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The Dark Side of AlphaWorld

Vandalism and other crimes in the virtual city

Figure 7.59: shday23a.jpg
The Kyoti graffiti vandal strikes.

As AlphaWorld is a builder's mecca, the capital crime there is vandalism. If you are building on an area (a pure green homestead plot), and happen to leave some of it uncovered by floor tiles, road, or walkways, then vandals can strike! In the preceding figure we see graffiti plastered all over an empty lot by the notorious Kyoti. King Punisher and his gang are another set of hooligans in AlphaWorld who have been known to set sites on fire by attaching animated flames. As there is no fire department in AlphaWorld (as of this writing), this is a big problem. There is, however, a police department.


Figure 7.60: awpd2a.jpg
AlphaWorld Police Department has an impressive precinct building.

The AlphaWorld Police Department (AWPD) patrols AlphaWorld in search of vandalism and avabuse (verbal or bodily abuse of people represented in-avatar. Founded by citizen NetGuy, the AWPD has built an impressive headquarters, as seen in the preceding figure. It also has a good set of Web pages in which police reports are filed regularly (see your Avatars! book Web site for links to the AWPD). The police are an all-volunteer group of AlphaWorld citizens. They also offer a very friendly help patrol at Ground Zero, and they can…help!

Natural disasters

Figure 7.61: awnwt2a.jpg
The New World Times reports on an asteroid. impact

"Natural" disasters occasionally strike AlphaWorld. The most traumatic of all is the meteor strike. This is a rare occurrence but happens when the main AlphaWorld server crashes or has to be rebuilt because the format of the world is changing. In this event, all buildings are demolished. The last time this happened was mid-1995, as reported in the first issue of the New World Times, as seen in the preceding figure, and is not likely to happen again soon. We hope that AlphaWorld will go on forever, but there may come a day when it is time for an end-of-the-world party.

Figure 7.62: awfirea.jpg
An upgrade fire is a novel experience.

Another temporary natural disaster is known as the upgrade fire. This occurs when you move to a whole new level of Active Worlds Browser software, which requires the server to send you (gradually) all of the objects to repaint the world. The server sends you the anchor points (seen as black pyramids) first. These are the points to which objects attach. It takes some time before the objects themselves appear, so in the interim, you seem to be moving around in a barren, charred landscape like that of a burned forest. Don't worry when you see this, for all of the trees and city will come back!


Figure 7.63: awfacea.jpg
Avabuse is in-your-face!

Avabuse, the abuse of a person in-avatar, can take several forms. One is just plain bad language and outright deception! This is a social world of free speech, and our neighbors may not always treat us as we would treat them in return. Another form of avabuse is related to body language. The preceding figure shows a case in which an aggressive (or bored) AlphaWorld citizen was constantly shadowing me and blocking my views of all conversations. Repeatedly passing back and forth through someone's avatar is called avattack, and is the virtual form of assault and battery.

Please do not discount the feelings you have when something like this happens. The power of inhabited virtual world environments is that they make you feel like you are there with other people. Your feelings are valid, just as the intent to offend you was real. Just stay calm and teleport or run out of areas where you feel you are in trouble or not wanted. There is no shame in this, just as there is no shame in similar real-life situations.

Gender-bending, race-shifting, and generally not being yourself

As we have seen in on-line chat rooms, participants assuming a character of the other sex and leading people on is a common occurrence. In AlphaWorld, you can combine this with the selection of racially different avatars, or choose to be a little kid, or a hulking giant. In Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, people were not permitted to select an avatar taller than they were in real life. No such social mores hold in AlphaWorld.

Part of the most thrilling and enticing aspect of the virtual experience is to live the fantasy of being another person. Perhaps there is an actor or actress in all of us. There is a dark side of gender-bending or race-shifting. The old adage still applies: "Oh what tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive."

Starbright World and the liberation of the virtual

There is a positive side to a free choice of digital personae. There are AlphaWorld citizens who are bedridden, hearing impaired, or confined to a wheelchair. Being able to communicate with others and fly through landscapes is reported to give them a tremendous sense of liberation. The Starbright World, designed for sick children confined to the hospital, is used as a liberator and play environment. Starbright is not covered in this book because it is not available to the general public, but it is perhaps the most poignant example of how virtual worlds technology can help enrich the quality of human life.

The power of accountability

AlphaWorld is an environment which does not permit anonymity. When you became a citizen, you provided your e-mail address. Bear in mind that you could be identified and contacted if you are causing someone grief. For a guide to good citizenry, see Dataman's AlphaWorld netiquette guide in Netiquette, The World Manners Guide.

© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997, All rights reserved.