Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 4/8/2005I may have to get back into gaming. Things are happening.

Thursday 4/8/2005

I may have to get back into gaming. Things are happening. A friend tells me about Shadow Hearts:Covenant, in which you have to collect stuff and trade it for other stuff. That's nothing new – except some of the collectable stuff is gay porn, which once amassed will persuade an in-game character who's a queer tailor to make tiny yet disturbingly erotic dresses for a puppeteer's doll called Cornelia. Who sticks her bum in the air when she wins a fight. Right.

And there's an outbreak of duping on the MMORPGs (that's massive multiplayer online role playing game – you'll have to ask the woofty couturier how to pronounce it), where bugs in the software let players create duplicates of valuable items and flog them for real money. One person managed to make enough to take his family on holiday before the system caught up with him – he set up quite a chain of accomplices to shift the illicit goods in a way that didn't draw attention to himself, and found some high-profile fences that were happy to buy in-game currency for dollars without asking questions. When he did get caught he got banned from the game, but as it was so similar to many other games he didn't feel too bad about that.

It's not easy to work out how to punish people in virtual worlds. All the real world issues are there – detecting anti-social actions and proving guilt – as well as the commercial downsides of annoying or banning your paying customers. One particularly clever group of virtual crims managed to dupe in-game money and hand it out to members of their gang, while also giving some away to random players. When the game masters found out they banned everyone who touched the illicit dosh, which provoked howls of outrage from the innocent and sparked on-line demonstrations that slowed the whole world down. So the masters decided on a rather more oblique punishment – they teleported everyone concerned to a random position in the game. I think they reinvented deportation.

It's all very science fiction: we can't seem to get off-planet without blowing up, so we're colonising a home-made version while importing all the crime, economics, sex and deception that so occupies us out here. It must be worth a visit.