155: Someone Stole My Magic Sword

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Someone Stole My Magic Sword

"Dave Weinstein, formerly of Red Storm fame, now speaks on the huge prevalence of unregulated character theft and the black market sale of virtual goods. Weinstein addressed game developers at Gamefest 2006, warning that organized crime had targeted MMOGs as an easy method of generating cash in a largely unregulated market. Part of the problem is a lack of law enforcement infrastructure in dealing with the value - and following the theft - of virtual property. 'The police are really good at understanding "someone stole my credit card and ran up a lot of money,"' Weinstein said. 'It's a lot harder to get them to buy into "someone stole my magic sword."'"

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The root cause of these kinds of problems is not so much poor enforcement as the ease with which hackers can do their work anonymously and often invisibly. It could be a long time before anything can be done about that.

Actually, if she had done the following her account would probably never have been stolen in the first place:

- Install a working anti-virus solution, many of which are free (example: Avast!, AVG, Norton)
- Keep her Windows computer up-to-date with the latest security fixes (turn automatic updates on)
- Install Firefox or other alternate browser and avoid Internet Explorer like the plague
- Install SpywareBlaster or some such other spyware detection software for an added layer of protection
- Use web-based email and/or be very careful about opening email attachments
- Be cautious about your browsing habits. Say "no" to any pop-ups that appear unless you're absolutely sure you know what you're accepting.

You can do all of the above without spending a dime and there's a 99% chance this would have prevented anyone from taking her account in the first place. This would have also saved her a ton of money on computer repairs and the trouble of formatting Windows.

Most of the issues experience in this article were the direct result of an insecure system, not Square's fault at all, not that their customer service couldn't be better though.

While it's true that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you can't prevent everything. My girlfriend had her World of Warcraft account stolen after having dedicated 9 months to attaining both an end-game character and a prominent social position (guild master of a popular and growing guild).

She had taken reasonable precautions. I know, because as a computer technician, I instituted them. Windows was kept up to date, anti-virus was installed, she had a strong password and never visited questionable websites.

We were alerted to it when a friend of mine noticed that she was online, even though she said that she wasn't going to be at home. My friend had tried talking to her character but got no response. He got suspicious and called me. Sure enough, she was at work at the time; it wasn't her in control.

I immediately sat down at my computer and worked to regain control of the account. The password had been changed. The secret question, used to send the "forgotten" password, had also been changed. There was no way to access the account. I called Blizzard's support, but the hacker likely had planned for that -- the account was compromised only a few minutes after the support center had closed for the weekend. There was nothing we could do.

The immediate question became, "How did she get hacked?" A review of the computer showed no signs of malice. There were no viruses, no unexpected processes running; barring the undetectable nature of a rootkit, it seemed her computer was not at fault. Since she used the same password for everything and her email address was part of the contact info that the hacker could see, we checked her other accounts. Her email, Facebook, and every other account were completely untouched. As a precaution, we changed all of her passwords. To this day we're still left wondering how the hacker accomplished it.

Thankfully Blizzard was responsive when we were able to get ahold of them. They noted the drastically changed contact information. They confirmed the description of the events that we had given them. We proved our ownership of the account by giving the contact and payment details that had previously been there. They gave us access to the account within minutes.

Unfortunately, as in the article's story, the account is only part of the picture. Her main character had been stripped of its posessions, many of which were one-time earnings from quests which she could never replace. Her alternate characters had been deleted entirely. Since she was guild master, the hacker had also emptied the guild bank which contained far more items than a single player could hold and affected all of the members of the guild. It was chaos.

Again, Blizzard was helpful. Though it took about a week, her other characters and the clothes on their backs had been returned. After some additional petitioning they returned the majority of her hard-to-get items. All in all, she hadn't lost much more than a week of playtime and her peace of mind.

Despite it being "just a game", there was no doubt as to the emotional affect this had on everybody involved, both at the time and continuing into the future. When she first learned what had happened, she was in tears; several months of work was now gone. As a social vehicle, the loss of her character meant being cutoff from her friends; even creating a new account with a new character would have left her starting from scratch, racing to catch up to her friends so that they could once again play together.

