Consequences In Virtual Worlds

My post about the philosophy of friendship yesterday received lots of fantastic comments and responses (thanks all!) and whilst replying to Caliburn Susanto’s first comment, I started to pontificate about the consequences which exist within a virtual world. Caliburn put forth the argument that there is essentially no reason to distrust an online avatar just because they happen to be an online persona (I’m para-phrasing so please correct me if I’m wrong). Whilst I agree that online personas are potentially no less valid than our true selves, I disagree that they are equally as trustworthy, the problem being that we do not suffer any consequences when we operate within virtual worlds. I won’t reiterate the entire comment thread as you can just check it out yourself – Caliburn certainly writes with elegance and passion and his replies are worth reading.

The crux of my point of view is that there are no deterrents to prevent misbehaviour in a virtual world like there are in the real world, thus the certainty of interacting with someone online can never be as great as in the real world. If someone cheated you in game, there is almost nothing that can be done to punish the cheater and certainly nothing strong enough to severely affect them. However, in the real world there are laws to protect society and punish criminals so, although it doesn’t stop crime altogether, we at least have the threat of deterrent to protect us and guard our actions.

Caliburn countered my argument by saying that he doesn’t believe having pseudo-anonymity results in an increase in an honest person’s temptation to be dishonest. Personally, I don’t think anonymity has anything to do with it, I think it’s purely the freedom from consequence which invokes a more anarchist and selfishness nature. Call me a cynic, but I think it absolutely decreases the likelihood of someone being honest. Like Caliburn, I can’t draw upon any statistics to prove my points but I can draw upon my own personal experiences.

The fact is, I’ve encountered plenty of dishonest folk in online worlds who, I’m sure, would never dream of scamming someone in real life just for sole the fear of the consequences. Somehow they deem it more acceptable to be dishonest within a fictional world than in the real one.

I had a good friend in real life who I used to play Everquest with many years ago. He was perfectly nice, perfectly honest, yet the minute he went online, his moral compass shattered and would not hesitate at ripping someone off should the occasion present itself. He’s only one person, I know, but if his actions can be altered by changing his environment and removing the restriction of consequences then I’m sure other people can to.

I’m not saying everyone online can’t be trusted. What I’m saying is that I believe the lack of consequences in virtual worlds make it harder to trust people and provides them with more of a temptation to be dishonest.

What’s the solution? Conqueuences and deterrents. I’m sure if every MMORPG player had to hook up their genitals to a device that delivered electric shocks as a form of online punishment, we’d see a lot less misbehaviour and people would be a heck of a lot more honest.

Or kinky.

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Related Posts

  1. The Philosophy Of Friendship
  2. Cataclysm And Its Virtual Chastity Belt
  3. How To Rob A Bank In EVE Online
  4. Social Morals
  5. Another Perfect World


  1. I agree. It’s no secret that pseudo-anonymity can bring out either the best or the worst of a person’s nature. I think the difference is that I have faith in my own judgment of who is trustworthy and worth my time, and so don’t find the “culture of the magic circle” to be scary, threatening, or a deterrent to my enjoyment of relationships in a virtual environment. To my mind, the person who demands personal information in-world prior to any type of interaction is insecure in that way and not a candidate for friendship (which was the original topic, of course).

  2. IRGRL says:

    I play like your friend. My name in some virtual worlds lead people to hide their children from site of the monitor. People paid to have my gaming accounts hacked, I was threatened, my family was and called more names in more languages that I didn’t even realize our world had.
    BUT the people whom gamed with me, some for 7years, we call each other friends, and I would say I would trust those of them.

    In another game I would earn alliances trust, and then steal everything they had, so much so the administrator made a feature in the game where you couldn’t do it anymore.

    Its just a style I play, but I have many friends from my gaming experience, some for 12 years now total, whom know I am nothing like the person I am gaming. I also have many enemies, whom unfortunately I feel play the game so much they have a hard time separating virtual, from reality and to this day hold a grudge against me.

  3. Beej says:

    I used to be well known on my Ultima Online shard as a griefer and scammer. I couldn’t even conduct a legitimate business deal on my main character because he was known to be shady.

    But that’s not how I act in real life. I like to think I’m pretty respectable.

    It all comes down to what people enjoy in the game to how they play it. I wish I could find a game that was as fun to be a jerk in as UO because to me, making someone else whine on the other side of the keyboard is fun (hence my penchant for PvP in any game I play), but I didn’t do that through hiding behind internet anonmymity. I did it because it was fun.

  4. If the players of EVE Online all acted IRL like they do in-game, this world would be a lot less pretty… ;)

  5. Tesh says:

    To a large degree, the ability to act without consequences is part of the appeal of games in the first place. I’d argue that the desire for a power fantasy without consequences is the backbone of most game design, *especially* MMOs. It’s a terrible waste of the potential of games as storytelling and educational devices, but it’s no surprise.

  6. Gordon says:

    @Caliburn That’s a very good point. Personally, I don’t demand any RL information about someone I play with but I always hold in the back of mind the thought that maybe their true self is different from the one they project. However, I still feel that about people I meet in RL.

    @IRGRL It’s why these things are so hard to quantify – a fun game to one person could be a strong emotional investment to someone else. Without consequences for our actions, we’re free to play any way we want and we shouldn’t be surprised if someone decides to play a ‘bad’ guy (or whatever we call it).

    @Beej Lol. How come I’m not surprised to learn you were a griefer in UO? :D

    @Petter Now I’m really excited to get more into EVE :)

    @Tesh Oh boy, this is all starting to make my heard hurt! :) I suppose a lot of it depends on people view the game. Some players think it’s ‘wrong’ to, say, gank someone in open PvP yet others think it’s just part of the game. Fascinating stuff!

  7. motstandet says:

    MMOs are an experiment with the Ring of Gyges.

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  11. Gar says:

    A good deterrent is simply a well-connected community. Look to Asheron’s Call for a great example, where all players are generally in some sort of allegiance (guild), and global chat channels allow widespread communication. I was a player in AC back in the day, and I stole an item off of the ground just one time – and found myself locked out of every single allegiance and fellowship in the game overnight! This basically makes the game impossible to play for pariahs, in effect allowing the majority to literally remove problem players from the game entirely. After a few years I returned to Asheron’s Call, and, believe me, I behaved myself the second time around, despite my inner penchant for ‘creative’ behavior.

    After almost ten years of this ability to remove players from the server through social exile, Asheron’s Call’s community of carebears is still around and is in fact the massive majority, because the problem players that in other games could dominate and ruin their lives are simply impotent. An interesting side effect – there is now a large but mostly hidden undercurrent of vicious gossip and reputation combat, formed after years and years of ‘rooting out’ and ‘calling out’ griefers and jerks purely on somebody’s word alone. Playing AC is like living in Salem during the witch trials – one wrong move and you can find yourself hanged.

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