Sunday, March 12, 2006

A Rape in Cyberspace

In order to understand this response you must read a paper entitled "A Rape in Cyberspace" written by Jullian Dibbell . It is a story about virtual freedom of speech and a community call LambdaMoo.

Our instructions were to: Discuss the meaning of Dibbell’s statement: “the more seriously I took the notion of virtual rape, the less seriously I was able to take the tidy division of the world into the symbolic and the real that underlies the very notion of freedom of speech.” How might Dibbell’s story and commentary help or hinder our understanding of cyber-bullying? I have flown off on a few tangents as I have written this mostly because other thoughts have pushed to the front of my head. Here are my thoughts...

Jullian quotes one of the community members named HerkieCosmo as saying "In MOO, the body IS the mind." (p. 9). The rape in this case is an assault on the mind and I'm finding it hard to come to a conclusion about the severity of the assault. There is clearly not a "tidy division" of the two worlds. It was graphic in nature to be sure and it certainly effected those who it was done to and those who witnessed it. I think that the creation of a virtual worlds and avatars in a MUD Oriented Object (MOO) is sort of a replacement of the masks we wear in everyday life.

The mask of online avatars allows users to try out different scenarios which would not be acceptable in RL. The online avatar is unique from books in that it allows interaction with others in the MUD or MOO community. In our current online communities the social responsibilities of the cyber personas are very little compared to the RL ones. I think that the VR responsibilities are less because the consequences are also reduced. You make a mistake you are booted (or toadded) at that is where it ends. You are removed from the imaginary community but you can still go to work in the morning and take your kids to school. The responsibility between our physical bodies and cyber-persona's should be the same. We are all responsible for treating others with respect and dignity.

I am concerned that this acting out is a cry for help. The virtual environment is only as real as it's users make it in their own imaginations. Is Mr. Bungle's acting out in this 'imagined' environment enough to punish him or help him to find assistance? Sure, I think he needs help. He knowingly bullied his way around and this article has opened my eyes to another form of abuse. I would like to have read the discussion in emmeline' room to read the conversation that took place.

The Tangents...
Tangent 1: It is timely we are reading this article. I've been exploring the Neverwinter Nights on line community as I develop my capping project. Through the use of the NWN Aurora scripting tool members of this community have created their own virtual worlds. These worlds aren't text based like the MOO described in A Rape in CyberSpace they are visual worlds that can be navigated with the click of a button. The people in the virtual worlds are seeking more than just the hack n' slash story lines that so many in the NWN community have developed. There are large virtual cities that can be explored where people have furnished apartments and houses. I find it incredible that some people have spent so much time and effort in the creation of these virtual worlds.

Tangent 2: There have been legal cases that deal with VR crimes. Crimes like theft and defamation have actually gone to RL court. There is an example of a Defamation case in a book titled "Video Game Law" (p. 109) edited by Jon Festinger. In the scenario written about in the book they make the point that " legal action might well depend upon whether your virtual identity its truly divorced and independent of your actual existence." Legal action is not a barometer of whether of not something is ethical. Apparently in Canada an ISP can be held responsible for Defamation if they are maintaining a chat room or bulletin board.

Tangent 3:
Here's my blast-from-the-past quote. It comes from the 1989 Batman soundtrack (this is one of Danny's favourite sound tracks!) written by the artist Prince. The song is called Electric Chair and it brings up an idea that I've seen recently in the movie Minority Report written by Philip K. Dick. Can we punish someone for their thoughts? Dick writes fiction about the future of technology and the ethical issues we might some day face.

"If a man is considered guilty for what goes on in his mind
Then give me the electric chair for all my future crimes -Oh!"

Finally, a good book to read through to delve more deeply into this issue would be "Virtual Liberty: Freedom to Design and to Play in Virtual Worlds" (2004) written by Jack M. Balkin.

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