101: Will Bobba for Furni

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"This game contains sex, politically incorrect behavior, blasphemy, and lots of other things which are not acceptable to many people," says the Sociolotron website. "This game allows you to bring out your darker side, but it also allows the same for other players!
"Just what exactly the makers of Sociolotron intended by the phrase 'darker side is a matter of subjective opinion (and a matter most of us won't feel the need to investigate too thoroughly). Suffice to say, Socioltron is a place where anything goes; up to and including most things we simply would not tolerate in normal life - including rape."
Russ Pitts explores the depths of online depravity, from consensual sex sites like Sociolotron to Habbo Hotel.

Will Bobba for Furni

Sociolotron is a fascinating concept. A part of the appeal of a game is the opportunity to be the bad guy for a change. Who wouldn't want to give it a try, if there were no consequences whatsoever? So take this, and put it in a multiplayer environment. Give it a heaping dose of sex. What have you got now? How does it make you feel? How would it make other people feel? How would people respond? What makes it different?

The rest of the article, I felt, was needlessly sensationalist. As for in-game solicitation taking a turn for the horrific, what distinguishes it from the use of (for example) newspaper personal ads for the same, or even leading to the same sort of crime? As for in-MUD rape, I don't know much of how a voodoo doll worked, but surely, if the text on the screen upsets you, you can disconnect? It seems to me like making a big deal out of something that's only superficially the same as rape, which cheapens the gravity of the crime.

Bongo Bill:
It seems to me like making a big deal out of something that's only superficially the same as rape, which cheapens the gravity of the crime.

I wouldn't say it's superficially like rape; I'd say it's missing the most concrete aspect of rape, the physical violation.

However, like the Julian Dibbell article linked to in this Escapist article points out, we don't think of something as rape because of the physical damage (at least, anymore/in the more enlightened laws influenced by the feminist movement) it involves. We think of it as evil almost entirely because of the emotional damage it causes. We think of the rapist as evil not because of anything s/he physically does, but because s/he does it against the other person's consent, not caring about the fallout for the other person from that violation of their consent.

Maybe we need a physical violation before we call something rape/call someone a rapist. That's the way I lean. However, I don't think it's superficial to ask if this is rape. To me, what it's missing is a physical *invasion* of something a person should have absolute control of access to. So even though I'd say it isn't rape for that reason, I'd say it isn't superficial to compare it because we think of that kind of invasion as evil because of the emotional damage it leaves. And there certainly seems to be a lot of emotional damage here, of a sexual nature, of having been sexual violated.

And that's really why we think of rape as evil: the emotional damage of a sexual violation. Far from reducing the gravity of 'real' rape, comparing this incident to a real life physical rape makes us think more deeply about why we think rape is so evil, makes us realize that rape isn't so much about sex or intercourse or injury or any of that, but about privacy and violation and consent.

Bill,

As for whether or not logging out of the game would have saved the user legba from abuse, it would have allowed her to withdraw from the experience, but would not have removed her character from the scenes described. Nor, as I said in the article, would it have prevented it from happening in the first place, or saved her from the embarrassment of knowing her friends and fellow citizens had witnessed her violation. I can't personally imagine what she must have felt afterwards, but I do not doubt it was real.

Make light of this scenario if you will, but I think in this forum, of all places, we can agree that "it's just a game" doesn't cut it. People take their game lives as seriously (if not more) as their out-of-game lives, and although Bungle's assault was not physical, it was still, to those involved, a violation. Mincing over the definition of rape in this case is akin to suggesting the victim may have been partially to blame.

As for the suggestion that the rest of the article was intentionally sensationalized, well, obviously I disagree. The episodes described are extreme and disturbing, but aside from, perhaps, the awesomely titillating art, I don't think we've crossed any lines in presenting them. I've suggested conclusions one can draw from the trends described, but ultimately you're free to make up your own mind. If you think in-game sexualization, and the complete lack of barriers between the places where adults congregate to do their adult things and the places where children congregate to do their children things isn't a problem, then you've nothing to worry about. I, however, think the storm is brewing on this front, and we've only just begun to see what can happen when adults and children mix in online worlds.

I don't, however, think closing down or banning places like Sociolotron is an answer. People will do what people will do, and they will make an outlet for their desires if there isn't one already. I also think these places do a great job of keeping kids out of their worlds. I applaud them for it. Where I think we fall down, however, is in keeping the undesirables out of the places, like Habbo, where children congregate, and to echo Ms. Braithwaite, I don't think technology is the whole answer.

We would not allow children to play unsupervised in a metro area playground. We should not let them do so online. There is no difference, for all practical purposes. We've seen a generation of children grow up in America with televisions as babysitters and now these children are adults with children of their own. It's understandable that they assume the internet is just as safe an attention-keeper for their children, but it is not. It's far, far more dangerous.

I should also add here that it took me a lot longer to finish this story than it usually does. Mainly because of the Sociolotron bit, and how disturbing I found it to be. I had to step away from the work a few times simply because thinking about it hurt my fragile, little mind. I wanted to show the lengths some folks will go to get their virtual thrills online, and what shape that can take when pushed to an extreme, but I really wasn't prepared for some of the stuff I found when researching this story. If there is a hint of sensationalism present in the finished product, it may have more to do with my own raw reaction to the material seeping through than any intentional gerrymandering of the story.

The article was eye-opening and I'm glad to have read about some of the stuff in there I hadn't hear about. However, my one problem with the article wasn't that it was sensationalized--quite the opposite, it was a nuanced look. To me, sensationalism is 'OMG Teh SEXORZ!' with no analysis or depth: just 'sensation'. Deciding to approach a subject through something like Maslow's hierarchy of needs I think automatically disqualifies something as sensationalized.

My one problem is that it mixed the 'sex in games' angle with 'rape in games' angle too much. To me, rape has about as much to do with sex as bank robbery has to do with getting a home equity loan. I had to re-read it to keep straight when the focus was on sexual behavior in games and its relationship to prostitution, and when the focus was on the ability of people to reach out and violate one another by means of a computer game.

It's interesting that we have no reaction whatsoever to people who want to play an evil character on a Player-Killer server, but all kinds of alarm bells go off when a person wants to play an evil character in a Player-Raping MMO. Or that there was no hand-wringing over deciding to release _City of Villians_ as an expansion of _City of Heroes_. It's interesting how much easier it is to distance ourselves from committing and suffering violence than it is to distance ourselves from being sexualized--with our consent or not--in a game.

I by no means intended to suggest that the experience was "just a game," merely that, at least in my mind, a significant component of the crime called "rape" is that it is inescapable, which is never the case in a virtual setting. My point is diminished by the knowledge that an avatar controlled by a voodoo doll remained in the game even if the owner is not connected, which is of course the reason I asked. However, and I recognize that this is a cruel viewpoint, in this case, the suffering of debilitating emotional damage in response to a situation that can be trivially backed out of at any time initially struck me as some combination of pettiness and an inability to separate reality from fiction.

