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.