Wow, this is an amazing article. And I forwarded it to friends of mine. Well done.
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;
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?"
Erin, I think you misunderstood me. I agree that real theft has occurred in Michelle's case, and that she lost something of significant real-world value. Just the fact that these auction sites exist and have no trouble finding buyers is proof of that.
But for me, it all comes back to that "60-80 hours" figure. I want to be a relativist and simply concede "different strokes for different folks," but that number is appalling to me. Assuming Michelle has a full-time job, achieving that kind of weekly play-time would require her to log into FFXI with every moment of free time she had. MMO game worlds can be complex and beautiful, and you can certainly "meet" many fascinating and colorful people, but this is no substitute for going out and experiencing the real world. (Of course, the counter-argument is that FFXI was "real" to Michelle, but that's not one I'm going to bother addressing.)
Gardening, collecting baseball cards, playing videogames...it doesn't matter. When you engage in a single activity for the bulk of your waking life, you're doing it at the expense of your relationships, your personal development and, at least in the aforementioned cases, your health.
Michelle lost access to data with a market value of over $5k. That really sucks. And considering the time she put into her character, I imagine that she feels a very real sense of grief. I hope that grief provides her with an opportunity for reflection.
That does make much more sense. I think I was thrown by your net agreement with karpiel, who was presenting a very different argument (virtual experiences aren't real, virtual items have no value), and also by the implication of comparing hobbies with the behavior itself (selling your WoW account...).
I would agree that that amount of time spent doing anything is certainly unusual. I would just hate for the net takeaway here to be armchair psychoanalysis of Michelle's life when we have so little data. And I would say that what works for one person doesn't necessarily apply to another, so comparatively valuing choice of activities between people is problematic in general.
I mentioned that I've never gone 'hardcore' with a modern MMO, mostly for the same reason I don't really watch television -- I have trouble scheduling my life around a box of any kind. :) But I've had close friends who did, and I've observed even more people who get in that far. I believe that level of intense play is like an obsessive hobby in that it moves like a passing storm through a person's life, for a specific reason that they eventually figure out. Whether some people remain at that level for 5+ years probably remains to be seen just because most MMOs haven't been around long enough to tell. But again I would just say that based on what I've seen there are a variety of reasons people do this, like anything else, that are specific to their lives (not even in an abnormality way or something being wrong) -- and they do learn quite a bit about themselves through the experience. And in terms of whether the experience is "real" or not, I would say it absolutely is, the same way that if I talk on the phone with a friend 2,000 miles away, that was a "real" conversation and a "real" interaction.
I also wonder about systems designed to reward or attract that level of intensity, of which FFXI is definitely one. It is interesting to study just insofar as it really does reward a lot of negative behavior, from hacking to spawn camping (and spawn camping by goldfarmers, which is really sadistic) and more.
All this being said, online interactions have a high occurrence of societal dismissal, usually with reference to what amounts to subjective judging of the activity itself versus other meatspace activities. That's one of the main barriers to compassionate address of the real problems and crime occurring around them. I'm glad in your case if it was as simple as a misunderstanding, though. :)
Excellent, excellent article. Although depressing enough that I need to go play dress-up with my Persona 3 characters just to get a little chuckle. I'm glad I've washed my hands of MMOG's, and it's stories like this that make me laugh at people who say there will eventually be no such thing as offline gaming.
I highly doubt that. But even if it was worth 5000 dollars, it wasn't worth that to Squenix, or even to her.
And talking to a lawyer about it is just silly. I can't speak for squenix, as I play WoW, but Blizzard has it in clear words that you never gain legal ownership of anything contained on their servers, tangible or not. I imagine Squenix has similar policies. And while these policies are not legally binding, that's largely because they've never really been tested, and honestly, noone wants them to be. I can imagine the whole MMO genre falling to shreds if suddenly all players of all MMOs were entitled to legal ownership of their characters. That puts a lot of responsibility on the game publishers. Maybe more responsibility then it's worth. Imagine getting banned and suing for reimbursement? That's not a good thing.
Back on the topic of Keyloggers, all I can say to Michelle, is try Blizzard's World of Warcraft. It may not be much safer then FFXI, but Blizzard is a LOT better about handling fraud cases such as these. Vital information such as the account name cannot be changed, and the email attached to an account cannot be changed without authorization via email, so with some ID, it's NEVER difficult to prove that you're the original account owner, no more hoops to jump through. And they also are good about restoring characters to their former glory gear/gold wise (sometimes, you end up losing enchantments or gems, but it's far better then a naked toon).