Upon reconsideration of the issue, while not more inclined to treat this issue with anything near the same gravity as physical rape (which I interpreted to be the author's intention - which is why I considered it sensationalist), I am left with more sympathy for the victim (here meaning the player, not the avatar). Never having been in such a situation myself, I am ill-equipped to anticipate what it is about rape that makes it so profoundly traumatic. Perhaps it is that it would be attempted at all. Perhaps it is the aura of dread and gravity that surrounds it in most societies, the sense that, unlike most other crimes, the entire concept is completely profane, that to trivialize it is, itself, practically criminal. I don't know. Presumably she does.

What I do know is that the only thing distinguishing this from the other uses of the "voodoo doll" to cause other avatars to do other compromising things is the fact that the description of the actions that the avatar performed were a description of rape (I assume, here, that the MUD in which this took place was one in which such actions were constrained to IRC-style emotes: no different from chat, aside from appearing narrated rather than spoken). The conclusion to draws from this (along with what Cheeze was saying) is that sexual overtones can completely change the way a situation is interpreted, even at the expense of perspective. What a fucking revelation that is, right? What we learn from the article is that real sex, or the prospect/threat thereof, doesn't have to be involved for this to still hold true.

Frankly, all of this worries me. Combined with the (justified - don't nobody take this the wrong way) it could set a bad precedent. It raises questions like: is participating in a virtual world an example of free expression, or is it more like living in the real world? Is describing a murder in a certain way simply talking, or is committing virtual murder, or an entirely different classification of behavior? If I send a message to a game server, is it different than sending that same message to a chat server? (I think the way I phrase the questions gives away my opinion on the subject) These are the questions that games are raising now, whose answers will change the face of the world - the real one just as much as all the virtual ones - in our lifetimes. We can't afford to answer them poorly.

Bongo Bill:
I by no means intended to suggest that the experience was "just a game," merely that, at least in my mind, a significant component of the crime called "rape" is that it is inescapable, which is never the case in a virtual setting.

In a sense, every crime is inescapable--if the person 'escapes' then we call it 'attempted whatever-the-crime'. I mean, in the real world all it take to change sex into rape is one person saying 'no'. To the best of my knowledge, failure to try and escape a crime on the part of the victim in no way makes it less of a crime. I'd say it's *easier* to escape from this in a virtual setting, but, I don't think we ever factor in how easy sex without consent may be to escape in deciding if it is wrong or not: we say "no means no," right?

Bongo Bill:
The conclusion to draws from this (along with what Cheeze was saying) is that sexual overtones can completely change the way a situation is interpreted, even at the expense of perspective. What a fucking revelation that is, right? What we learn from the article is that real sex, or the prospect/threat thereof, doesn't have to be involved for this to still hold true.

I think this is because virtually raping an avatar is in some sense experienced by the *attacker* as a form of sexual assault. My guess is the Bungle was using the avatar as a proxy to try and cause the same kinda feelings in the victims as a real rape would. That's much, much different than when I go to use the chainsaw on someone in anything from _Doom_ to _Gears of War_. I don't intend for the 'victim' to feel ANYTHING like what it must be to actually be eviscerated with a chainsaw.

I'm sure the reaction of the victims would have been very different if the use of the voodoo doll was accompanied by dialog along the lines of: 'd00d im totally pwning yr n00b azzes with my 31337 doll!'

That I think is a huge difference. I think anyone would agree with me that no matter how many fireballs I hit your character with, there's no way I can reach out and make you feel like a burn victim the same way I may be able to reach out by describing a sexual act and make you feel like a rape victim. That a person would have to have a way bigger problem distinguishing fiction from reality to think that getting an avatar in a combat game hit with a fireball means they were incinerated, than to think that getting an avatar in a social interaction game turned into the will-less sex slave of another person and his/her avatar means they were raped.

I'd add this to the mix, something that kinda game up in the IGE thread: what if she and her avatar was African-American, and this guy used the voodoo doll to make her go pick a bale of cotton, or eat a watermelon, or something else patently racist? Would we say that making a big deal out of racist slurs isn't justified because it is only superficially the same as slavery, and cheapens the gravity of that crime?

Bongo Bill:
These are the questions that games are raising now, whose answers will change the face of the world - the real one just as much as all the virtual ones - in our lifetimes. We can't afford to answer them poorly.

I would completely agree with that. I'd say this falls into the area of stuff like using tiny cameras for upskirt shots or hounding female bloggers. Or stuff like suing someone for blogging about one's sexual relationship. Or really, the first time it became possible to copy a book using a modified wine press instead of a monastery full of monks making copies by hand, or someone picked up a phone and asked a total stranger "what are you wearing?"

In other words, where an advance in technology means we have to deal with whether doing something to somebody else is wrong because of how easy technology has made it to do, or how it has made it much less possible to stop them from attempting it. Which we've been doing for at least the last 500 years. And living with the consequences of how poorly or how well its been done.

I think it is quite interesting to think in hypotheticals and discuss the differences and similaries between in game and physical rape, but juxtaposing an online rape victim with a physical, real-life rape victim is sick.

Speaking of theories is one thing, but using specific instaces with actual people, there is no comparison. Not one to be easily offended, I am actually a little offended here.

I understand the possible psychological stresses online assaults can have. I'm not ignorant when it comes to the fagility of the human mind. I won't discredit the damage that can be caused by in-game actions; however, it is more like harrassment than rape.

Harassment! Thank you, Blaxton, that would have been a good concept for me to have remembered. We already have a separate description, with a well-established precedent, for what was going on here - harassment.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Bongo Bill:
I by no means intended to suggest that the experience was "just a game," merely that, at least in my mind, a significant component of the crime called "rape" is that it is inescapable, which is never the case in a virtual setting.

In a sense, every crime is inescapable--if the person 'escapes' then we call it 'attempted whatever-the-crime'. I mean, in the real world all it take to change sex into rape is one person saying 'no'. To the best of my knowledge, failure to try and escape a crime on the part of the victim in no way makes it less of a crime. I'd say it's *easier* to escape from this in a virtual setting, but, I don't think we ever factor in how easy sex without consent may be to escape in deciding if it is wrong or not: we say "no means no," right?

It has nothing to do with whether it's wrong, really. Say you're sitting at home and some guy with a gun jumps through your window and points a gun at your head and tells you to get down on the floor for an hour and tell him where you keep the valuables or he'll fucking kill you, but you can with a thought make him go away completely and leave you alone, and if you don't, he'll rob you blind and maybe kill you anyway. Obviously, the gunman is in the wrong, but if you just laid there and let him do that, rather than employ that ability you have, I'd certainly have to wonder why.

In a virtual world, you can disconnect at any time, for any reason, and with no inconvenience - you're not even barred from any other virtual worlds during that time. If a person is doing something that is seriously traumatic to you, you don't have to take it. And if they keep doing it, either there'll be some more productive way to seek redress or you've chosen the wrong world to be in.

