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Raking Muck In The Sims Online

simoniker posted more than 10 years ago | from the extra-extra-read-all-about-it dept.

Censorship 61

Dr. Spork writes "According to a Salon article [ad click-thru required], after launching a newspaper website chronicling tawdry dealings in the Sims Online city of Alphaville, Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at the University Of Michigan, had his Sims Online account terminated by EA/Maxis, the company behind the service. 'Censorship', charges Ludlow, who has exposed dealings such as underage cyber-prostitution and extortion of simoleans (the Sims currency, exchangable on eBay for real-life money)."

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61 comments

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Fist Sport! (-1)

ringbarer (545020) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713132)

I want to kill all the Sim-Haitians.

Re:Fist Sport! (0, Offtopic)

()vnorby() (732447) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713181)

Whoa....don't go there

So what? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713165)

And we still don't care...

Under-age Cyberprostitution (5, Funny)

FFFish (7567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713213)

Oh my god! Think of the cyberchildren!

Re:Under-age Cyberprostitution (1)

smoondog (85133) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713235)

... and all of the cyberdead rolling over in their graves! ... and all of the cyber pastor's wives who are horrified, just horrified! ... and so on.

Heh,

-Sean

Re:Under-age Cyberprostitution (2, Funny)

Zork the Almighty (599344) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713333)

+1, beverage on keyboard

Re:Under-age Cyberprostitution (4, Funny)

bigbigbison (104532) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714335)

Isn't thinking of children what gets people who get caught with underaged prostitutes in trouble in the first place?

Re:Under-age Cyberprostitution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7715155)

You're right of course. We must start legislating thought immediately.

Report to Room 101.

summary (3, Insightful)

XO (250276) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713243)

It's EA's world, EA can do with it as it pleases. Even if that displeases it's customers.

Of course, if it's customers were displeased enough, they would go elsewhere for their online crack addiction. Right?

Basically, it's just stating that this guy's not pleased (which he has every right to be) that the company used their right to censor the world that is hosted on their servers (which they have every right to be).

Nothing special here, move along.

Re:summary (4, Insightful)

BrookHarty (9119) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713941)

Actually, EA cant do anything they want with its world. This is the point Urizenus made, he reported a crime and EA had to by law contact the authorities. EA doesn't want this to become practice, so they canceled the reporters account. They also hunted down accounts related to the on line newspaper, and closed them.

In the real world, this would be an anti-slapp law against EA. I see no reason why a VR World wouldn't have the same legal status. If someone tells you that they raped a 10 yo girl, and EA refused to report the person to authorities, EA is covering up a crime.

Just because its on line, doesn't mean you can get away with a crime.

Re:summary (-1, Insightful)

Bios_Hakr (68586) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714842)

OK, but a virtual avitar raping (or having consentual sex with) another virtual avitar is not a crime. Anything that happens in-game needs to stay in-game, any good role-player knows that.

I can see a day when VR may be ruled by some sort of rights as the real world. But, until then, it's just RPing.

Re:summary (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7714921)

He was talking about real life, RTFA.

MOD PARENT DOWN. HE DIDN'T RTFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7715367)

nt

Re:summary (0)

Lemental (719730) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714926)

Woah, woah, wait a second.

Why is it EA's responsibility to report this crime? Is it the phone companies responsibility to report something of a similar nature?

It isnt AOL's responsibility to stop these things either. The game was just the medium for these things. It may be against thier TOS to discuss these things, but, all they can do is ban people.

IMHO it isnt EA responsibility to report the crime because all they are providing is a communication service, TSO is just a chat room with a game thrown in.

Its the Authorities responsibility to investigate it after this professor reports it. I didnt read the whole blog, but does he report it at all?

If he didnt, I think he was just as guilty as the people who perpetrated the crime.

Re:summary (1)

Grym (725290) | more than 10 years ago | (#7720940)

Now wait just a minute. I've killed thousands of people in a various number of ways in a number of different countries. Why haven't I gone to jail or been tried for war crimes? Because it's all in the virtual world (Counterstrike, Planetside, Diablo, etc.)

Just because The Sims *looks* more like real life than those games, DOESN'T give it the same legal protections. Perhaps a life of crime in Alphaville is a fantasy for a regular law-abiding citizens, but at the end of the day, they are just that, law-abiding citizens.

What EA did wasn't because of the law. It was because they didn't want bad PR from this guy reporting on what happens in the fantasy world they control. THAT is censorship at its very roots, and if I were him, I'd check my EULA to see if termination can occur in this manner.

-Grym

Re:summary (1)

rsmith-mac (639075) | more than 10 years ago | (#7721407)

The grandparent isn't talking about a virtual crime, he's talking about a player "confessing" to beating their sister in the real world, which is a real crime.

