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Freedom of Expression in Virtual Worlds 329

Posted by michael
from the simcensorship dept.
PDHoss writes "NYTimes.com has a story on freedom of expression as it applies to virtual communities, specifically 'The Sims Online.' How should issues of free speech, community standards, and censorship be addressed in the virtual world (given that we can barely agree on those issues in meatspace)?" There's also a story in the Independent, and we've mentioned this guy before.
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Freedom of Expression in Virtual Worlds

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  • the bottom line... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by shawnywany (664241) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:12AM (#8011838)
    the bottom line is that people are still going to say whatever they please, regardless of how little jimmy will interpret it.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2004 @01:07AM (#8012070)
      The owners/company running the online Sims game can and should filter out anything they don't like.

      The users forfeited their 'freedom of speech' first admendment 'rights' inside the game when they agreed to the terms of service.

      The Sims owners should not be forced to tolerate anything they don't want to.

      Grow up. The first admendment is not a tool to force your words to be heard in private places (e.g., the online game, a private club of dues paying members).
  • Freedom of Speech (Score:5, Informative)

    by Le Marteau (206396) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:17AM (#8011855) Journal
    First of all, "Freedom of Speech" in America is a loaded phrase.

    "Freedom of Speech" is a government thing. It deals with the relationship between people and their government. Likewise "Censorship". Properly used, the political term "censorship" refers to a relationship between a person or persons, and the government.

    None of these have to do with the case at hand. This is not a "Freedom of Speech" issue or a "censorship" issue, but something else. This is the relationship between a services provider and a client, and the political concepts of censorship or free speech have nothing to do with it.
    • by cgranade (702534) <cgranadeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:20AM (#8011868) Homepage Journal
      Not quite.
      It's a freedom thing. The First Ammendment does not give you freedom of speech, but recognizes it in a limited fashion. Likewise, a corporation poses many of the same threats now that a government did when the 1A was drafted, leading me to believe that perhaps the government ought to recognize the freedom of speech in a broader fashion- that is, one which recognizes private relationships as well.
      • by Le Marteau (206396) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:25AM (#8011902) Journal
        Likewise, a corporation poses many of the same threats now that a government did when the 1A was drafted, leading me to believe that perhaps the government ought to recognize the freedom of speech in a broader fashion- that is, one which recognizes private relationships as well.

        Well, the American government DOES recognize private relationships as far as freedom of speech goes. It lays solidly behind the one who owns the press, so to speak. The one who owns the presses has ALL the rights. He can print whatever he wants in his forum, or choose to NOT print whatever he wants. Likewise with the Sims. It's their presses (their servers... same thing). If they don't want to print something (read: if they don't want you to use their forum to spout off in any way they don't like)... well, it's their hardware... their presses, and it is THEIR right... THEIR freedom of speech... that is protected.
        • Re:Freedom of Speech (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Dalroth (85450) *
          You miss a VERY important point: We're paying for it!

          The company gets their money from us, and if they don't respect our rights we're not going to pay them. It is not as clear cut as you seem to think.

          Over time, people will demand their rights in online gaming worlds, and those companies that take a freedom loving democratic approach to this will be more sucessful than those who don't.

          And secondly, this virtual world thing is a whole new concept unlike anything that has ever been done before. To just
      • by Aglassis (10161)
        You said: "The First Ammendment does not give you freedom of speech, but recognizes it in a limited fashion. Likewise, a corporation poses many of the same threats now that a government did when the 1A was drafted, leading me to believe that perhaps the government ought to recognize the freedom of speech in a broader fashion- that is, one which recognizes private relationships as well."

        Are you suggesting altering:

        Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free e

      • by kfg (145172) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @01:11AM (#8012086)
        The First Ammendment does not give you freedom of speech. . .

        This is absolutely correct, although I find it distressing that so few Americans these understand why it so.

        A clue can be found in the Ninth Ammendment. A fuller explanation can be found in Hamilton's arguement about why the Bill of Rights is a bad idea, since it may give the impression that rights are a priviledge granted by the government and opens the danger of interpreting away rights that have no legitimate framework for being questioned.

        The Bill of Rights is not a grant to the people. It is a straightjacket placed upon the government by the people, who are the only source of legimate power in the United States of America.

        I quote:

        "Congress shall make no law. . . "

        KFG

    • by bonch (38532) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:44AM (#8011988)
      Precisely. People bring up "freedom of speech" all the time without realizing freedom of speech means the government can't limit your speech. It's not a right you have on private grounds.

      As for this, though, it exposes EA's failure with The Sims Online--they wanted it to be a big, mass-market, hugely successful, friendly game. Ludlow was writing about how horribly sick and twisted the game had become, which is bad marketing for a company wanting to portray the game in the other light to ensnare subscribers.

      Hence, he's booted.
      • by LostCluster (625375) * on Sunday January 18, 2004 @03:00AM (#8012351)
        Yep... and EA's now in a big bind because there isn't much of a "game" to The Sims Online beyond allowing people to express their wacky virtual personalites. They can't limit expression too much without killing the point of the product, but they've got to do something to prevent anarchy from developing... what a mess that they'll either have to find a way out of, or lose the project to failure.
      • Re:Freedom of Speech (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ir0b0t (727703) *
        I think that Alphaville is interesting, esp. in that Lawrence Lessig argues in Code that the larger threats to fundamental liberties now originate from powerful economic interests moreso than government.

