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User Journal

Journal Journal: Two Currencies

When we hear horrible economic news, it causes suffering even in the wealthiest nations. Yet the proposed remedies, such as more generous welfare benefits, or perhaps less government regulation are questionable in their ability to address the real problems and politically nonviable.

I believe there is an alternative which will be palatable to most in the US and will preserve the best aspects of capitalism while mitigating the damages.

It is a bit complicated, and I've written about it in a blog:

It involves having two currencies, one completely optional currency system people can choose to work with which can pay only for necessities (a bit like food stamps are now).

The goal is to remove the base necessities of life from the table: by working for those first (again: only if you want to - this is totally optional) and then (or in parallel) working for dollars to buy luxuries.

User Journal

Journal Journal: MMORPG Outdoor Zone and Event Design

Many newer MMORPGs have no exact "zones" but they all have areas of some kind where players adventure: kill mobs, explore, sometimes buy and sell goods, sometimes start or end quests, etc.

Open, "outdoor" zones:

Wide open spaces allow players to interact more with each other in positive ways: find groups, travel easily to grouping locations, and have good visibility to find mobs or other NPCs. Good outdoor spaces will have a hard floor on mob level, so that groups are ensured at least a certain level of difficulty and not to have to slog through loads of mobs which (for them) are trivial to get to the good ones. This is a tremendous waste of resources: the most vital of which is player time. Good quests are essential to get players to move around the zone. Players should be rewarded for killing a few from column A, a few from column B, etc. instead of "camping" a certain local.

However, if camps are desired (perhaps players will move between them) they should have clear cut mobs to pull from to minimize conflicts between groups over who "gets" to kill which mob.

There should be higher level mobs roaming the area to add danger to what can easily become too safe a situation. These do not have to be unkillable by the typical zone population, but they should require at least multiple groups combining forces. Killing these mobs should have benefits for those involved (exp, money, loot) as well as the general benefit of making the entire zone safer. They should not be camped by high level players so any quest items they drop should not be endlessly re-doable, and the cash they drop should be low enough that higher level players should be able to go elsewhere and do better for themselves.

The zone should respond dynamically to the presence of players. Lots of killing could cause wandering merchent NPCs to spawn who all zone users can benefit from. Perhaps a moneychanger could spawn who would (for a fee) change player's cash to more easily carried coins.

Mini-boss mobs could spawn in places which have been "beaten down" significantly, for a long time. They should be killable by solid groups. If the solid group beats down an orc village for a while, this fellow should spawn and give them a hard time. If two groups are holding the village down, they may have to cooperate to defeat him. If they are each strong enough to do so individually, they are likely competing in an overcrowded zone. Although it may not be possible for the zone to really fully satisfy them both, harder spawns should help. In this case, either (a) they should move to other zones (b) this zone is the bottleneck for a quest or (c) simply more total content is needed (no other zones are less crowded).

For underused zones, the zone should eventually achieve a sweet, attractive character to welcome new characters in. Perhaps all the big wandering bosses would vanish and mobs would revert to rather weak forms. The lootable "trees" or chests would be full. Perhaps XP or loot bonuses could be assigned to mobs not killed for several real life days. This should attract players back to this underutilized area. Perhaps a message could be issued to players upon entering the zone, or perhaps the clues would be more subtle.

Zonewide calendar based "events" should occur: trivial changes have been day and night and weather (in outdoor zones) which lead to different mobs spawning. However, seasons could change and more realistic weather (snow in winter, rivers running dry in summer, flowers bloooming in spring, leaves falling in Fall) could be added. I would suggest a season should correspond to at least a week of realtime. At most, players would have to wait three weeks to see the proper season again, but they could log in any time during that week (it ensures a weekend, and prime time) and it would be that season. There could be seasonal quests which require a person to log in once a week for four weeks in a particular zone to complete. These would be for more casual players (who populate outdoor zones more in general).

Mob population and quest distribution and NPC locations could change with season. It doesn't have to be drastic. It could be simply an NPC is indoors in winter and fishing in Spring and simply outdoors in Summer and Fall. It could be quite dramatic with entire people gone.

