Too Long; Don’t Read.

A Note: I didn’t enjoy writing this. You probably won’t enjoy reading this. 😀

Pt I: Define “Social Computing”

I’m given a list to read, supposedly on the subject of social computing, and then asked to define the term in my own words. The term is missing from all but two of the papers. Awesome. One article on the reading list was about a bunch of guys trolling a MUD (Multi-User Dimension), another was about how research in social computing is difficult, two more gave overviews of web 2.0 technologies (wikis, social networking sites, blogs, etc), and the last complained about dumb people on the internet. I’m supposed to give a definition of social computing based on these? Cool.

Social Computing: (noun) people on the internet.

I’m sorry. I’m being a jerk. (I’m not really sorry btw.)

Let me explain (about the definition, not my being a jerk). “Social Computing” sounds like it might relate to just about anything with people and computers. The term ‘social’ implies interpersonal communication, and the term ‘computing’ implies technology. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the internet. Surprise. Unfortunately telephone networks, and ham radios might fit into this description. So lets restrict it to technologies that aren’t archaic. The internet. People on the internet. I’m fairly certain that when people use the term Social Computing (not that I would know based on the readings) they’re talking about facebook, privacy-concerns related to facebook, the spread of misinformation on facebook, the difficulty of doing research on facebook, and possibly other things not related to facebook. The point is, the term generally refers to online social activity. By People. Q.E.D.

Pt II: Share a Personal Story.

So one day I’m playing my favorite FPS, which we shall call AVA. You’re probably thinking to yourself “hey! This isn’t about facebook!”. Well, its not. But its online, and its social. There are mechanisms for adding/removing/showing friends, and text chat. And shooting. There’s lots of shooting. So essentially, it’s like IRC, with shooting. Any-who, I spawn a two-story, war-torn home somewhere in near-future Belarus, and rush towards the opposing base. On my way, I see a guy turning a corner, away from me. I run after him and shoot him in the back. I see two red splats that let me know I’ve landed a couple of hits. The guy crumples into a jittery-ball of limbs as the game’s physics engine fails at its only real duty, collision detection. Missing from all this is the skull and bones overlay that usually signals a kill. I assume one of my teammates has stolen it, and look up at my HUD to see who the offending asshat is. Turns out it’s me. Turns out I’ve killed the entire opposing team. All at once. With a field knife. To the head.



The red text (signaling an enemy player’s shout) floods the screen, and everyone realizes there’s a hacker in the room. We all hit tab to pull up the leader board and see that I’m listed twice, once with a score of 14-0 and again with a less impressive one. The hacker is using a name-spoofer to display another user’s name instead of his own in order to avoid getting kicked from the room. The hacker has chosen me. My team tries to kick me by issuing an in-game vote, but luckily my friend Cap’nMcSh|ttySh0T votes in my defense. The vote fails, and the face stabbings continue. The hacker’s name-spoofer changes victims and spoofs the cap’n’s name. Once per game each user can request a vote to kick a team member (by name), which must be unanimous to pass. Another vote is issued. This time against the cap’n. I vote no, a team mate questions: “WHHHYYY?? OBV HACKS! KICK!”. We inform the uneducated derp of the hacker’s deception (trying to kick the hacker by his spoofed name will kick the spoofing victim instead). Luckily, Cap’n has seen this before. He instructs the team to pull up the “Report Abuse” button and report a player who doesn’t show up on the leader board (the hacker). The hacker isn’t kicked, but his name will be put before GMs who will deliver his banishment. At this point, all but one of the enemy team has left the game, suffering negative exp as a punishment for abandoning a match. We win by default as the last enemy team member leaves the game, but win no exp for the hollow victory.