        The norms embedded in the code (proprietary or open source) of Alphaville are not so different than the norms embedded in the rules of real life.

        In Code, Lessig writes about a virtual "rape" that occurs in a MUD called LamdaMOO. The event --- though it is not "real" --- catalyzes a real change within the
    • Re:Freedom of Speech (Score:5, Informative)

      by nudicle (652327) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:54AM (#8012018)
      You're pretty much right on here ( not that you care that some ramdom /.'er says so :) ) ... except that it can be a little more complicated than that. Whereas the First Amendment applies to our relationships with the government, there are a couple of case in US precedent which extend this.

      The big example is a line of cases in NJ in which the NJ supreme court read its own (ie NOT the US Const) as going further than traditional notions of 1AM requirements as regards freedom of speech in a private setting. To whit, this issue related to passing out flyers on the private property of a regional (huge) mall. Even though it was private property, the NJ supreme court reasoned that since the mall was acting as a pseudo-public entity anyway (malls replacing downtowns as places of congregation, malls advertising themselves and providing services as such, etc..), it had to accept limited and appropriate acts of free speech in certain areas -- notwithstanding the fact that this was private property.

      There's also some US Supreme Court stuff like this regarding free speech in "company towns" but it's much more strictly limited than the big NJ deal I just mentioned.

      If it were earlier in the day I'd look up the citations for the NJ case. IIRC, it was New Jersey Coalition Against War In The Middle East v. J.M.B. Realty from 1994, but I'm not 100% sure.

      have a nice evening, nudicle

    • This is the relationship between a services provider and a client, and the political concepts of censorship or free speech have nothing to do with it.

      Oh, there's plenty to be discussed about it. In a virtual world, the owners of the servers are the government. People can chose whether or not to immigrate into the community, or whether to leave the community... and those decisions are based heavily on how the virtual government rules the virtual world.

      Virtual world admins have god-like powers... they can
  • Deceptively simple (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CelticWhisper (601755) <celticwhisper.gmail@com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:17AM (#8011856)
    The answer, or rather, question, may be simpler than expected. Should these be issues at all? The Internet has the potential to be the ultimate even ground for peoples of all race, color, and mentality to communicate and be heard just as loud as the proverbial next guy. The more regulation there is, the harder it becomes for such a vision to become reality. Yes, there are such things as t3h pr0n and abominations like goatse, but ideally a system would eventually arise that permits people to filter for themselves what they would see-this is to say that it would be automated somehow, as obviously anyone can filter what their own eyes see simply by choosing whether or not to hit Enter after typing a URL.

    Censorship is something to be treated very, very carefully. And we're living in a world right now where all too many people are overeager to jump on the censorship train and start filtering everything under the sun. Be careful, or else you might wind up filtering the sun as well, and where would the light come from then?
  • pot, kettle, black (Score:4, Insightful)

    by larry bagina (561269) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:17AM (#8011857) Journal
    I find it amusing for slashdot to be discussing censorship in virtual worlds.

    Consider slashdot itself. Most users browse at +1 or higher, so anything moderated below that is effectively censored (ACs have a default score of 0, but they choose to post at that level).

    There's a lot of crap at the 0/-1 level, but there are also a lot of valid criticisms and opinions that the moderating community doesn't agree with.

    • by cgranade (702534) <cgranadeNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:23AM (#8011890) Homepage Journal
      Not the same thing. You can actively choose to browse /., at 0 or -1, thus enabling. You can even, if you have mod points, change the rating of a given post. This is much more akin to someone putting up posters over someone elses: you can look underneath if you wish to take the time. Close to censorship? Yes, but not the same thing.
      • by Micro$will (592938) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @04:34AM (#8012539) Homepage Journal
        You can even, if you have mod points, change the rating of a given post.

        True, but if the thread is flagged by the editors as a troll, you will lose your mod points and never be able to moderate again. It's called $rtbl, or "Real Time BlackList". Flamebaits and crapfloods may be blatantly obvious targets, but there are some crafty trolls that generate a lot of comments where you won't know what's troll and what's not.

        My point is this: it up to the editors and fanboys what is insightful, and what is crapflood. Joe_User has very little control over what they see here. Sure, setting your preference to -1 will let you see everything, but try finding the rare gem among the crapfloods and goatse links. Yes, they do occur, because moderation abuse is rampant, particularly among anti Debian and Gentoo posts. Browse the next Debian or Gentoo story at -1 and observe every post critical of those two distros wind up in the shitter, no matter how interesting they may be.

        I'll probably get modded down for this, but WTF, I'm $rtbled anyway.

    • by JanneM (7445) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:40AM (#8011973) Homepage
      On the other hand, I certainly have a reasonable expectation of not to have to wade through all that crap. I pretty much never browse at 0 or lower, and more and more often I have the filter set to +2.

      There is a filtering mechanism here, but it is _voluntary_ to use. Anybody who wants to look at the stuff modded to -1 is perfectly free to do so. Anybody want to see +2 and above only is free to do that. A right to post/publish/whatever is _not_ a right to be read or seen.

