Band of Outsiders


About a year ago, Electronic Arts launched an online version of the popular video game The Sims. According to the Independent,

Alphaville, the game's fictional city, could have gone in any number of directions, depending on the arbitrary decisions of the online game players who make up its people through their chosen "avatars", or game characters.

Alphaville could have become a socialist utopia, a grand experiment in free-market capitalism or simply a reflection of the allure and the pitfalls of any real Western city.

As it was, Alphaville quickly turned into a hellhole of scam-artists, crime syndicates, mafia extortion artists and teenage girls turning tricks to make ends meet. It became a breeding ground for the very worst in human nature—a benign-sounding granny, for example, who specialised in taking new players into her confidence, then showered them in abuse. Then there was the scam-artist known as Evangeline, who started out equally friendly and then stole new players' money.

The lawlessness of The Sims Online isn't news—just last summer I was reading about the game's collection of virtual mafias. What's new is that Electronic Arts has removed an online newspaper from the city and expelled its editor from the game. "Officially," the Independent reports, "the reason for Professor Ludlow's expulsion was that he included links in his inside-the-game newspaper to outside websites, including one that gave players instructions on how to cheat. What Professor Ludlow and a growing band of academics and sympathisers believe, however, is that his efforts to publicise the tawdry fantasy activities of real-life teenagers were becoming simply too uncomfortable for Electronic Arts to stomach."

Meanwhile, I'm told that someone won an upset victory in a live-action role-playing game held yesterday in Iowa. I'm hazy on the details, but this was apparently the first installment of a traveling tournament, with the next match to be held in New England next week. One presumes that this game includes no extortionists, no whores turning tricks, and no scamsters who start out friendly then steal your money—right?