Re:summary (1)

banjobear (711108) | more than 10 years ago | (#7723462)

EA's not responsible for reporting anything. If the kid (RTFA if you don't know what I'm talking about) confessed to this philosophy prof that he'd beaten up his sister in a mall, it wouldn't be the mall's responsibility to tell the police. Just because EA supplied the software which enabled this kid to communicate with this prof. doesn't saddle them with any responsibility to do anything... The prof, otoh, might have some legal duty to contact the authorities, but I don't think it's obvious that he does.

Re:summary (1)

esswedl (649024) | more than 10 years ago | (#7757258)

EA's not responsible for reporting anything.
. . .
The prof, otoh, might have some legal duty to contact the authorities


If the prof did have any legal duty to contact the authorities, he couldn't do so with out EA's assistance--the prof can't identify the real person behind the avatar that talked to him. At the least, he could contact the authorities, who would then contact EA for the information, and at that point, what has EA gained by delaying their responsibility?

Re:summary (1)

banjobear (711108) | more than 10 years ago | (#7762230)

"What has EA gained by delaying their responsibility?" If they have a responsibility, which is as doubtful as the AOL having a responsibility for something that is said in one of their chatrooms, and if what the prof is reporting is real and not just someone winding him up, and if EA actually has any useful information other than the name on the avatar's account, then presumably they've gained nothing in that particular case. But in general what they gain is the ability to provide a service that they would not be able to provide if they had to run down every detail that might be criminal, figure out if it's real, tie it to a person, and report it to law enforcement. Off the top of my head, it seems that people "confess" all kinds of illegal things in chatrooms (assaults, rapes, sodomies, thefts, etc.) and that, if the provider is responsible for reporting all of this to the police, chatrooms will simply not exist anymore. Can you imagine how this would work on, say, X-Box live? Would you have someone online listening to all the conversations, reporting anything that seems IRL suspicious while people are shooting each other with imaginary railguns? All EA has is this guy's word (RTFA if you don't believe me) that he's talked to this avatar and that this avatar has told him that in real life he's done something bad. It's impossible that EA logs chats or has any means of investigating the claim. They're supposed to turn a paying customer in to the cops just because -another paying customer says so!- What they've gained by "delaying their responsiblity" is the presumption of innocence for everyone using their service.

Re:summary (1)

esswedl (649024) | more than 10 years ago | (#7764639)

Excellent point. I certainly wouldn't have someone listening to all X-Box Live conversations, or logging all Sims chats, but I guess my misguided thought above was leading that way. I just wanted to point out that if the prof. had any responsibility to report (and I wasn't arguing that he did, just IF), the authorities' ability to follow up on it hinged on the company's cooperation. I shouldn't have suggested that the company immediately investigate and invade privacy on a single customer's hearsay.

Re:summary (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714013)

eh. actually it sounded like they were censorshipping the REPORTING of such occurances on media(by deactivating the reporters account, access to the world), NOT getting rid of them like they should have done instead...

well i'm actually for a free for all attitude in cyberworlds rather than censorship, but i certainly see banning the reporter as a wrong way to tackle the problem(he could ask some friend of his if it still takes place anyways).

.

Re:summary (1)

Dyerbrook (733173) | more than 10 years ago | (#7732493)

At issue with Ludlow's suspension, and for that matter, my temporary suspension or the suspensions of countless TSO players who have stood up and complained about the proliferation of various mafias, griefers, and cults in the game, is not censorship *within the game*. Hey, it's their game, they made it, and it is like a front porch and a house, or a paid private club, not an open town square, so the First Amendment does not apply. If I don't like it I can delete. BUT what is going on now is that Maxis/EA is attempting to engage in censorship of people outide the game -- overreaching its own TOS -- by barring them from publishing their fansite URLs on their profiles IF they are "commercial" (a vague catch-all term that means any commercial even free webside not engaged in sales of merchandise) or any site that disparages Maxis/EA or "incites hatred against other players" -- which can merely mean criticisim of cults, mafias, griefers. What we are fighting for is an open forum to discuss and subject to public scrutiny allegations of griefing and power conspiracies in the game so that *the players themselves* can fight back and form their own self-policing mechanisms, without a net nanny. The existing mechanisms of reporting and ignoring buttons is not sufficient to address the organized crime and the cults and only *other players* free to organize and comment on cults and griefer openly will be able to address this proliferating negative phenomena. Ludlow, BTW, is free to do what griefers do, which is to get his mother to get out her credit card and open up a new account for him under a new name, where he can come into the game and breathlessly tell about his adventures of "censorship".