Bungle is obviously the bad guy here, but I can't help but wonder why legba did not employ this option in the entire course of the incident, if it bothered her that much.

Blaxton:
I understand the possible psychological stresses online assaults can have. I'm not ignorant when it comes to the fagility of the human mind. I won't discredit the damage that can be caused by in-game actions; however, it is more like harrassment than rape.

I don't think you're discrediting the damage that can be cause by in-game actions; however, I think you're ignoring the possible extent of that damage. I agree it is more like harrassment than rape: that's why I said "Maybe we need a physical violation before we call something rape/call someone a rapist. That's the way I lean."

However, what are we actually saying when we make that decision? What are we really saying when we call something 'harassment' and not 'rape'?

Are we telling a person that every real life, physical rape is worse than every instance of sexual harassment? Well, that means we're telling every victim of harassment that suffers more emotional damage than *any* victim of *any* rape that they're more emotionally fragile than the 'normal' person. I'm sure that's not what you're trying to say, but that's where the logic of what you're saying leads. That's why I feel differently, I guess because I was thinking of this incident, where "a female technology blogger was threatened so badly that she canceled speaking engagements and was afraid to leave her house." That's the real damage of rape, I think: it's not the crime itself, it's how it disrupts the person's life long after the crime is over.

The only reasons you've given here are that one is 'physical, real life' and one is 'online, in-game'. I'm sorry but, to me, the only reason you're giving us to agree with you is that a physical bodily invasion is worse than someone intentionally using the internet to inflict emotional damage, without actually explaining *why* it's worse.

That's why I don't think the juxtaposition is "sick" at all; like I said above, I think it only highlights what makes rape so evil more clearly. Now, maybe the *attacker* in a real-life rape is a far more evil person--I'd say that's for certain, and agree with that statement 99%. However, that still doesn't necessarily mean that every harrassment victim suffers less damage than every rape victim, right? So what's "sick" about comparing two crimes where there's such a significant overlap in the damage suffered by the victims? I guess I feel differently because I don't care as much about punishing the attacker or deciding exactly what level of hell to assign them to. I'm more interested in not seeing people get hurt, in not seeing women begin to look at the 'tubes' of the internet like dark alleys.

And I think that's just fine, to focus on the effect of the crime on the victim or the impact on society, rather than quibbling about which crime is more inherently evil, or requires a more depraved person. Focusing on the difference between harassment and rape when the damage is equally extensive to me is focusing on how evil the attacker is. Maybe we're just coming at this from different angles.

Bongo Bill:

Bungle is obviously the bad guy here, but I can't help but wonder why legba did not employ this option in the entire course of the incident, if it bothered her that much.

So did Philip Zimbardo, so he conducted Stanford Prison Experiment. Patti Hearst wound up helping the people who held her in a closet and repeatedly raped her, helping them to rob a bank. Employee hostages in Stockholm wound up bonding with their captors.

If you are wondering why people don't fight like hell or run from their captors sometimes, I'd say the best thing to do is to go look at what the social sciences have to say about how normal, mentally fit people behave in abnormal situations, rather than just try and reason it out from first principles like some medieval churchman, right? Isn't science always better for understanding why things in the world happen the way they do than just contemplating our own navels to come up with explanations? Like...the medieval churchman Roger Bacon suggested? :-D

Also, some people would rather be raped than experience brutal, physical--but not sexual--violence. Maybe that's not your preference, and it's certainly not mine. However, who are we to tell someone else that a sexual assault is worse than a more brutal physical one?

To me, that's the first step in mitigating the damage rape and sexual assault does to people--we need to stop telling them what they should and should not feel. Maybe we'll wind up telling them that we're going to punish rapists more harshly than harassers, but, let's stop insisting that it's because rape is 'worse' than harassment in every single way. Let's just let them decide how bad it was for them, even if we have to make a different decision about which one is worse for most other people/society in general.

Sorry Russ, but this reads like hyperbole to me.

in places like Habbo and Audition, we're allowing the sociopaths into the preschool. This year's political circus may be centered on the role of videogames in violent crimes, but even if every school shooter in the United States had played videogames to prepare for his rampage, chances are on that very same day more children, exponentially more, were playing doctor online. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily the problem - it's who they're playing with we should be concerned about

I'm surprised you didn't scream "Why won't someone think of the children!" at the end of it with a picture of Helen Lovejoy...

I suggest you read Gearoid Reidy's peace and get back to me, because all I see is you contributing to the absurd Moral Panic about video games and the internet.

FunkyJ:
Sorry Russ, but this reads like hyperbole to me.

...chances are on that very same day more children, exponentially more, were playing doctor online. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily the problem - it's who they're playing with we should be concerned about

I'm surprised you didn't scream "Why won't someone think of the children!" at the end of it with a picture of Helen Lovejoy...

I don't know; I can't imagine the Jack Thompsons of the world or the people who use that 'think of the children' line *ever* saying something like 'kids playing doctor' online isn't "necessarily the problem."

The only issue with "Think of the children" is it's normally calling out for anyone else but the parents or the children to "fix" the children. I don't think Russ is leaning that way, I think he's suggesting that parents need to do what parents have always needed to do; Pay attention to their children, and what their children do. It's not a hard thing to do in my mind. I have heard of exceptions where this wasn't the issue, parents who had tried everything they could think of and still had a problem child. But in these instances we still need to remember blame goes to the individual perpetrating an act - not the society in which the act occurred.

As to rape. I don't agree that any rape - virtual or real can be qualified to some number, or value. I don't see any point to arguing that choices or decisions that lead up to it are going to make her somehow at fault. It's true that had she not checked the "can be raped" box she wouldn't have been. But that box isn't quite the same as "rape me please" which is what some would equate it to. Just the same, wearing skimpy clothes out and walking down a bad part of a big city isn't a great way to spend your night if you're not interested in an encounter. But I won't argue that you weren't raped if you are in that situation. I'll just argue you're stupid for putting yourself into a situation like that. The same applies here. I don't think legba is at fault, just stupid. If you have protections available, and you choose not to use them, you don't become at fault, just foolish.

Nice discussion guys. Thanks for keeping it civil and productive. And thanks for the awesome perspectives. Y'all are a credit to the species.

As far as the harassment versus rape debate, I believe in most cases in my article I deferred to the usage espoused by sources I quoted, and will stand by their descriptions of the events they were involved with. Beyond that, I have nothing more to say about that particular angle, as my own experience with both harassment and rape is limited mainly to second hand accounts, and I wouldn't presume to judge.

As far as hyperbole goes, well ... give me a break. You've got a point, FunkyJ, in that the passage you quoted was a bit colorful, but that's kind of what they pay me for. I appreciate that you may disagree with my description of allowing children to rub elbows with the likes of folks who log in to Sociolotron to enjoy a spot of virtual rape, or visit Audition to troll for underage girls looking to score some in-game loot in exchange for a little pants dancing as "allowing the sociopaths into the preschool" but this is why we have debates, to clarify opinions. And if my colorful language made you think about the issue a little bit, then my job here is done.