Real playstyle effecting events could be like an army of orcs appearing and if left unchallenged, will march around wiping out all the other camps (the goblins and kobalds and wolves or whatever). This even could be "nipped in the bud" by offing the "orc drummers" who spawn and begin to summon the army. Once the army makes one trip (or two or whatever) which may take, say, 45 min they despawn, perhaps announcing their victory to the zone. In some sense, it is a challenge to the players not to allow it to occur again. Perhaps the commander of the orc army could drop nice loot. It would clearly take a significant force to bring the army down.

NPC lead player army (or counter army): to counter this, players could "sign up" in groups with a NPC leader which forms a PC army to counter the orc army. They're automatically in a raid force, with the first group leader as effecive raid leader. However, up to (4?5?) groups could sign up with the NPC leader, who would be rather buff. Perhaps some NPCs could spawn if not enough PC's join in. At some point, the two forces would head toward each other with respective leaders shouting challenges. It is likely to be a messy event, but every participant on a winning PC side should get some token for having been there.

Druids and other nature attuned players should be able to have special knowedge in such zones. Spells could alter the weather, let's say, and thus the mob-spawning. Dueling druids could change it back, however, so the players should only be able to push it in one direction, and that direction should benefit everyone. E.g. it should not eliminate anyones quest NPC, if anything it should spawn more.

User Journal

Journal Journal: MMORPG Opinions

Just a few thoughts on MMORPGs before I forget them.

There will be a day when truly dynamic MMORPGs arive. Content will not change at a rate of 30 day patches which alter a tiny fraction of content. It will change minute by minute. It will be far more like playing D&D in person with a real DM then versus a static environment. And it will not be a PVP gankfest. If you want great PVP, go play counterstrike. Massive Role Playing is not that.

Yet it would be prohibitively expensive to actually pay people to be one's DM. It would be multiple dollars per person per hour - and right now we're talking about maybe $15/month. How will this true dynamic content arrive?

Other players. They will be anonymos and run a zone, with perhaps 10-100 people in it. They will be elected and can be removed from office in real time. They will have the power to spawn a custom NPC with a specific handcrafted quest, or a merchent NPC with goods, or a moneychanger or banker in a zone to save people from a run to the city. They'll control the weather. They'll be able to control any NPC guards and their patrols. They'll be able to form up a horde of bad guys to rush the town walls. They will be the spice of life which is the difference between now and the future.

They should be recruited from long time players on other servers to "DM" or whatever we want to call it a zone on a server on which they have no characters and no particular interest. They won't know the server they will DM ahead of time. With modern MMORPGs with 30 or so parallel servers, these people will not be terribly effective in benefitting any particular person - even if they wanted to. Further, they would be assigned to a zone at some point below their current level of their main. A zone they have spent some time in. But again, even if there was a particular person they wanted to help, it is rather unlikely that person would be at the right level.

Having a DM present should not vastly improve the loot of the zone or the experience per hour played. It would be that last 10% bonus. The DM would realize people are hunting orcs for a quest or faction or whatever and spawn "more" of them - perhaps they can't spawn that many more, but just more. If a group is camping a rare spawn (if those are even in advanced MMORPGs) assumedly the DM would not be able to respawn that mob without limits.

People will enjoy being the DM as much or perhaps more then actually playing. They will be able to take on assistants to help manage the zone and they will have a social network among themselves. Perhaps they'll have a "break room" where they can mingle. MMORPGs have socilization as the best aspect going for them.

(A minimum requirement for becoming a DM might be to play multiple classes up to a certain level to show some mastery of the game).

On a totally unrelated note:

In the future, I envision several types of "levels" for a character: solo, group, raid. We'll be able to look and see how much a person has done each activity. Further, there could be a dungeon/instance/wilderness indicator showing how much exp gained in each zonetype. There could be some kind of newbie-helping indicator, or some kind of special level for playing a lower level then your main to group with lower level people.

To reward playing in multiple types of settings (say solo/group/raid) there could be a bonus for attaining a level in each. One way I'm thinking is: you have these three totally separate pools (solo/group/raid) and you gain exp in only one at a time. The first one to ding you to the next level grants you a full level worth of hit points/mana, etc. You gain access to the new spells or abilities. However, if you spend the time to get the second or third up, you do gain some extra hp/mana (only - plus maybe minor other plusses). I'm thinking maybe 10% of the original level gain worth.