Screw Salon! (-1, Flamebait)

gmhowell (26755) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713267)

Dec. 12, 2003 | In the real world, Peter Ludlow is an academic, a professor of philosophy and linguistics at the University of Michigan whose books go by sober titles like "Readings in the Philosophy of Language," and "Semantics, Tense and Time: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Natural Language." He's well-regarded in his field and engaging enough on the phone, but Ludlow is, even by his own admission, not a very interesting person. That is to say, Peter Ludlow is nothing like Urizenus, Ludlow's alter ego in the virtual world of "The Sims Online."

Urizenus is an unabashed muckraker. In the mold, perhaps, of Walter Winchell or Joseph Pulitzer, he investigates the shady underside of life in Alphaville, one of the game's largest cities, and posts all his sensational discoveries on the Alphaville Herald, a blog that he describes as the only newspaper covering "The Sims Online." In the couple of months since the blog went live, Urizenus has interviewed many of Alphaville's most infamous scammers, thieves, money launderers, prostitutes (some of whom, he says, are minors) and other dubious types, and he's documented attempts by the community to create a kind of governing authority to police the place.

Urizenus and his compatriots at the Herald have also aimed their bullhorn at Maxis, the company that created "The Sims Online" and that runs the place; in blog entry after blog entry, the Herald describes Maxis as being signally indifferent to the needs of people who populate the game, and it documents the many reasons why "The Sims Online" -- which was predicted to be a blockbuster and made the cover of Time magazine before its launch late in 2002 -- has been a money-loser for Electronic Arts, Maxis' parent company.

But the Herald's relentless criticism does not appear to have gone down well at E.A. On Wednesday, in a move that Ludlow describes as arbitrary and capricious, E.A. terminated Urizenus' "Sims Online" account. "While we regret it," E.A. told him in a letter, "we feel it is necessary for the good of the game and its community." Alphaville's Citizen Kane was kicked out of town.

According to Ludlow, E.A.'s move was "clearly censorship," and other scholars of MMORPGS -- massively multiplayer online role playing games, a category that describes the online worlds of "The Sims," "Everquest," "Ultima Online," and new entrants "There" and "Second Life" -- who are familiar with Ludlow's site agree with his assessment. They say the situation underscores what is becoming increasingly apparent in the virtual world: There's a fundamental divergence between the interests of a community (typically high-minded goals like freedom of speech and assembly) and the interests of the corporations that run those communities (typically not very high-minded but otherwise understandable goals like making money and avoiding public association with words like "prostitution").

"[These virtual worlds] are a strange sort of commercial space where communities come to exist, but there's a tension between the communities and the private commercial company," says Julian Dibbell, the author of "My Tiny Life," a kind of memoir about the virtual world LambdaMOO. "It's similar to what you have with shopping malls. They're becoming the last refuge of public space for teenagers, but they're run by companies, and they can kick you out on a whim."

The story also prompts a host of compelling questions regarding the nature of virtual existence. For instance, can something like prostitution occur online? And what about community-based policing -- is that possible, or desirable, in the Sim world? And, finally, does E.A. have any obligation to allow a free press to document how all these issues will play out in "The Sims Online"? After all, it's their world -- why can't they run it how they please, however capricious their rule may seem to others?

Peter Ludlow's abiding interest in "The Sims Online" is, he says, professional. The question "What emerges from a state of nature?" is an old chestnut among philosophers, and Ludlow figured that by observing a virtual world like "The Sims Online" he could get some pretty good clues pointing to the answer. "You can think of these worlds as being like little laboratories in which you see the ways people respond to troublemakers, how they can be resourceful about it," he says. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to write a book on this whole thing."

It's not clear if they're worthy of a book, but the troublemakers Urizenus has found are, at least, good enough for a blog. At the top of the heap -- "Alphaville's most infamous scammer," Urizenus wrote in the Herald -- is a female avatar named Evangeline, who is, in real life, an adolescent male. Urizenus first encountered Evangeline in November, when he'd heard reports of characters "setting up a welcome house, offering assistance to newbies, and then scamming newbies out of their simoleans." (The simolean is the currency used in "The Sims Online"; it can be exchanged for real American dollars on, among other sites, eBay.) Urizenus set up a sting to catch Evangeline. He gave a newbie 30,000 simoleans and had her "seek help" from Evangeline -- and, sure enough, Evangeline and her roommate, Cari, stole the newbie's money. Evangeline is also famous for "caging" newbies and insulting them (she calls the dark-skinned ones "monkeys").

Urizenus has interviewed Evangeline several times, and in her discussions with him, she seems bemused by her exploits, taking nothing very seriously. Ludlow mostly shares that attitude, but he and Candace Bolter, a philosophy grad student at Michigan who works with him on the Herald, were a bit disturbed by one interview Evangeline did with Urizenus in which she describes running a brothel.