Tom and Cheeze have the right of it though. I'm not advocating a witch hunt. I think the adult content providers do a great job of restricting access to their wares. The problem is in the assumption that children are safe anywhere without supervision. I know parents and teachers are busy, busy people, but a PC with an internet connection is not a babysitter, and as hard as the kid portals try to keep it clean and safe, they can't, nor should they be expected to, protect everyone else's children.

If it sounds like I'm saying "think about the children" then perhaps I am. But not in the way you suggest. Do you have children? If yes, then think about them. Often. If no, then what do you care anyway? Be a good person, go about your business and try not to break any traffic laws.

TomBeraha:
It's true that had she not checked the "can be raped" box she wouldn't have been. But that box isn't quite the same as "rape me please" which is what some would equate it to. Just the same, wearing skimpy clothes out and walking down a bad part of a big city isn't a great way to spend your night if you're not interested in an encounter. But I won't argue that you weren't raped if you are in that situation. I'll just argue you're stupid for putting yourself into a situation like that. The same applies here. I don't think legba is at fault, just stupid. If you have protections available, and you choose not to use them, you don't become at fault, just foolish.

Actually, I don't think legba or Starsinger *could* have turned off a switch; from what I gathered, in the game they were playing it was text based, and neither disconnecting nor moving away in-world would have prevented Bungle from continuing to use the doll to control them. I think it's _Sociolotron_ that has the box one can check, but I'm not even sure about that--from what I read following up on this article, the 'chastity belt' is something you have to acquire in-game, and if someone gets to you before you can get one, well, too bad. I could be completely wrong about that.

+++

In a way, I'm starting to think that the part of the article about MMO rapes isn't so much about how much a person can do inside a *game* like talking about _Manhunt_; it's about where the line is between a game, and a virtual--but still real--experience. I guess you could say the difference between playing a character and playing one's self. The point where the content of a game and the experience of the game become one in the same.

At some point, does a game stop being a game? Does it then become a simulation? If so, why is it "sick" to compare a computer simulation of rape to the real thing, when the military is *very* interested in combat simulations to prepare soldiers for the 'real thing' called combat? Or why isn't is 'silly' that psychologists are interested in treating phobias with VR?

Wasn't there an Escapist article a while back about how in the _Godfather_ game, you can basically turn it into a serial killer simulator, as long as you drag women off the street and murder them in dark alleys? Was it "sick" for the author of that article to feel squeamish about doing so, to feel like there was something in common between his experience and that of a serial murder of women?

+++

To bring it back to the note the article starts on, let's flip it around. Let's talk about whether phone sex is 'real' sex. Or whether in-game, *consensual* sex is 'real' sex.

If we decide that virtual sex is a form of real sex, why isn't virtual sex without consent a form of real rape, when the only line between sex and rape is consent? Or are we saying that consent *isn't* the only line between all sex and all rape? In other words, are we saying that rape is *some* forms of sex--the forms that involve physical contact of some degree--when consent is missing? Are we ready to do that, to tell one person 'your experience of sex without consent isn't rape,' while telling another person--a person with maybe *less* emotional damage both during the attack as well as afterwards in the form of long-term stress--that theirs was?

Maybe the issue here is that we're not working with a clear definition of rape in the real, off-line world to begin with. Isn't that always the case though? That the real problem with discussion of virtual/digital issues is that the issue is cloudy in the real world to begin with?

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Now where's my damn _OZ_ mmo? Will Bobba For Adebisi Hat!

Cheeze_Pavilion:
To bring it back to the note the article starts on, let's flip it around. Let's talk about whether phone sex is 'real' sex. Or whether in-game, *consensual* sex is 'real' sex.

If we decide that virtual sex is a form of real sex, why isn't virtual sex without consent a form of real rape, when the only line between sex and rape is consent? Or are we saying that consent *isn't* the only line between all sex and all rape? In other words, are we saying that rape is *some* forms of sex--the forms that involve physical contact of some degree--when consent is missing? Are we ready to do that, to tell one person 'your experience of sex without consent isn't rape,' while telling another person--a person with maybe *less* emotional damage both during the attack as well as afterwards in the form of long-term stress--that theirs was?

Is it real sex? No. Is it possible to use virtual sex as a way to connect emotionally with someone? Sure. That's why you read about spouses who "cheat" by having cybersex. It has nothing to do with the physicality, but the emotional side of anything intimate; there's a choice made by both parties to assign meaning to the act, be it hunting in an MMO or bumping virtual uglies in an IM client. Without assigning meaning, though, it's just a bunch of text. In the real world, however, there's also that physical element that factors in. Even without emotional meaning, there's still a lot of things going on mentally with sex that don't really factor in with the online stuff: STDs, pregnancy, pain/pleasure, privacy, security.

Which is why virtual "rape" really can't be associated with real-world rape. If the virtual stuff is all emotional, no one who's emotionally stable will allow a "rapist" that level of intimacy. The "victim" dictates the experience as much as the aggressor in the case of online stuff: just close the damn game or call a GM.

CP:
Maybe the issue here is that we're not working with a clear definition of rape in the real, off-line world to begin with. Isn't that always the case though? That the real problem with discussion of virtual/digital issues is that the issue is cloudy in the real world to begin with?

You sure? I mean, aside from the statutory crap (which I'll admit is both confusing and, as someone who lives in a college town, terrifying) rape's pretty well defined:

unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent -- compare SEXUAL ASSAULT,

: illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority

I don't think it's so easy to separate a virtual assault from a "real" assault. I agree that the physicality of the act introduces a number of variables, but it's possible to be - and feel - violated online. Just as possible as it is to feel anything else about what happens online.

It's not really surprising to me that the story of legba has taken point on discussion of my article. Dibbell''s depiction of the even has been one of the most-quoted articles about virtual life since he wrote it, in the early nineties.

And I won't say we're off point either, because I do think, as Cheeze suggested, the issue at stake here is if it is possible to break those barriers between real and virtual, if it is possible to love receive stimulation online, to fulfill those Maslow desires, and to have them fulfilled through you, against your will, by someone else, then we really need to think more seriously about what happens in virtual worlds, and how acts stemming fro them are handled. In courts, living rooms or elsewhere.

Joe:

In the real world, however, there's also that physical element that factors in. Even without emotional meaning, there's still a lot of things going on mentally with sex that don't really factor in with the online stuff: STDs, pregnancy, pain/pleasure, privacy, security.

That's kinda a heteronormative definition, though, don't you think? Lesibans, gay men, and really old people don't factor in pregnancy. Also, there's not a lot of pleasure in using hands or toys on someone for the other person, nor is there much concern about STDs. I don't know exactly what you mean by privacy or security, but people have public or anonymous sex--often at the same time--in the real world, if that's what you mean.

Joe:
The "victim" dictates the experience as much as the aggressor in the case of online stuff: just close the damn game or call a GM.

