Griefer Nation

Griefer Nation
The Day the Grid Disappeared

Mark Wallace | 15 Nov 2005 11:01
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It should be said here that the code-wrangling team at Linden Lab is looking for a fix that would result in the best of all possible worlds, i.e., that would allow the good while still eliminating the evil. But that's not the point. Because no matter how foolproof the physics of your world are, there will always be a way to grief it. Ask any coder and they will tell you the same thing: There is no application without a bug, and no security system without a crack in it. The limited time and resources of a development team simply can't compete with the nearly unlimited curiosity and commitment of those who hope to find those bugs and cracks. And once found, of course, someone will eventually exploit them, whether your physics likes it or not.

Philip Rosedale, the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, says he is not building a game, he is "building a country." If so, it is at this point a country whose citizens have no voice, and which is run suspiciously as if it were, in fact, a game. Second Life's 7,000-word Terms of Service document (about three times as long as this article) contains all the same caveats as that of any game company's: Although users retain the IP rights to their creations, Linden Lab or anyone else on the Grid can use those creations as they see fit. LL can kick you out or delete your stuff "for any reason or no reason." And the Terms of Service and Community Standards, the documents that effectively constitute the civil, criminal and constitutional laws of the world, change so often and with so little notice that it's impossible to know exactly where you stand at any given moment. As a virtual world, Second Life is the coolest thing going. As a country, it sucks.

Any other country would have seen the GriefSpawn coming long before it hit. The griefer in question had been associated with a group in Second Life long known for its startling builds and its troubling antics. Refugees from the forums at SomethingAwful.com, the W-Hat group is also filled with creative and talented people. But their activities over the past year have put them at or near the top of the chronic griefer squad. At the Second Life Herald, where, as Walker Spaight, I serve as Editorial Director, we've been covering these guys for months.

That they inhabit Second Life only means their griefing takes the form of their world: They define themselves by what they build. Highlights include apparent attempts to drive neighboring landowners off their land, builds featuring huge swastikas and enormous detached penises, a model of the World Trade Center in flames (complete with Death Star added for effect), harassment of other groups in Second Life, a graphic depiction of a murdered prostitute, and back in July, a client hack that gave them access to the private scripts and objects that run many of Second Life's businesses.

Given that it was widely known that crashing the Grid would not be all that hard, how could you not have seen the GriefSpawn coming?

What Linden Lab should have done about it is a different question. No one wants to live in a police state, even a virtual one. But a state with no policing is almost as bad. Code may be law, as Lawrence Lessig points out, but law is not the same as enforcement, and to expect the code to be not just the law of an online world, but the police force as well, is to put too great a burden on designers and programmers, and to limit what's possible in cyberspace.

Second Life is in an interesting position. With no competitive structure, it's not really a game. With no line between creators and consumers, it's not really a development platform. With no real laws and no government, it's not really a country. And even if it were all these things at once, it would still have to find some better definition of all these pieces and how they fit together if it's to avoid the kind of two-steps-forward, one-step-back moments - like the nerfing of object-to-object transfers - that have marked its development thus far.

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