5000? seriously? lol.
Erin, the article is excellent, if depressing. It's a good thing I don't have time for MMOGs, as I'd probably be sucked right in.
In addition, I found the discussion on the thread fascinating, as you articulate much better than I would have, while holding similar views.
This is a very old article, but I hadn't seen it mentioned here:
It's from 2005:
"A Shanghai online gamer has been given a suspended death sentence for killing a fellow gamer.
Qiu Chengwei stabbed Zhu Caoyuan in the chest when he found out he had sold his virtual sword for 7,200 Yuan (Ģ473)."
It's actually a pretty sad story, but I thought this part was interesting:
"According to the Chinese press, more and more gamers are seeking justice through the courts over stolen weapons and credits accumulated in games."
Well, as long as my Magic: The Gathering account is safe I guess I have nothing to worry about....
Vortex, thanks for posting the link. It's very interesting that you bring up that story. My being introduced to Michelle was a coincidence -- a colleague contacted me saying that he thought something should be done about her situation, and asked if I would be able to write about it. But I've been researching this stuff for awhile, and am actually on the cusp of releasing a book of essays about it -- a collection of essays I'm co-editing with Erik Bethke. It's called Settlers of the New Virtual Worlds. We quote Sean F. Kane's discussion of that case (Sean has a phenomenal chapter titled "Virtual Property, Real Law" in the book) in the beginning, along with an excerpt from science fiction author Pat Cadigan's Tea From An Empty Cup (which is superb, as is its sequel, Dervish is Digital):
" 'Getting stuff? In AR?' Konstantin felt lost.
'Yeah. Stuff in AR. In the Sitty. Everyone who goes in regular's got stuff in AR.' The night manager folded her arms again. 'What kinda stuff you think I got out here? This nothing job? I got to put up with blowfish like Miles Mank, I live in a hive over on Sepulveda. But in the Sitty, I got stuff. I got a good place for myself, I'm in the game with the name and the fame. I even got myself a few passwords. I put in plenty of time and sweat to get all that and I don't want it just slipped out from under me when I'm not there to defend it.' The funny little face puckered unhappily. 'You got stuff out here, you don't need to go poachin' my stuff in there. You see what I mean?'
Konstantin saw; it sent a wave of profound melancholy through her. 'All I want to do is contact Body Sativa if I can,' she said kindly. 'I don't want anything else. Really.'
Pleshette held her gaze for a long moment and then shrugged her bony shoulders. 'Yeah, well, you know, it's not like I can't tell the difference between in there and out here, it's not like I think I can put it all in the bank or anything. But I put a lot of time in. I spent some big sums doin' it. If I give it all away, then I got nothing. It was all for nothing. See?'
Konstantin nodded, wondering if this was the sort of thing a person might kill for. It was beginning to sound like it."
-Pat Cadigan, Tea From an Empty Cup, 1997
As you might guess, the book covers a murder that happens as a result of AR (Artificial Reality, which I like better than VR, myself).
And Sean's quote:
"[A]nother report out of China tells the story of a 41 year-old man who stabbed an acquaintance who stole his 'Dragon Saber' in the MMO Legend of Mir III and sold it for approximately $1,000. Initially, the injured individual sought the assistance of the police, but was told that the theft was not a crime, since virtual property is not covered as a protectable asset. Thereafter, the individual attacked the alleged thief at his residence."
-Sean F. Kane, "Virtual Property, Real Law", p. 41
Sean goes on to say in his chapter that this is in fact why the law will become involved -- if players don't have legal methods of resolving these disputes, they're going to illegal ones. After studying this intensely for months, there is not a single doubt in my mind that these issues are already serious and will only become moreso. We are overdue for a much more enlightened level of discussion on how to deal with these problems, societally and from a development standpoint (because I do believe we can design ahead of them and provide better service than we do currently -- but it IS difficult).
Just to toss in another quote, this is from State of Play, which is another must-read (though it can be very dense -- written by lawyers largely ;) ) for anyone interested in this space...
"Many people are formally committed to the idea that the events that occur are only play, but in the case of large-scale spectator sport, games acquire real consequences as the result of a self-confirming social consensus; if all society says that the World Series matters, then it does. I may not care who wins or loses, but I do care about other people crying, throwing things, beating strangers or their partners, falling into depressions, and driving drunk. When sport is shared across society, society validates the seriousness of the consequences of sport, just as it validates the worth of money. It's all meaningful because everyone thinks it's meaningful--indeed, only because everyone thinks it's meaningful."