Ugh! Why all this extra grinding? To reward people for other modes of play. To make it less of a grind and more of a reward, the subsequent leveling could be 5x faster for the second and 20x faster for the third.

I think low-end raid content is sadly lacking from most MMORPs at the moment and I think this could be a great way to get people into big teams early. Let's say the level cap is 60. By level 20, why not have some content for a bunch of level 15-25s to get together and take down, say, a giant. I'm not saying a veritable horde of people are needed, but perhaps 12+ people. The giant gives great loot for the level, but nothing that these players won't gain at level 30 anyhow. But for the next 5-15 levels, they'll have some nice stuff. Of course the content would need to be instanced or level limited so that a level 40 doesn't run in and solo the giant, or stand on the sideline healing or buffing or debuffing for them, making the encounter trivial.

What if you hate soloing? raiding? Then don't. You'll only be a few percent behind those who do - and if you even take it up, you'll be able to level really quick at it.

I think WoW had a great idea in exp for pure exploration. I'd love to get credit for visiting all those obscure zones in EverQuest.

I love the ability to solo in WoW, however grouping just wasn't enough of a bonus. With two or maybe three people together, why bother trying to add another?

I also loved the challenge of EverQuest Lost Dungeons adventures (missions). Each class in the group had to do their part. As a reward, we got nice loot (well, before they nerfed they systematically do with each about bait and switch) nice experience and we got special points to buy gear. By saving up, we could get unbelievable gear - it just took a while.

I love the competence and teamwork - but I enjoy soloing too and if we have a group of five and we can all solo - and perhaps we're better off soloing, whats the point of grouping? What's the point of building those skills up?

The 3 level (group/solo/raid) solution I suggest answers this: there is an explicit bonus for each behavior at any point in your career.

As for raiding, I think there needs to be some instanced content or special quests so that a guild can restart a previous raid from an advanced point. Right now, in Everquest, there is way too much trivial content to hack through to get to the exciting parts. Raids are loads of standing around and running to specific locations and the raid killing trivial mobs.

Why can't we fight through the Boss's horde of underlings one-point-oh times and take a whack at the Boss. If we fail, we get another try: without the wasted time hacking through the trivial filler. Activating the bookmark should benefit most of the people who did the dirty work getting there. Let's say, for every 2 original people, a third not there originally could join in, but no more then 10% more people can attempt to smack the Boss down then came in originally. Thus let's say a small guild hacks it's way to the Boss with 20 people. They fail to take him out. Of those 20, let's say only 14 are online next day to try again. They can add up to 7 more people (one for every two of the 14). But no matter how many they have repeated they can't go over 110% of the original 20 (up to 22, in this case).

It might be necessary to restrict how many such "bookmarks" certain guilds have. Maybe three is a good number. Or perhaps each character can only have up to three different raids saved.

I envision getting as many wacks at the Boss as the guild desires. Perhaps they try 3 times in an evening and then realize they cannot do it with this few people - maybe they need to pick a different target or qualify more people for this target, etc.


I think RPGs should certify the ability of people to play a certain class via special solo instanced zones where they should have to use their skills. My rogue would have to systematically disarm a bunch of traps, sneak around a bunch of MOBs and avoid those that can see through hide. A monk may have to single pull a mob into a room. A warrior may have to hold aggro on two mobs at once off a fixed location NPC "caster" who stands back and casts small aggro spells on each over time. A healer would heal a tank in battle. A wizard would have to know when to nuke when a tank had enough aggro, etc.

I would like to be able to check out the certifications of people wanting to join my group. I think special instanced tests at levels 20, 40, 50, 55, 60 and every 5 levels thereafter would do. Fail and get another try in two weeks (real time) to delay any simple repeat until pass phenomina.

