Avatarcide in Maple World

This is a follow up to an earlier piece, in which I Toingtoinged! about two teenagers who were convicted of a virtual theft. British playwright William Congreve a┬ácharacter in his play “The Mourning Bride” one of the most known (and misquoted) lines: “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” The following story may be a clearly documented digital application of this famous line:

The BBC reports that “A woman has been arrested in Japan after she allegedly killed her virtual husband in a popular video game. The 43-year-old was reportedly furious at finding herself suddenly divorced in the online game Maplestory. ” Korean based online game Mapelstory is known – and played – around the world. “At Maple World,” says the game’s intro, “hunting and engaging in battles are not the only options you’ll have.” Apparently, the 43 year old piano teachers was so incensed when her virtual husband (33) divorced her online that she broke into his PC and deleted his avatar – or online virtual persona.

The woman will not be charged with murder, rather she’ll face the more mundane charge of illegally breaking into a computer and ‘manipulating‘ data illegally. The human behind the ‘murdered’ avatar, lives – unharmed. 620 kilometers away from the ticked-off divorcee, who is reported to have told investigators “I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning, that made me so angry.”

In a paper published in the New York Law School Law Revue and titled “Virtual Crimes”, (PDF,) Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter discuss another famous ‘virtual crime’ case in which digital culture observer, journalist and author Julian Dibbellreported a case of what he termed “rape in cyberspace”. Lastowka and Hunter beg to differ – “The “rape” that took place in the LambdaMOO MUD” they say.

[insert: “A MUD, Multiple User Dimension, Multiple User Dungeon, or Multiple User Dialogue) is a computer program which users can log into and explore. Each user takes control of a computerized persona/avatar/incarnation/character. You can walk around, chat with other characters, explore dangerous monster-infested areas, solve puzzles, and even create your very own rooms, descriptions and items.” MOO stands for MUD, Object Oriented.]

[The virtual rape, according to Lastowka and Hunter] “was essentially a real-time non-consensual textual description of the rape of an online community member to other community members. The surface appearance of the “rape” was the display, on the computer monitors of several community members, of graphic and offensive textual sentences. The “rapist,” Mr. Bungle, was the typist of those descriptions. As commentators have noted, Mr. Bungle’s acts were insufficient to form a basis for criminal prosecution.” (pp204-5) – But many scholars agreed with Dibbell, who’s work is cited in numerous papers covering issues such as gender harassment on-line, “trolling” in a feminist forum, Breaking Rules of Conduct in Online Environments, etc.

So, is that oversensitivity or under-sensitivity, sensationalisation, or a legitimate cause? Lastowka and Hunter have the final words:

“Some degree of confusion and category mistake seem inevitable if traditional criminal law is applied to behaviors in virtual worlds. Ironically, the best avenue for the preservation of the benefits of virtual worlds may be in policing virtual crimes without outside assistance, just as the LambdaMOO community did. If real-life prosecutors come knocking, players and designers may be best advised not to let them peer in the virtual windows.” (p. 316.)

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