This event took place during a rather lawless time that existed while ownership of the game was being passed from the game’s founding company to the larger, faceless Company X. Normally hacking in the game is a fairly low occurrence, with incidents quickly reported, resolved, and patched. Unfortunately, Company X had not yet begun to monitor these occurrences as closely as the founding company. As a result, hacking tools proliferated via (a website for exploit-tool distribution ). Additionally, Company X did not have the proper server-side support to handle the volume of users in the game during peak hours. This caused pings to rise, and games to drop mid-match. What company X did prioritize was the monetization of the game by adding new items, costumes, and imbalanced weapons, all of which required real-world money to purchase. Many users felt like the founding company had abandoned them, and in a game where real-world money was spent on in-game items, this felt like treason. Many users left as a result, and people who played to hang out with online-friends, found themselves without companions to play with. They too left.

These errors and the ensuing exodus can be likened to that of Friendster’s downfall. Boyd and Ellison cite a poor user experience (lack of server-side support), and the feeling that the company did not have the user’s best interests in mind as reasons for Friendster’s fall. The parallels are fairly clear. Both company X and Friendster underestimated the demand that would be put on the system, leading to a bad user experience (Boyd and Ellison). While Friendster infuriated users by deleting Fakesters and users with unrealistic photos (Boyd and Ellison), Company X, failed to monitor and maintain the game to prior standards. In both cases, user-ship fell.

Keen proposes the idea that Web 2.0 has led to the loss of authenticity and reputability of information online. He also mentions a egotistical mob-mentality that forms in situations when the rapid dissemination of ignorant misinformation is not corrected. This holds true in the above narrative, where users, panicked by the presence of a hacker, take what they assume is the correct course of action. This rapid, unstable, ambition is given further fuel by the presence of a vote counter which tells users exactly how many users have voted yes or no. Peer pressure takes over, and users do what they assume must be right (since many other people are doing it). Even in the presence of knowledge and experience (the cap’n), knee-jerk reactions and shouting contests can claim higher body-counts.

Dibbel describes a similar situation, in which one user torments others in a virtual environment by exploiting the system. While the situation might be different (not less, just different), the general principals are all present. There was the aggressor (Bungle, and the hacker) who caused grief to the other players present, then there were the victims (residents of LambdaMOO, and users in the match) who suffered at the hands of the aggressor. Then there was the damage done. In LambdaMOO, the damage was perhaps more personal than in the above narrative. Users in the match lost exp, and some took hits to their K/D ratios (Kill to Death ratios are generally an expression of a player’s skill). Of course then there’s the issue of crime and punishment. Company X requires users to sign an EULA (End User Liscense Agreement) which restricts the conduct of users while on the game’s servers. This is perhaps a step forward from what LamdaMOO offered. The EULA is a binding contract between Company X and a user, which strips a user of all their rights, Company X of all liabilities, and says “use at your own risk”. This might affect the real-world legality of the crime in the case of the narrative, however, it remains a crime committed in cyberspace. The punishment for the above case is as ephemeral as Bungles. Company X can’t ban users by IP, since the hacker can simply re-acquire a new one, and whoever gets stuck with the banned IP won’t be able to play. Instead, Company X can only ban players by account, which requires a trivial amount of work to circumvent (simply re-register). As seen in LamdaMoo, many offenders return time and time again. The difference between Xerox (LamdaMOO’s owning company) and Company X, is that Company X is willing to continually patch their product to reduce the number of vulnerabilities.


~ by epy00n on January 20, 2013.

19 Responses to “Too Long; Don’t Read.”

  1. I’m glad someone did a blog on an online game, because honestly, what can define social computing, or rather, an online community, better than an application that allows people to show such… animated and lively emotion? What application allows so many people to gather, organize, and execute actions? No where else online do I see so much comradery and on the opposite spectrum, such extreme **** talking. I’m an active gamer myself, and I have made so many friends over the years, and so many enemies. A night doesn’t go past where I don’t either congratulate a team member or absolutely go berserk on a player. Simply, it is raw human behavior delivered uninhibited through a computer to thousands of other people across the world. And it’s fun. Indeed, gathering information, sharing it with your friends, and using that knowledge to dispose of that one oblivious virtual person camping in the corner is pretty damn satisfying.