Yeah, but like I said to Bongo Bill, we don't define rape in the real world as 'sex without consent AND an inability to dictate the experience.' Even if you can do the equivalent of "just close the damn game or call a GM" in the real world, which would be 'get up and leave or call a cop' well, we don't say that it's not rape because you could have gotten away or called the police, right?

Joe:
You sure? I mean, aside from the statutory crap (which I'll admit is both confusing and, as someone who lives in a college town, terrifying) rape's pretty well defined:

unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent -- compare SEXUAL ASSAULT,

: illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority

I would say...those definitions only prove my point better than I ever could :-)

Men "usually" can't be raped? It's "usually" intercourse? So one guy going to town on another guy with a plunger isn't "usually" rape because the victim is male, and even if the victim was female, that's "usually" not rape anyway? However clear that may be, I think that's a pretty unenlightened definition of rape, don't you?

(edited out a misreading on my part here)

I'm...just not impressed by a definition of rape that doesn't capture something like Schillinger branding a Swastika into into Beecher's ass in the show _OZ_; are you? Why are we so obsessed with penetration--and even moreso, intercourse--as such an important part of why these crimes are evil? Why isn't the focus on what the victim feels--or how about what the attacker *wants* the victim to feel--instead of the mechanical aspects of the crime?

Cheeze_Pavilion:
That's kinda a heteronormative definition, though, don't you think? Lesibans, gay men, and really old people don't factor in pregnancy. Also, there's not a lot of pleasure in using hands or toys on someone for the other person, nor is there much concern about STDs. I don't know exactly what you mean by privacy or security, but people have public or anonymous sex--often at the same time--in the real world, if that's what you mean.

It's heteronormative because that's the sex the majority of the population - and rapists - have. And just because penetration isn't involved doesn't mean you're free from STDs, but that's another discussion.

In regard to privacy and security, I'm speaking more about showing someone what you look like naked, and then letting them touch your no-no places. That's a large step for a lot of the populace and part of what makes real-life sex so intimate.

CP:
Yeah, but like I said to Bongo Bill, we don't define rape in the real world as 'sex without consent AND an inability to dictate the experience.' Even if you can do the equivalent of "just close the damn game or call a GM" in the real world, which would be 'get up and leave or call a cop' well, we don't say that it's not rape because you could have gotten away or called the police, right?

If people had a magic button they could push to instantly distance themselves from an attacker whenever they wanted, would rape occur? Outside of instances where the victim was unconscious or whatever (which can't really happen in games - you can always hit the "X"), I think not.

CP:
I would say...those definitions only prove my point better than I ever could :-)

Men "usually" can't be raped? It's "usually" intercourse? So one guy going to town on another guy with a plunger isn't "usually" rape because the victim is male, and even if the victim was female, that's "usually" not rape anyway? However clear that may be, I think that's a pretty unenlightened definition of rape, don't you?

(edited out a misreading on my part here)

I'm...just not impressed by a definition of rape that doesn't capture something like Schillinger branding a Swastika into into Beecher's ass in the show _OZ_; are you? Why are we so obsessed with penetration--and even moreso, intercourse--as such an important part of why these crimes are evil? Why isn't the focus on what the victim feels--or how about what the attacker *wants* the victim to feel--instead of the mechanical aspects of the crime?

I think you're misreading the "usually"'s in there. What it's saying is it's unlawful sexual activity - like burning a swastika on someone's ass - but a rapist usually has penetration/intercourse on the mind.

Joe:

Cheeze_Pavilion:
That's kinda a heteronormative definition, though, don't you think? Lesibans, gay men, and really old people don't factor in pregnancy. Also, there's not a lot of pleasure in using hands or toys on someone for the other person, nor is there much concern about STDs. I don't know exactly what you mean by privacy or security, but people have public or anonymous sex--often at the same time--in the real world, if that's what you mean.

It's heteronormative because that's the sex the majority of the population - and rapists - have.

So wait--you don't see a problem with leaving out a minority of people, calling what they are having something other than "real" sex? Or even stranger, calling homosexual sexual assault something other than rape?

And while the majority of rape may be heterosexual, my guess is that it's a pretty underwheling majority--it's just that it doesn't register with us because it is much less reported because of the additional stigma surrounding it, it happens to people who have trouble standing up for themselves like the disabled or young, or it happens to people we don't care about like prisoners.

Joe:
And just because penetration isn't involved doesn't mean you're free from STDs, but that's another discussion.

Yeah, that's why I said "much concern." I mean, you can get herpes from kissing--is kissing therefore sex?

Joe:
In regard to privacy and security, I'm speaking more about showing someone what you look like naked, and then letting them touch your no-no places. That's a large step for a lot of the populace and part of what makes real-life sex so intimate.

That's also called a gynecological/prostate exam, but I wouldn't call it sex :-D

Also, you can have sex without getting naked...if she's wearing a loose enough skirt and gets on top. Or even if she isn't, if the guy is wearing a kilt.

Joe:

CP:
Yeah, but like I said to Bongo Bill, we don't define rape in the real world as 'sex without consent AND an inability to dictate the experience.' Even if you can do the equivalent of "just close the damn game or call a GM" in the real world, which would be 'get up and leave or call a cop' well, we don't say that it's not rape because you could have gotten away or called the police, right?

If people had a magic button they could push to instantly distance themselves from an attacker whenever they wanted, would rape occur? Outside of instances where the victim was unconscious or whatever (which can't really happen in games - you can always hit the "X"), I think not.

Like I said to Bongo Bill, you can reason from first principles like a medieval churchman deciding whether the earth goes around the sun, or you can use empirical science. It's your choice, but, I fail to see the big issue with accepting the social sciences into this debate, rather than just sitting here and imagining what people will behave like.

Joe:

CP:
I would say...those definitions only prove my point better than I ever could :-)

Men "usually" can't be raped? It's "usually" intercourse? So one guy going to town on another guy with a plunger isn't "usually" rape because the victim is male, and even if the victim was female, that's "usually" not rape anyway? However clear that may be, I think that's a pretty unenlightened definition of rape, don't you?

(edited out a misreading on my part here)

I'm...just not impressed by a definition of rape that doesn't capture something like Schillinger branding a Swastika into into Beecher's ass in the show _OZ_; are you? Why are we so obsessed with penetration--and even moreso, intercourse--as such an important part of why these crimes are evil? Why isn't the focus on what the victim feels--or how about what the attacker *wants* the victim to feel--instead of the mechanical aspects of the crime?

I think you're misreading the "usually"'s in there. What it's saying is it's unlawful sexual activity - like burning a swastika on someone's ass - but a rapist usually has penetration/intercourse on the mind.

I'm assuming anyone saying 'it's not rape' is saying so because they consider rape more serious than harassment or even sexual assault. Maybe you're not, and if so, my assumptions about what you are saying are mistaken and this doesn't apply to you.

