Online Violence : Take 2

Second Life for Peace?

Colin Rule has a great response to two post I made earlier on games for conflict resolution and violence and PC games.

The point I wish to make is simple. Observing, for instance, the behaviour of commentors on blogs and their oftentimes vitriolic personal attacks behind the veil of annonymity, I think there is a great deal of violence online. Colin already points to this in a recent blog post. My submission is that such written expressions of violence are also manifest in the behaviour of avatars in online games such as Second Life. Because SL parallels a real world economy, it’s profit linked to real world cash (in-game cash is pegged to the US dollar) and the game encourages a spirit of entreprenuership and the development of business models. This business model is very very real:

In January inside Second Life alone, people spent nearly $5 million in some 4.2 million transactions buying or selling clothes, buildings, and the like.

As ODR well knows, any business transaction brings with it the possibility of a dispute. And any dispute brings with it the possibility of violence (however remote it may initially seem to the disputants). Couple business enterprise with entire lives lived in virtual worlds, and I would argue that you no longer have a 3D simluation with a gun-totting US Marine eliminating alien bad-ass on Mars. What you have is a increasingly complex mirror of real life.

10 years hence, the differenciation between virtual world commerce and real world commerce may well dissappear – with business conducting business in virtual worlds with no brick and mortar foundations whatsoever trading cheek-in-jowl with the likes of WalMart on NASDAQ. Parallel to this will be the development of social relationships in virtual worlds. When Colin says:

That said, I’d disagree with the assertion that the “virtual sword” that sparked the murder in China “didn’t really exist.” Sure it existed. It may have just been bytes in a computer server someplace, but it certainly existed. It was traded, used, carried around, viewed, and even sold. It definitely existed for the individuals who played the game, maybe even more than a physical sword would have existed (which would undoubtedly have been less useful and magical).

he points to an interesting phenomenon. Without getting too philosophical, what will be real in the future will not be necessarily something tangible, but something proven to exist even in cyberspace. I would argue that this development in virtual worlds is going to have manjor implications in the medicine’s appreciation of schizophrenia, dementia and sanity – since what is real to me may well be a artefact that I hold real, but because it’s virtual, limited other people have access to, rendering the rest of humanity unable to verify my claims of its existence !

But on a more serious note, as Colin and I both agree, the danger of increasingly sophisticated virtual world simulations is that the in-game violence can spill over to the real world. In-game violence may be cathartic, but the spill-over effects in the real world can be very serious indeed. No need to ban the games, but obviously a need, as Colin points out, to explore ways through which such technologies can be put to used in a better way.

Conflict Lab’s Rotunda is a great example of technology can be used for conflict resolution training. Colin’s post also references The Virtual Peer Mediation exercise. There are early examples, along with those games I’ve mentioned here and pointed to here.

Let me end by pointing to a fascinating discussion I’ve had on this topic as part of Cyberweek 2005. Many of these ideas that we talked about still hold true.

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