Thursday, February 19, 2009

Flame Wars...Commence!

I'm a pretty easy-going, laid back, non-confrontational sort of guy, so I don't get involved in online flame wars very often. A few days ago, however, I managed to start one of my own.

I play online "Werewolf" (also known as "Mafia" and probably many other names) with a group of people. At the beginning of the game, the Game Master secretly assigns several people to be "werewolves", while the remaining people are innocent villagers. The game sequences through day and night phases. At night, the werewolves choose a villager to kill. During the day, the villagers attempt to discover who the werewolves are and at the end, vote to lynch someone, hopefully a werewolf.

Depending on how advanced you want to get, there are additional roles; our usual ones are an assassin (allows people to take kill or protection contracts), a detective (can investigate one person each night), and a necromancer (gives "dead" people a half-vote until the necromancer also dies).

Each of the special roles (werewolf/assassin/detective/necromancer) has a special user account they can log in with, so they can post messages while remaining anonymous. In addition, there is a visible list of every currently logged-in user. Here's where things got messy.

Last round, I wrote a program that monitored the list of logged-in users, recording when each one signed in and signed out--all public and freely-available information . I was one of the werewolves, so my priority was killing the necromancer and detective.

Right off the bat, the detective logged in, an action recorded by my program. Going through the log, I noticed that a certain user had signed out right before the detective logged. Right after the detective logged off, the same user logged back in. From that, it was clear that that user was the detective, and my werewolf buddies and I killed her that night.

At the end of the game, I didn't hide how I had discovered the detective's identity, and the flame wars immediately began. It wasn't explicitly against the rules, but was it unethical? Was it fair? Should someone use a skill not everyone had?

It was quite a heated discussion, but in the end, a rule was made against it and we moved on. Now that I think about it, it's like the recent discussion over the new swimsuits introduced in the Olympics. Everyone has the swimming skill, some better than others, but is the use of the new, high-tech swimsuits cheating or unethical?

Not sure. Of course, I tend to think that I can use whatever skills I can bring to the table, as long as they aren't against the rules or illegal, but that view didn't seem to be shared by many people.

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