However, if you are saying that 'sexual harrassment < sexual assault < rape' or something like that, I'm still asking something along the lines of: why is it more serious to slip a finger into some who is sleeping with no intent to cause them emotional damage, than it is to terrorize them and torture them in a sexual manner that involves something like branding or mutilation while they are awake and aware? That's why I'm saying it's unclear...or else sexist and antiquated.

Like I said before, why do the mechanics of the "unlawful sexual activity" play such a big role? Technically, I don't disagree with you: if you check, I originally said that "I wouldn't say it's superficially like rape; I'd say it's missing the most concrete aspect of rape, the physical violation." What I've been talking about has been in the context of people who said it's not only incorrect, but "sick" to compare this to rape, and reduces the "gravity" of real-life rape.

Like I've said from the beginning, I lean towards not calling it rape because it's missing the most concrete aspect of rape, the physical invasion. However, my answer is to just stop calling *anything* rape; I mean, the word didn't even originally refer to sex with someone who wasn't consenting--it was the carrying off of a female breeding human who belonged to another male: e.g., the Rape of the Sabine Women, the Latin root rapio meaning 'to carry off', etc. Better to just consign a sexist term to the dustbin of history, and start over with a term that recognizes this as a crime of power and violence, such as 'sexual assault,' right?

Better to just consign a sexist term to the dustbin of history, and start over with a term that recognizes this as a crime of power and violence, such as 'sexual assault,' right?

There's growing debate as to whether rape really is "a crime of power and violence". While rape as a cultural phenomenon where men exercise power over women has been the accepted social scientific model, evolutionary biology sees rape as a distinct, sexually motivated act: "Rape not only appears to occur in all known cultures, but in a wide variety of other species where there is certainly no cultural encouragement of such behavior." See The Evolutionary Biology of Rape.

I've read evolutionary biology quite closely and found its arguments persuasive; others have found it less so (and of course some don't even accept the evidence of evolution itself, let alone evolution as having an impact on human behavior). Given we can't achieve consensus on what rape is in real life, all the more unlikely we can establish broadly accepted views on what constitutes virtual rape.

For the record, though, I'd call what happened online far closer to harassment than rape.

There's obviously a separation between virtual and real assault, but the lines blur on the emotional side of the argument. It's unfortunate that a girl was emotionally raped while online. For her, it was a very real emotional experience. It's also very unfortunate that she didn't have the presence of mind to turn off her computer and disconnect herself from the situation.

I don't have any hesitation siding with a victimized child, for obvious reasons, but when an adult is victimized, I have a hard time. It's difficult to believe that an adult's inability to disconnect from a virtual world isn't by choice (or that they don't have to take responsibility for their inaction). However, if my logic is wrong, then I'm more concerned about the adult victim's mental health. Will MMO addiction become a public health concern?

Archon:

Better to just consign a sexist term to the dustbin of history, and start over with a term that recognizes this as a crime of power and violence, such as 'sexual assault,' right?

There's growing debate as to whether rape really is "a crime of power and violence". While rape as a cultural phenomenon where men exercise power over women has been the accepted social scientific model, evolutionary biology sees rape as a distinct, sexually motivated act:

See though, they never use the term 'rape' in what you linked to in the sense of being a crime. They state: "There is no connection here between what is biological or naturally selected and what is morally right or wrong. To assume a connection is to commit what is called the naturalistic fallacy" (p. 5-6)."

I wouldn't call that a debate over the *crime* of rape, just the *phenomenon* of rape. And more accurately, the necessary origins of the phenomenon of rape. As the link also states: "Although we agree that culture (= social learning) plays a major role in the cause of rape, we challenge the notion that rape only occurs when males are taught by their cultures to rape."

That doesn't mean culture isn't *sufficient* to cause rape; that only means it's not *necessary*. Big difference, right? Even they admit that culture and its messages of power and violence "plays a major role in the cause of rape" without going into just *how* major it is, or even how major it is in modern societies, which is what we really care about.

And didn't you find it a little disingenuous how they start talking so much about 'environment' and avoiding the word 'culture'? Or that they talk about how "[t]he learning experiences that are suggested by recent research to influence men's rape proneness offer promise for reducing rape. The number of boys raised under conditions of poverty in industrial societies could be greatly reduced by taxation policies that lower wealth inequalities, coupled with more taxation revenues being directed at socially disfranchised families."

Is it just me, or isn't the definition of "disenfranchisement" something like 'a lack of power'? I mean, let me get this straight: they're saying that rape isn't a crime of power. However, empowering people who feel they have no power makes them much less prone to commit rape? WTF? RTFM? BBQ!

Also, to me, calling something 'rape' from a biological scientific experiment is...well, *that's* what I would call sensationalist. I mean, doesn't that make about as much sense as calling the eating of fertilized eggs by predators by the term 'abortion'? Or the actions of parasites a form of 'piracy'?

Finally, didn't you have a problem with this line: "We also argue that the best way to obtain a better understanding of the role of culture in the cause of human rape is to approach the subject from the only generally accepted scientific explanation of the behavior of living things: Darwinian evolution by natural selection."

Man alive!, Freud, Jung, Maslow, James, Durkheim, Zimbardo...none of them gave us 'generally accepted scientific explanations of the behavior of living things'! Who knew! :-D

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Bongo Bill:

Bungle is obviously the bad guy here, but I can't help but wonder why legba did not employ this option in the entire course of the incident, if it bothered her that much.

So did Philip Zimbardo, so he conducted Stanford Prison Experiment. Patti Hearst wound up helping the people who held her in a closet and repeatedly raped her, helping them to rob a bank. Employee hostages in Stockholm wound up bonding with their captors.

If you are wondering why people don't fight like hell or run from their captors sometimes, I'd say the best thing to do is to go look at what the social sciences have to say about how normal, mentally fit people behave in abnormal situations, rather than just try and reason it out from first principles like some medieval churchman, right? Isn't science always better for understanding why things in the world happen the way they do than just contemplating our own navels to come up with explanations? Like...the medieval churchman Roger Bacon suggested? :-D

The cases you've described aren't any more applicable than the philosopher. Stockholm Syndrome is related to what happens after the crime - not to attempts to prevent it. Patti Hearst didn't have a magic escape key. In the real world, when it is even possible, running away from a threatening situation entails the likelihood of the threatening situation becoming realized, often in the form of violence. There is no comparison. No external factor can prevent a person from abandoning a virtual situation at no cost, whereas the details that make your cases unique are the fact that such preventative factors exit. There is no data about situations with a magic escape key. Which, wouldn't you know it, is why I was wondering.

If we're looking for applicable studies, we might find more value in the studies discussing what makes a person more or less likely to intervene on behalf of a stranger in a public place. They're still substantially different, but they have at least one important thing in common: it's trivially easy to walk away from.

Bongo Bill:
If we're looking for applicable studies, we might find more value in the studies discussing what makes a person more or less likely to intervene on behalf of a stranger in a public place. They're still substantially different, but they have at least one important thing in common: it's trivially easy to walk away from.

