Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Crime and punishment

I was already thinking about an article on punishment for crimes committed in virtual worlds, when some anonymous commenter wrote this in reply to yesterday's thread: "That is, jerks in reality are kept in check by other people in the community and/or the powers that be, yet in games, despite all the god-like powers that available, there are rarely systems in place to properly handle the asshats that crop up. It almost seems that in the real world we try to jail the wrongdoers, yet in virtual worlds they jail everyone else in singleplayer/instanced/grind environments just because there a few other players that are dicks."

The US in 2005 had a murder rate of 6 murders per year per 100,000 inhabitants, down from 10 in 1980. The global scale of murder rates ranges from 40 for places like Venezuela and South Africa to 1 in places like Germany. But even a murder rate of 40 per 100,000 means that 99.96% of people *don't* murder each other in the real world. The murder rate in virtual worlds where PvP is unrestricted is much, much higher. Due to the fact that the same person can be murdered several times per year, it is probably even above 100,000 murders per 100,000 inhabitants per year. The big difference is one of consequences.

On the positive side the consequences for the victim of a virtual world murder are much less grave. In some games, like World of Warcraft, you lose absolutely nothing if killed, except the time needed for you to respawn. But even in the harshest games you get reborn after being killed, maybe poorer by some xp or items.

The bigger difference between virtual worlds and real world is the consequence for the killer. In the real world the vast majority of homicides are solved, thus if you'd murder somebody in the real world you'd have a more than even chance of ending at least in jail, or even suffer the death penalty. That is an obvious deterrent. In virtual worlds there is neither jail nor capital punishment, although in Roma Victor you can get crucified for ganking. In some games you acquire some sort of negative score when killing other players, which prevents you from visiting the more lawful areas. But often the consequences of killing another player are only positive, you might even get "honor points" for it, even if you just stabbed somebody in the back dishonorably while he was fighting a mob. This lack of consequences for the killer explains the huge murder rate in games that allow player killing.

So right now we basically have two kinds of virtual worlds, one kind in which murder is technically impossible, and the other kind where killing somebody isn't punished. That makes me wonder whether a third kind could be possible, a virtual world in which you can kill any other player, put would have to live with potential serious consequences. How about whenever you kill another player there is a 50% chance that you get "caught" and put into jail for 1 real week of real time. You'd find yourself in a jail cell which you can't leave, not even by magical means, and you are limited to local, guild, and private chat. Of course in that game there would need to be some negative consequence for being killed for the victim as well, like losing xp. The idea behind that is that people would be nicer to each other if they know the other guy can hurt them. But a player killer would find himself behind bars often enough to discourage ganking. Do you think such a system of virtual punishment could work?

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