      That said, apart from discrimination laws, anybody with a server is of course free to treat its contents the way they want - as an owner, you can pretty much delete anything you want, for any reason (again, as long as you do not run afoul of discrimination issues - delete all posts by people of a certain race or gender will probably get you into well deserved trouble, for instance).

      Freedom of speech does not give you any right to post whatever you want at another persons server; what it does is give you a right to post what you like (within the limits of the law) on your own server without being censored by your government. In the smae way, you have no right at all to write something and expect it to be published in your local paper. What you do have is the right to start your own, competing paper and publish whatever you want in it.

      So if an entertainment company decides that some subject matter is out of bounds in their virtual world, they can do so. You are free to leave and start your own world. Similarily, if you really do not like the slashdot system, you are free to leave and start a competing system with the kind of policies you like. That is what freedom of speech (and, by and large, equivalent laws in other countries) means.

      • by indros13 (531405) * on Sunday January 18, 2004 @02:18AM (#8012283) Homepage Journal
        In terms of Slashdot, the parent is spot on that the "censorship" of moderation is voluntary. Anyone can change their settings to have access to all posts.

        The censorship in The Sims, however, reminds me of malls. Laws vary from state to state regarding whether malls (almost always private property) have the right to censor speech by preventing public demonstrations, speeches, leafletting, etc... I think the point to remember is that as public spaces become enclosed and property rights are extended to more areas the public gathers, it is important that free speech rights allow democratic dialogue to continue.

    • Most users browse at +1 or higher, so anything moderated below that is effectively censored (ACs have a default score of 0, but they choose to post at that level).

      And who decides what score a post gets? The moderators, that's who! I chose not to moderate, because I prefer not to judge, but I do metamoderate some. I meta-mod friends and fans up, and that's it. Other than that, well, it's beside the point. :)

      The point is, slashdot itself doesn't decide what to mod each post as, and osdn doesn't decide

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:18AM (#8011862)
    what is that, my refrigerator?
    • No, it's my pants.
    • It's just like cyberspace, only with more politicians. And pretty soon, governments are going to address this imbalance.

      Open chat rooms and such will be classified as public places. They'll be subject to the same laws and regulations, eg no hate-speach, etc. That's not such a bad thing, but don't be suprised to have police bots monitoring public chats an forums.

      They'll be regulated (most likely) by the location of "the service provider" although quite how that will impact P2P I'm not sure. I expect that w
  • by bc90021 (43730) * <bc90021.bc90021@net> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:20AM (#8011872) Homepage
    ...in the real world, you have your government's charter/constitution which allows you rights, and hopefully, a good amount of legal interpretation to further define your rights. Your government (one hopes) doesn't revoke them.

    In an online world, you have the TOS of the company that makes the game, and they are the ones that define your rights, and you have to agree, or they revoke your account, as happened in this case.

    It would seem that unless a collective of people started an online world like the SIMS, that it will be the game company that decides what is acceptable speech and what is not.
    • by fishbert42 (588754) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:35AM (#8011952)
      Indeed, I see censorship in virtual communities existing on privately-owned hardware as being not much different than 'we reserve the right to refuse service' signs in physical business establishments, or perhaps even Augusta National being able to exclude women from playing golf on their course. Censorship is never appealing, but what's even worse is having someone else impose limitations on what you can and cannot do with your own private property.
    • by Cali Thalen (627449) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:40AM (#8011972) Homepage
      I've been trying to explain this exact fact to some of the people playing at There.com for months...

      There.com is a company that is situated in the US, and therefor has to abide by the laws and practices in the US. They also have their own TOS which has to go along with those laws, and can in fact be more controlling (but not less). No matter what you may thing your rights are There, you have to follow both sets of rules.

      Not quite sure how this applies when someone from an even MORE strict set of laws plays there...There is under no obligation to have the same rules as every country/state/whatever as everyone who might log in there over the 'net, so maybe it's up to the people to follow There.com's rules as well as their own country's....

      • Well, there's some laws that need not apply to a virtual world. Virtual "theft" may or may not be legal depending on which game you're in... some may consider it part of the game, others may consider that running a con scheme to get somebody's stuff is an offense that leads to a virtual death penalty... deletion of your character.

        Basically, the TOS has to respect real laws, but the "rules of the game" does not.
    • It would seem that unless a collective of people started an online world like the SIMS, that it will be the game company that decides what is acceptable speech and what is not.

      Do you think the creators of TSO don't want to sell access to as many people as possible? Their simple desire to make as much money as possible guarantees that they will craft their policies such that they will be appealing to the largest number of consumers.

      It doesn't take collectivism to acheive a result that benefits the maj

    • by $ASANY (705279) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:57AM (#8012031) Homepage
      Most countries seem to have a charter/constitution that "allows" rights to be exercized by citizens, but those fortunate enough to be citizens of the U.S. have a Constitution that guarantees rights of the citizenry and limits powers of the government.

      This might seem like a minor distinction to many, but it's the difference between saying "Nothing in the Constution gives you the right to do X" and "Nothing in the Constitution grants the federal government the power to restrict X". Those are really, really major differences. Living under one model is vastly different than the other.

      If we see government as the grantor of our rights, we have to go begging to the federal government every time we want to do something new and hope they'll take pity on us. If we see the Constitution as a contract between government and citizens where citizens grant a specific number of powers to government, no begging is required when something new comes up that government hasn't already restricted.