  2. It read like you enjoyed writing it!

    Your story is something I haven’t, and never hope to, experience in online gaming…hacking. Where does hacking fit in the world of social computing? It happens in the form of spamming from friend’s email accounts, fake tagging in pictures or wall posts, and in these extreme examples in which someone maliciously- anonymously, as you experienced, or openly, like Mr. Bungle- intends to ruin scores or reputations.

    I think hacking is what makes social computing something like a microcosm of the real world. I thought the opposite of this when I read Dibbell’s paper, but reading yours makes me see that there is always someone who wants to take advantage of a situation or do something just to hurt others. These people exist in the real world. It’s important to remember they exist in our virtual sanctuaries too. What do you think?

    • I’d agree. In real life, we’d punish those who broke the rules, and force them to make financial reparation or jail them. Virtually, we can’t quite do that. At best, users can at best use social pressure to keep others in line. But people who don’t care what others think of them, those who are unaffected or unfettered by social norms, and those who are irrevocably malicious are the ones who you have to watch out for. I suppose it’s like if an angry homeless guy smashes in your windshield. You can’t sue him, he’s broke. You could press charges and he’d go to jail for a week, but that would probably be an improvement on his living conditions, and he’d be back next week. Essentially, he can’t be “punished”. Anyway, I guess I’m saying that if people don’t conform to social norms, there’s nothing you can do about it. Also: flamers/trolls are like angry hobos.

      • “Anyway, I guess I’m saying that if people don’t conform to social norms, there’s nothing you can do about it.” I mentioned like this about…[I was gonna post the URL ( to Kay’s blog, but I saw that you commented on it! Gears shift]

        Your first paragraph in your comment to Kay is amazing, and I think it complements what you’re saying here. The attraction and the goal you mentioned enhance the point that we can’t punish people in virtual spaces. What we want to achieve ideologically is kind of like an experiment in anarchy. People’s actions do reflect their attitudes toward the group and their thoughts about belonging or inclusion.

        What if, though, these actions are the form of expression of a needy person– the kind that believes that any attention is good attention? Most online communities are not equipped to handle this kind of behavior. When we get together in online environments, we kind of share an underlying set of assumptions based on real world interactions…*thought fizzled* It seems imore difficult to address these challenges than it is in the real world. We can’t mediate with anonymity. I dunno. My thoughts keep oscillating.

        ps- hacking has some merit when used to test software and security
        pps- quote of the day: Also: flamers/trolls are like angry hobos.

        • Dammit Jim! I’m a doctor, not a psychologist!

          I’d agree that attention-seeking individuals would initially have an “any attention is good attention” mindset, but hacking in this case results in users leaving the game, thereby shrinking the individual’s audience. Depending upon the individual’s level of psychosis, this could discourage them from doing it again. Maybe not. Although Kay’s case was different, as that guy may or may yes have been trolling multiple pages. I guess whether they stop or not depends on how much effort it takes to setup for the next trolling, and whether it’s worth it to the individual or not.

          p.s. I was gonna link that comment too. Guess whos laziest 😀

          • Makes sense.

            With regard to who’s laziest, I was so happy when you guys could move the furniture all on your own. That might have been led by Dylan though, I think…

  3. Great post. I’ve seen a similar phenomenon in various games; where hackers have led to a significant decrease in the game’s player base. This is especially the case when players complain and express their concerns, but the developers still don’t fix anything. As a result, just like the SNSs Friendster, people get annoyed, frustrated, feel neglected, and eventually move on. I think preventing, managing, and detecting hackers in games is a major social computing problem. To handle hackers or exploiters, some games have autoboot features, similar to the AVA. Though the votekick system is sometimes flawed because legitimate players who do not hack, do get booted from games. Some games rely on their system to autoboot players if players are flagged to be using hacks. For example, Gameguard and nProtect are anti-hacking systems used in many Korean made games. From my experience, World of Warcraft had a pretty good anti-hacking system. WoW uses their anti-hacking system called the “warden” to detect and ban hackers. WoW’s GMs are also pretty active and respond well to player tickets. I also think that there aren’t many hackers in WoW because people are paying real money. If they are were to get banned for hacking, they would have to buy the game once again, and repurchase the monthly fee.