The point is to ensure a basic class competence by explicitly testing people on very basic skills needed in groups. There is too much powerleveling or E-Baying. The quality of a level 50 in EverQuest is no where near what it should be. To be honest, I'd like to see everyone in these tests with identical gear and stats. No bonus for being a troll or whatever. No bonus hit points for being an Ogre. Just walk in and see if you pass.

On that line of reasoning, there should be a "standard" gear for each level. Excessive twinking to have AC or hit points or whatever way, way above this standard should have a lessened impact. Yes, you should still be able to twink. No, it should not be an insane advantage as it is right now in EverQuest.

EverQuest is making a huge stride forward by allowing anyone to group with anyone in game, regardless of level via the "shrouding". The purpose is to help one's friends without explicit powerleveling. To play together at the same level is best.

Warcraft has a *great* idea in that quests give huge EXP rewards and good gear, but are only doable once. This is absolutely the right thing to do. It doesn't flood the market with junk quest gear done by someone 20 levels too high. It prevents bordom. It rewards travel.

I envision a future where there is no big list of quests kept because they change so often.

A very boring collect quest could begin with a DM spawned NPC handing the PC a container, which the PC fills with some random junk and smacks the combine button to make it into a single piece (easily transportable). The quest is turned in to a standard zonewide NPC - so that if the DM and the spawned NPC go away, there is always the chance to turn in. Further, the quest goes with the container. Since there are endless items in game, there are endless possible combination quests to do.

I love the EverQuest quest originating system of typing the text. It makes a person think about the game. Watching and listening can lead to more quests. We should be rewarded for taking the time to truly interact with the game in this mannor. In reality, the rewards are very poor in Eq. Probably 10% of all quests are ever done. It simply isn't worth the time.

In WoW, it is very kid-friendly in that the online quest system tells you exactly what you need, but there is something to be said for having to write it down and think about it and try some stuff out. Out of game knowledge about the game (in my own head) should count for something! Maybe not all quests should be done this way, but let's say 10% require us to type and write stuff down and go find stuff ingame without directions.

The little overhead map with groupmembers locations highlighted is very key and Eq should implement this somehow. A bunch of the "leadership" things should be way easier to attain - particularly at very high level!

There should be no hard and fast group limit. A smooth transition to a raid force should encourage gropuing and allow people to take unpopular classes. Right now in Eq, groups need a tank a healer, a slower, a puller and a damage dealer - but so many classes are purely damage dealers (rogue, wizard, mage, ranger, and to an extent beastlord, necro) that they are very, vary hard to find groups with because so many others are so much more desirable because of added utility.

Right now, in Everquest, if I group with 5 others, I get a big exp bonus, but if I add a 6th friend (total group size seven) I have to start a raid and take a huge hit. This is crazy. Let me add a seventh. Sure, maybe you want to have some instanced content balanced for exactly groups of six or some high level stuff. Fine. However, for the bulk of the game, let me grab three rangers if they are available and get them into my productive group of five and sure we'll take some kind of hit from the 40% xp bonus (or whatever it is) but let's make it easier to find groups and easier to add more people. It will be far less frusturating for us all.

User Journal

Journal Journal: What is right with Everquest (Eq)

I just wrote a post about what is "wrong" with Everquest (Eq), and I felt rather guilty. I actually enjoyed Eq for quite some time now. I have played roughly 3 years so I have some perspective. I have introduced my wife, sister, mom, and two good friends to Eq. We all talk about it from time to time although sis didn't really take to it the rest of us played together quite a bit over the years. Actually, right now I have not played in some months and I can't really see playing further. Perhaps in a future post I will post what I feel could be great improvements to Eq.

1. Grouping with other players. This is by far the best thing Eq has going. There is a dramatic improvement to playing with others - you can kill more monsters (mobs) and get more treasure (loot) per unit time with other people than without. Some classes work better together than others, but in general more is better. There is a hard cap in Eq at 6 players per group. This forces tough choices when forming a group, but on the whole grouping is beneficial to all involved. There is some "downtime" in Eq, when nothing is happening more than people just resting to regain hit points (health) and mana (spell points), but in a good group it is pretty minimal, perhaps 1/5 of the total time, and it gives you reason to talk to your groupmates.