      Specific to the /. crowd, it might be relevant that the federal government has no legal power to control personal communications, and that would apply to the internet, regardless of MIME type. The feds may think they have the power to impose restrictions, which they probably can exercize, but they have no legal authority to exercize a power like that. And they can't prevent you from becoming an ISP with a more reasonable (to you) TOS and running ISP's with silly TOS requirements out of business.

      We are the collective of the people, or "We, the People", who have the rights (government only has powers), who can make this internet anything we want it to be, by becoming a part of it's infrastructure or paying to be members of this virtual community. Who's stopping you, unless you're a "subject" or citizen of a country where you've been fooled into believing that the source of your rights is some government?

    • "..in the real world, you have your government's charter/constitution which allows you rights, and hopefully, a good amount of legal interpretation to further define your rights. Your government (one hopes) doesn't revoke them."

      I don't know where you are from, if you are from the US I shudder to think what educational system you learned that from. If you are not then I think the founding fathers had a good model to follow.

      The founding fathers had a fairly large argument when drafting the Bill of Rights. O
    • by ari_j (90255) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @02:00AM (#8012231)
      The US Bill of Rights does not "allow" you any rights. It recognizes specific rights that are never to be taken away. You aren't given rights - either you have them already or they have been taken away from you.
      • The US Bill of Rights does not "allow" you any rights. It recognizes specific rights that are never to be taken away.

        NOt entirely true. It spells out a few rights, then says that any rights not spelled out there and not expressly delegated to the government are reserved by the states.

        Personally, I'm a big fan of States' rights. Problem is, the Civil War taught us that states have no rights. So it's been over a hundred years since we needed a new constitution. :(

    • you have your government's charter/constitution which allows you rights
      Excuse me? The Constitution doesn't allow me anything. It tells the government which rights I possess naturally and puts limits on the government to prevent them from abusing my rights.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:21AM (#8011878)
    I demand this post be removed at once! The nerve...
  • by KevMar (471257) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:22AM (#8011881) Homepage Journal
    Users should be able to form groups and communities within those worlds and those groups and communities should put into place their own cencorship policies. Or atleast rate their groups and other groups on self cencorship.

    with every group or person with a rating on their cencorship and individuals with their self set (or parent enforced) tolarance levels the world would be self cencored.

    Yes things would slip past, but when it does, that person (or group) would be censored by the users

    either that or use slashcode and implement moderator and meta-moderator type cencorship level
  • Private vs. Public (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:22AM (#8011883)
    How should issues of free speech, community standards, and censorship be addressed in the virtual world

    Well, since the "virtual world" is privately owned, requires money to participate in, isn't tied to government in any way, etc...I'd say it's pretty clear cut; freedom of speech doesn't apply on private property.

    Let's get real here folks- what's next, arrest for murder if I cut your Massively-Multiplayer-whatever-the-hell-it-is character's throat? Jeeeeeeezus...

    • by ameoba (173803) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @02:39AM (#8012323)
      OTOH, the telephone company can't restrict what you say on the phone, and that involves private property.

      I don't think the issue is so much what can be done in this particular instance but the precedent it sets. Some time in a future, virtual worlds may become a more common medium for communication & it would be nice to preserve freedom of speech for the day when VR worlds become as the telephone is today...
  • by jared_hanson (514797) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:24AM (#8011896) Homepage Journal
    No one in these virtual worlds should be allowed to paint their dwellings the color of the YRO pages.
  • Pat Cadigan's take (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Burnon (19653) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:25AM (#8011899)
    Pat Cadigan wrote some stories where a major plot premise is that anything that happens in a virtual online world has no legal bearing in the outside world. No censorship, no legally binding contracts, nada. Then she explores the idea. Check out 'Tea from an Empty Cup' and 'Dervish is Digital' - both are worth a read.
  • by HarveyBirdman (627248) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:25AM (#8011900) Journal
    Waw oo epo doo wa wa wa meeee hoo boo la doo pee maa naa too?
  • by Ignorant Aardvark (632408) <cydeweys@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:28AM (#8011914) Homepage Journal
    The Sims Online, as a subscription service, has the rights to prevent anyone from using their service. It's kind of like private property in real life: not everyone has to be let in.
    • The real issue (Score:4, Insightful)

      by bonch (38532) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:50AM (#8012006)
      The real issue is the fact that Ludlow was pointing out the sick and bizarre things going on--prostitution, the engaging of cybersex between adults and minors, the scammers, the brothels, and more--in a game rated "Teen."

      EA wants this game mass-marketed, which would be a little hard to do with some guy pointing out how sickenly adult the game has become, far above its given rating of Teen. So, he is removed from the system.
      • Re:The real issue (Score:3, Interesting)

        by LostCluster (625375) *
        And what that equates to is a "virtual death penality" for somebody who spoke out against the "virtual government". Yes, EA has a right to do that.

        However, this is a rather interesting decision... rather than fight the "crimes" he pointed out, they decided to silence the critic. That makes it seem like they're starting to become a virtual police state, which surely they didn't have in mind when this thing started. How can EA keep order in the community without becoming so oppressive that they also kill the
    • yeah, how about if they decide not to let in say gay people or chinese people?

      my house is a private property, i have the right not to let everyone in too.