For everyone involved, it was instant paranoia. How could this happen? How can we protect ourselves? It became immediately clear to everyone that their character was more than just game; it was both an investement of time and an extension of their social lives. Losing either of these would be an emotional hardship.

From a legal standpoint, it's obvious that what the hacker did was a punishable crime. He had accessed Blizzard's service fraudulently. He may even have exploited her computer, one of Blizzard's servers, or perhaps some other source where he was able to learn her password. But how did he do it? Who was this person? How could you prove anything?

Even without complete anonymity, the Internet still makes it exceedingly difficult to investigate and litigate. Blizzard could have looked up his IP, but as the RIAA and MPAA are learning, that isn't enough to prove somebody's identity. Even if we could determine his identity, how would you prove his misappropriation of the password? Then comes the problem of jurisdiction, likely extradition, and every other complication introduced when a crime could be committed from anywhere in the world. In the end, the justice system is ill-prepared to handle such matters.

In the end, it's up to the game's maintainers to deal with these matters. Thankfully, with proper design, these kinds of problems can be shortly-lived speed bumps. No change in a computer need be permanent; characters can be revived and items returned. With proper arbitration, fraud can be proven quickly and amends can be made immediately. With proper protocols, it can be made harder to take control of an account. With only the password, the hacker was able to bypass all of the other security measures (secret questions and answers which emailed the account holder directly). If instead, vital pieces of information required secondary authentication (such as the secret question and answer, or confirmation at the registered email address), we could have retained control of the account and quickly regained control of it before he had a chance to decimate it.

Overall, the important thing to remember is that nothing is ever "just a game". People become emotionally attached to the games and the feeling of being exploited transcends the virtual world into the real world. The characters and the items may have been fake, but the feelings were real. Where the justice system is unable to police such matters, it falls to the games' masters to keep the peace.

Wow. I was fascinated by this article from the sheer fact that even though I take pretty good precautions myself and somewhat technical savvy....it only takes one slip, one overlook, one errant click and BOOM...you're hosed.

I remember years ago when my AOL account was hacked, and I called CS, spent who knows how long on hold and being transfered aroudn restating my case and even AOL made me feel as if it were indeed my fault and little. I cancelled AOL just after that and never went back.

But I'm not sure I could do that with the two MMO's I play. I'd be pretty devestated myself if I thought about all the long hours, weekends, skills I invested in bring my character to virtual life....they are almost an extension of me in a virtual way...and I would feel violated as if my best friend took my girl.

Like I said, I above average when it comes to be tech savvy and can usually avoid most of the pitfalls, but there is always someone out there smarter. I can't beleive I was juct recently dupped into a stumbling upon IE AntiVirus, and it must have been 10 minutes before it donned on me what the hell just happened. It is up to me, despite having McAfee and Secuirty Updates turned on, that I still have to search the web for malware scrubbers that always seem one step ahead of the cleanup crew.

I too look forward to the days where legal matters take a more prominent step in online justice and is taken more seriously.

Novan Leon:
Actually, if she had done the following her account would probably never have been stolen in the first place.

Yes but you agree that the way Square Unixs policy isn't remotely fair. Nobody teaches you about internet security when your new to PC gaming in general and saddly a lot of people learn the hard way. Squares policy is just horrible. Thats like if some kid steals your gameboy at school, you call the police and they say "Well maybe your really a crook trying to steal the gameboy!"

I feel for her lose as the time and dedication in MMOs can be a devastating lose however I'm sure she will have learned a valuable leason in internet security, one that most people don't even know they need to learn and why these problems happen in the first place.

I feel terrible for anyone who has this happen to them, I have had it happen to me before with being 'key logged', though in my case it was e-mail and such, not anything MMO related.

My solution? I was one of those people who just pulled the plug, literally - canceled my ISP and went back to the land of single player games for a few years.

You know what I think it was that got me at the time? Taking a look at "free" pirated games from download sharing services, Bearshare I think it was.

I even got into a conversation with my hacker before the plug was pulled, by sending e-mail to myself then chatting with them in MSN Messenger, they showed me how to delete that key logger and such, discussed with me which things they couldn't figure out to hack into from the key logged info, even said they would miss me if I pulled the plug. It was definitely a surreal experience, on top of the experience of having a loss of identity with anyone I emailed in those days.

