Article Summary: A Rape in Cyberspace

This article describes a virtual rape and the options open to the virtual world participants to deal with the situation, as well as the feelings engendered by those involved.  As the article says, there is always a space beteen the real world and the virtual world, and things that happen in one can affect the other, but the feelings and ideas that one is left with may inhabit that grey zone.  The article goes on to say that the virtual work of a MUD is neither real nor make believe, but the associated meaning and emotions are real.

The article describes an incident that occurred on a text based MUD, called Lambda MOO.  A character called Mr. Bungle, caused other characters to sexually violate themselves, while he also violated them, though use of an online voodoo doll.  The response of those individuals whose characters were violated was unique to the virtual world, in that they weren’t quite sure how to feel; although they felt wronged and shamed in front of others, nothing had actually happened to them are “real” people.  If such an incident had happened in the real world, a hue and cry would have ensued, but since it happened in the virtual world, one women noted that although she was hurt by being violated, the Bungle character simply acted in an uncivil manner.

The MUD community rallied though and held an online meeting in which they proposed to remove the Bungle character; in real life this is said to equate with the death penalty.  But since none of the characters could do this, and the technicians (wizards) had earlier decided to take a hands off approach to social problems on the site, the group was left without recourse. However, they completed an amazingly democratic vote for their proposed action. So, as in real life, one individual took charge, and as a wizard, was able to remove the account of the Bungle character, thus “annihilating” him.  However, as in the real world, the system of justice is not perfect, and the Bungle character simply created a new account, calling him or herself Dr. Jest, and haunted the site for a while before leaving for good apparently.

In this article, the author does a very nice job of equating what happens with the virtual world with the real world, while at the same time pointing out the differences. The process of how to handle an event of this nature closely paralleled how it would be handled in real life, The sense of democracy and community available on the MUD is quite amazing considering none of the people have met in real life. And the failure of the system of justice to reform or punish the perpetrator is left at the end, similar to what often happens in real life.


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