      • yeah, how about if they decide not to let in say gay people or chinese people?


        The last I checked, the Boy Scouts of America was allowed to prohibit gay people from joining. I'm sure there are anti-Chinese private organizations out there too.
  • No sympathy here (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hcg50a (690062) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:29AM (#8011920) Journal
    This guy plays by EA's rules, and when he doesn't, he gets kicked out. Seems like EA is exercising their freedom to associate (or dissociate)!
  • So Peter Ludlow violates a game's EULA and TOS and gets kicked out because he's caught. This is news?

    I'm a big fan of meatspace and the rights provided me by my government (or at least the government I attempted to vote for in the last election). However, when I check into a online game, regardless if it is a first person shooter or cooperative environment, I make no illusions that the rules that govern my life will be (or should be) transferred to a place I'm taking a "time out" in.

    Maybe I'm a pimp in The

    • So Peter Ludlow violates a game's EULA and TOS and gets kicked out because he's caught. This is news?

      He removed the link as they requested, yet still got kicked out days later for the link that wasn't there anymore.

      Maybe I'm a pimp in The Sims Online because that's how I relax.

      But the game is rated "Teen," not "Mature." EA can't have people going around pointing out how mature the game is--complete with pimps and mafias and brothels--far above a Teen rating. EA needs this game to sell, right?
    • So Peter Ludlow violates a game's EULA and TOS and gets kicked out because he's caught. This is news?
      And that's just the problem. It's not clear that he *did* violate the EULA and TOS. What is clear, is that EA is very uneven in enforcing the same, and that goes all the way back to the Beta.
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:33AM (#8011945)
    in Alphaville, I'd form an angry lynch mob, and torch my perceived enemies virtual properties.

    I would then nominate myself as Alphamale and rule the city with an iron fist.
  • I'm all for freedom of expression, but the ability of organizations to control speech on their property is another right that government has. For instance, it would be ridiculous for the government to step in and tell companies that they are not allowed to tell their employees that badmouth the company. Similarly, restraints can ask disruptive customers to leave their establishment. There are exceptions-- these can't discriminate based on race, sex, etc.... The companies that make these video games have
  • by davmoo (63521) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:37AM (#8011966)
    There is no issue here. He who owns the server and pays its bills makes the rules. As a user, you are subject to the servers TOS and AUP. Don't like it? You don't have to participate.
  • How about this? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by placeclicker (709182) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:40AM (#8011974) Journal
    You do not have a right to free speech on games like "The Sims Online".

    These games are a privledge, and if the communities are outraged about censorship, or anything else, well they should fight with their money.

    Sidenote: This may not be the case with TSO, but i've noticed in many MMORPGS (think EQ), people are so addicted to it, despite the fact they hate the company that owns it, they continue to play it.

    They still piss and moan about it but they never actally cancel the game.

    Maybe thats what happened here.
  • by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:47AM (#8011999)

    A group of people gets together under the premise of starting a virtual community. They let it grow, and eventually a fully fledged society emerges. Lo and behold, that society has evolved to the point where a breed of prostitution exists. It causes no harm unlike in meatspace, where STDs, rape and other types of violence are common. Since those of us in meatspace have linked all of these together under one disreputable roof, it stands to reason that prostitution online must fit in the same category. Let's censor it.

    Let's censor it in desperate hope that nobody notices that the evil notion of selling sex really has turned out to be quite a human trait, not something derived from the devil as some religions would have us believe. Let's censor it so that nobody notices that true human nature just might not be mirrored by our current society's value system.

    That's censorship. It's a layor of makeup to hide our "flaws."
  • By the way... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Whatever happened to the idea of Game Masters, Counselors, and Guides? Wouldn't that be a simple way to decrease the shadier side of the game? Other MMORPGS have 'em (I still remember Ultima Online GMs, counselors...They were really helpful in most cases). The Sims should adopt a similar system, because without them, there is no structure, and without structure, you get chaos; and the result is most often the lowest form of interactions among peoples.

    I'm kinda surprised they don't have this in the game.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Generally, non-government space means whatever a corporation does is not "censorship." But not always. Restaurants and shopping malls may be privately owned, but certain individual rights apply there because they are considered public spaces. A mall owner could not, for example, ban black people from his premises.
  • by beowulf_26 (512332) <beowulf_26@hotmaiRASPl.com minus berry> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @01:17AM (#8012106) Homepage
    Raph Koster, overseer of Ultima Online, and previously of Star Wars Galaxies, has had some very specific thoughts on this topic.

    Read on [legendmud.org] if you're interested.
  • by inode_buddha (576844) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @01:19AM (#8012111) Journal
    What makes anyone think that virtual space will be any different from meat-space? My point is: History is repeating itself. Not because of technological failure or societal collapse, but because of simple human nature . Flame away. Then call me back in 10 years, after you've changed your mind.
  • It's so simple! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by xankar (710025) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @01:53AM (#8012212) Journal
    I've devised a perfect system that lets the general public decide what they hear/read:

    1. Everyone reads the questionable material.
    2. Who ever reads it and regrets it votes "I wish I hadn't read this."
    3. Once all votes are in, they are tallied.
    4. If a certain percentage of the votes were "I wish I hadn't read this," the material is censored.
    • Re:It's so simple! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fucksl4shd0t (630000) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @03:44AM (#8012458) Homepage Journal

      The #1 problem with Democracy is the same problem with your post. :)

      Change always starts in a minority, for better or for worse. The American Revolution was led by a minority, and there were many colonists who opposed it. Many more were indifferent as long as it didn't hurt business. But when it comes down to it, all change starts in a minority, and when you allow the majority to decide what's acceptable, you block out change. Which leads to decline.