And you know how people knew I was hacked right away? They said they knew it wasn't me emailing or MSN messaging them because the hacker wasn't using proper punctuation or capitalization, let alone something resembling complete sentences. Who knew that would be a benefit to not using leet speak in my Counter Strike and other Half-Life mod games with my online acquaintances and e-friends.

People often think that people that are victims of this are being stupid and careless on the internet. But nowadays you can be very careful and still be infected.
It's annoying, you can't use the internet without threading on your toes all the time. When I come on a website by accident that I do not know, I know I'd better make a spyware sweep again. Any place I do not know could likely be infected. Hell, even the places I do know can be infected- I remember messages that government sites, and major newsites had hacks in them to put your computer in a zombie network, or put Trojan horses in it.

But often companies don't feel like helping, because apparently, it's all our fault.

And go figure, mosst of us are quite advanced users. But what about our (grand)parents?

The internet is like a minefield these days.

Customer service is definitely an issue here. Luckily it sounds like Blizzard is pretty good in this area.

Even when a player is very careful I do realize that bad things can happen, BUT in my mind it still comes down to OS security (unless the game servers are hacked, which is rare). Pre-Vista Windows just isn't secure enough to prevent this kind of thing from happening without a huge amount of effort. The fact that all users on XP or before default to having Admin privileges is a huge security gap. You've really got to know what you're doing to avoid pitfalls like these on Windows, which is something your average gamer just isn't capable of.

My sympathies go out to anyone who's had this happen to them though. If it were me I'd probably be so discouraged that I'd be tempted to quit altogether. Not something the game companies want to hear.

Hmm, that keylogging software has me worried.

Anyone know of a good scanner?

I have a hard time sympathizing with the woman in question (80 hours a week? hiring notaries and lawyers to recover the account?) because at the end of the day, regardless of what you are playing, you can just turn off the machine and go outside; I think just doing that eloquently demonstrates the fallacy of having too much emotional investment in a game of any sort.

karpiel:
I have a hard time sympathizing with the woman in question (80 hours a week? hiring notaries and lawyers to recover the account?) because at the end of the day, regardless of what you are playing, you can just turn off the machine and go outside; I think just doing that eloquently demonstrates the fallacy of having too much emotional investment in a game of any sort.

You my friend, simply do not understand.

Well I think we're seeing a situation where games, especially online ones, are becoming hobbies as much as anything. There is a definate differance between "just a game" and a "hobby". It will take a while for attention to fully shift, but online property whether an MMORPG item, or a piece of code/graphic sculpture on something like Second Life is desired by a lot of people with the same interests and thus becomes valuable. Sort of like how certain rare models, or bottlecaps, can have quite a large value behind them. The problem is the shift of perception from real property to intangible property, and like most things criminal elements are usually quick to identify and exploit changes in society before it catches up.

Two major things have to happen for the problem to be solved.

#1: Someone has to be willing to spend a *lot* of money to prosecute this despite being ridiculed. Basically buy the interest of prosecutors in several countries in all likelyhood, and fight a long and nasty legal battle to establish precedent that establishes these issues as a serious crime. Probably spending far more (millions at least) than anything they lost to make the point.

Ultimatly when I say serious, it should involve someone doing a ridiculous amount of time for something so simple to make an example. This gets law enforcement involved, because no one is going to waste time on a petty crime that amounts to a tiny fine.

This also involves weathering the storm that comes from hammering people like this. Laugh if you want, but this is usually how new areas of crime enter into law.

#2: Once the above happens and people are taking it seriously, the system has to start regulating the online gaming industry. Forcing game companies to cooperate with sharing information, and meeting certain security standards and such.

All stories about hackers and such aside, I personally think that a lot of the companies themselves are behind some of this stuff. Going back to an old story in EQ1 for example some of the coders put a bank into a neglected dungeon called "Befallen" that was coded to basically create Platinum so they could sell it. While this was eventually stopped when it was caught I've never been entirely sure that this wasn't done with some level of approval to make more money.

By the same token I can see the benefits to be made by some of stripping characters, blaming keyloggers, selling money and items for real cash, and then taking advantage of the complaints to simply return the equipment. Maintaining an air of legitmacy (and high value of the items) while making more money on the side.