-Edward Castranova, "The Right to Play", State of Play, p. 68
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.
(T)his "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?
Well, what an interesting debate... Here's a question for you--is the character in a novel or a movie any less "real" than an RPG character? All three are simply figments of the imagination, yet the first two are protected by copyright law. Where does that leave the third?
I agree with Gildedtongue--MMORPG players are paying _real_ money for their virtual experiences. That should mean that players (and I include myself here, as a FF11 player) have the right to control the characters that they have invested _real_ time and energy into, the same as a novelist or script writer has in his/her characters. (Or does anyone think that the time and energy spent in improving game characters is not real?) I also disagree with SE's policy that the characters that I play in FF11 do not belong at least in part to me, because _I'm_ the one who chooses the items that they have, the quests that they take part in, etc., not them. If you co-wrote a novel, you'd be eligible for credit for your work, no? Doesn't the same apply here? And to say that the characters that I play on the account that I pay for are fair game for anyone to use is unfair, to put it mildly. If they want to participate, let them get their own accounts and play their own characters rather than stealing someone else's. Yes, I know the real world doesn't always work that way; that's why we have things like laws protecting against the theft of "intellectual properties". Logically, that law should also apply to characters in MMORPGs--after all, SE uses those same laws to crack down on RMT (Real Money Trading, i.e. selling in-game money, etc. for real-world money). The very fact that people are willing to shell out their hard-earned dollars/euros/etc. on what are essentially collections of data and figments of the imagination tells me that they're not as "unreal" as some people like to think.
Or to put it another way, if you set up a website, spending dozens or even hundreds of hours on its design and contents only to have it stolen from you, wouldn't you be upset? That's a lot of time and thought down the toilet, effectively. MMORPG players tend to feel the same way about their characters. Most of us do this as a hobby--just as I used to put together robot models as a teenager. When my collection was stolen, I was angered--that was a lot of time and energy, not to mention the cost of the models, as well as the memories of the fun I had putting them together gone without a trace. Sure, I still have the memories, and can get more models, but the memories of the models I lost are now tainted by the rage I feel at the (CENSORED) who stole my property, and I can't simply replace what was stolen because those models haven't been produced for years. Effectively, it's the same thing as having a character in a game stolen by someone who simply wants to sell his/her/its items, etc. to make a quick (not to mention unearned) buck.
Whether it's physical objects or digital data, theft is theft, and theft victims _should_ have legal recourse of some kind, don't you think?
They have random keys generators now for this thing, FFXI has adopted it and WoW has had it for a while. They ask you to get them, I recommend you do.
On note. Youre investing into intellectual property; no you do not own it. But its definitely tangible. It exists and is of value. Just like quickbooks data. etc. etc.
Its really a very sad and very scary thing for me to read stories about people who had their accounts hacked. To this day I've never been hacked(knocks on wood) and hopefully I never will, but a vast majority of the people I play with have been and that only makes me wonder what I've done different.
I've always been rather slow in protecting my computer, having terrible experiences with norton and its ilk I ran without any kind of protection for quite some time. Over time I picked up free software like Avast! and Spyware-S&D, but I soon began to find out that wasn't enough. The longer I played the more paranoid I got about someone stealing my account; It wasn't until I dabbled in the world of private servers that I got really freaked out. Getting all my info from the site mmowned.com (which by the way has a forum dedicated to methods for stealing people's accounts) I was shocked and appalled at how these people were stealing accounts and scamming people out of their hard-earned gold.
What little innocence I had left about the internet was gone and I set about trying to find ways to lock my computer tighter than Fort Knox on a Saturday. Anyone I do business with in game is a douche-bag trying to scam me until they prove otherwise. Among the many changes I made to my security I no longer type in my password when I log-in. I copy and paste it in the hopes that any key-loggers I'm unable to detect only register a ctrl+v and I've recently acquired the mobile authenticator.
To be quite honest if someone is hell-bent on hacking my account I have no doubt in my mind they could do so no matter what security measures I've got in place; I can only go about my business and hope that in the event it does happen I can act quickly enough to minimize the damage.
First step would eb to identify what is owned and what got stolen.
An account is clearly owned, itīs a personalized and paid for thing, so it is property.
But who owns a character and itīs items? Is it part of the account or is it part of the server and the account-owner has the privilege to access it?
Good advice, I didn't know about a few of those programs.