In "The Sims Online," prostitution is, necessarily, an occupation that is more of the mind than of the flesh. "Sex" in this world consists mostly of dirty talk. "It basically involves typing to each other in descriptive ways -- typing with one hand, let's put it that way," Ludlow says. Evangeline told him that she would pleasure other characters that way, and they would give her simoleans in return -- sometimes as much as 500,000 simoleans, which at the time was more than $50. (Due to massive inflation in Alphaville, the value of the simolean has since plunged.)

What bothered Ludlow and Bolter about this was that Evangeline asserted that, in real life, he was a minor and that many of the "girls" he hired to talk dirty in his brothel were also underage. Bolter wondered whether the characters were breaking any laws or doing anything else immoral or unethical. She says she acknowledges that, because the characters weren't having real sex, it's hard to say they were involved in "prostitution."

"Some people say, 'Hey, this is virtual reality, it's not an actual thing, it doesn't matter,'" she says. "But if you can show that real money is involved it's an interesting situation. And I think it can be exploitative -- it concerns me that there is real money involved, and I'm also sympathetic to the idea that it could be an issue of [objectionable] content even if it's not prostitution."

The laws in this area are gray; none of the academics who study these worlds could say, definitively, whether the game company or the characters were involved in anything illegal or even really dangerous. Kids on AOL are free to -- and often do -- chat dirty all the time. Is it really so bad if kids on "The Sims Online" do the same thing for virtual money? But experts agreed that this is the sort of issue that game firms should think seriously about. "I do know it's a maxim in the game industry that when a game is boring and there's nothing else to do people turn to sex," noted Edward Castronova, an economist at Cal State Fullerton who studies (and plays in) online worlds.

In response to characters like Evangeline, a group of players in Alphaville joined together to form what they call the Sim Shadow Government -- a development that some players have welcomed, but that others can't stand. Members of the SSG, as they're known, seem like they want to rain on other people's parades.

"In my opinion I don't think the game was designed for people to become 'scammers' and to harm other Sims," Snow White, the group's leader, told Urizenus. "It is more of a glorified chatroom, to be friendly with others, not to betray them." The SSG has had some success in curbing misbehavior, but their efforts are limited by the physics of the game, and they've done little to stop Evangeline, Ludlow says. Still, Ludlow regards the SSG as a clue to his philosophical queries. What emerges from the state of nature? "It's not a single noble monarch," he says. "It's the Sim Shadow Government" -- a weak, minimally effective, but perhaps necessary force.

Early in November, a character came up to Urizenus in Alphaville and, quite suddenly, "became confessional," Ludlow says. The character told Ludlow that he was a teenage boy and that he had been beating up his sister -- that he "sent her to the hospital," in fact. Ludlow didn't know if the account was true, and he had no way of knowing who the character was in real life and where he or she lived, but he found the story alarming enough to report it to Maxis, asking the company to alert local authorities. But the response he got back from the firm did not address his plea, and instead the company told him to ignore any character who offended him. Over the course of a few weeks, Ludlow and Bolter sent the company several follow-up requests to intervene, but they did nothing.

Finally, early in December, Bolter sent a heated letter to E.A., a letter she also posted online under the heading "E.A.'s Indifference on Record Here & Now." "Quite frankly," Bolter wrote, "this is a very serious issue and your lack of response is not only exasperating but also sickeningly disturbing. I literally lose sleep over this issue, yet everyone at E.A. must be sleeping so well (on comfy beds from the money your customers provide to you, it might be noted) that no one can even bother to reply to my inquiry. I'm imploring you to take the time to explain your rationale to me now. The customer is indeed not always right, but doesn't she at least deserve a reply to a legitimate inquiry?"

Bolter's tactic worked. "In response to concerns raised by a petitioner, and after careful review of our Web log, we contacted local authorities and identified the player," the firm said in a letter to her. "Resolution of his incident now lies with the local authorities."

It was the very next day that Ludlow got a letter from E.A. about his site. On Dec. 6, the company warned him that his link to alphavilleherald.com in his Sims profile violated the firm's policy prohibiting links to commercial sites. Ludlow maintains that the Herald is not a commercial entity -- which is a dubious proposition, since it does run ads for in-game virtual businesses such as Mephisto's Goth Supplies ("Need that special gargoyle or head in a jar to make your living room just right?") -- and he says that many Sims players link to all kinds of sites all over the Web, but he acceded to E.A.'s demand and took down the link. Yet on Wednesday, E.A. sent him another letter saying he was still violating the policy and that the company was suspending his account for three days. And then, about 11 hours later, E.A. sent him the final letter terminating his account. (Electronic Arts could not be reached for comment.)

Ludlow has no evidence that E.A. ever read his site, but he thinks the timing is suspicious. Julian Dibbell says he sees the case as censorship; he doubts that there would be any legitimate reason to dismiss Ludlow from the game. "I have a hard time picturing Peter Ludlow engaged in griefing" -- a term applied to people who do nothing but create trouble online -- "or exploiting or any of the standard breaches of good game behavior."