Most people are very laid back so it is very nice (at least for me) to hear about people's kids or dogs or just their little jokes. People flirt in Everquest - mostly during downtime. No one takes it really seriously. First, loads of people play across gender lines, so that hot wood elf babe may very well be a portly older gentleman. Second, you are anonymous. No one can contact you in real life unless you permit it. I have made real friends online in Eq.

2. Helping others - it is so easy to help out people in Eq. My favorite way is to cast beneficial spells on people who benefit from it (buffing). If you see someone running along a boring stretch of terrain, you can hail them and cast a spell to help speed them on their way. If someone is out there fighting hard a simple spell or two may make a great difference to them. The next way to help out is to give items. This is a bit more dicy and I rarely practice it unless it is pretty easy for me to get the goods and it would really help the other person out alot.

3. (Static) Content - there is TONS of content in Eq. I have not played, but have read reviews of other MMORPGs and there does not seem to be nearly as many distinct places to go and things to do. I do wish there was quite a bit more dynamic content because it gets rather old, and that people would take advantage of more of the space (zones), nonetheless it is out there.

4. Restricted PvP - I and most people I know do not want to have anything to do with PvP. I think there is a very vocal minority who heavily favor it. In Eq, there are specific PvP servers, there is also the ability to become a PvP character on a normal (sometimes called blue) server - but doing so is really not very beneficial. Yet even if you are not flagged as PvP and on a blue server, you can duel other people - and there are places where you can attack anyone you want (like arenas to fight in). Several recent MMORPG titles have come out with integral PvP elements. I am not buying. Just listening to my friends who have tried PvP on Eq is enough to warn me off it for good.

I would consider a game with specific PvP-free servers.

5. The Bazaar - this is a zone where players can set themselves up as merchants to sell to other players. This is a vast improvement over our previous system of just shouting (auctioning) what we have to sell, or what we want to buy. Prices on most items dropped tremendously as people realized the previous rules of thumb for pricing were way out of line - but some items (mostly consumable items) gained value, too.

5.x: Below are a list of minor but very nice ideas implemented in Eq. Not significant enough each to be a major point, but altogether they make a huge addition to the quality of the game. Implementing some of these, or at least planning for future implementation, is highly recommended.

5a. The MP3 player - Eq always had a CD player, but I never used it - I just dont keep a stack of music CDs by my computer. MP3's, however, are something I had anyhow. I have huge (40-60 song) playlists. I wish the playlist format was a bit more standardized so that I could create my playlists for Eq while NOT playing Eq...and use slightly more refined tools.

5b. Quick travel - Eq began with a great system of teleport locations which could take people anywhere. A couple classes could 'port and asked for small donations. Then, with the first expansion, we had to rely on boats, which were always buggy - in fact so buggy that last time I played they were removed altogether and replaced with little gnomes who would just port you to the other side. But the boats were pretty bad in that you still had no choice but to run long, long ways. Now we have horses and speed up boots which are pretty easy to acquire, and a system of porting locations. I suppose the thought on the first few expansions was that these should be exotic locations and hard to get to, but that was immensly annoying.

5c. No Drop/Lore/No Rent tags on items - these three "tags", or item properties, prevent a great deal of exploits within the game.

5.c.i. No Drop - by far the most important tag, this tag indicates the item cannot be transfered between players. If you see someone with a No Drop item, they were the one to originally either craft it or pick it up (loot it) off the corpse of the monster (mob) which drops it. Although this does not exactly guarentee the player earned it, as people sometimes kill a powerful monster (say a "level 45" mob) with a group of far more powerful characters (say level 55) but then allow a lower level character, who would normally never be able to get it (say a level 23) to loot it. Even this technique has limits: most good items drop in very dangerous areas thus characters of far lesser level simply cannot get to the mob's corpse. So good NO DROP gear indicates either personal ability, or at least powerful friends. Further, the non-transferability means: (a) there is no reason for a group to just keep killing a particular mob over and over (camping it) to get loads of the items, just to sell them. If it is a really nice item perhaps everyone in the party will need one, then they will move on. More likely it will only benefit one or two members.

