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theory: Online games increasingly a place for protest, social activism
Posted on Saturday, September 24 @ 07:59:10 CEST by rebecca

Notes
Many games are now all about role-playing, and some players aren't participating to escape terrestrial life. They're getting on virtual soapboxes and organizing all manner of protests in cyberspace. Gamers have protested the impending war in Iraq, started newspapers, gathered charitable donations - done myriad things they already do, or wish they could do, in the real world.
Nick Wadhams, Canadian Press 2003 US


NICK WADHAMS Canadian Press
http://citizenlab.org/print.php?sid=183
Friday, February 07, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) - Gone are the days when playing video games online meant simply playing a hand of poker or battling your buddies to the death in a giant arena you couldn't control.

Many games are now all about role-playing, and some players aren't participating to escape terrestrial life. They're getting on virtual soapboxes and organizing all manner of protests in cyberspace. Gamers have protested the impending war in Iraq, started newspapers, gathered charitable donations - done myriad things they already do, or wish they could do, in the real world.

The line between online gaming and the real world "is a lot thinner than people give it credit for," said Raph Koster, creative director of the Austin, Texas, office of Sony Entertainment.




At the new online community There.com, gamers can clothe their in-game marionettes and socialize with others. Already, some players angry with the U.S. policy on Iraq have organized a peace rally and clad their characters with the peace symbol.

Not earth-shattering, to be sure, but exemplary of how thousands of people are using online games to either project their real voices or speak up as they might not in real life.

Players of EverQuest, the most popular online game in the United States with about 85,000 playing at any time, held in-game candlelight vigils after the Sept. 11 attacks and even created memorials within the game's universe.

Such games have become "online petri dishes" to show how far people will go in wedding their real and virtual lives, said Amy Jo Kim, an online-games designer involved with There.com.

People have been attacked in real life for killing other contestants playing Lineage, the world's most popular online game with four million active subscribers. And hundreds of players have gathered within the game to protest software glitches.

The latest game to hit the market is the Sims Online, from Electronic Arts. Players have control over a character and act out real-life fantasies. They've built in-game restaurants, created several radio stations and even a newspaper.

And they are not shy about complaining.

Freelance writer Tony Walsh didn't like a deal Electronic Arts made to insert a McDonald's kiosk into the game, so he organized a protest.

Other gamers have no trouble co-opting games entirely.

To protest the possibility of war, Anne-Marie Schleiner designed a hack for Counterstrike, a popular first-person shooter. With "Velvet-Strike," players could display virtual posters with such messages as "Hostage of an Online Fantasy" and "You are your most dangerous enemy."

It led to some confusion among gamers who didn't want reality creeping into their fantasy world, Schleiner said.

"It was interesting, disturbing and entertaining to get so much negative feedback from all different directions - some pure old-fashioned misogyny," she said.

Issues of how far gamers can push have yet to be fully tested. Like movies, games are often based on brands, and designers aren't necessarily willing to have their brands co-opted.

Likely to push those limits is the forthcoming Star Wars Galaxies, which will put players inside the George Lucas popular universe. That creates a problem, because the Star Wars world is one of the most cherished creations in the history of fantasy fiction.

"Somebody saying something in the game and being witnessed by somebody else can reflect not just on the game but on Lucasfilm and George Lucas," said Koster, a lead designer for Galaxies, which is due in April. "If someone started walking around in the San Diego Zoo screaming profanity or handing out Nazi leaflets, the park would remove them from the premises. We need to be able to do that also."

Should free-speech values extend to the online world? Will there be a future lawsuit from someone who claims they were unlawfully barred for maligning George Lucas?

Walsh, for one, believes gamers should have the very same freedoms in cyberspace that they have in the physical world.

"Why shouldn't people protest?" he said. "Why shouldn't freedom of speech be as alive in the Sims Online as it is the real world?"

Copyright 2003 The Canadian Press"
This article comes from CitizenLab
http://citizenlab.org/

 
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