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Censorship Role Playing (Games) Entertainment Games

Raking Muck In The Sims Online 61

Dr. Spork writes "According to a Salon article [ad click-thru required], after launching a newspaper website chronicling tawdry dealings in the Sims Online city of Alphaville, Peter Ludlow, a professor of philosophy at the University Of Michigan, had his Sims Online account terminated by EA/Maxis, the company behind the service. 'Censorship', charges Ludlow, who has exposed dealings such as underage cyber-prostitution and extortion of simoleans (the Sims currency, exchangable on eBay for real-life money)."
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Raking Muck In The Sims Online

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  • by FFFish ( 7567 ) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:12PM (#7713213) Homepage
    Oh my god! Think of the cyberchildren!
  • summary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by XO ( 250276 ) <{blade.eric} {at} {}> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:17PM (#7713243) Homepage Journal
    It's EA's world, EA can do with it as it pleases. Even if that displeases it's customers.

    Of course, if it's customers were displeased enough, they would go elsewhere for their online crack addiction. Right?

    Basically, it's just stating that this guy's not pleased (which he has every right to be) that the company used their right to censor the world that is hosted on their servers (which they have every right to be).

    Nothing special here, move along.
    • Re:summary (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BrookHarty ( 9119 ) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @10:47PM (#7713941) Homepage Journal
      Actually, EA cant do anything they want with its world. This is the point Urizenus made, he reported a crime and EA had to by law contact the authorities. EA doesn't want this to become practice, so they canceled the reporters account. They also hunted down accounts related to the on line newspaper, and closed them.

      In the real world, this would be an anti-slapp law against EA. I see no reason why a VR World wouldn't have the same legal status. If someone tells you that they raped a 10 yo girl, and EA refused to report the person to authorities, EA is covering up a crime.

      Just because its on line, doesn't mean you can get away with a crime.

      • Now wait just a minute. I've killed thousands of people in a various number of ways in a number of different countries. Why haven't I gone to jail or been tried for war crimes? Because it's all in the virtual world (Counterstrike, Planetside, Diablo, etc.)

        Just because The Sims *looks* more like real life than those games, DOESN'T give it the same legal protections. Perhaps a life of crime in Alphaville is a fantasy for a regular law-abiding citizens, but at the end of the day, they are just that, law-a
        • The grandparent isn't talking about a virtual crime, he's talking about a player "confessing" to beating their sister in the real world, which is a real crime.
      • EA's not responsible for reporting anything. If the kid (RTFA if you don't know what I'm talking about) confessed to this philosophy prof that he'd beaten up his sister in a mall, it wouldn't be the mall's responsibility to tell the police. Just because EA supplied the software which enabled this kid to communicate with this prof. doesn't saddle them with any responsibility to do anything... The prof, otoh, might have some legal duty to contact the authorities, but I don't think it's obvious that he does
        • EA's not responsible for reporting anything.
          . . .
          The prof, otoh, might have some legal duty to contact the authorities

          If the prof did have any legal duty to contact the authorities, he couldn't do so with out EA's assistance--the prof can't identify the real person behind the avatar that talked to him. At the least, he could contact the authorities, who would then contact EA for the information, and at that point, what has EA gained by delaying their responsibility?
          • "What has EA gained by delaying their responsibility?" If they have a responsibility, which is as doubtful as the AOL having a responsibility for something that is said in one of their chatrooms, and if what the prof is reporting is real and not just someone winding him up, and if EA actually has any useful information other than the name on the avatar's account, then presumably they've gained nothing in that particular case. But in general what they gain is the ability to provide a service that they woul
            • Excellent point. I certainly wouldn't have someone listening to all X-Box Live conversations, or logging all Sims chats, but I guess my misguided thought above was leading that way. I just wanted to point out that if the prof. had any responsibility to report (and I wasn't arguing that he did, just IF), the authorities' ability to follow up on it hinged on the company's cooperation. I shouldn't have suggested that the company immediately investigate and invade privacy on a single customer's hearsay.
    • eh. actually it sounded like they were censorshipping the REPORTING of such occurances on media(by deactivating the reporters account, access to the world), NOT getting rid of them like they should have done instead...

      well i'm actually for a free for all attitude in cyberworlds rather than censorship, but i certainly see banning the reporter as a wrong way to tackle the problem(he could ask some friend of his if it still takes place anyways).

