Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hard Mode 4: A Rape in Cyberspace

"They say he raped them that night. They say he did it with a cunning little doll, fashioned in their image and imbued with the power to make them do whatever he desired. They say that by manipulating the doll he forced them to have sex with him, and with each other, and to do horrible, brutal things to their own bodies."

An excerpt from the article "A Rape in Cyberspace:
How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society," by Julian Dibbell, in the Village Voice, 1993.

I encountered A Rape in Cyberspace... from another article. :) But my point is that, upon further investigation, it turns out that A Rape in Cyberspace is one of the most-cited articles in cyberculture studies.

In a nutshell, the article is a semi-fictional account of a real-life incident in LambdaMOO, an early online game. "Mr. Bungle," one of the game's players/avatars, took control of another player and forced it to do "sexual" acts online. While no real orifices were actually penetrated, the game's community was outraged by the "rape" of the victim's avatar, and began to clamor for more rules and enforcement.

The article has a point. Can we reach out beyond the net and punish these kinds of offenses?

When we think of "rape," we grab our Revised Penal Code. It says that it can only be committed against a person, or at least someone with a vagina or other orifice. An online avatar is not a person, nor does it have any orifices (unless it's *that* kind of game).

I have hazy memories of the true nature of "Crimes Against Persons," as physical violations on a person -- a stab, a punch, a slap, a thrust -- all the same. If we extend the meaning of "person" onto our online avatars, this could probably solve the problem, provided you can "befriend" a judge or a lawmaker beforehand. An intrusion into my avatar then becomes an intrusion against my person. Or it could also be an extension of your virtual property rights. So it becomes a Crime Against Property then? Malicious mischief indeed.

But before we destroy our Revised Penal and Civil Codes that way, isn't it better to just quit the game while the dude is raping your avatar? Or maybe the cool programmers and administrators of your game (and they are not lawyers, so just change careers already) can just beef-up security or add certain features that will prevent these things from happening. Code is King, remember?


Paulyn Duman said...

This is also what me and my partner were arguing about, whether online characters have their own "person", and if so, does this "person" have rights such as a right to dignity or what he calls digital dignity.

I am not even talking about considering it instead as a virtual property. And there was a forum in 2007 about new rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Digital dignity.

Andrew John Lena said...

I'm more inclined to think towards the virtual property of this fence..

Player characters in online games are like Facebook or email accounts, or even blogs: one real person can have several of them at any given time, like so many credit cards perhaps?

But I have to agree that there's somewhat a "person" side to them, in a legal sense.