Okay! Whatever floats your boat then, as far as studies go.

However much we may disagree on the applicability of my specific examples, am I right that you agree with me that (1) social science is the way to go, and (2) the studies made in the social sciences can diverge substantially in the conclusions they lead to from the conclusions we come to in just thinking about what the 'average' person would do, with all the research in our heads?

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Bongo Bill:
If we're looking for applicable studies, we might find more value in the studies discussing what makes a person more or less likely to intervene on behalf of a stranger in a public place. They're still substantially different, but they have at least one important thing in common: it's trivially easy to walk away from.

Okay! Whatever floats your boat then, as far as studies go.

However much we may disagree on the applicability of my specific examples, am I right that you agree with me that (1) social science is the way to go, and (2) the studies made in the social sciences can diverge substantially in the conclusions they lead to from the conclusions we come to in just thinking about what the 'average' person would do, with all the research in our heads?

We're in agreement, but I wouldn't dismiss the philosophical approach outright.

Russ Pitts:
If it sounds like I'm saying "think about the children" then perhaps I am. But not in the way you suggest. Do you have children? If yes, then think about them. Often. If no, then what do you care anyway? Be a good person, go about your business and try not to break any traffic laws.

I won't break any traffic laws... I don't drive - I'm thinking about the children :P

My issue is that when people think of the children, they often don't.

So, when I read stories like this that promote caution or even fear, I get a little worried - not so much about what you're saying: you are a gamer writing in a game magazine after all - but the way this will be taken by mainstream media.

Sure, the Rape in Cyberspace happened years ago, but would that matter to mainstream news?

I follow the news closely, and the amount of factual errors deliberately made to sell a news story is phenomenal.

Case in point: The Great Global Warming Swindle documentary. A Scientist was interviewed for this show, and they cut up and re-arranged what he said so much he had to issue a press report refuting his own claims! Yet this has been shown around the world, and taken by some mainstream media and used as 'proof' that global warming isn't man made.

Or The Polar Bear Knut. Originally written by a right wing tabloid and grabbed by the AAP news feed, this story went around the world, and animal rights activists were accused of wanting to kill baby bears.

The thing was, they were totally taken out of context by the original source, and that was never fact checked until Mediawatch did a bit of exploring (link)

My point is what you're writing could be picked up by the media and twisted to suit it's own agenda. The way you're writing it means it can be easily used to support their agenda.

This discussion has taken some interesting turns, but since Bill and Cheeze both agree that Cheeze is right about them both being right about the importance of social science and some other point that confuses me, I'd like to jump back a bit to something that may have been missed. ;-)

Russ Pitts:
We would not allow children to play unsupervised in a metro area playground. We should not let them do so online. There is no difference, for all practical purposes. We've seen a generation of children grow up in America with televisions as babysitters and now these children are adults with children of their own. It's understandable that they assume the internet is just as safe an attention-keeper for their children, but it is not. It's far, far more dangerous.

Thank you for making that point. To elaborate a little further, a large part of parenting is educating your children. When my little buckaroo decides to play online, I'll make sure he knows that the off switch is always there. I'll probably play along side him online too. I may even ask him about his guild and online friends or what he did in the game that day. I'll become active in his life.

My father once handled a very touchy situation with my sister a while back, when she was a young teenager. There was a guy who was 5 years older than her, out of school, that she was interested in... in the real world. My father had to make a very difficult decision. He sat her down and he told her the reason why an older guy would be interested in a young girl. Of course, she didn't believe him. He told her if the guy tried to do anything that they discussed, she was to run away. Fortunately, she did end up running away from the guy before any serious harm came. She also thanked my father.

Had my father told her simply to not see the guy, she would have anyway... and probably in a dangerously defiant manner. Education is key, people. Parental ignorance is not an excuse.

I don't blame a young child for being virtually violated; I blame the perpetrator. However, the parents must take responsibility for educating and protecting their children... and I think that's the story we don't hear enough about in the news.

"Tonight at 9, neglectful parents to blame for country's woes." ;-)

Bongo Bill:

We're in agreement, but I wouldn't dismiss the philosophical approach outright.

I don't know--I guess I don't see the value in a philosophical approach to an empirical question. And 'how will the average person act under these circumstances' seems like about as empirical a question as one can ask.

Whether the person *should* act like that or not, well, that's the philosophical question, as is whether we should make it a crime, say it's immoral, try and prevent it, decide who is to blame, all that kinda stuff.

As for how people *do* act, though, I just fail to see the value of not just going out and observing how they actually are acting, the way I'd go outside and use a telescope to figure out how the planets are moving, or a camera to observe how animals are behaving.

See though, they never use the term 'rape' in what you linked to in the sense of being a crime. They state: "There is no connection here between what is biological or naturally selected and what is morally right or wrong. To assume a connection is to commit what is called the naturalistic fallacy" (p. 5-6)." I wouldn't call that a debate over the *crime* of rape, just the *phenomenon* of rape.

I'm sure you're familiar with the difference between mala prohibita and mala in se. Rape isn't a crime that was created because our legislatures passed a statute prohibiting it. The phenomenon of rape is mala in se, as is the phenomenon of murder. And I am discussing what causes that phenomenon.

And I think your argument here is a bit moot, because virtual rape is obviously not the criminal act of rape as defined in any statute, so the only way it could be rape is phenomenologically.

That doesn't mean culture isn't *sufficient* to cause rape; that only means it's not *necessary*. Big difference, right? Even they admit that culture and its messages of power and violence "plays a major role in the cause of rape" without going into just *how* major it is, or even how major it is in modern societies, which is what we really care about.

You don't have any proof that culture is sufficient to cause rape, do you? If you do, I'm sure the evolutionary biology and social science communities would be fascinated to hear of it.

I simply read their statement as representing good science: They aren't claiming to prove more than they have evidence for. The argument about the full extent to which genes, environment, or "free will" are responsible for particular behavioral outcomes has yet to be settled.

And didn't you find it a little disingenuous how they start talking so much about 'environment' and avoiding the word 'culture'? Or that they talk about how "[t]he learning experiences that are suggested by recent research to influence men's rape proneness offer promise for reducing rape. The number of boys raised under conditions of poverty in industrial societies could be greatly reduced by taxation policies that lower wealth inequalities, coupled with more taxation revenues being directed at socially disfranchised families."

I don't find that disingenuous at all. Evolution provides us with drives - drives to survive and reproduce. The behaviors in which those drives manifest is going to be environmentally determined. If I'm hungry, I go to McDonalds. If my hunter-gatherer ancestor was hungry, he scrounged for berries. Same drive, different behavior.

There is considerable evidence across disparate fields (sociology, criminology, psychology) that young men at the bottom rung of their culture are more likely to commit crimes. Evolutionary biology explains this by suggesting males represent an evolutionary gamble: They can produce no children, or a virtually unlimited number. Women are evolutionarily the more conservative bet. As a result, men who see themselves as having very limited opportunities for reproduction are driven to desperate deeds - deeds of honor (or horror) in war, acts of greatness, crimes of rape. This is all explained in depth in, for instance, Steve Pinker's works, or The Mating Mind.

