Sunday, September 29, 2013

An Asymmetry of Justice

Eve Online recently changed its Terms of Service and made pretending to be another player a bannable offence. Naturally, this being Eve, there is an uproar over the issue.

This issue is very interesting. Once you start examining the situation in detail, it leads to a lot of different places and different ideas.

One thing this illustrates is that there is a real "asymmetry of justice" in online games. The bad player can scam you, but you cannot punish her. In the real world, a scammer can be caught and lose their liberty or life. But in most online games, players cannot effectively punish other players. They cannot jail them, they cannot permanently kill them.

Even ostracism is very hard to pull off. As a simple example, you cannot prevent a player in Eve from trading with you, because the markets are implemented with an in-game system.

Of course, players punishing other players might lead to more griefing, which is why everyone stays away from it. But this leaves the game company as the only entity capable of punishment, capable of enforcing laws.

In a sandbox game, the game company should enforce the "laws of nature" of the world. How the world works, the nuts and bolts of physics. Ideally they would not enforce the "laws of man", leaving that up to the players. But other than A Tale In The Desert, no game has made that distinction. And even ATITD still had the game company be the enforcer of the laws.

The other problem, of course, is that of alts. In a way, alts are not really different characters. They are masks or disguises that a single character wears. And these masks are virtually impenetrable to other players. Once again, only the game company is capable of penetrating the disguise to the character underneath. And the mask can be discarded and thrown away if necessary.

Again, that makes it very hard for players to enforce laws or punish those who break them.

Eve takes pride in it's "Wild West, anything goes" atmosphere. But another way of looking at it is that Eve deliberately coddles the outlaws, denying the sheriffs the necessary tools to impose law and order.


  1. Of course, players punishing other players might lead to more griefing, which is why everyone stays away from it. But this leaves the game company as the only entity capable of punishment, capable of enforcing laws.

    While EVE is slightly different from other games (and even then, not ENTIRELY as even it's elected in-game representatives are simply a "congress" that reports to the galactic presidency that is CCP), what you describe is just a mirroring of life. Normal people are strongly discouraged from imposing "justice" on another for a perceived slight (in some cases, the punishment for vigilante justice is harsher then the original crime), instead leaving that to the authorities. In normal life that's the police or the courts. In an MMO, that's the support or GM department.

    In normal life, if you were scammed, you go to the police and they investigate and (hopefully) arrest the person, putting his or her personal liberty at risk. In a MMO, if you were scammed, you go to the GMs and they investigate and (hopefully) levy punishment, putting their access to the account at risk. Which is kind of like being thrown in jail.

    I would rather it be strongly enforced that slighted people make use of the police, instead of applying "justice" on their own. It's much more likely to end up with the correct result.

  2. I agree with RJ, but of course CCP has problems because it has allowed ultimate freedom for so long.

    This kind of reminds me of how the original 13 colonies were ignored and given complete freedom by the British Parlianment until after the Seven Years War, in which they were then expected to pony up their share of expenses for. That change in relationship ultimately led toward the American War of Independence, and Britain didn't make the same mistake again with their other colonies.

    CCP is learning the hard way that it is easier to go from a more restrictive to a less restrictive environment than the other way around.

  3. In my opinion that's also the reason why some people behave so badly online. They go afk in LFR but probably wait in line at their local supermarket. They completely poison the environment with their behavior but probably don't insult random strangers over nothing in real life.

    The difference is that if they insult some random person on the street this person might physically hit them. This might be against the law but it'll still hurt. So yes, if you can't loose anything (in a game) some people behave differently to where they can loose something (like a tooth irl).

    That's why I think online games need more police then real life.

  4. Other people have mentioned that it is also likely that CCP has had such bad experiences/scandals with GMs that they don't trust the folks they hire to know who other players are. Making it 'bannable' is a way to discourage players from getting to the boundaries of what the GM staff are permitted to do.

  5. @RJ, Police and government are "normal" people.

    They do not have magical powers. It is social convention, and only social convention, that allows them to undertake actions without punishment.

    That's the difference between "laws of nature" and "laws of man".

    What I'm trying to say is that if CCP is the "government" as in your comment, then it is their responsibility to enforce the "social" laws.

    In an ideal sandbox, though, players should be the ones creating and enforcing the social laws. But they cannot do that so long as the tools for punishment are kept out of their hands.

  6. The problem with your assertion is that by defining the game world, the "laws of nature" as you seem to want to put it, they by definition impose "laws of man" on the players and become an overarching government. When referring to a game world, you cannot separate the two.

    On top of that, "social" laws are not always in the best interests of society. That's why any democracy has a cardinal set of rules that defines what both people and the government are allowed to be able to do. This means that, among other things, even if a majority of Americans want to vote to ban gay marriage, the courts can always overturn it because it goes against the Constitution.

    What this means is that even if you have a large group of people in EVE who argue that it's right to pretend to be someone else, or to otherwise harass them for slighting another, as you make a reference to this can be far more detrimental to the game, or "society", as a whole, and as such it is the developer's duty as the "government" to prevent it. This can be through GM enforcement actions, or through changes in the way that certain aspects of the game itself operate.

    Which goes back to what I had said in my first comment. The GMs and the developers are the ones in position to have all the information and the tools to serve the justice you are looking for. Allowing players to wield this power instead only leads to developments that harm the game. I don't believe that you have never come across a situation where someone accused you of something another person did, or otherwise slighted you because of a perceived slight. Would you have preferred to have dealt with a GM who had perfect knowledge of the situation, or a mob of players who just want to see blood, regardless of whether they got the right man? Especially in a game such as EVE where the consequence of these actions can literally involve thousands of dollars.

    The sheriffs that you referred to are not the other players, and never have been. The CCP federals have always had their gunmen out there, ready to take on the outlaws.

  7. Go read Leviathan. It's got some flaws but the principle of "state has a monopoly on violence" is pretty well trod.