[MUD-Dev] Who Killed Miss Norway?

Richard A. Bartle richard at mud.co.uk
Wed Apr 23 11:01:50 New Zealand Standard Time 2003


On 15th April, 2002, Kristen Koster wrote:

> And it seems most of the anger and bitterness from our playerbase
> is directed at the individual, not at Tracy Spaight for the
> article and the awful news.

I guess I should say something here, since it was I who tipped Tracy
off to the fact that Karyn showed all the symptoms of being some guy
masquerading as a girl.

Initially, we were both expecting it to turn out that she was
legitimate. I only raised the possibility that she might not be
because Tracy was planning on running a powerful monologue on the
subject by Raph in his documentary; it might have been embarrassing
for both had it been aired on TV and then the "real" Karyn had gone
public about a deception. It was really just to put our minds at
rest that Tracy did the documentary-maker thing and checked the
facts.

Tracy kept me informed of his investigations as they proceeded, and
it soon became apparent that Karyn had at best been lying and at
worst was herself a lie. Early on, I pointed out to Tracy that
should it transpire that Karyn was indeed a made-up person, we had
to make an ethical decision as to whether he should publish his
findings or just let sleeping dogs lie. I think he'd probably
figured that out for himself, though...

Once Tracy could prove that Karyn wasn't "real", he began his
article.  I reviewed most of his drafts, although not the final
copy. Even at this stage, he hadn't decided whether to publish it or
let things lie. "A Story About a Tree" is of huge significance in
the growing-up of virtual worlds; it has inspired many people, and
both Tracy and I were strongly in favour of its sentiments and
conclusions. Not only would publication hurt the LegendMUD community
(by reopening old wounds), but it would also undermine one of the
key expressions of what virtual worlds are all about (which neither
of us wanted).

Of course, the fact that Tracy did publish the article reveals our
final decision. Basically, we had to take two factors into account:
were we OK with publishing it ourselves; would the LegendMUD
community be OK with it?

Well, I was OK with its being published: telling "white lies" is OK
for children, but LegendMUD's players aren't children. Tracy didn't
tell me his reasoning, but clearly he was OK with it too as he did
publish it. Although I felt remorse that ASAAT would never be read
in the same way again, I believed that it had done its job:the
attitudes among players that it helped shape are now pretty well
accepted as axiomatic. Publication of Tracy's article would perhaps
lead to a reappraisal of what the differences are between the real
and the virtual, but that could only educate us further; it was, as
far as I was concerned, another step on the road of maturity -
another lesson we needed to learn.

However, that still left the LegendMUD community. What would the
impact be of telling them the news about Karyn? We were never
concerned that they'd round on Tracy (they're good people; they
wouldn't shoot the messenger).  However, was it right for us to put
them through further emotional turmoil on a topic they thought
they'd dealt with years ago? Would they have preferred NOT to know?
If so, we publication was out of the question.

Well, here we couldn't decide, so basically we passed the buck. We
asked the LegendMUD admins what they felt we should do. I say "we"
here, but Tracy did the asking; I don't know whom he asked exactly,
but guess you must have been involved, Kristen. Anyway, the word
came back that on the whole it was felt the players had the right to
know they'd been deceived, so Tracy had the green light.

I'd have much preferred for the LegendMUD community to have seen an
advance copy of the article, so it wouldn't have come as such a
shock. The reason they didn't get one is principally because Salon
published it so quickly after they received it. Tracy first sent it
to Wired, but they rejected it almost immediately. I suggested some
other places he might try it, of which Salon was one. If it had been
rejected here, Tracy would perhaps have rewritten it and tried
elsewhere. Once it was accepted, though, I felt that the LegendMUD
players should have been given preview access to it (assuming Salon
agreed).  I asked Tracy when the article was going to be published;
the editor hadn't told him, so he asked. However, the article came
out before he got a reply - they turnaround rather quickly it
seems. I thought we'd have at least a month, but no.

So, there you have it. I also mention the story in my forthcoming
book, but there I merely pose the ethical question without
explaining how we reached our decision; I invite the readers to
consider it for themselves. However, I decided to say something on
the subject here so that people wouldn't think Tracy had gone into
this without thought for the consequences. He did, and I'm sure he
feels bad for what he's putting the LegendMUD players through.

Overall, though, I think he did the right thing.

Richard



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