You are free to disagree with evolutionary biology - it is hardly without its critics - but to suggest that its scientists are disingenuous without considering the full explanatory value of the theory is unfair.

You don't see me suggesting that feminist social scientist are being disingenuous when they suggest rape is a crime of power so that they can further a social movement to empower women.

Is it just me, or isn't the definition of "disenfranchisement" something like 'a lack of power'? I mean, let me get this straight: they're saying that rape isn't a crime of power. However, empowering people who feel they have no power makes them much less prone to commit rape? WTF? RTFM? BBQ!

See above. It makes complete sense.

Also, to me, calling something 'rape' from a biological scientific experiment is...well, *that's* what I would call sensationalist. I mean, doesn't that make about as much sense as calling the eating of fertilized eggs by predators by the term 'abortion'? Or the actions of parasites a form of 'piracy'? [/emote]

When lifelong pair-bonded birds get a little avian love on the side, biologists call that "adultery". They aren't being sensationalist, they are using a term that has meaning for the behavior described.

The entire notion of evolutionary psychology is that much of human behavior is really animal behavior. If that's sensationalist to you, then so be it. Certainly evolution itself was once considered sensationalist, what with its notions of humans evolving from primates and all.

[quote] Finally, didn't you have a problem with this line: "We also argue that the best way to obtain a better understanding of the role of culture in the cause of human rape is to approach the subject from the only generally accepted scientific explanation of the behavior of living things: Darwinian evolution by natural selection."

Man alive!, Freud, Jung, Maslow, James, Durkheim, Zimbardo...none of them gave us 'generally accepted scientific explanations of the behavior of living things'! Who knew! :-D

I have already granted on several occasions that evolutionary psychology is a contentious field. But the reason it has strength at all is because evolution is not contentious (outside of US creationist debates, anyway).

Freud, Jung, et. al don't provide generally accepted scientific explanations of the behavior of all living things. Evolution does. Psychology provides a descriptive framework for diagnosing mental illness in humans, and several competing theories of behavior (including psychoanalytic theories, cognitive-behavioral, and dynamic) but none of its theories have the gnerally accepted scientific explanations that evolution do.

Ask a random sample of scientists if they believe the theory of evolution provides an explanation for animal behavior and around 90% will say "yes". Ask the same pool if they believe Freud's theories, or Skinner's, do the same, and I bet a much tinier percentage will say yes. Even among psychology, its scientists can't decide if there is room for the role of the unconscious, for instance, or whether the best treatments are cognitive, operant, analytic, or chemical.

Right. Now that we've (hopefully) put the "what is rape" debate to bed, allow me to jump back to one of the *other* discussions I was hoping to provoke with this article:

Echolocating:
Education is key, people. Parental ignorance is not an excuse.

Exactly. The instances of rape/harassment/solicitation described in the article are intended to paint a picture of what's possible. The full social, legal and moral ramifications of the events notwithstanding, they actually happened. To real people, with real feelings and real lives. That the events described happened (mostly) online, in a virtual environment, is irrelevant; they happened, and people were effected. Mostly adult people who knew what they were getting into and why, but they did happen. This suggests that events like those described will continue to happen and will increase in frequency in some correlation with the increase in the amount of our personal business we conduct online. That we haven't heard about more instances of events like tehse is merely a function of relative ignorance on the part of those (like me) who do the reporting. I suspect that the more we dig, the more we'll find (like I did).

What this also suggests is that we can expect a great many new and interesting social issues to come out of our increased interaction with each other online. If we here in a website devoted to game issues are all aflutter over whether or not the events described in Dibbel's fantastically written article constitute rape, then imagine how goofy the courts are going to get over the issue when we start seeing the inevitable lawsuits.

I'm not trying to be an alarmist, but the flood is imminent. I recently participated in an online debate with California Senator Leeland Yee and Hal Halpin of the ECA (among others) and the focus of that debate was mainly how to conduct effective age-restriction measure in offline games, i.e. ESRB et al. When the moderator asked the esteemed panel what they thought of the issue of age restrictions in online, virtual worlds, there was a near complete silence - they weren't even thinking about it. Because virtual worlds, in spite of their having existed for over a decade, are still not anywhere near the mainstream radar. Second Life is changing that, for better or worse, and we're now entering a time not unlike the early nineties when the internet was relatively well known and understood by a great many people, but seriously underreported by the mainstream.

What we're talking about with worlds like Habbo and Audition goes far deeper than paranoia over what could happen in a chat room. These are worlds created to make children feel safe and secure, and play with abandon. And children in these game worlds do what children do everywhere: explore and test boundaries. This is what children are supposed to do, but if we're not there with them to show them exactly where those boundaries lie, then we have only ourselves to blame for what happens next.

The story of Jung Na-yung and Audition shows how easy it is to game these systems for illicit purposes, and what can happen when someone feels as if they're in a safe, trusting environment, and gets taken advantage of. In Habbo Hotel, where children regularly mimic Epic Slut and "bobba for furni" we're seeing something else entirely; something potentially far more sinister. One wouldn't necessarily expect a child would need to be told that soliciting sex for goods and services is a bad thing, but then again, if we learned few here on the forum can't even agree on whether virtual assault is indeed rape, then how can we expect a child to understand why cybering for virtual loot is over the line?

Interesting corollary to the online predator angle, from Cory "DRMDRMDRM" Doctorow over at Boing Boing: Online Predators aren't tricking kids, they're exploiting teenagers.

And now I'll quote a quote, because I'm just so meta:

But actually, the research in the cases that we€ve gleaned from actual law enforcement files, for example, suggests a different reality for these crimes. So first fact is that the predominant online sex crime victims are not young children. They are teenagers. There€s almost no victims in the sample that we collected from €" a representative sample of law enforcement cases that involved the child under the age of 13.

In the predominant sex crime scenario, doesn€t involve violence, stranger molesters posing online as other children in order to set up an abduction or assault. Only five percent of these cases actually involved violence. Only three percent involved an abduction. It€s also interesting that deception does not seem to be a major factor.

That's a great link Joe, and supports a great deal of what's on my mind right now.

It's not necessarily that we've got a wave of potential abuse or victimization cases on the horizon, it's that we're seeing the evolution of an entirely new order of social interaction. I suppose it's disingenuous of me to suggest this may be a "problem" per se, but I do think it's going to come as a surprise to a great many people just what all is happening online, who's doing it and why - and that the awakening will be brutal and destructive.

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Bongo Bill:

We're in agreement, but I wouldn't dismiss the philosophical approach outright.

I don't know--I guess I don't see the value in a philosophical approach to an empirical question. And 'how will the average person act under these circumstances' seems like about as empirical a question as one can ask.

I guess we have a misunderstanding, then, because the question I was asking was 'why did this person act the way she did under these circumstances.'

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