So yeah, while I'm sure there are hackers and keyloggers out there, I don't think they are the only problem here. I think a lot of the companies are involved, and are willing to cut people loose to maintain the high value of items. I mean if some jerk off is willing to pay big bucks for items or characters, it's easy to make a song and a dance about it, and then earn a few hundred thousand dollars or more a year through covert Ebay or money sales or whatever.

Understand the enviroment changes once a company officially starts selling money and items. It's more valuable when it's "not supposed to happen" than say in a Korean game (even a popular one) where anyone can buy uberness for $50 American.

-

Basically what I'm saying is that I believe that these problems are real, but won't be solved until electronic online gaming progresses a bit and grows up. A lot of novels in the general vein of Larry Niven's "Dream Park" series covered this kind of thing ahead of their time.

Despite what people might think online gaming is still in diapers, and has less actual law enforcement than "The Wild West".

Until some secret billionaire gets cheezed off and goes looking for revenge with an obsession that puts Batman to shame, Cyber Crime in games will run rampant, simply because noone has a real interest in enforcing the rules, only in maintaining an illusion that they are being enforced to keep value for hobbyists up. Until things are pushed to the point where there are Cyber Police involved in gaming, enforcing penelties that are more than wrist slapping, nothing can change.

The "Just a game" argument does tend to (at least from my perspective), lose ground when there is tangible money on the line. Poker and Blackjack are "just some games" but if you're found cheating at them, bad, bad things tend to happen. Somewhat the same in this case.

"Gamer" is handing "Publisher" a sizable fee, much like a "gambler" would hand a "house" the same. Granted, unless you're building character accounts to sell, there isn't much of a possibility of profit, but, the basic mechanics are the same.

Now, granted, still a good idea to keep your info quiet (no need to say that "My account is XYZ, and my password is ABC123"). But there are compromises, and sadly things happen. What's a good way to deflect this? Well, it wastes paper, but maybe mailing receipts to users maybe something like, once a quarter would help (paper trails are good. Can be copied/forged, but something more concrete than a he said/she said.)

If you pay for the game and they pay monthly for your account, don't you effectively own it legally?

Ha haaaa, further reason for me to have a vendetta against Squenix.

I simply do not understand. MMOs are weird things.

The main difference that I saw in this case is that the person in question was unconcerned with the monetary gain which many people, myself included, have benefited from in the sale of MMO accounts. I see it more as a desparate attempt to hold onto an imaginary internet avatar whose holder has far too much emotional investment in.

karpiel:
The main difference that I saw in this case is that the person in question was unconcerned with the monetary gain which many people, myself included, have benefited from in the sale of MMO accounts. I see it more as a desparate attempt to hold onto an imaginary internet avatar whose holder has far too much emotional investment in.

Agreed. Best thing I ever did was sell my WoW account. 60-80 hours a week is much more than a hobby...

Thanks for the comments, all. ReverseEngineered, thanks in particular for the thorough and thoughtful comment. Sorry to hear about your girlfriend's account, and glad Blizzard was pretty quick about correcting it. I empathize with that sense of horror.

karpiel:
The main difference that I saw in this case is that the person in question was unconcerned with the monetary gain which many people, myself included, have benefited from in the sale of MMO accounts. I see it more as a desparate attempt to hold onto an imaginary internet avatar whose holder has far too much emotional investment in.

karpiel and Ice-Nine, I am curious:

If I have a baseball card collection upon which I have lavished huge amounts of time and energy -- individual cards meticulously researched and appraised at many thousands of dollars -- and someone breaks into my house and steals them;

Or --

If I am renting property and part of that property includes a small plot of land upon which I spend 60-80 hours a week gardening, importing plants, cultivating particular strains of Dutch iris, and someone drives a truck through that property, destroying all of my plants, years' worth of work that represents irreplaceable time in my life;

...is your conclusion that the moral problem here is that I cared too much about my property? Should society's response to such individuals be, "man, that'll teach them to collect baseball cards!" or "what kind of crazy person gardens, anyway?"

I think that the important difference in those situations is the fact that a garden or baseball card collection actually exists, and there is a reasonable expectation that there is some permanence involved in something like that. Playing an MMO is a silly endeavour in comparison. Say I had spent the time I would have used making a garden playing Earth and Beyond, the folly of my decision would be patently obvious.

