[MUD-Dev] Historic lessons on fluid identity

Marian Griffith gryphon at iaehv.nl
Fri Oct 5 22:26:56 New Zealand Daylight Time 2001

In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Wed 03 Oct, Matt Mihaly wrote:
> On Tue, 2 Oct 2001, Marian Griffith wrote:
>> In <URL:/archives/meow?group+local.muddev> on Mon 01 Oct, Matt Mihaly wrote:

>> 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.

['this' being obtaining any number of false identities]

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

Still, that is no reason to be pessimistic or to stop looking for

>> 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.

Nothing, but then I was talking about identity, not about prevent-
ing undesirable activities. The point I was trying to make is that
to a large extent "persistent" identities are a recent invention,
and that historically human societies have dealt with situations not
dissimilar to those on muds.  Outside of your immediate social
circle people have no (practical) way to trace your identity.  And
more so, neither has the law enforcement. Twohundred years ago you
could move to another town and essentially wipe your old identity
and create a new one.  Today it is very difficult to completely e-
rase all traces of your previous identity (given a sufficiently
determined search) and this is likely to become more and more dif-
ficult in the near future.  This makes solving crimes easier, but
that does not mean it used to be impossible, nor that in the past
societies had no other ways to deal with it.

>> 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
> least.

I am not too convinced about that, but my argument was that in the
past societies could not rely on social relations either, so they
developed other strategies to keep sociopathic behaviour (the real
thing, not the virtual one) in check.

>> 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.

This may be so, but you can hardly claim that even the largest of
the modern day muds is anything more than a tiny city on a world
scale.  I am not sure about the technicalities, but I recall that in
fact only five thousand players could simultaneously play on a UO
server.  Even in historic scale that would be no more than a fairly
small city.

>>> 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 say.

First I would like to explain that I am not sure that there is a
direct translation possible from historic strategies to ones that
work on muds.  The city-wall analogy seemed suitable and had easy to
apply to muds. What I really wanted to say is that it might be a
good thing to *study* the ways that historically societies have
protected themselves from potential trouble makers.

The second point is that guilds as you described them, and appa-
rently how they are set up on Achaea, have a monopoly. By defini-
tion one has to join the guild to be able to practice the profes-
sion. This means they can set arbitrary entrance standards.  What I
was thinking of was more along the lines of a player society that
creates its own social protection like a city building walls to keep
troublemakers (and enemies) out. Think of Holds or Weyrs on
Pernmush. There is some barrier to entrance, usually an appli-
cation and quick interview, but there are plenty of other places
where a player can join, so the cliques do not form quite so bad.

> 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.

As long as there is no way for a social group to become monopolist
then t hey may well fade away, but there will be other groups for
the new players.  Newbies needing to find a place is a problem, and
one that can be seen on most themed mushes.  Point is that such
strategies only work if the player bas e is sufficiently large for
the formation of social groups within the entire population.  Many
thousands of players, and situations where the game staff can no
longer effec- tively police the game, and *must* hand the players
the means to do so on their own.

> Well, giving players control over their culture is not a new idea
> in MUDs. A number of games do that.

I wonder how many have social tools beyond giving them the ability
to "kill" each other (which has been proven to be a largely inef-
fective tool anyway).

> 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.

I am sorry, but I fail to understand what you mean with the last
statement. Actually, I also do not understand the first statement.
As far as I can tell, you can simply walk away from another player
and there is no need to fight them for something they want you to be
or do if you do not want to.  There are obviously going to be
playing styles that are ireconcil- able, but that fact surely works
in both ways. Why should a killer (in Bartle terms) have the right
to harass other players just be- cause that is the way he defines
the game?  Of course now we are back at the Tailor's Dilemma, and I
would rather not discuss that in this subject because it is mostly a
philosophical question and I rather talk about social strategies.

> 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.

It is not so bad if you are making the bedroom sufficiently large
and interesting. But I was thinking more about giving the players
effective tools to police their own environment.  Not to make it
safe, but to keep troublemakers at (to a certain extent).

> 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.

Yes.  Obviously the basic strategy needs modification to fit to a
*game* rather than to a society, but at this time the city- wall
analogy is the only tool that I know of that gives players the
ability to effectively police their game world.

> 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.

There is one problem solved.  Now players have a *choice* as to how
safe they want to be, which previously they had not.  Also you can
have valid sub-cultures that can not (easily) be over- powered by
other playing styles.  So in that much you have made progress. Not a
complete solution (if that is possible anyway).

> 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 die.

Death is not necessarily the only traumatic experience...

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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