[A Rape in Cyberspace]
This was a very well written piece - the imagery used to describe the virtual world made it practically seem real.
That said, I've had some experience with an online role playing game with a similar environment to what was described in the article. It may seem silly to be drawn into text as if it were real life, but that's what happens. Text is sometimes even more powerful than graphics, as reading the description allows one's imagination to run wild - and as time goes on and one becomes more used to the text interface, it becomes easier and easier to get drawn into the virtual reality - and treat it not as virtual reality, but almost sort of a second life. (ha, ha)
As the article said, while to outsiders the crime may not seem like anything more than a harmless prank, to the people absorbed into this virtual world, it's equivalent to both a mental and a physical rape. Watching one's online representation of oneself be degraded and humiliated is not a pleasant experience.
As I was reading this article, a few questions stood out in my mind:
Weren't there terms of service or rules? In most online games I've played, there are codes of conduct and other rules to ensure that things like this don't happen. It seems a bit too trusting of human nature to not have a plan in case someone causes havoc. The "New Direction" mentioned just leaves too much room for abuse.
Why was there a "voodoo doll" item available in the first place? The only use I can think of for such a thing is for mischief.
Given that this happened over a decade ago when these online communities were still relatively young, I can assume that the events that occurred in LambdaMOO and other early communities were some of the impetus behind the rules, terms of service, and codes of conduct present in every single online community today.
[The Virtual Community]
Again, as a veteran of equivalents of the online communities described in the article, I can recognize and sympathize with many of the points gone over by Rheingold.
The portion that stood out the most to me from this article was the descriptions of addiction, and how people aren't addicted to the video game, but rather the communication. While that may have been true in the past, the modern era offers an even more addictive formula: the combination of community and gaming. I used to joke: "I had friends at one point, but then World of Warcraft came out." I still remember the addiction to World of Warcraft that some of my friends went through: whenever the rest of the group tried to get in touch with them, they were always "clearing a dungeon with a party" or "going on a raid with their guild". It wasn't "I need to level up - just one more level!" or "I'm talking with friends" - it was a combination of the two - they could both interact with the community as well as play the game - a potent combination apparently, given how little I saw of my WoW-played friends.
And then there's the gender issues Rheingold brought up... that's a common occurrence in the online realm, really. It's become so bad that any outright feminine pseudonym is usually dismissed as "some creepy old guy" by the more jaded population and treated with slavish adoration by the younger crowd (given the rarity of females in certain locales online). Usually the best plan is just to ignore gender completely - once gender gets into things, all kinds of crazy stuff happens.
The "Weekend-Only World" bit definitely resonated with me. A lot (ok, all) of my hobbies aren't really considered to be "in the mainstream", and I've had the "get a life" statement thrown at me quite a bit... that little piece was the response that I was looking for all this time.
Interesting story... didn't think the FBI would be going after something seemingly relatively harmless like Second Life while there are still huge online gambling sites running.
Wow, it really is a Second Life, isn't it?
Looks like the Internet is serious business. 50k for a digital recreation of Amsterdam? I have got to get in on this.
Heh... pirates... seems like fun. Again with the combination of gaming and community.
I wonder how much time needs to be put in to make 5k a month?
Interesting way to raise awareness for a real life issue - if Second Life is really as serious as it seems, this should definitely affect people.