5.c.ii. Lore items - this tag means a person can only possess one copy of the item. This is really nice because you can trade (buy or sell) the item, but there is no reason to keep camping it forever. It limits the ammount of this gear available.

5.c.iii. No Rent items - this is probably the least useful tag as it means the item will vanish half an hour after you log out. It is mostly used for summoned items. The summoner makes the items, yet does not put himself out of business because the items are not used forever.

5.d. The LFG system - currently there is a window you can use to find groups looking for your class/level range. Far more efficient than just wandering from zone to zone asking if anyone needs a level 47 rogue. Further, if you are in a group, you can use the LFG system to seek a particular class. Currently underused.

5.e. Raid groups - allows large groups of people to share experience and collectively get "tagged" i.e. identified as having achieved certain goals.

5.f. Custom chat channels - any player can form a chat channel and invite friends to join. Allows friends of very different levels to at least talk to each other, even if they are in different areas of the world. Earlier, guilds (associations of players) had their own chat channels, but these could easily become overburdoned in large guilds and many guilds become level restricted in practice, so if your friends can't all be in your guild you can still talk. Far easier than just sending individual tell commands to each.

5.g. Messaging into and out of the game is allowed. It should be connected to something like IRC (or ICQ or AIM...) but at least you can reach in game friends (particularly those who's phone line is occupied when they are online).

6. Risk/Reward - Everquest begins easy enough - kill 5 or 6 mobs near your starting city and ... ding ... level 2. For most levels it will take you around 5 hours per level - and with super duper help from friends may cut this in half or so but regardless, by level 40 you will have played for hundreds of hours. Then the game slows. You will have the choice to fight in very dangerous locations for a good rate of experience per hour (thus quicker leveling) or go to safer places and grind it out, slow and steady. Most people choose the later. But you don't have to.

There is a level cap but it is quite hard to reach. It has been increased twice: from 50 to 60 and recently from 60 to 65. Also, the rate of exp gain was slowed immensly very long ago as people just play for far, far longer periods of time than the creators imagined.

How is this a good thing? Sure, progress is slow but if you could reach the end quickly, there would be no challenge left. Further, there are lots of people at the higher levels so there are lots of groups available. Being outleveled by all your friends and unable to group together for mutual benefit is no fun.

I don't really like the methods, but the result of keeping everyone only so powerful keeps certain things perpetually challenging - and keeps players bunched together so that hords of people can work together to overcome a single mob. If everything you and your 14 close friends worked so hard to attain can be had easily by a level 92 guy, there is no reason to try it.

7. The players themselves - the bottom line for Eq is you better like people or you should not be playing. The only thing which makes MMORPGs great is certainly not the graphics, sound, gameplay, or puzzles. It's the people.

Like slashdot, you have a reputation in Eq. In /., the quality of posts when way up when there was a record of past behavior (and misbehavior). Even the ephemeral index of "karma" which is not even a number anymore just a single adjective is so powerful in keeping (most) people in line.

In Everquest, this role has mainly been taken on in two ways: first, you remember a list of "friends" and people to "ignore" - effectively your enemies who don't even have to listen to if you don't want. Second, players can form guilds and thus collaborate together. Guilds are, by default, responsible for their members thus being in an active guild carries benefits and responsibilities. Misbehaving members can be reported. Action can be taken. The system generally works. Unguilded players, or players in a very obscure guild, are unknown quantities. I usually play with no guild and I can pretty safely say that until the very high levels there is not much of a downside to it. (When you have played long enough you should find some buddies to join.)

If you are making a MMORPG, or have any influence with people who are, please, please keep these seven ideas in mind. Certainly, they are just my opinions, however ignore them at your peril. People generally will not switch MMORPGs because of the immense personal investment we have in them, so very few will succeed.

Everquest came along and got very lucky. Ultima Online was plagued by PvP and Asheron's Call was too easy. Everquest had the right ammount of challenge, coupled with very cool content to attract a great fan base who, basically, made the game great by pointing out the problems, helping each other pass them, and sticking with it while the authors fixed the bugs and adjusted the difficulty and balanced the classes.

I doubt there will ever be another game equally successful, but I truly hope there is.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Setting Bad Precedence

In taking action it is wise to consider not only the direct results of the action, but what kind of precedence it sets for others to follow.