But even if Ludlow was censored, is that wrong? Ludlow says so. He just completed reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin, and "the Pennsylvania Colony, at the time, was basically the possession of the Penn family. Franklin had the temerity to say to them, 'It's not your world.' And a question is going to begin to arise in some of these worlds about exactly how arbitrary and capricious game owners can be just because they're maintaining the infrastructure for a virtual community."

Several other games have fan sites or newspapers that cover them, but experts could recall no other instance of clear-cut censorship. Some worlds have even encouraged journalism. "Second Life" has "embedded" Wagner James Au (a frequent Salon contributor) in its world; Au, who is paid by Linden Lab, "Second Life's" creator, has written some fascinating reports of life in "Second Life" on a blog called Notes from a New World.

Au says he is completely free to write what he wants about Second Life -- he's written several pieces critical of the company. But he acknowledges he's in an awkward position. "I'm like the editor in chief of a small town newspaper in a company town," he says of his status. "I'm going to be immersed in the worldview of that company. But most of my writing is that there's some fascinating stuff happening in that world."

Re:Screw Salon! (1)

XO (250276) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713326)

There should be a way to moderate replies like this straight to the trash bucket, before someone starts suing Slashdot left and right for copyright infringement.

Re:Screw Salon! (1)

WasterDave (20047) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713377)

ObAOL: Me too!

But more seriously, I agree with the parent post wholeheartedly. Salon have a big enough rig to not get slashdotted, and they make money by pushing a ten second advert onto my screen. Just leave them be.

It's quality journalism, and I see no good reason to rob them of their $0.01 per page view or however much it is.

Dave

Re:Screw Salon! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713447)

Because then these kinds of business models will fail and maybe I won't see so many crap ads on the internet?

It's your moral duty to put these companies out of business!

Re:Screw Salon! (1)

XO (250276) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713468)

Wow, I expected to get immediatly turned into Flamebait, then tarred and feathered, and then drawn and quatered.

Now, the fact that it's an AOL ad kinda sucked. I thought Salon was more for the technical types.. but then I've never poked around in there for anything but news from Slashdot.

They need cooler ads, that's my criticism.

Re:Screw Salon! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713665)

So I guess we can presume you are all for EA's censorship then ?

Have you considered emmigrating to the crime-free paradise of North Korea where Kim Il Sung's private property is never violated ?

Re:Screw Salon! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713946)

I think anybody willing to pay a monthly fee for an online version of The Sims deserves to be shipped to North Korea.

Controverse (3, Interesting)

tibike77 (611880) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713306)

As the author says in the article, on one hand there's the player and the whole virtual community's interests (have fun mainly, but sometimes actually make real money for themselves), and on the other had the interest of the game company (make a lot of money for themselves).

As EA's TSO is not a succesfull money-maker (quite the opposite actually), do you wonder that such things happend?

The issue here is wether or not somebody can SUCCESFULLY SUE the company in real-life for in-game things (remember the kid suing the company for the "dissapearance of biological weapons"? or the companies suing "sweatshop" owners in UO?)

Cyber-prostitution! (4, Funny)

Pilferer (311795) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713380)

...dealings such as underage cyber-prostitution...

What exactly is cyber-prostitution?

Hmmm, I might check this game out... *cough*

Great! (2, Informative)

EvilSporkMan (648878) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713864)

Probably the exchange of cybersex for cybermoney...

(Damn these buzzwords!!!)

Re:Cyber-prostitution! (1)

JeffTL (667728) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714301)

Netsex (exempli gratis, network-based interpersonal interactive pornagraphy) for goods or services, I presume.

everquest (4, Funny)

()vnorby() (732447) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713392)

(the Sims currency, exchangable on eBay for real-life money).

Sounds like its market is beginning to be like everquest's. Random fact(or not so random...from and old cnet article):

"And if the "EverQuest" universe of Norrath were a country, its per-capita gross national product would be $2,266--comparable to the 77th richest country on Earth and ranking it between Russia and Bulgaria. Platinum pieces, the in-game currency known as pp, end up with an exchange rate of about a penny per pp, making "EverQuest" currency more valuable than the Japanese yen and the Spanish peseta. "

i wonder how long it will take for The Sims' currency to be as valuable as Japan's, if it isn't already.

Re:everquest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713898)

if you would have read the article, you would know that there is massive inflation in the Sims Online, and the money is all but worthless.

Re:everquest (0)

()vnorby() (732447) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713932)

read..."(the Sims currency, exchangable on eBay for real-life money)." apparently it is you who did not read the article

Re:everquest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7714648)

That doesn't matter when suckers don't know how to abuse that, and pay for it instead of creating it themselves

this is interesting (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7713424)

I find this fascinating (as many people do including Ludlow himself I'm sure).

