Peter Hentges (jbru) wrote,
Peter Hentges

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Future crime

Perhaps you have seen this story about a Chinese student that used automated programs ("bots") to mug characters in an online role-playing game, take their stuff, and then sell it for real cash in on-line auctions.

I'm intrigued by this story on several levels. First: what crime is he being charged with? It's not like anyone was "really" hurt or that any real thing was stolen. Can the possessions of a character in a virtual world be said to truly belong to a real-world person?

Second: Did the guy do anything wrong? He may have exploited weaknesses in the game system, sure. He may even be said to be cheating at the game. The game itself, however, must reward this behavior on some level. If it were not possible to sell the stuff for real cash or even advantage in the game, would the crime have taken place? Players like this guy, however, have always been a problem in games. I've played with many a face-to-face RPGer who, often proudly, exploited the rules of the game to get the most out of their character's performance with the minimum amount of effort. We call it minimaxing. It's distasteful to most players and those who do it are often shunned from games and typically grow out of it. It isn't inherently against the rules, as it uses the rules to their maximum advantage. It's usually seen as against the spirit of the game, something that is often of more value to face-to-face RPGers.

Third: As we become more and more of an online society, how long is it before this very crime takes place on a very real level. That is, how long before there are dark areas of the Internets where you don't go wandering alone, if you know what's good for you. Sure, there are hackers out there now and theft of credit card numbers and other identity information is becoming more and more of a problem. It seems to me, though, that one almost has to be willfully clueless to be caught in such schemes; probably it's the rarity of the crimes that gives me that impression. For the most part, it seems safe to wander around online. How long before it becomes Thieves World?
Tags: nifty

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