    • At issue with Ludlow's suspension, and for that matter, my temporary suspension or the suspensions of countless TSO players who have stood up and complained about the proliferation of various mafias, griefers, and cults in the game, is not censorship *within the game*. Hey, it's their game, they made it, and it is like a front porch and a house, or a paid private club, not an open town square, so the First Amendment does not apply. If I don't like it I can delete. BUT what is going on now is that Maxis/EA i
  • Controverse (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tibike77 ( 611880 ) <> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:28PM (#7713306) Journal
    As the author says in the article, on one hand there's the player and the whole virtual community's interests (have fun mainly, but sometimes actually make real money for themselves), and on the other had the interest of the game company (make a lot of money for themselves).

    As EA's TSO is not a succesfull money-maker (quite the opposite actually), do you wonder that such things happend?

    The issue here is wether or not somebody can SUCCESFULLY SUE the company in real-life for in-game things (remember the kid suing the company for the "dissapearance of biological weapons"? or the companies suing "sweatshop" owners in UO?)
  • by Pilferer ( 311795 ) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:44PM (#7713380)
    ...dealings such as underage cyber-prostitution...

    What exactly is cyber-prostitution?

    Hmmm, I might check this game out... *cough*
  • everquest (Score:4, Funny)

    by ()vnorby() ( 732447 ) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:46PM (#7713392) Homepage
    (the Sims currency, exchangable on eBay for real-life money).

    Sounds like its market is beginning to be like everquest's. Random fact(or not so random...from and old cnet article):

    "And if the "EverQuest" universe of Norrath were a country, its per-capita gross national product would be $2,266--comparable to the 77th richest country on Earth and ranking it between Russia and Bulgaria. Platinum pieces, the in-game currency known as pp, end up with an exchange rate of about a penny per pp, making "EverQuest" currency more valuable than the Japanese yen and the Spanish peseta. "

    i wonder how long it will take for The Sims' currency to be as valuable as Japan's, if it isn't already.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 13, 2003 @08:52PM (#7713424)
    I find this fascinating (as many people do including Ludlow himself I'm sure).

    There's a virtual society, which has many of the same dynamics as a real society, and functions like a real society as a result .. yet the *whole thing* is controlled by a company in our "real" society.

    It *is* censorship (but not illegal censorship, just like censorship in Communist China isn't illegal, because you "agree" to the "terms" by living there). But there's nothing anyone can do about it. You can't even revolt because the whole world is controlled by the company. They'll just shut your character off.

    To me, I see a company running their world like a totalitarian regime. They suppress criticism and free speech. They "shut down" characters with no remorse, even though these characters mean a lot to someone. They point to the rules (which *they* crafted) and say, sorry, that's the rules, we can enforce them as selectively as we like. And yet people *voluntarily* enter this world. What does that say about us?

    But what would be the "democratic" version of this society? A virtual society where the power is spread out over the players instead of being concentrated in a company that controls it? What would happen in such a society?

    I guess the internet itself is something like that.. and we see what that's like: porn, hackers, and spam, occasionally interrupted by genius.

    Anyway I'm just rambling here but it is very interesting, and I wonder if the dynamics will follow the dynamics other ("real") societies have experiences (rebellion, overthrow, etc).
    • by orkysoft ( 93727 ) <orkysoft&myrealbox,com> on Saturday December 13, 2003 @09:22PM (#7713580) Journal
      Yeah, you've got a good point there. EA seems to basically run this online world as a totalitarian regime, and dissenters basically are put to "death". The resemblance with a real authoritarian regime is uncanny.

      I think that people voluntarily enter the game-world, because they don't realize that it's not a free game-world at all.

      Your comparison with the internet itself as a free world is pretty interesting too. It does indeed have a lot of negative things, like you mentioned, but I do think that the positive things outweigh it. You wouldn't get nearly as many positive things (original ideas, creativity) in a totalitarian internet or game-world.
      • I think you and the parent post both miss two important things. One, (in this case) The Sims Online is a GAME which you CHOSE TO PLAY. The U.S. government or EA Games don't come crashing into your homes and forces you to PAY to PLAY. If you don't like it, don't play it. If you don't like to read Slashdot news reports, don't read it. Don't bitch about something you do completely voluntarily.

        Two, it is not a "free game-world" and never has tried to be one. First of all, you pay for it. Therefore it is not fre

      • by kerasineAddict ( 512761 ) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:26PM (#7718648)
        It is a free game world. EA isn't a government, they don't govern the world in the sense that our government does. They're God to the Sims. Only EA can make a SimLife, EA can kill whoever it wants, and EA can break all the rules if they wanted to. Physics is theirs to control. What you can and can't do are written down on a sacred TOS.

