Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for October 2007

Is game addiction real? Share your story here.

Today I published the first in a continuing series about guild dynamics and game addiction in the World of Warcraft. I've got five parts of it drafted now, with interviews scheduled with the TavernCast folks this weekend.

Eloysius has been incredibly helpful here, speaking with me for long blocks of time, sharing intimate details about what he went though and what he learned during his experiment.

And here's where I get to make a distinction between old journalism and new journalism. Old journalism was a one-way street. Columnists handed down their opinions and the context of the issue was restricted to the column itself.

That's not true anymore, and I want to cast a wide net. Most of the quotes and observations I use in my series are taken from the June 2nd episode of TavernCast After Hours. I wish I could just transcribe that episode and run it in print, but paper and ink cost money, and the typical print reader wouldn't care enough to justify it.

But you're not reading this in print, you're reading on the net, where the page goes on forever and the bits roam free. I'm spreading this series out over five weeks, but you don't have to wait for it. Just download the podcasts and hear the story straight from the people who lived it.

Don't wait for my opinions, jump into the comments section and present your own. The TavernCast forums are on fire with…fond farwells and gentle goodwill.

I'm looking for a place where people rip into Eloysius and company for leaving, but I can't seem to find it. Surely there's some gamer blowback out there somewhere.

The good news is, gamers are not blind or stupid. Most people know when they're walking the line between healthy play and destructive behavior. They know the problem exists, they're just not sure what to do about it.

We all know people who've gone too far, and we know people who've quit cold turkey. I think without a strong social incentive, most people will eventually get bored with the game and drift to other activities.

I hope we all can benefit from this discussion about game addiction and guild culture, and I hope you won't hesitate to tell your own story.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 19, 2007 at 13:12

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Harlan Ellison vs. Janna St. James

I could write a hundred entries about the dangers of Internet romance, about the dangers of mixing in too deeply with people you've never met. I could write those hundred entries or I could just link this one, which is like a hundred awful Internet fables rolled into one.

You know those urban legends about people getting their kidneys cut out in bathtubs? This is the emotional equivalent.

The funniest part? In this emotional horror story the day is saved by Harlan Ellison. Scifi fans know Harlan as the smartest, meanest, toughest hombre who ever put pen to paper, but imagine how much fun that is when he's on your side.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 15, 2007 at 14:02

Posted in Books, Culture

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

Duff: There is no such thing as a free monkey

There is no such thing as a free monkey.

Recently I got a call from a lady named Betty Childers. Betty was calling to report “a scam on your Web site.” We take that kind of thing very seriously here at Lubbock Online, so I took her information and immediately checked with our classifieds manager.

Betty was responding to an ad that offered to provide a monkey from Cameroon “for free adoption.” The Avalanche-Journal stopped running these ads about a year ago, but versions of them are still floating around the Internet, waiting to trap the unwary.

Betty contacted a man named “Dennis Williamson” at his Yahoo address and eagerly awaited the arrival of her monkey. A few days later, she was told that Pan American Airlines needed her to pay $220 in “monkey insurance” before they could ship a monkey overseas. (Note: Pan American World Airways went out of business in 1991.)

Time passes, and Betty gets another e-mail, this time claiming that her monkey had been “held up in customs in France” and that it would take another $300 to get him released.

Betty was very upset about having her monkey “held hostage,” but she lives on a fixed income and could not afford $300. The broker offered to pay $200 of the fee if Betty could send him another $100, which she did. So Betty is out $320, and she still doesn’t have her monkey.

These kinds of stories are regrettably common.

The most infamous Internet scam is the Nigerian 419 or Advance Fee Fraud scam, where a wealthy foreigner offers to cut you in on a large percentage of a questionable fortune, as long as you provide a couple thousand up front.

It takes a special combination of greed and gullibility to fall for the 419 scam, but the monkey scam is a bit easier to understand. People give away puppies and kittens all the time, why not try the same thing with a monkey? (The ad describes the monkey as “DNA tasted” which may be my favorite spelling mistake of all time.)

Ultimately, the best way to be safe on the Internet is to use some common sense. Deal with established businesses, don’t send money to strangers, and if it sounds too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Don’t open unsolicited e-mail attachments, and don’t forward strange or cute e-mails to other people.

The Web site Snopes.Com has an extensive database of scams, pranks and tricks that have been circulating on the Internet for years. When in doubt, check Snopes first.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 12, 2007 at 14:18

Posted in Columns, Humor, Movies, TV

Duff: Why do Internet dialogues inevitably deteriorate into name-calling diatribes?

Duff: Why do Internet dialogues inevitably deteriorate into name-calling diatribes?

I’ve always been skeptical of columnists who preach about the educational value of the Internet. Sure, the Internet started out as a forum for academics and scientists, but in the past 10 years the Net has evolved into a hodgepodge of amateur and commercial sites, presented more for entertainment and commerce than anything else.

You can still find heavy intellectual debate on the Net, but most of these discussions are limited by the nature of the Internet itself. No matter what their background, something strange happens to people who try to debate things on the Net. Maybe it’s the anonymity of it, maybe it’s the emotional distance provided by words on a monitor screen. Or maybe people just don’t know how to choose their words.

I don’t know what causes it, but I’ve seen this phenomenon over and over again. You may be a kind-hearted youth minister with a Ph.D. in physics, but after two hours on an Internet forum, odds are you’ll be cursing at people and typing snide insults. You may be arguing the driest topic in theoretical physics, but after two hours in the wrong forum you’ll be pounding out streams of exclamation points and screaming at your monitor in incoherent rage.

I’ve seen it a hundred times – smart, mature, soft-spoken people, turned into screaming maniacs by demons from the Internet.

I remember the rudest e-mail I ever got. This gentleman was having trouble registering for our Web site. After slogging through a variety of creative and outrageous insults, I realized this e-mail was from my best friend’s father, who didn’t realize who I worked for.

I spent my childhood going in and out of this man’s house – going to school with his son and playing catch with his dogs – and now he was questioning my intelligence, my parentage and my right to exist, simply because I worked for a company that didn’t meet his expectations.

That’s what the Internet does to people. It adds a layer of abstraction that makes it hard to see other participants as human beings. I’m confident that most folks who argue about things on the Internet would be perfectly civil to each other in real life. (Those who didn’t freeze up completely at the sight of real people.)

I blame it on poor writing skills, combined with a general deterioration in manners. Sometimes I wonder if the ease and informality of Internet communication isn’t doing more harm than good. On one hand, Internet discourse can inspire a level of honesty that would take months to achieve in real life. And on the other, you can end up being rude to people you barely know.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 5, 2007 at 14:25

Posted in Columns