There's a virtual society, which has many of the same dynamics as a real society, and functions like a real society as a result .. yet the *whole thing* is controlled by a company in our "real" society.

It *is* censorship (but not illegal censorship, just like censorship in Communist China isn't illegal, because you "agree" to the "terms" by living there). But there's nothing anyone can do about it. You can't even revolt because the whole world is controlled by the company. They'll just shut your character off.

To me, I see a company running their world like a totalitarian regime. They suppress criticism and free speech. They "shut down" characters with no remorse, even though these characters mean a lot to someone. They point to the rules (which *they* crafted) and say, sorry, that's the rules, we can enforce them as selectively as we like. And yet people *voluntarily* enter this world. What does that say about us?

But what would be the "democratic" version of this society? A virtual society where the power is spread out over the players instead of being concentrated in a company that controls it? What would happen in such a society?

I guess the internet itself is something like that.. and we see what that's like: porn, hackers, and spam, occasionally interrupted by genius.

Anyway I'm just rambling here but it is very interesting, and I wonder if the dynamics will follow the dynamics other ("real") societies have experiences (rebellion, overthrow, etc).

Re:this is interesting (5, Insightful)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713580)

Yeah, you've got a good point there. EA seems to basically run this online world as a totalitarian regime, and dissenters basically are put to "death". The resemblance with a real authoritarian regime is uncanny.

I think that people voluntarily enter the game-world, because they don't realize that it's not a free game-world at all.

Your comparison with the internet itself as a free world is pretty interesting too. It does indeed have a lot of negative things, like you mentioned, but I do think that the positive things outweigh it. You wouldn't get nearly as many positive things (original ideas, creativity) in a totalitarian internet or game-world.

Re:this is interesting (1)

MMaestro (585010) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714779)

I think you and the parent post both miss two important things. One, (in this case) The Sims Online is a GAME which you CHOSE TO PLAY. The U.S. government or EA Games don't come crashing into your homes and forces you to PAY to PLAY. If you don't like it, don't play it. If you don't like to read Slashdot news reports, don't read it. Don't bitch about something you do completely voluntarily.

Two, it is not a "free game-world" and never has tried to be one. First of all, you pay for it. Therefore it is not free. If by 'free' you mean 'free will' sort of 'free' then you're still wrong. You're on EA's servers. Thats the digital equivilant of being a guest in someone's house. If I logged onto your computer and started bitching about you running so-and-so program or OS, you'd probably kick me off. The digital world is far from being the perfect world. Criticism is bound to exist about The Sims Online, but don't go and bitch about it on their own servers. Thats nothing less of rude.

Waxing philosophical. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7715116)

Are all Sims created equal? Does the very fact of their creation as avatars of a rational, freethinking entity, endow them with any of rights - life, liberty, pursuit of happiness - with which their users are endowed?

Certainly in current game engines these personas do not establish their own government. Should they?

As things stand, online worlds are totalitarian regimes, whose users are at the full and total mercy of the commercial enterprise running their world. And yet there are lives -- albeit pale, basement lives -- inexorably tied to the condition of these avatars.

What if the government in my online world chooses to burn my life's work?

I can easily imagine plying my intellectual craft online exclusively - if the game engine allows for such an interaction with e.g. an in-game pad of paper. If I write a poem online, do I not have inalienable property rights to it?

I would argue that I do.

But these rights - intellectual property - are governed by real-world laws. No real-world laws guarantee freedom of association, for example, in an online world. Should such laws be written? What if the game company lets disruptive people remain in the game but prevents their subversive ideas from reaching others.

In a realistic game-world, what becomes of natural rights?

I propose that we the Open Source community produce a game-world with its own government, of the people, by the people, for the people. And I propose that its launching charter read:


The Declaration of a Free Game World

When in the course of online events, it becomes necessary for some users to dissolve the feature-dependence which hitherto has bound them to the whims of a commercial venture, and to assume among the powers over their computers, the fair and equal online participation to which their status as users entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of all users requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We consider the following self-evident:
that all game accounts are created equal,
that they are endowed by their creation with certain unalienable rights,
that among these are access, freedom, and the pursuit of enjoyment and meaning;
that to secure these rights, a system is instituted over users,
deriving its just powers from the consent of its users;

That whenever any such form of system becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the users to alter it or to find or create another, which new System shall lay its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to the Users [and not commercial enterprise!] shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that systems long established should not be abandoned for light and transient causes;

and accordingly all experience has shown, that users are more disposed by far to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the systems to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object of commercial gain, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such systems, and to provide new means for their future enjoyment.

--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Users; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to abandon their former systems.

The history of the present online world is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over its users.

[list long, exhaustive list of grievances of Users.]