Ah, "impermanence". So, does this mean that reading is also "folly"? If I have a book, and I'm reading the book, and I'm getting right to the climax and someone comes and tears up the book -- or, say I'm reading it online, and someone hacks into my computer and deletes the book while I'm reading it -- should I not be upset, because the story was never "there" in the first place? Is my problem that I was invested in the story? Say that I download a hundred bucks' worth of songs off of iTunes, and the system deletes them all -- was that my fault for using iTunes? After all, the songs never had value -- they were never "there" in the first place, just ones and zeroes inside of a machine that could play them back to me.

What exactly makes an item "permanent", anyway? If I have an apple, and I eat it, but then I go and tell the grocery store that I paid for an apple (here's my receipt), but I never got it -- how do they prove it? The apple is gone, so obviously it wasn't "permanent"; most probably, they're going to give me a new apple. On the other hand, if I have a sword in an MMO, and the system deletes it, I can call a gamemaster and if the game is any good at all it has logs that will show that I had that sword. It was "permanent" in the game's records. If, on the other hand, if a game advertised outright that all of your stuff could be gone at any moment, poof -- who would play?

You mentioned earlier that people benefit from the sale of accounts -- which means that someone -- in fact a lot of "someones", given the size of the secondary virtual item market (~$1 billion in 2007 at last report) -- is attributing value to these "impermanent" items. If they have no value, if valuing them is "folly", what's the harm in preventing people from exchanging them?

(I don't necessarily disagree with you in terms of Michelle's overall conclusion about banning account sale, by the way. Just about how we evaluate "value" in another person's experience.)

karpiel:
I think that the important difference in those situations is the fact that a garden or baseball card collection actually exists, and there is a reasonable expectation that there is some permanence involved in something like that. Playing an MMO is a silly endeavour in comparison. Say I had spent the time I would have used making a garden playing Earth and Beyond, the folly of my decision would be patently obvious.

So your saying WoW doesnt exist... I have to disagree on that for a few reasons.

1) Your paying a monthly fee to play a game, one that does exist I googled it I swear!

2) You spend time building chars so you can play the entire game

3) If someone broke down your door and grabed your copy of GTA 4 and they say It doesnt exist, does that make it right?

Well, digital books and music are a completely different thing than an online computer game. Whether your book or music gets deleted, it can still exist as grooves on a LP or writing on paper. They cannot just be willed out of existence, like your account can when the company operating the game decides it isn't profitable to allow the game world to continue. Fret098, I have a really hard time understanding an argument to what you're trying to say, if you could be more concise maybe I could respond. I personally have no trouble in making money off MMO games; to quote a certain wise man(guy), "There's a sucker born every minute."

karpiel:
I think that the important difference in those situations is the fact that a garden or baseball card collection actually exists, and there is a reasonable expectation that there is some permanence involved in something like that. Playing an MMO is a silly endeavour in comparison. Say I had spent the time I would have used making a garden playing Earth and Beyond, the folly of my decision would be patently obvious.

It's not your place or anyone else's to decide what is worthwhile for other people to do or have. Everyone is guaranteed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". That's in the Preamble of the US Constitution. As long as no one is getting hurt and no laws are being broken, you have no right to dictate to someone else what activities are "worthwhile" and which are not. Not even the government can do that unless it can correlate it to real societal harm, such as drug use.

I could make an argument that building a garden is stupid. Who's going to see it other than you? Are you making money from it? Is it being used to feed your family? There's no logical stop and start points for these types of arguments. By the very narrow definition you're implying, all hobbies are worthless.

General Ma Chao:

karpiel:
I think that the important difference in those situations is the fact that a garden or baseball card collection actually exists, and there is a reasonable expectation that there is some permanence involved in something like that. Playing an MMO is a silly endeavour in comparison. Say I had spent the time I would have used making a garden playing Earth and Beyond, the folly of my decision would be patently obvious.

It's not your place or anyone else's to decide what is worthwhile for other people to do or have. Everyone is guaranteed to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". That's in the Preamble of the US Constitution. As long as no one is getting hurt and no laws are being broken, you have no right to dictate to someone else what activities are "worthwhile" and which are not. Not even the government can do that unless it can correlate it to real societal harm, such as drug use.

