I would like to address some points of the "don't you trust me" article. I thought it was fairly well-written and I thank the author for taking the time and effort to write it, but I'm afraid for me personally it eventually failed to deliver the impact for which it was set up. I'll not toot the horn of the author too much here, but will get right to the point. While I agree with the gist of it, there are two key concepts I fundamentally disagree with, and a third concept that I personally find of the utmost importance but which is surprisingly omitted.
An interesting question is exactly how much trust is generated by sharing such virtual property. Many players will insist (and in my opinion, rightly so) that they have invested a substantial amount of time and effort to obtain items. The reality is that, strictly speaking, that any value possessed by these items is purely sentimental. After all, you can't swap, trade, or sell these possessions for anything but other items in the same domain.
It is not because the item is purely virtual by nature that any value that is attributed to it must be purely virtual or merely sentimental as well. If you've spent both real time and real money (in the form of paying for membership) to obtain those items, then they obviously do
have a value beyond the strictly sentimental.
After all: is this not the very reason why gold farming and RWT are such endemic problems with MMOPRPG's? If the items did not have any "real" value, these would simply not exist. Until recently, this was a huge problem, because precisely as virtual property was not deemed to have any value beyond the purely virtual, there was little or no regulation concerning virtual property in videogames. Only recently has this begun to change, with courts recognising the "real" value inherent even to "virtual" property. And rightly so, I should think.
Perhaps part of the answer lies, as usual, in connection with real life. Perhaps without realizing it, there is plenty of trust to go around even towards random strangers. It is quite possible that the last time you crossed a street, a car stopped and waved you ahead. And presumably, you proceeded to cross without fear that the driver would villainously floor the gas pedal before you finished crossing, whether out of intent or carelessness. (However, it would explain the glint in the driver's eye.)
I'm afraid I cannot agree with this, for two fundamental reasons. First of all, the most important difference between RS and real life is that in real life, your actions are always bound by a framework created by (the theory of) law and the enforcement thereof, and the expectations and control of the social environment which all together impose order upon a society that would otherwise be inherently chaotic. This framework serves as a check against unappropriate behaviour and abuse. It's far more complex than this, of course; because this framework is not purely artificial or implemented top-down: we teach our young to adhere to this framework, which they subconsciously integrate into their personal behaviour. Their norms and values, which are partly determined by their personal disposition, are also strongly influenced by this framework. As they grow up and take their place in the adult world, a larger group of people can subsequently agree to share a certain set of norms and values, which in turn helps give shape to the perpetuation of this framework. That's also partly the reason why society is so slow to change: while there is room for change or "improvement" (which is subjective, hence the brackets) it is always rooted deeply into the existing framework.
This is intertwined with my second argument for disagreeing with the metaphor: without this imposed order, this layer of veneer if you will; there is no check against unappropriate behaviour. There is no such thing as a "natural state" where two (or more) people innately share the same
set of norms and values and abide by them. Everyone has different norms and values, a different sense of what is right and what is wrong, everyone has different principles and scruples, etc. This is inherently chaotic. While some people can indeed agree to share a similar
set of values and norms (it is wrong to steal, it is wrong to kill), others will choose to adhere to a different set of values and norms. In order to regulate and impose some (subjective) order upon a society which otherwise would be inherently chaotic, the aforementioned framework is created. This is not wholly an external or artificial process, but it is not exactly "natural" either. In order to protect society from inappropriate behaviour that is deemed harmful to the majority of the social group, social expectations are created and controlled, and laws are formulated and enforced. This framework is not entirely objective as well, because it is skewed towards "the majority" and/or those who are in power.
In short, I personally think a driver does not run over a passer-by not because of some unwritten bond of "trust" between them, I think he does not run over a passer-by because he is bound by the combination of his personal norms and values, by the social expectation of the environment, and by the law, all of which interact with one another, and which together form some sort of 'framework'. So, what the passer-by really trusts is that the driver will adhere to the framework that is imposed upon them both.
To couple this back to RS: it does have a set of rules, which, however, are not/cannot be strictly enforced. Botting, gold-farming and RWT are rampant, and legal measures against this are slow to be implemented (partly, again, because of the difficult question which value is to be attributed to "virtual" property). Most importantly, however, the expectations and control of the social environment are lacking almost completely. One of the key issues with gaming, online interpersonal behaviour and "virtual" property is the veil of anonimity
involded. People play avatars in an online realm, and as a result they don't realize (or don't want
to realize) they're interacting with real people behind the pixels
, nor do they feel bound by social conventions that would help regulate their behaviour in the real world. Isn't that something that is heard all too often ("they're just pixels") to excuse the most atrocious of interpersonal behaviour, cheating at the expense of others, RWT and the like? To me, that's a key concept which is missing.
P.S.: I should like to point out that it's not my intention at all to discredit the author or the article, the above is merely intended as constructive criticism and feedback. It was an interesting article and I enjoyed reading it, which is why I went to the effort of opening some sort of 'debate'. I feel the author doesn't make a bad
case, I just think it could have been better
(no patronizing intended). I would also like to apologize for the somewhat 'ranting' or 'berating' tone of this piece, I didn't have much (spare) time to compose it in and as such it's pretty much written down as it sprang to mind. My piece lacks elegance and eloquence, and could perhaps have done with a little more sophistication and subtlety; but at least I hope my points of contention are somewhat clear and relatively structured.