[MUD-Dev] Historic lessons on fluid identity

Matt Mihaly the_logos at achaea.com
Wed Oct 3 18:48:15 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

On Tue, 2 Oct 2001, Marian Griffith wrote:
> In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Mon 01 Oct, Matt Mihaly 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.

You think the #1 way that people identify each other is splitting
> 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.

Well yes, that claim I agree with 100%.
> 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
> population)

In the case of a dead body, that's true. I'm not sure what bearing
that has on curbing sociopathic behavior though.
> 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.

Except that, of course, you can't trace problem players via social
relations and acquantances on MUDs. Not the semi-clever ones at

> 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
> with.

That makes the unfounded assumption that problems increase in a
linear proportion to anonymity, rather than geometrically, as
problems do with an increase in numbers. It is almost useless, for
instance, to apply techniques you'd use to settle disputes with your
spouse to the problems of millions of people.
>> 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).

Ahh right, I see what you are saying. I don't think it's a very good
solution though, as the way to get your players hooked is to get
them into a community asap.

I think you'll also find that you can lose a lot of players due to
the fact that the players controlling the organizations become very
clubby and start wanting to haze people to let them in. We've faced
that problem a number of times in Achaea with our guilds, which
control newbie access to class skills. One guild in particular, the
Occultists, tends to be a very mystical guild, and they have high
standards for their members. They often require hour+ long
interviews just for a newbie to join (and if a newbie doesn't join a
guild, he or she has no particularly useful abilities or skills),
plus some quests, etc. All the guilds that value their organizations
have tendencies towards that way. In fact, all organizations do, I'd

It's an understandable tendency, because it does allow you to
protect your community, but it also alienates newbies and can be
detrimental to the community itself in the long-term. Isolationism
may be appealing, but it is ultimately self-destructive.

>> 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.

Well, giving players control over their culture is not a new idea in
MUDs. A number of games do that. It's not a solve though, because
because you're dealing with player desires that are directly in
opposition. At the extreme, if I want to be able to kill you for not
being my slave, and you don't think that's acceptable, then there is
no way reconcile that. Creating a game where YOU are as safe as you
want to be is easy. The difficulty is in reconciling that with the
fact that if you're a predator, and people are able to be completely
safe, then inevitably they will be able to mess with you in a manner
of their choosing, but you will not be able to mess with them in the
manner of your choosing.
>> 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, currently, in Achaea it's too safe, and because of the speed
at which players can move about the land, they can use it as a safe
base from which to launch attacks. That's just our design problem
though, nothing to do with the principle generally.

My problem with it is that it's like saying "Ok, you're totally
safe, but ONLY if you stay in your bedroom and never leave." It's
not really a satisfying thing to be told.

> 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.

Sure, you can force entrance, but it's almost committing suicide
right now to do so, unless you have a very large group. I wouldn't
wish to eliminate the possibility, and we're planning on making it
easier, as raids and whatnot are exciting. Even if you can just
completely ban players, you're still saying to them, "You're only
safe in your bedroom," unless the bedroom is all there is to the
world, in which case you have to wonder what newbies would be doing
while t hey are waiting to get accepted into a community.

I'm a big proponent of trying to force the player organizations to
mold the newbies rather than forcing the newbies to try and conform
to the expectations of the community before they can join.

> 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.

Well, again though, if there's nothing to do outside the cities,
what are the new players doing? And if there are things to do, then
you're still not really solving the problem, as the players in the
cities WILL want to see what's outside them, if there's anything
outside them.
>> 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.

Yeah, I agree, it depends on the kind of world you're after. Still,
if you're just concerned about virtual 'physical' violence, it's not
hard to get rid of 99.9% of that by just not coding in the ability
for players to do it. If you don't code in death, then they can't


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