I could make an argument that building a garden is stupid. Who's going to see it other than you? Are you making money from it? Is it being used to feed your family? There's no logical stop and start points for these types of arguments. By the very narrow definition you're implying, all hobbies are worthless.

Bringing in the constitution is a very strange move; it's not like it gives me some onus to not render judgment. I have nothing against hobbies, its just hobbies that consist of experience by proxy that I find really silly.

karpiel:
Well, digital books and music are a completely different thing than an online computer game. Whether your book or music gets deleted, it can still exist as grooves on a LP or writing on paper.

So, if I take a screen capture of my WoW character, or even better, if I hand-copy her onto a sheet of paper, that makes her "real"?

And this "real" character is more real than the avatar that I spend (theoretically) 60 hours a week playing, more real than the experiences that my (theoretical) 60 guildmates shared with me?

I think what you're saying is interesting and on the right track, in that if something can be reproduced it can be seen to be permanent. By that argument, I would say that virtual items are actually *more* permanent than "real" items, because unlike my apple, if my character gets zapped but a record of her remains, she can be identically reproduced, returned back into form an function 100% -- which isn't true of a "real" item that decays. I can take action to create infinite copies assuring the permanence of a digital item; can't do that with meatspace stuff. In fact if I try to make a lot of personal security copies of a twenty dollar bill I'll get in a lot of trouble.

karpiel:
I personally have no trouble in making money off MMO games; to quote a certain wise man(guy), "There's a sucker born every minute."

So, if the government up and said "you can't make money off of that anymore, because it isn't real" (and obviously you can't sell something that doesn't exist), you'd be totally cool with that, right?

ErinHoffman:

So, if I take a screen capture of my WoW character, or even better, if I hand-copy her onto a sheet of paper, that makes her "real"?

And this "real" character is more real than the avatar that I spend (theoretically) 60 hours a week playing, more real than the experiences that my (theoretical) 60 guildmates shared with me?

I think what you're saying is interesting and on the right track, in that if something can be reproduced it can be seen to be permanent. By that argument, I would say that virtual items are actually *more* permanent than "real" items, because unlike my apple, if my character gets zapped but a record of her remains, she can be identically reproduced, returned back into form an function 100% -- which isn't true of a "real" item that decays. I can take action to create infinite copies assuring the permanence of a digital item; can't do that with meatspace stuff. In fact if I try to make a lot of personal security copies of a twenty dollar bill I'll get in a lot of trouble.

Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that if you play an MMO, your character has no existence beyond the computer screen. If you duplicate it via a real picture, you're still just back to square one.

ErinHoffman:
So, if the government up and said "you can't make money off of that anymore, because it isn't real" (and obviously you can't sell something that doesn't exist), you'd be totally cool with that, right?

It's been a while since I had a vested interest in that sort of thing, so it wouldnt bother me none. When I sold accounts, what I thought about the reality of my characters was of no consequence, I marketed them as a way to skip past the more banal parts of the videogame world to which they belonged.

karpiel:
Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that if you play an MMO, your character has no existence beyond the computer screen.

Does this mean Microsoft Word has the same problem? Man, Gates is lucky he got out when he could.

I would still say the "existence beyond the screen" is moot; this would mean that all services don't "exist", computer software doesn't "exist", the money in my electronic bank account doesn't "exist" (or isn't mine), your relationship with your mother does not "exist", and that political views don't "exist". Yet all of these things have profound impacts upon society and have measurable (sometimes immeasurable) value, and we don't seem to have difficulty parsing that value. Moreover, by this standard you've just proved the "reality" of the MMO data structure insofar as it *can* transfer its value outside of the computer system -- namely when someone converts its value into real world cash. Which is exactly the problem here. If no one paid for these characters, none of this would have happened to Michelle.

The difficulty in value parsing in the MMO experience has more to do with lack of direct experience/empathy, which basically amounts to, as you are presenting, "well, *I* don't care about it, so no one else should either," which isn't exactly ethical or particularly economically enlightened in an opportunity-driven society.

