried to point out that first the
situation with anonymity is not unique to muds, but is as old as
humankind and second that there are ways societies have learned to
deal with it which may be applicable to muds.  How safe, or unsafe,
you wish to make your mud is a separate issue What you can do is use
a feature of the typical mud to create dis- tinct societies that
grief players can not (easily) work around, simply because they must
first be accepted into a society before they can be a virtual
sociopath and subsequently the other players have -real- control
over their social environment that is meaning- full in relation to
the crime (unlike PK which is largely ineffec- tive and easily
circumvented by creating a new persona).

> The difference is that in the physical world, the idea IS to
> totally protect people if possible. That isn't really the idea in
> a MUD where part of the fun might be attacking other players and
> the danger inherent in the possibility of such action. The goals
> aren't the same at all.

This certainly is a form of entertainment to some players, and not
to others. Until now it has been impossible to cater to both these
crowds at the same time.  Mainly through lack of social 'tools' to
enforce a group culture (or society). I tried to show that contra-
ry to popular belief it might be possible to develop such tools, and
thus create games that are as (un)safe as its players want.

[example snipped]

> Achaea does this, but of course all it does is provide a safe
> haven

Is there something inherently wrong with that, that you call it "all
it does"?

> (well, what we really do is make it so that if you set foot in an
> enemy city, you're quite likely to die from NPC attacks, and if
> you have to deal with player attacks on top of it, you're screwed,
> unless you gather together a number of people to attack at once,
> thus spreading out the NPC attacks).

But that is something quite different from my example.  In Achaea it
apparently is possible for players to circumvent the gatekeeper and
force entrance. In that case it is not a social tool but a ga- me
feature.  I have no doubt this is perfect for your game, but I was
thinking about a game that is much more society oriented (for lack
of a better word, and not wishing to imply that Achaea has no social
aspects!) I was thinking more along the lines of UO and the problems
it has (had) with player created cities, and invasion, crime and
other socially unwanted (by those players) activities.

> The problem with it is that all it does is protect someone while
> he or she is in the city, and he or she has to leave the city in
> order to do a lot of things.

You could argue that this also says something about the city, that
it is so small and limited that you have to leave it to do any-
thing interesting, but that would be unfair and not applicable to
Achaea (or similar combat oriented muds). The point was that I was
(am) thinking much more along the lines of a virtual world, rather
than a game.  More a mush than a mud, if JCL can forgive me the
crude analogy.

> Now, we could protect them everywhere, but total protection isn't
> the goal, and in Achaea at least, is definitely not desirable.

I would argue that on none of the games (safe possibly UO) this is
not desirable on any game currently available that is marketed as a
mud (I do hate the impossible and wildly inaccurte acronyms that
have become popular to describe these games). Furcadia is also sa-
fe of course, but that is a quite different game, not a simulation
of a world (however crude) that the typical muds aims to be.  But
you would be hard pressed to make 'Sims online' popular if you al-
low players to buy a gun and randomly shoot other player's sims.  It
is all a matter of how much social focus a game has, and how much
social tools the players need.

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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