Internet

I Am, I Am, I Am Superman/And I Know What's Happening

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Peter Ludlow has a pair of guest posts at Henry Jenkins' site about some battles that broke out in Second Life, a well-known virtual world. The short version: Pranksters and vandals, known in gaming circles as griefers, make trouble for other players; a vigilante group forms to battle the griefers; paranoia sets in, and the vigilantes start to see griefers everywhere. Eventually the conflict spills out into the outside world. There's no substitute for reading the whole thing, but here's an excerpt:

Kal-El is no stranger to advanced technology.

In 2006, a Second Life avatar by the name of Kalel Venkman decided to create a vigilante group to fight the likes of the PN [a griefer group that emerged from 4chan], and he decided it would be fun to do it in the guise of comic book superheroes. He donned a Superman skin, and he named his group the "Justice League Unlimited." Other familiar superheroes soon followed, including The Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others.

In real life, Kalel was a late middle aged technical writer living in Simi, California. He apparently had flex time, and he also appeared to have sufficient charm and gravitas to attract members to the Justice League and to keep them well organized and on mission. Their Justice League headquarters had a marvelous NASA quality control room, with monitors that displayed constant updates coming in from sensors all over the Second Life grid. The updates also informed the League members what representatives from the game company were online. As with the SSG, the Justice League had close contacts with employees of the game company (Linden Lab), and utilized those relationships in filing abuse reports against other players.

What perhaps began as a fun exercise in roleplay soon began to go awry. Overzealous Justice League members began abuse reporting heavily, and also began picking fights with unlikely groups within Second Life. For example, the Justice League was banned from Furnation (an area inside Second Life dedicated to players that like to don anthropomorphized animal costumes), because of their excessive vigilantism.

The JLU of course clashed with the PN, but the problem became determining who was really a member of the PN and who was simply in the orbit of the PN. Matters took on fractal complexity when some students of Woodbury University (a real life University with a virtual campus inside Second Life) became associated with 4chan and the PN. In what seemed like a bizarre case of guilt by association, the members of the Justice League took on the students of Woodbury University, at one point successfully getting Linden Lab to shut down Woodbury Island (the virtual campus). Naturally matters quickly escalated.

Someone (presumably from the Justice League) contacted the administration at Woodbury University to complain about the faculty supervisor of Woodbury and to argue (in effect) that he was corrupting innocent youth and inspiring them to griefer ways. In turn, the students, led by the avatar Tizzers Foxchase (Jordan Belino in real life) turned up the heat on Kalel, to the point where a number of Woodbury students went trick or treating at Kalel's house on Halloween. Kalel wasn't home, so the students told his wife to tell him that Woodbury had been there. Kalel naturally flipped out.

I should note that some people have disputed Ludlow's account of events; you can see some of their critiques in the comment thread below Ludlow's first report. There is also a follow-up post, co-written by Ludlow and Jenkins, that puts the events in a broader context of fantasy narratives and online worlds.

Elsewhere in Reason: I wrote about another case of gameplay spilling over into the outside world back in 2005. And in 2004 I interviewed Ludlow for a story about some somewhat similar griefer wars in The Sims Online. The latter article is notable for containing the most self-indulgent opening sentence I have ever written.

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  1. There’s no substitute for reading the whole thing

    You can watch nerds with melted cheese in their beards angrily babble in acronyms at any office tower’s first-floor TGI Friday’s right now (EST).

  2. Can I just say..we are so fucked. In ways we can’t even conceive of today, we are fucked. I’m no luddite, but I’m thinking about becoming one. Except for HD DVR.

    Oh, and this computer.

  3. I once messed around on Second Life. My God it is a boring place. I am not a luddite. And I have some appreciation for virtual and geek culture. But I just don’t get Second Life.

    1. Then try IMVU John. And how fortutitous that your post landed where the advertisements are. Find your online soulmate and get your avatar!