I meant "existence beyond the computer screen" to discount the idea that the experience of a necessarily contrived simulation is as valid as the real article. The things you cited as being false within that overly broad interpretation necessarily arise from needs in reality, or present things which would be there even without computer-related assistance. How you manage to take my statement and spin it into saying that "your relationship with your mother does not 'exist'" is beyond my ability to fathom, however.

Hm, but now you seem to be going from "valid" at all (that valuing online experiences is "folly") to "as valid as the real article", which is a very different statement, basically that "gardening" because it deals with "real" things is "more valuable" than "playing an MMO", not that "playing an MMO" has *no* value. I'm just trying to figure out exactly how you are assigning value (and "expectation of permanence").

My main point is that there is a whole world of law and establishment of ethical argument founded on the value of non-physical goods that cannot logically be summarily dismissed, and that it is ridiculous to suggest so.

Another question: if these experiences and characters have no value, and you have made money off of the sale of MMO items and characters, are you saying you've committed fraud (re: "there's a sucker born every minute")?

I mean value as binary in this particular case. MMO games are contingent upon intervention from the real world to continue, but not vice versa. The experiences therein are inherently phony and without value because they have no consequence beyond the game, and the consequence within the game is subject to its continued operation from without. My argument is that it is silly to regard the in game world with so much emotional attachment as to attach real monetary value to it. Ultimately, I'd make hay while the sun shines, but the most healthy solution of all would be to get people to stop regarding the false experiences of MMO games as being on par with real experience.

This is totally ridiculous. The fact that you can make money from it means that there is some consequence beyond the game. The fact that it affects human beings means that it has some consequence beyond the game. The photons from the computer have impacted someone's eyes, which has configured someone's neurons in a certain way in the real world.

Say my name is William Shakespeare. Say I spend 80 hours a week role-play a game called "Verona" with a group of highly accomplished role-players and the script is being recorded within the game as something called "Romeo and Juliet" (and assume that Romeo and Juliet had not yet been written in this hypothetical).

If someone steals the script before I had a chance to publish it, does it have value? Consequence?

Wow. And heres me having abandoned Vlodbjir in Karazhan simply cause I got bored.

Yeah, karpiel, at this point I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around your statement that virtual characters/items/avatars don't have value when you yourself have personally financially benefited from that value, and it doesn't seem to be getting easier.

The subject of what is more "healthy" just brings several more nebulous variables into play.

So long and short I will just say that the primary gap I was trying to illuminate in the above is that if someone breaks in and steals my baseball cards, or drives a truck through my prize-winning garden, or hacks into my computer and changes all of my personal data, the problem in each of those situations, ethically and legally, is not "me" but the trespasser, the person who committed a criminal act and violated my property against my will. The suggestion otherwise strikes me frankly as borderline sociopathic. Regardless of whether it is possible to prevent such things, it doesn't change the wrongness and criminal nature of the intrusion.

In a general sense, although I am not and have never been a hardcore MMO player, I believe that they tend to have vivid imaginations and their play in MMO space is in fact an expansion on their experiences in the real world. They don't walk away from the computer for the real world because the vicarious experience provides them imaginative analogous experience that would be impossible for them to have in the real world. I do not begrudge them this experience, nor do I begrudge anyone the happiness that they can find in life through whatever manner they choose that does not harm others. And I think anyone who categorically dismisses the experience of hardcore MMO players is doing themselves a mind-expansion disservice by not actually talking to these people about what they experience in virtual space. Some of it is rather amazing and astonishing.

Lastly, I think that Blizzard, Square Enix, and all other MMO providers would disagree with your proposed solution that MMO players simply not care about their investments and players. They need their hardcore to provide a model for the full potential of the world. As a casual player I need to look at someone running around with a Swift Blue Gryphon and think, yeah, maybe if I worked hard enough, I could get that thing. Otherwise their high end gear and content would never be utilized or expressed. Which above all is what makes this situation stupid, given the number of customers they're driving away, to say nothing of the psychological damage they are permitting within their worlds.

Yes, the policy of just not caring about anything can prevent you from encountering pain. But it also makes life sort of... lifeless.

karpiel:
Ultimately, I'd make hay while the sun shines, but the most healthy solution of all would be to get people to stop regarding the false experiences of MMO games as being on par with real experience.

It's odd that you're so invested in this message board argument, as it's clearly a 'false experience' by your definition.

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