  4. What about malicious people who aren’t hacking? I might have read it wrong but I thought in the Mr. Bungle incident, users could create items however they want and that the voodoo doll was a legitimate item. So what he was doing was mean and spiteful but wasn’t necessarily hacking (which to me is doing things users can’t normally do within the bounds of the system). So they banned him for being a douche rather than a hacker.

    While both end up being pretty annoying, I feel that it’s a lot harder to justify banning people who aren’t actually hacking. Like people on sites like omegle that just want to bother people. They’re not really doing anything wrong, just aren’t people that most would want to associate with online. Should online games enforce a code of conduct and ban people who don’t follow it? And if they do, how far can you go? “You’re allowed to trash talk, but only if you don’t involve mothers!) or “LambdaMOO is a free place where you can imagine yourself however you want and do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t involve raping other characters” Making these types of rules seems hard so it makes sense that a lot of groups rely on the community to decide who is out of line and who isn’t. While with hacking, anyone caught can probably be banned without much thought.

  5. I’m curious to understand the motivation behind such gaming hacks. What can be the benefit to the hacker, except to ruin the game for everyone. I suppose this fits into a larger discussion of the behavior of trolls on the internet, and the fear that such behavior is degrading our culture. I enjoyed the straightforward nature of your post and would be curious to hear any thoughts you may have on how to help the internet, and the online world more generally, rise above the behavior of attention seeking trolls. The best I can offer is simply to ignore them, but in a gaming context that clearly wouldn’t work. Should there be an external force that seeks to stamp out the problem or can people figure out how to stop such behavior on their own?

    • I’m curious to understand the motivation behind such gaming hacks.
      >>Some people just want to see the world burn. They do it for the lulz.
      curious to hear any thoughts you may have on how to help the internet, and the online world more generally, rise above the behavior of attention seeking trolls
      Seriously though, just don’t make yourself stand out. Vindictive troll is vindictive. See above angry hobo metaphor.
      Should there be an external force that seeks to stamp out the problem or can people figure out how to stop such behavior on their own?
      >>Have you ever seen Saw? I don’t think it’s something we’ll ever be able to “solve”. Maybe we’ll develop coping mechanisms. Maybe someone will invent an accountability mechanic. Honestly, I don’t think anything will ever really come of it.

  6. I share your feelings about trying to define “social computing.” It’s weird to try to give specificity to something that is known as an umbrella term. Perhaps instead of being a “jerk” as you so called it, a simple “idk” would have been sufficient. I myself am not so clear as to what “social computing” is, I’m still trying to wrap my head around “social informatics” from last semester! Maybe it seems that social computing and social informatics is all about Facebook and Twitter is because of ease of access. While researchers are able to do clustering algorithms by monitoring the traffic of SNS’ they can’t really do that in MMOs. Even the articles we read last semester that were WoW or game based relied on interviews and observation nothing on a grand scale like clustering. Maybe someone at Blizzard should start doing these things…idk.

    I’m curious about what the correct course of action would be. You mentioned to pull up “Report Abuse” form. What would be the next step after that? It sounds like the match would have ended the same (people leaving the game with stat penalties) regardless of which actions to take. In Keen’s perspective, people will believe the information at hand, and by extension, act on them. This is exactly what happened, if you did not know any body in the match, do you think you would have been booted?

    I don’t know what to think of the EULA (End User License Agreement) mainly because the average user doesn’t read it. Just a simple click and you don’t really know what you’re agreeing to…first unborn child? potential lottery winnings? patent control? I’ll have to admit though, when certain systems require you to scroll to the bottom of the EULA to enable the checkbox that was pretty clever. But regardless of EULA, people still hack, still panic, and still don’t read the EULA.