      1. What is IMVU

        1. *yawns*

          Kulture War John doesn’t get Second Life. How surprising. 😉

          1. Other than despise the urban doucheoise, how am I a culture warrior? I couldn’t care less about Porn or obscenity or much of anything else the cultural war people care about.

            And I am hardly alone in finding Second Life boring and pointless.

            1. I’ll be honest, I don’t really get “Second Life” either, but I’ve never tried it.

              1. second life *is* fucking baffling.

                Other than despise the urban doucheoise, how am I a culture warrior?

                oh john, you never fail to deliver my USDA recommended amount of chuckles. thank you.

  4. Here at Hit & Run, we may not get to see battles between Furries and the Justice League, but I have seen Neo-Confederates spar with people defending Dog-Fuckers, and that’s gotta be worth something.

    1. Now that’s a game I would play. Against the dog fuckers, by the way. When you have sheep….

      1. Why do they hate me? Why?

    2. Shortest Ken Shultz comment ever.

      1. Also best.

  5. This is a recording of a group of WoW griefers attacking the funeral (in WoW) of a girl who died in real life. Her friends decided to hold a ceremony for her in an unsafe area (because she loved to fish there(?!?)), and then posted a notice about it publicly. So the griefers attacked them while they were holding the ceremony and just…crushed them, killing them all. So. Fucking. Hilarious.

    1. OK, I think that SL is extraordinarily silly at best, but I also realize that many people are emotionally invested in their, uh, activities there. Silly or not, it was extremely douchey to attack a funeral. Also uncharacteristically douchey of Epi to gloat over that attack.

      1. Silly or not, it was extremely douchey to attack a funeral. Also uncharacteristically douchey of Epi to gloat over that attack.

        I have to disagree. To me that is hilarious!

        It isn’t a real funeral, it’s a cyber one that is being done in a game where part of the point is to fight and try and kill others. And they posted it publicly and held it in an unsafe area.

        HI LAR I OUS

        1. +1

          [Nelson Muntz laugh]

        2. It was a fake funeral but a real dead person.

          But I have to admit that it was hilarious.

          In many ways I am fundamentally a bad person.

          1. Agreed on all counts. And I’d like to take the moral high ground, but I laughed, too.

            1. Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die.

      2. It’s completely characteristic of Epi to laugh at hilarious cruelty, dude.

    2. OOPS, reading comprehension failure on my part. Just realized that Epi was discussing something that happened in WoW. Which changes things a bit.

    3. That’s the funiest thing I’ve seen since Anonymous closed the pool at the Habbo Hotel.

  6. I would say that these people need to “get a life”, but it appears they have one too many already.

  7. Other familiar superheroes soon followed, including The Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman, and others.

    So, who got to be Seaman?

  8. Henry Jenkins? Not a relative of Leroy, is he?

  9. these nerds are threat to our second way of life

    1. Just join us ‘cos…… no-one’s gonna really be free until nerd persecution ends

  10. We must exterminate all these enemies of the Second Life people!

  11. Gay.

  12. “Despite all his effort, the first generation of Superman robots still looked and work little better than a Zune.”

  13. Well, maybe it boils down to this smart guy: computers are for losers.

  14. This was actually a fun little story that helped me feel better than I did before I started reading it, quite a change from what I usually read on here.

  15. Just.Wow.

    Gangs of internet tuff guys.

    Not a luddite, either, but perhaps the time spent on such endeavors, coupled with the unintended consequence of malformed gaming thumbs, energy drink rotted teeth, and transluscent skin that must be kept moist with a spray bottle are teh Problem.

    Chicken/Egg?

  16. What exactly can griefers do to others on Second Life that requires policing, anyway?

    Are we talking some sort of cyber vandalism?

    And aren’t the 4chan guys already some sort of anarchist vigilantes? So wouldn’t this be a story about vigilantes hunting vigilantes? Which means that we need vigilantes to hunt the vigilantes hunting the vigilantes.