  • by zangdesign (462534) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @02:01AM (#8012237) Journal
    The simplest answer is "my house, my rules". There is a clear separation between government censorship and private censorship.

    In a sense, the People own the United States (irony, I know) and as such, the government (because it is owned by The People) cannot impose rules that prevent The People from speaking their mind. Now, certain allowances have been made for community standards and what not (and probably not wisely or justly), but all-in-all, very few compromises can be made to that rule without chucking it altogether. Since it is in writing, in principle, the People have the right to say what's on their minds, no matter how offensive or inane or stupid it is.

    It's an entirely different matter when it's free speech on private property. The People don't own my house (or my server) and as such, I can freely tell others who speech I disagree with to go somewhere else. That is allowable censorship (although, to be honest, I don't think it's "censorship" in the sense that most people seem to). For the same reason that you can't walk into my house, take a dump on the rug, and leave, you can't just come onto a forum I've established and say whatever you like. Even if I imply that you can say whatever you like, unless you have a written guarantee, you are subject to my arbitrary whims about the content of your speech when posted on a forum I'm established.

    The same holds true no matter the size of the forum as long as it is ostensibly private property. The publisher has every right (even a duty under their contract with their shareholders due to potential lawsuits) to monitor speech with they may deem harmful to the "community" and to remove such speech as they may deem necessary. They are not a government - they are not suppressing The People, just some people who use their services. Yes, it probably is censorship, but it is not Censorship, and they should have every right to do it as they see fit with their own property.
  • The main issue that I see here is a question of juristicion and who has authority. In this case the forum owner has the rights and they are governed by contract. What I believe needs to happen is that a virtual government needs to evolve, and then the anarchy problem would be solved. With a virtual government the Sims would be guarenteed certin rights and then adopt certin responsabilities. Further, Sim congresses or legislatures could evolve.

    I guess the point that I am trying to make is that the applicati
  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @03:06AM (#8012365) Homepage
    There comes a time when private property starts to act like public property, and where free speech should start to apply because the public interest should ethically outweigh that of a large corporate landholder (and even the very existence of private large corporations in general is morally suspect). Clear examples are shopping malls [underreported.com] and convention centers [underreported.com]. In the virtual world, free speech should apply to a newspaper's discussion forum. Less clear is an entertainment venue -- normally I would say "no", but with a phenomenon as large as The Sims, I'm not so sure.
    • I think I would argue that since we don't have any sort of "right" to entertainment, as such, then it probably doesn't apply.

      What's really fascinating is the noise level this issue is attaining. What percentage of the physical population of the US (and the world, I suppose, since The Sims is ostensibly marketed outside the US) actually plays the game. Then ask yourself what percentage actually plays it online.

      This is, to steal line from some famous poet, a "whole lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing"
  • It's their game (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BobaFett (93158) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @03:22AM (#8012406) Homepage
    EA owns this game. If they think that banning a particular individual from their game will enhance gaming experience of other players, they should do it. If they thought wrong, they will lose players, and, with them, lose money. Similarly, if EA thinks that this player is "high-maintenance" and costs more money than he and those who might get upset by the ban bring, it's fine for EA to ban him.
  • It's been pretty well argued that the First Amendment doesn't apply here because it's a private relationship... to wit, I could get fired for putting porn in the company newsletter and it is completely legal for them to fire me for that (in fact, they might even face some civil liability if they didn't).

    Now, I could sue my employer for unfair termination, particularly if they had not detailed or educated me on their sexual harrassment policy.

    But legislation has provided that operators of online forums have extensive safe harbor protections. For a while there, this was sketchy (see Stratton Oakmont v. Prodigy [google.com], where an investment firm successfully sued Prodigy over a defamatory post and Prodigy lost because it was ruled they took such an active hand in controlling board content that they became lost Safe Harbor protection), but later legislation broadened safe harbor provisions to such an extent that EA/Maxis can boot anyone, clean things up as they see fit, or leave them messy, and they have little or no legal liability to the people who got booted or the people harmed/offended by content that stays. IANAL, but AFAIK, they've got a pretty free hand and the only thing to govern their actions is the free market.

    Of course, it's quite possible they were just getting in over their heads when they created the online world they did.

    A friend of mine was talking at work Friday about a friend of hers who would create new Sims Online characters just to bring them back to his primary character's residence, kill them, and bury them in the living room.

    When the world devolves to a place where a man can find a willing victim for cannibalization online [bbc.co.uk], it's hard for weirdness not to filter into online worlds. When a search for "grief players" on Google turns up 1,800 results, you know that this is no limited phenomenon.

    Perhaps the question is not whether there should be freedom within alternate worlds (or as absolute as you can get within the bounds of the program), but how you have to balance freedom against other needs and wants.

