Assault in Online Games

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The Gamers with Jobs website is running an opinion piece on assault in online games today. To paraphrase it, the author is of the strong opinion that the behaviour of some participants in these virtual worlds is of a lesser standard than that of people you meet in real life. She implicitly postulates that the reason for that lies in the lack of policing in virtual worlds – in the real world, we are educated to behave within certain boundaries, and have the police to deal with people overstepping those boundaries too far. She concludes by demanding that game designers, players and society as a whole needs to deal with this.

I’m not a big fan of articles such as this, because, for the most part, they don’t add to the discussion – while I agree absolutely that this needs to be dealt with somehow. Ranting about how bad things are (and the article is full of fairly demagogic phrasing), just doesn’t solve anything.

So here are some thoughts on the issue.

First of all I disagree with the implied reasoning that it’s lack of policing that turns virtual worlds into such a “cesspool”. The police is really just a formalization of what our society managed to work out on it’s own. In a small community, you don’t need police – you need a strong consensus what the right thing to do would be, and it’ll be enforced by the majority that agrees on these rules. Having a subset of society dedicated to that task, is a matter of convenience, not of necessity.

The way this happens in small communities is that you’ll have one or more strong, charismatic persons that fight for their opinion. Herd instinct being what it is, the more an opinion is repeated, the more sensible it seems to us – not intellectually, but instinctually. We stick together for protection. In a way, it hardly matters what opinion those community leaders voice – as long as it’s being picked up and repeated, the community is likely to win. Disrupting a well established community is fairly hard, and if successful, is most likely to create a split into smaller communities.

There is no secret on how to handle a community, really. We all do it every day. One or more people in the group of friends you meet regularly will be an opinion leader. You may disagree with them privately, but for the sake of the community, you will at least sometimes just silently spread their opinion and thus influence. It’s a survival trait.