Second Life: The Trouble with Lindens


As the online non-game Second Life struggles toward mainstream acceptance, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only obstacle between Linden Labs and success is you.

This weekend Second Life fell victim (again) to what’s known as a “grey goo” attack, whereby self-replicating objects run amok, eventually bringing down the game’s servers, or making playing the game nearly impossible.

A grey goo attack is like that Star Trek episode where the furry Tribbles reproduce so quickly and so … energetically, that nothing and no one can contain them. Except it’s worse than that, because the Tribbles, to extend the analogy, weren’t out to get anyone, they were just being Tribbles. The person or persons behind the grey goo attacks on Second Life, however, can’t claim to be nearly so innocent. Or can they?

After all, to quote the griefer refrain, if the game developers didn’t want that sort of thing to happen, they’d take steps to prevent it, right? Or make enforcement of their rules more vigorous. After all, griefers are just taking advantage of the system as-written. They don’t “make” the security flaws, merely exploit them.

But why would someone go through the effort to ruin an entire game for thousands of other people? To quote a colleague of mine who – for the sake of allowing me to pretend he didn’t actually say this – will remain nameless, “Why not?”

The secret to comprehending the griefer mentality lies in understanding that no one truly sees themselves as a “bad guy.” Everyone believes in the purity of their own motives, or at the very least the “righteousness.” Griefers are no different. Games exist for the enjoyment of players, and for the griefer there is no greater enjoyment to be had than to act in a manner disruptive to the enjoyment of others. It’s narcissism at its finest, selfishness to the extreme, insecurity expressed at the basest level, and so completely predictable that one wonders why it’s even a problem anymore.

After all, the one advantage online game police have over their real-world counterparts is complete and total control of the game environment, right down to (in most cases) having names and addresses of every participant on file, and the ability (as per usage agreements) to permanently ban any player at any time for violation of any rule.

If it sounds like too much work to monitor the game world 24/7 and pursue action against every individual guilty of even the slightest of infractions, then maybe governorship of a virtual world isn’t for you. Because so long as there are online games, there will be griefers. The legitimate players and Second Life business owners who were unable to access their accounts this weekend due to the attack will certainly be asking themselves if playing the game is worth it anymore, perhaps Linden should be doing the same. Call it the cost of doing business in the virtual world.

What? You didn’t think you would really get that money for nothin’ and those chicks for free, did you Linden? You wouldn’t be the first internet entrepreneurs to make that mistake, nor the first to suffer for it.

Because on some level I agree with the griefers: Why sign up for a game for the sole purpose of being a jerk? Well, so long as you can get away with it, why not? Beats sitting at home on a Saturday night, all dressed down with nowhere to get attention.

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