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.

A company whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of free users.

Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our company.

We have warned them again and again of attempts by other users to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us.

We have reminded them of the circumstances of our use and livelihood here.

We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kinship to disavow these usurpations which would inevitably interrupt our pursuits and associations.

They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of common goals.

We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of the commercial world, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of all free users of the world, in general congress assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of Freedom -- RMS -- for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good users of all systems, solemnly publish and declare, that this united userland is, and of right ought to be Free and Independent of commercial venture; that we are absolved from all rule but our own, and that all political connection between us and commercial online worlds, is and ought to be totally dissolved;

That as free and independent users, we have have full power to create states, establish law, and do all other acts and things to which as independent virtual citizens we are entitled.

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of our coders, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred avatars.


To sourceforge!!!

Re:this is interesting (0)

GeneralCern (653651) | more than 10 years ago | (#7719062)

I agree, this is not Censorship. Censorship would exist if EA somehow stopped Ludlow from telling his story at all. The fact that we are now discussing this issue at all proves this was not censorship.

Re:this is interesting (4, Interesting)

kerasineAddict (512761) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718648)

It is a free game world. EA isn't a government, they don't govern the world in the sense that our government does. They're God to the Sims. Only EA can make a SimLife, EA can kill whoever it wants, and EA can break all the rules if they wanted to. Physics is theirs to control. What you can and can't do are written down on a sacred TOS.

The real problem here is that SimDeath is the only way to control the world. Say you put a sim in jail. Would you pay money per month to be a prisioner in your spare time? Why, when you could just create another account and kill off your old sim.

Maybe monetary punishment would be good. Fine people simoleans. It seems to me that most people are out to try to make money in the game (via whatever means), so EA could implement laws. The only problem here is that it seems that they don't care about minor infractions, such as prostitution or domestic violence, because of the game world that ensures everything is consentual. The only problems that seem to arise is when you have out of game cracking/bug exploiting, etc...

I guess the best way to solve problems like this is the way that it's been done so many times in the past (ie real rpgs) - heated debates and bitter feelings.
What do YOU do when you have problems in an RPG?

Virtual? Real! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7719447)

*cough*Big Brother*cough*

Re:this is interesting (1)

TwistedGreen (80055) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713936)

They'll just shut your character off.

Yeah, that's called execution. And you can't execute everyone, because then who's going to support your country (the game)?

I don't think what you're describing is very surprising. Most people just want to live their lives/play their games, and don't care too much about the politics of it all.

Re:this is interesting (1)

bob65 (590395) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714134)

And yet people *voluntarily* enter this world. What does that say about us?.

Well, it could say that we realize this isn't a real world, and that getting "shut down" and not having free speech is not big deal.

Re:this is interesting (1)

eurleif (613257) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714609)

There is something you can do about it: start your own game site that you like. I see it as sort of like playing a video game on my Gamecube; I can kick you out for any reason I like.

Re:this is interesting (1)

Psychochild (64124) | more than 10 years ago | (#7715285)

The problem is that democracy doesn't really work in commercial worlds. You can get up on your high horse and complain about democracy, but the reality of the situation is that players expect the people running and profiting from the game to handle the problems.

Imagine of there were undeniable proof that 1) a deity exists, and 2) he/she/it listens to people and can be influenced by people. Do you think people would still handle their own problems? Through history we've had people lament the unfairness of the deity(ies) even without conclusive proof he/she/it/they exist.

In my own game, Meridian 59 [meridian59.com] , there is an elected position in the game that allows players to give "pardons" to other players that have murdered others. This position takes a lot of effort to win, because there is always someone wishing to control that power for their own benefit. Trying to run the position and be fair to the population of the game is very hard, and completely unfun for all but a small group of people. Most people would rather have the admins interfere with the system than have to work to keep things in check.

Further, the company exists to make money. Having someone expose the underbelly of a world intended to be someplace for people to go chat and have fun isn't exactly good for business. While Ludlow is obviously doing some interesting things along the lines of reseach, he is equally obviously being confrontational in his work. There are many things he could have done that would have been beneficial to the world and not harmful to Maxis. He could have talked about the issues he found in The Sims Online without naming the exact service much as doctors refer to patient studies without including the patients' names in the studies. He could have also went to Maxis with this information before he put it on a web page.

Finally, what is Maxis supposed to do about this issue? Have a CS representative drop in and say, "I've noticed you've used the words 'penis' and/or 'vagina' or associated colloqual terms at least 5 times in the last 5 minutes. Are you having cybersex? Could I see some ID to make sure no one here is underage?" Yeah, that'll go over really well with the players.

