Farhad Majoo tells a modern tale of woe: Raking muck in “The Sims Online”
In the real world, Peter Ludlow is an academic, a professor of philosophy and linguistics at the University of Michigan whose books go by sober titles like “Readings in the Philosophy of Language,” and “Semantics, Tense and Time: An Essay in the Metaphysics of Natural Language.” He’s well-regarded in his field and engaging enough on the phone, but Ludlow is, even by his own admission, not a very interesting person. That is to say, Peter Ludlow is nothing like Urizenus, Ludlow’s alter ego in the virtual world of “The Sims Online.”
Urizenus is an unabashed muckraker. In the mold, perhaps, of Walter Winchell or Joseph Pulitzer, he investigates the shady underside of life in Alphaville, one of the game’s largest cities, and posts all his sensational discoveries on the Alphaville Herald, a blog that he describes as the only newspaper covering “The Sims Online.” In the couple of months since the blog went live, Urizenus has interviewed many of Alphaville’s most infamous scammers, thieves, money launderers, prostitutes (some of whom, he says, are minors) and other dubious types, and he’s documented attempts by the community to create a kind of governing authority to police the place.
Urizenus and his compatriots at the Herald have also aimed their bullhorn at Maxis, the company that created “The Sims Online” and that runs the place; in blog entry after blog entry, the Herald describes Maxis as being signally indifferent to the needs of people who populate the game, and it documents the many reasons why “The Sims Online” — which was predicted to be a blockbuster and made the cover of Time magazine before its launch late in 2002 — has been a money-loser for Electronic Arts, Maxis’ parent company.
But the Herald’s relentless criticism does not appear to have gone down well at E.A. On Wednesday, in a move that Ludlow describes as arbitrary and capricious, E.A. terminated Urizenus’ “Sims Online” account. “While we regret it,” E.A. told him in a letter, “we feel it is necessary for the good of the game and its community.” Alphaville’s Citizen Kane was kicked out of town.
[…] “[These virtual worlds] are a strange sort of commercial space where communities come to exist, but there’s a tension between the communities and the private commercial company,” says Julian Dibbell, the author of “My Tiny Life,” a kind of memoir about the virtual world LambdaMOO. “It’s similar to what you have with shopping malls. They’re becoming the last refuge of public space for teenagers, but they’re run by companies, and they can kick you out on a whim.”
The story also prompts a host of compelling questions regarding the nature of virtual existence. For instance, can something like prostitution occur online? And what about community-based policing — is that possible, or desirable, in the Sim world? And, finally, does E.A. have any obligation to allow a free press to document how all these issues will play out in “The Sims Online”? After all, it’s their world — why can’t they run it how they please, however capricious their rule may seem to others?
See also Donna’s posting: Gag Me With a TOS Agreement