        The real problem here is that SimDeath is the only way to control the world. Say you put a sim in jail. Would you pay money per month to be a prisioner in your spare time? Why, when you could just create another account and kill off your old sim.

        Maybe monetary punishment would be good. Fine people simoleans. It seems to me that most people are out to try to make money in the game (via whatever means), so EA could implement laws. The only problem here is that it seems that they don't care about minor infractions, such as prostitution or domestic violence, because of the game world that ensures everything is consentual. The only problems that seem to arise is when you have out of game cracking/bug exploiting, etc...

        I guess the best way to solve problems like this is the way that it's been done so many times in the past (ie real rpgs) - heated debates and bitter feelings.
        What do YOU do when you have problems in an RPG?
    • They'll just shut your character off.

      Yeah, that's called execution. And you can't execute everyone, because then who's going to support your country (the game)?

      I don't think what you're describing is very surprising. Most people just want to live their lives/play their games, and don't care too much about the politics of it all.
    • And yet people *voluntarily* enter this world. What does that say about us?.

      Well, it could say that we realize this isn't a real world, and that getting "shut down" and not having free speech is not big deal.

    • There is something you can do about it: start your own game site that you like. I see it as sort of like playing a video game on my Gamecube; I can kick you out for any reason I like.
    • The problem is that democracy doesn't really work in commercial worlds. You can get up on your high horse and complain about democracy, but the reality of the situation is that players expect the people running and profiting from the game to handle the problems.

      Imagine of there were undeniable proof that 1) a deity exists, and 2) he/she/it listens to people and can be influenced by people. Do you think people would still handle their own problems? Through history we've had people lament the unfairness o
    • I think we have to take the control of the servers out of the company's hands, this way, the server hosts will have control like a central leader in towns... ie. each server will be a seperate town.This would create more interesting dynamics if you ask me. Then it would truly be more of a democracy, people would be able to choose which server they want to be on, and some servers might have rules for joining them etc..
    • It *is* censorship (but not illegal censorship, just like censorship in Communist China isn't illegal, because you "agree" to the "terms" by living there).

      So are you supposed to do? Kill yourself?

  • It is The SIMS, right? You're simulating life.

    Therefore, let me draw you a metaphor.

    Crazy quack makes a basically correct statement (in this case, the doctor) about something that helps the government (EA/Origin) but they can't admit it (the "bad things" that went on, while they're bad, to EA, they're just more users which equal more cash). So the government (EA) sqaushes the crazy quack (deletes his account) and provides a reasonable-sounding explanation for it.

    See? It simulates real life!

    I'm not say
  • Meh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oGMo ( 379 ) on Saturday December 13, 2003 @09:52PM (#7713694)

    It would be cooler if this sort of thing was handled in-game. Sim cops, fbi, etc. Outside of exploiting bugs, DoS attacks, and similar cheating that happens from the outside, resorting to this sort of thing to solve in-game problems just shows a lack of development and forethought on the part of the designers.

  • Similar case (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Salon's writer says "Several other games have fan sites or newspapers that cover them, but experts could recall no other instance of clear-cut censorship."

    If you consider this a case of accounts being banned for out-of-game activities that paint the game in a poor light, it's similar to Mystere's banning from EverQuest []. Man writes (to be fair, not very tasteful) fan fiction, posts it publically, gets banned from game.
  • I can't decide which is more pathetic. A game compnay that bans someone because they write a newspaper about the fictional characters in their game, or the guy who writes the newspaper.

    Jeez. Get a life.

  • A quote from the forums []; I cannot guarantee the veracity of this, as no one's quoted any actual laws there (and I've not bothered to look), but the statement is supported on the forum: is a CRIME to simulate sexual contact with someone you believe to be under the age of 18.

    Not a ha, ha, I just downloaded the latest Eminem single crime. A mandatory minimum prison sentence/you will be registered as a sex offender crime.
    On top of that, if [the company] or any employee thereof has an

  • Rule #1 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Crash Culligan ( 227354 ) on Monday December 15, 2003 @11:37AM (#7724753) Journal

    However lame you may think Peter Ludlow is for his pastime, EA has done something much lamer:

    Rule #1: Don't Shoot the Messenger. No matter how distasteful the message may be, you can not and should not blame a person just because he delivers it.

    Now it looks like EA is trying to sweep whatever nastiness he was reporting about under the rug ...and you'll have to wonder what else they're hiding.

    Maybe they should rename it "The Slums"?

Receiving a million dollars tax free will make you feel better than being flat broke and having a stomach ache. -- Dolph Sharp, "I'm O.K., You're Not So Hot"