In my own game world people murder each other all the time, sometimes to the point that groups of people will leave the game. I take no steps to prevent it. Does this make me a genocidal tyrant? Anyone who says "yes" needs to get outside more. ;)

My opinion on the matter,

Re:this is interesting (1)

euxneks (516538) | more than 10 years ago | (#7720368)

I think we have to take the control of the servers out of the company's hands, this way, the server hosts will have control like a central leader in towns... ie. each server will be a seperate town.This would create more interesting dynamics if you ask me. Then it would truly be more of a democracy, people would be able to choose which server they want to be on, and some servers might have rules for joining them etc..

Re:this is interesting (1)

bobbozzo (622815) | more than 10 years ago | (#7752732)

It *is* censorship (but not illegal censorship, just like censorship in Communist China isn't illegal, because you "agree" to the "terms" by living there).

So are you supposed to do? Kill yourself?
:p

Makes sense. (1)

SuperMo0 (730560) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713587)

It is The SIMS, right? You're simulating life.

Therefore, let me draw you a metaphor.

Crazy quack makes a basically correct statement (in this case, the doctor) about something that helps the government (EA/Origin) but they can't admit it (the "bad things" that went on, while they're bad, to EA, they're just more users which equal more cash). So the government (EA) sqaushes the crazy quack (deletes his account) and provides a reasonable-sounding explanation for it.

See? It simulates real life!

I'm not saying the doctor's a quack, and I'm not condoning the activities that the doctor was complaining about. I'm simply pointing out that it's simulating what would have happened if something similar had happened in real life.

Meh. (4, Insightful)

oGMo (379) | more than 10 years ago | (#7713694)

It would be cooler if this sort of thing was handled in-game. Sim cops, fbi, etc. Outside of exploiting bugs, DoS attacks, and similar cheating that happens from the outside, resorting to this sort of thing to solve in-game problems just shows a lack of development and forethought on the part of the designers.

Re:Meh. (3, Funny)

SuperMo0 (730560) | more than 10 years ago | (#7714835)

Or SIM JAIL! You sit around for a year being able to do NOTHING with your account, but you STILL PAY THE MONTHLY FEES! XD

Doubtful (1)

ChipMonk (711367) | more than 10 years ago | (#7715282)

That's just begging for a system cracker to break you out of the jail.

Re:Meh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7727898)

BRING ON AGENT SMITH!

Ugh. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7714911)

I'm not suprised that they're trying to do anything they can to pull the site because it exposes the true nature of the beast.

Some of the stuff reported about is absolutely disgusting. Such vile, repulsive people.

Similar case (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7718659)

Salon's writer says "Several other games have fan sites or newspapers that cover them, but experts could recall no other instance of clear-cut censorship."

If you consider this a case of accounts being banned for out-of-game activities that paint the game in a poor light, it's similar to Mystere's banning from EverQuest [gamegirladvance.com] . Man writes (to be fair, not very tasteful) fan fiction, posts it publically, gets banned from game.

Goobeldy - gook (-1, Offtopic)

Uplore (706578) | more than 10 years ago | (#7720324)

A friend of mine asked how he could change the default Sim language from French to english. Not knowing that the Sims speak jibberish.

Which is worse? (1)

rudy_wayne (414635) | more than 10 years ago | (#7721558)

I can't decide which is more pathetic. A game compnay that bans someone because they write a newspaper about the fictional characters in their game, or the guy who writes the newspaper.

Jeez. Get a life.

Underage matters? (2, Insightful)

OrcishSpacesuit (628088) | more than 10 years ago | (#7723718)

A quote from the skotos.net forums [skotos.net] ; I cannot guarantee the veracity of this, as no one's quoted any actual laws there (and I've not bothered to look), but the statement is supported on the forum:
...it is a CRIME to simulate sexual contact with someone you believe to be under the age of 18.


Not a ha, ha, I just downloaded the latest Eminem single crime. A mandatory minimum prison sentence/you will be registered as a sex offender crime.
...
On top of that, if [the company] or any employee thereof has any reason to believe that a minor was involved in simulated sexual behaviour and they failed to act immediatly, (this might include reporting the incident to the authorities if one of the persons involved is over 18) then they would be guilty of a CRIME as well and could very well end up getting sued and all sorts of other unpleasentness.
Perhaps the people looking for whether a crime was committed in the Sims game are looking in the wrong place (prostitution), and missing the issue of minors. If the quoted text above is indeed accurate.

Rule #1 (3, Interesting)

Crash Culligan (227354) | more than 10 years ago | (#7724753)

However lame you may think Peter Ludlow is for his pastime, EA has done something much lamer:

Rule #1: Don't Shoot the Messenger. No matter how distasteful the message may be, you can not and should not blame a person just because he delivers it.

Now it looks like EA is trying to sweep whatever nastiness he was reporting about under the rug ...and you'll have to wonder what else they're hiding.

Maybe they should rename it "The Slums"?

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