    • Perhaps instead of being a “jerk” as you so called it, a simple “idk” would have been sufficient.
      >But not nearly as snarky. Does it bother you?

      What would be the next step after that?
      >Rage->Rage Quit->Find a new room.

      if you did not know any body in the match, do you think you would have been booted?
      >Probably. Unfortunately the interwebs aren’t hard to use, and everyone on the internet is 12 and has no idea how computers work. Especially in FPSs and MMOs.

      when certain systems require you to scroll to the bottom of the EULA to enable the checkbox that was pretty clever.
      >K. There’s no benefit to the user to read an EULA. I don’t particularly care to read how devs are going to {take advantage of} me. I don’t bother.

      • No it doesn’t bother me, it’s obvious that your post is sarcastic. It seems that the drama ensued because two people knew each other. As for EULA, you spent some time talking about it maybe I misinterpreted your reasoning. You said it was a step forward yet you don’t bother with it.

        • It seems that the drama ensued because two people knew each other.
          >>Think it’d get me on Springer/Murray/JudgeJudy?
          You said it was a step forward yet you don’t bother with it.
          >>For the company, not the user. EULAs are exercises in legal butt-covering.

  7. Just talking about punishing the people who hack in virtual environments like games, depending on the level there are possible ways to punish a user, though in some ways it is limited by how it is conducted.

    One example that came to mind when I was thinking of exact instances would be the gaming new about Halo 4 being leaked early. I’m not a Xbox gamer so I don’t have much information besides what was on gaming sites, but what was reported was that those who were caught playing Halo 4 before the release were considered breaking terms of service under the thought that you’re playing a pirated copies (since the leak was not a large event but those playing the game were large) and they banned the Xbox live account permanently. The only way to get back access would be to get a new Xbox and make a new account, which costs money. It’s a round about pseudo-punishment caused by a somewhat minor punishment but it’s happens.

    The problem though is that it only works on things that require money to invest in, so it’s not hard to see how ineffective that would be in the social internet issues we’re talking about. Still it shows that there are potential ways to punish people, but we can’t find a way to do it with all the capabilities that users have with computers and the internet. Being able to spoof vital information makes punish someone nearly impossible, and is the first thing which would need to be fixed before we could think of making people more responsible for their actions.

  8. Excellent post and comments. I feel like I would have failed as an instructor if I asked you to propose a definition of social computing and there was an easily searchable plug-and-play sentence in one of the readings that got regurgitated on everyone’s blog :).

    Like a few other folks, you mentioned how a company that fails to respect the expectations and time investment of loyal users can lose them. You’re right to point out that it’s not just the game (or site) interaction users miss, it’s the interaction with other users that the site makes possible, and that’s the essence of social computing. EULAs tend to adopt the antiquated notion that customers/users exist as isolates, but it’s not just the company’s rights that need to be protected, it’s those of other users as well. If you engage in behavior, whether hacking or just griefing technically within the rules, that negatively impacts other users’ experience, liability could (should?) multiply.

  9. I might be cheating, coming in late and replying after Dr. Gazan, but I just moved this week and am still without the internet at home. (Luckily I just discovered a row of coffee shops hidden down the street, betwixt the bars).

    Anyways, I also felt that your use of social computing was fitting. The interactivity and changes that users can make to the environment could be called web 2.0 before it really was around. I had forgotten about this as I never really played myself but one of my roommates in the past was an avid Halo player, spending much of his free time on his xbox playing against his friends (both online and those whom he actually knew). Some of the online friends felt like his “real life” friends in that he knew personal details about their lives and seemed genuinely excited when they were online to play.

    He would also occasionally play Call of Duty and I remember at one point he was complaining about users finding ways to cheat, I think this was without hacking but still taking advantage of glitches or areas that allowed unequealled protection. Due to these issues he was heavily considering abandoning the series.

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