    How much freedom is necessary to not only complete the objectives of the game, but make the game a fun place to hang out? Should you limit interaction between avatars to only that which is needed to complete game objectives and otherwise phase out community aspects? Can you take out the elements that grief players exploit and yet leave the game with enough oomph to make it popular with a big enough mass of people for it to be profitable?

    It's too easy to just lash out at EA and Maxis for booting this guy. Given, it may be a knee-jerk reaction and probably wrong on a moral or ethical level, but virtual worlds are pretty new and the optimal construction and management of them for maximum player enjoyment with minimum grief player exploitation is not a set formula by any stretch of the imagination.

    Honestly, a smart move would be to create a virtual world based on that "Manhunt" game they've been advertising on TV or based on GTA. Make a world of pimps, whores, seedy strip joints, dominatrixes, S&M clubs... Make a world where giving grief to others without getting grief is the challenge, and throw in a bunch of sex and sleaze to boot.

    I'm not saying this is necessarily a big commercial draw (though it probably would be), but it would probably be a great way to siphon away grief players from other games.

    No city ever completely cleans up its red light district or skid row necause they need them. People are going to sell and buy drugs. People are going to sell and buy sex. People are going to fall into the gutter and be more interested in staying there than getting out. These districts serve a purpose... keeping that stuff out of the suburbs and better urban neighborhoods.

    That's the sociology of the games. If you conside

  • by spoonboy42 (146048) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @05:34AM (#8012646)

    When I was beta testing TSO, I started to get a few ideas about what might be possible with this sort of game. Obviously, the sexual deviance mentioned in the article occured to me (not in any vivid detail, I assure you). I thought the more interesting possibilities lied in more normal, healthy human relationships, however. For example, I was then (and am still now) involved in a long-distance romantic relationship. I began to contemplate the idea of a virtual date with my girlfriend. We could eat out, go see a show, take a romantic walk in the park. Of course, it doesn't compare to any of these activities in real life, but a virtual date, or "proxy intimacy", as I'll call it, is light-years beyond AIM as a communication medium for lovers. Of course, for single sims, nothing says you can't meet someone actractive at the club and begin a whole online relationship (once again, much more interesting than the lurid creepiness of singles chatrooms).

    Unfortunately, my dreams for this sort of interaction never panned out. TSO, while trumpeted as being freeform and open-ended in the extreme, wound up digging itself into a rut pretty quickly. Some of its problems lie in the fact that it ranks users on ladders, and introduces systems of competition which are entirely artificial to a game which attempts to emulate "real life". Case in point: statistics on the richest and most popular sims. In the former case, you have a bunch of hyper-capitalists trying to outpace eachother in the generation of a hyperinflating virtual currency (more on the economic problems in TSO later). In the latter, you see an even more bizarre and surreal sort of competition, wherein online characters do whatever they can to get a "friend" designation from other players and then, for the most part, ignore those characters (what an odd definition of friendship).

    Another difficulty is introduced in the zoning system used for property. On a basic level, there is none. This sounds good enough, as it should theoretically enable the construction of any sort of enterprise. The unfortunate result of this, however, is that most places just look more or less like houses. There's no concept of shared or leased property, either, as every property has a distinct owner or owners (thus, there are no apartment buildings, no malls, no office parks, nothing). And, although the game lays out properties with physical locations on a map of your chosen city, these locations have no real meaning whatsoever. Properties are not connected to adjacent properties in any special way, and thus the concept of a neighborhood is utterly nonexistent (the lack of anything approximating geography in-game is a very significant barrier to the formation of actual communities). Travelling anywhere in the game is a point-and-click affair, so there's nothing like walking down the street to the drugstore, or taking the subway cross-town to the nightclub. Similarly, you can't walk over to Bob's for the barbeque.

    To be sure, people do hold many social events in the game world, but conducting them with friends (in the traditional sense, no the wierd in-game definition) can be difficult. There is very little consistency to online relationships, as the only people you're likely to run into with any frequency in a particular establishment (without having made prior plans) are the owners. Locations are no help, due to the fact that each is a node unto itself (I actually never met any of my neighbors in Alphaville. I doubt many people have). The chance of repeatedly encountering someone by chance then becomes exceedingly small. This, I think, contributes to some of the romantic and sexual wierdness of the game. In TSO, you can't see that cute girl at the Deli a few times during lunch and then work up the nerve to strike up a conversation with her. Better ask if she wants to do the make out action now while you can! Now, if TSO behaved like a more realistic analogue of life, there wouldn't be such a market for prostitution in the gameworld, as people would probably be dating and even

  • Cultural problems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kirth (183) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @06:35AM (#8012720) Homepage
    I first noticed these about a year ago, with my favourite MMORPG. Its about swearing. The company has a "don't swear in public"-policy in place. If you do, you might end up being thrown out of the game. banned.

    Maybe this makes it a friendlier place for some, it definitly makes it a more hostile place for non-US inhabitants.

    Why is that? Apart from the US and some very rigid religious countries, the whole world swears. Europe swears, from spain to turkey, from italy to norway. Everybody swears, and not just in his mother-tongue, but also in foreign languages. Even university-professors will say "fuck". Not only in private, but in the auditorium.