    1. I wouldn’t call 4chan vigilantes. More like nihilists. It’s all about teh lulz and if fucking your day up is amusing, they’ll do it, whether you’re completely innocent or a complete asshole.

      1. Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

        1. I wouldn’t call 4chan vigilantes. More like nihilists. It’s all about teh lulz and if fucking your day up is amusing, they’ll do it, whether you’re completely innocent or a complete asshole.

          That’s a lot like the Modus Operandi of The Gang from Sunny. Or Heath Ledger’s Joker.

          1. Just saw Dark Night again a couple nights back. Damn he was magnificent in that.

      2. For a bunch of nihilists they were very useful during the Iranian stuff last year.

        1. Speaking of nihilists, there is a great article in World Affairs Journal about the coming revolution in China. It contained this great paragraph.

          “If revolution is merely “a trivial shift in the emphasis of suffering,” as playwright Tom Stoppard once noted, the silent, slow-motion crisis of legitimacy in China could have real consequences. Anything can happen in a country filled with secret societies, revolutionary cells, private armies, illegal political parties, underground congregations, and clandestine triads.”

          I know it is foolish, but doesn’t it kind of make you want to move to China. That reads like something out of a sci-fi novel.

          http://www.worldaffairsjournal…..-2010.html

          1. We’ll go together, good buddy!

  17. Wow… those people are like the nerds of nerds.

  18. Sounds to me like a bunch of dickheads. “Nihilists” is giving them way too much credit.

  19. I have no time for such frivolities – I’m building a internet empire in EVE.

  20. What they need is Third Life. Then, instead of their arguments spilling over into the real world, they could battle it out in a virtual world inside the virtual world.

    1. This idea’s a winner. Then there’s that terrible moment like when you wake up inside a nightmare and realize all too late that you’re still inside a nightmare. Of course, if your real life sucks enough, that last waking up is still like a kidney punch.

      1. I think I saw that movie. The only saving grace to it was Gretchen Mol

        1. Damn you T. I was just about to say that. Well, not the Gretchen Mol part.

          1. I saw that movie, too, actually. It’s part of the millenium VR quaternity along with Johnny Mnemonic, The Matrix and Existenz.

            1. Haven’t seen Existenz. And Johnny Mnemonic was just such an absolute turd it makes me despair of anyone ever doing a worthwhile adaptation of Gibson for teh screen.

              1. Yeah, well at least Keanu Reeves’ acting was great in it. 😀 You should watch Existenz. I should rewatch it.

                1. I just added it to Netflix and bumped it up near the top.

  21. And, please, if there’s already a Third Life inside Second Life, I fucking don’t want to know about it.

  22. Which means that we need vigilantes to hunt the vigilantes hunting the vigilantes.

    Turtles, all the way down!

  23. “There’s no substitute for reading the whole thing.”

    Don’t you mean “There’s no substitute for not reading it at all”?

    Still, I’m lovin’ the “Find your soulmate” ads.

  24. Your irony is stifling the room sir. And a word please? The stifling issue is afoot!

  25. Does anyone else find humor in the Superman guy’s name?
    Really, Kal-El?

    1. Congrats JC – I was just about to post trivia about the son of Jor-el & Lara, and you beat me to it!

    2. That was his Second Life persona’s name, if I read the article correctly. Not necessarily a coincidence.

    3. thatsthepoint.jpg

  26. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villian.

  27. If you thought the JLU and their gestapo actions were scary/lulzy, don’t even get me started on Prokofy Neva. Insane bitch makes O’Reilly look like the fount of reason and moderation.
    Linden Lab just seized all of Woodbury’s sims yesterday and banned all of the estate managers in the group without cause or provocation. Needless to say, a large number of people who have never ‘griefed’ or haven’t done so in years made SL a living hell last night. I heard Prokofy’s Ravenglass sim was crashed all night.
    “Say hello to mah leetle fren’!”

