On the complexity of digital theft

On the complexity of digital theft

Summary: The possibility of "supernatural" retribution (and very real jail time) may make even the most chaotic-evil barbarian pause and reflect.

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TOPICS: Browser
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New Scientist reports that a Chinese exchange student in Japan has been arrested for using a software bot to "beat up" characters in Lineage II, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG). Once beaten, the characters were relieved of their (virtual) possessions. These were later put on an auction site and exchanged for (real) money.

So what?

MMORPG worlds are interesting because they do something that computers aren't normally good at: they create alienable property. Physical property is alienable: if I have it, and you steal it, I no longer have it. Bits are inalienable: if I give you mine, we both have them. In a computer game world, where possessions are alienable, "theft" means something similar to what it means in the physical world. (Contrast with digital music, whose thiev-ability people are still debating.) Now, it seems as if this problem could be handled at a "religious" level--the game masters could simply drag-'n'-drop the stolen items from the thief back to their original owner. I know why they're reluctant to do that--every time "God" gets involved, it reduces the game's verisimilitude (in a way hobbits and unicorns do not, apparently) and increases the number of future petitions for his or her intervention. So instead we get what you might literally call "otherworldly" intervention in the form of police officers. It'll be interesting to see what impact this threat has on gameplay. The possibility of "supernatural" retribution (and very real jail time) may make even the most chaotic-evil barbarian pause and reflect.

Topic: Browser

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7 comments
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  • It's not about the bits. It's all about the time invested.

    This is one of the reasons I stopped playing online games. I simply don't have the time you need to dump into them before you get to the point where you can enjoy the game. Far too many developers seem to balance their games for people who play 8 hours a day - every day. A fender-bender like the one shown in the article can effectively wipe out dozens of hours of playtime.

    Also, just about every MMO will charge a montly fee. That, by itself, implies that the company will take reasonable steps to maintain certain quality of service by fighting hacks and keeping griefing at acceptable levels.

    Still, bringing polic into this is kinda excessive. IMO, a lot of this is the developers' fault. In this case, the developers had to make the game more resistant to botting and griefing. The tacit approval of bringing real-world money into the game isn't helping matters either.
    johnsmith222
  • How sad

    The whole situation is kind of sad and ironic. People wasting time playing games creating problems that wastes the time of people who don't have enough time, like cops.

    The author of the article thinks that jail time or fines would help deter people from virtually stealing. I argue that we should let the virtual stealing go unabated so that it deters people from wasting their time playing video games.
    ibabadur1
    • Sad that you don't respect people's rights

      So you have zero vices? If the cable company charged you 10 times what they should have charged you on your cable TV bill, how would you like it I said you should have no legal recourse because you shouldn't be watching TV. You should be reading books instead?
      george_ou
      • Opinion is a right

        I could care less if my cable company charged me 10x the normal fee because 10 x 0 = nothing.

        I don?t respect the rights of others? Do I operate a gaming network that allows my players to be scammed? Do I rob people in online games? Do I expect companies that operate gaming networks to pass the buck to the police? Absolutely not!

        Maybe if the police ignore online gaming companies and they start losing customers they will fix the problem themselves. As for vices, everyone has them and it?s not my place to judge people because of them. It is my right to opine that these MMORPG games are a waste of time.
        ibabadur1
  • How sad

    The whole situation is kind of sad and ironic. People wasting time playing games creating problems that will waste the time of people who don't have enough time, like cops.

    The author of the article thinks that jail time or fines would help deter people from virtually stealing. I argue that we should let the virtual stealing go unabated so that it deters people from wasting their time playing video games.
    ibabadur1
    • Its very sad , however ...

      Its also a bit ticklish .. i.e. rofl :D. How did he ever come up with that concept for making spare cash. On another more serious level though, it sure beats getting robbed in real life tho.
      IanX
  • RE: On the complexity of digital theft

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