    Given this culture of swearing, a ban of swearwords in online-games amounts to having the whole rest of the world to have something like scissors in your head, constantly censoring yourself (I suspect, however, that US-inhabitants do actually the same, maybe even without noticing). It's not funny. It's hostile.

    Name things by its name. It's "fuck", and its not spelled "f*ck" or any other atrocity you do to the language in the name of bigotry and hipocrisy.

    To be frank, such a ban friggin sucks and is a sure sign of some screwed-up state of mind, forcing the very same bigotry you're guilty of upon the rest of us. This is orwellian newspeak at its best. Congratulations, you're already half-way there.
    Fuck you.
    --
  • by ScottSpeaks! (707844) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:17AM (#8012913) Homepage Journal
    Whether I'm standing on an actual street corner shouting about The Truth, or I'm sitting at a computer typing The Truth for an avatar to shout on a simulated street corner, I'm still an actual person saying the same things to actual people. I have the same free speech rights and social responsibilities. The same rules (whatever the right ones are, that's a separate question) not only should apply to virtual reality... they do!

    A privately-owned-and-operated virtual reality is no different from a privately-held TV station: the owner can restrict the content. That's probably not a Good Thing, but the same thing is happening in actual communities, with public spaces disappearing. The solution is to create more public spaces (virtual or actual, same difference) where public rules still apply.

    I think a far more interesting question applies to conduct in virtual reality, because what we "do" in a simulated environment is not something we're doing in actual reality. If I beat up someone in The Sims Online, that's not actual assault and battery. And it sounds to me like what's becoming a problem in this situation is what people are doing, not what they're saying. Even free-speech absolutists will usually support restrictions on conduct (killing, theft, etc.) in actual reality. But what about virutal reality?

    • "Whether I'm standing on an actual street corner shouting about The Truth, or I'm sitting at a computer typing The Truth for an avatar to shout on a simulated street corner, I'm still an actual person saying the same things to actual people. I have the same free speech rights and social responsibilities. The same rules (whatever the right ones are, that's a separate question) not only should apply to virtual reality... they do!"

      Sorry. Wrong answer. If you go to a local mall and create a disturbance, t

  • corporate tyranny (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:40PM (#8013908) Homepage Journal
    The US Constitution does not protect freedom of speech. The Constitution prevents the US Congress from making laws prohibiting speech. But entities other than the government are not so constrained, even if we have come to expect such freedom everywhere in the US. So private property owners can do what they want with your freedoms: a man's home is his castle.

    That freedom loophole does not make our expectations of freedom, in any venue, unreasonable. The founding Americans expected those freedoms, and were justified in kicking the British out of the Colonies to protect them. It would be a century before their inheritors created the legal fiction of a corporation, a person with unlimited rights, but limited liabilities. In the century since then, the monster they created has proven to be a dangerous tool in the hands of its corporate masters, who can act with impunity against the rights of real people. The increasing privatization of public spaces and services means the Constitution protects us less every day, leaving our freedoms instead in the domain of these unaccountable corporations.

    Americans are suffering under corporate tyranny. During the 2000 Presidential campaigns, unchecked corporate power was consistently at the top of the list of the electorate's concerns. Once the Republicans scammed their way into power with promises of "smaller, more limited government", they immediately created a hypocritical nightmare, building the vastest, most intrusive government possible for the people, and getting out of the business of governing corporations. People are now more oppressed by corporate greed and avarice than ever. And the continuing Depression doesn't offer much hope for people that we will ourselves own one of those lucky corporations getting the juicy handouts and get-out-of-jail-free cards. A crisis is looming, as Americans realize they're lower on the food chain than corporate predators. And it remains to be seen whether the inheritors of the American revolution will once again lead the world to freedom, this time evicting the corporate kings from our land, and securing universal freedom from its latest tyrants.
  • freedom to act (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:54PM (#8013997) Homepage Journal
    Virtual worlds and new media are confusing derivatives of the material world of precedent which conditions our expectations. So we can clarify the issues by looking at the acts we execute in the material world, which are actually governed by known laws, before we consider what virtual laws govern virtual actions in virtual worlds.

    When I post a message in Slashdot, the Slashdot rules are considered *after* the rules that apply to me in the room where I sit with my keyboard and monitor. If I'm not inciting a riot, or lying about a clear and present danger, or slandering or libeling someone, or any of the other prohibitions we recognize on expression where other rights are protected from damage by that expression, then I'm free to express myself. The legal jurisdiction over private property [slashdot.org] like Slashdot's servers might be in question, but I am free to act, and it is up to those around me to cope with the ramifications (within the constraints against damage that I just mentioned).

    If anything, virtual worlds offer *more* freedom, because the damage I can cause is less than in the material world, and remedies to any damage confined to the virtual world are much cheaper and easier to apply. Many opportunistic lawyers will be making lots of money by fooling technophobe judges into believing that virtual spaces are the jurisdiction in which virtual acts are to be judged. As geeks, we are experts in the overlap of the material and the virtual - we must remain cognizant of our rights in the material world, and not let the rise of virtual worlds eclipse them. When we talk with other people about what's "virtually right", either online, privately, in public or in the media, we will help everyone understand that the brave new virtual world offers *more* freedom, and we will not accept less.

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