  28. Oh, is that all? I would have expected more from Reason, like using some, and interviewing at least both sides in the conflict, as well as knowledgeable observers.

    Why would libertarian Reason take the side of technocommunist thugs in Second Life? Makes no sense.

    The notion that the JLU is “like Bush’s terror war gone mad” seems to be an unquestioned meme now, even for Reason or USA. I guess this is part of Ludlow’s media deluge in quest of finding himself another year-long perch again in a media studies program after leaving his tenured position at the University of Michigan some years ago.

    The JLU is bad enough — I was the first one to break the story about them, condemn their civil rights violations, and get specious takedown notices from them.

    But the griefers in fact are worse. It’s like a comparison between the U.S. and Iran, and saying that because you can see all the U.S. violations of human rights with its free society, it’s worse than Iran which is not free and where the media is brutally suppressed and only a few brave people can get the story out. It’s like that.

    I’ve carefully documented all the abuses of Woodbury, and the word-salading you’re getting from types like “Adam Selene” don’t square with the public record that all can see and all have witnessed in seeing their griefing.

    The Lindens banned w-hat first in 2005, banning about 30 people who crashed sims. In 2007, they were back on some alts and reformatted as Woodbury University, having invaded its media studies program deliberately (most of these people are not students at all and not even at WU). The WU professor, Edward Clift, and Jordan Bellino, a student there, deliberately invited in the “Patriotic Nigras” as well, a racist 4chan franchise that established itself in RL. They admit this; they celebrate this. It’s all on the record.

    Linden seized their island and banned a dozen of them in 2007 for their constant crashing of their own and others’ sims and their griefing. And now they’ve done the same thing more than 2 years later, because the group is deliberating stalking, harassing, stealing, griefing, crashing sims again. It’s not about art and education. It’s about bullying, terrorizing a virtual population.

    The Lindens don’t do something radical like ban all managers and freeze a group and delete sims over “nothing” or “without cause or provocation” — that’s absurd. They definitely had cause, and we all know that.

    The idea that when a group is properly punished, others who are sympathizers who haven’t griefed but now gets to grief belongs to the terrorist ideology you find in the Middle East. No sale.

    My sim wasn’t crashed at all. My viewer was crashed a few times, which is the new gimmick. The accounts were banned immediately. There’s a limit to how much even Woodbury and PNs can keep making throwaway accounts and logging on by proxies and getting away with crashes. Eventually it all catches up to them. They now have the more serious problem of Linden Lab not merely banning them from their service, but apparently cending a cease and desist letter from their RL lawyers to the RL university.

    I have no relationship to O’Reilly’s politics. I voted for Obama, and I’m a registered Democrat. Recording and exposing the misdeeds of both griefers and the vigilantes that break the law to fight them in fact is the fount of reason and moderation, and I hope Reason will see reason and cover these issues more adequately.

    My account:

    http://secondthoughts.typepad……y-ban.html

    http://secondthoughts.typepad……lyich.html

    1. Prok! Defending your sanity is…well…

      INSANE!

  29. The real issue I have with all of this is that 99.999997% of educators in Second Life are there for legitimate reasons — using SL to communicate with students, build demonstrations of things like the Martian surface, and so on, but the press is gonna focus on these bozos.

    And it probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do to hold a funeral in enemy territory in WoW. What exactly did they expect?

  30. Maybe they were thinking other people online had a tad of human compassion and realize that they weren’t at that time playing a game but saying farewell to a friend who is NEVER coming back unlike the fake deaths of virtual combat? Pardon some people and their foolish ideas of expecting human decency in a pixelated environment and for people to act like they are real humans behind the screen and not just the fake bombastic bs of their avatars. Put that in yer pipe and smoke it.

  31. In general I think maybe Kalel and his Justice League got in a little over their heads. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they do, but I’ve never known them to be banned from anywhere, either, not even from Furnation, so I think some of the facts in the article are wrong.

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