Section I: An Example

We can take the case of piracy. If a youth pirates a computer game or a music CD which said youth could never realistically afford, it may be considered a victemless crime: under the letter of the law the child "stole" something but upon closer inspection since the author was in no (direct) way effected it is truely not stealing - if I steal your car then, by definition, you don't have the car anymore. If a 10 year old homeless kid burns a copy of some of your songs on a public library computer few would object. Fewer would prosecute.

However, it sets the precedence for others to pirate and if enough do everyone will suffer the consequences. In my experience (limited as it is) I have run across cases of whole nations being excluded from various services due to a small number of pirates.

On a greater scale, we could imagine the whole artisitc community collapsing if no sales are generated because all art is pirated.

On a side note, the one artistic industry most susceptable to piracy - the computer gaming industry - is larger (and has been for several years) than the movie industry where piracy (until recently) has been virtually no problem at all. So bad precendence has it's consequences but by and large our worst fears are not realized.

Section II: War

Now consider one of the worst crimes humans have managed to invent: war. My country, the USA, has invaded two souvern nations and replaced their governments - within the last year and a half.


In the first case, Afganastan, ostensively the USA invaded to root out the terrorists which were suspected to have links to the 9-11 attacks. Remember, no evidence was found until well into that campaign. The USA asked for Bin Laden to be handed over and when the Afgan government said they could not find him the USA attacked. We attacked both the Taliban and the Bin Laden's band.

Now, the USA cannot find Bin Laden. If he orchestrated an attack against, say, India what would we say? Just what the Afgan government said: we cannot find him. We are trying.

Another justification for attack was the Taliban government allowed Bin Laden to operate in the open, within Afgan borders. The current government within Afganistan cannot possibly hope to control all elements within it's borders.

Although it may sound otherwise, I do believe the Taliban were in collusion with Bin Laden. I do believe Bin Laden was behind the 9-11 attacks. I do believe going after Bin Laden - and the Taliban if they got in the way - was a good idea.

However, the way that the USA went about it sets dangerous precedence. Particularly considering the main arguments for attacking Afganistan still exist: the government cannot find Bin Laden and cannot control or secure the country.

Consider an alternative: the UN could have been consulted. The NATO alliance could have been invoked and at least a show of solidarity presented. Now, in hindsight, these steps seem obvious because of the Iraq situation. Yet the administration must have already known then that Iraq was next on the list.

Certainly, many will doubt that the UN Security Council would act swiftly but recall the almost universal support granted the US after the 9-11 attacks. Even if the UN did not act at all there would have been a discussion and nations would publically have to explain why they would be opposed to a US invasion of Afganistan. Even in the face of failure (most likely due to veto) the US would have come out with majority support. Recall even Syria, the nation the US has just had harsh words with, joined in the international effort to fight terrorism.

Now we have set the bar for invasion quite low. Just by consulting the UN it could be raised.

Further, the US could have declared war on Bin Laden's network and given a stern warning to the Taliban to stay out of it. Of course they would have joined with Bin Laden to fight. The "result" would have been the same but the precedence would have been quite different.

Now the US has set a precidence for attacking and overthrowing a nation because it cannot find it's criminals - but we could have set the precidence for attacking a nation only when it came to defend it's criminals.

Far more troubling to me as a US citizen, the prisoners taken are not declaired POWs. The geneva conventions are explicit on this point: any armed conflict is war and all prisoners taken are POWs. No distinction is made based on who started the war or the level of participation in actual combat.

Even US citizens living in the US have been designated "enemy combatents" and are not allowed any of their constitutional protections such as to know the charges against them, to have a public trial, to have any legal representation. Recently when asked why Jose Pedilla could not see a lawyer, the administration indicated it would interfere with his perception of dependance on his captors for such basic things as food and water.

This is torture. Our government tortures it's own citizens in hopes of gaining information from them. Please, help stop this. It sets a very bad precedence.

(You may not actually believe this, that the US government is capable of this but please refer to, program #229 Secret Government.)
One wonders about the "enemy combatents" in Camp X-Ray in Cuba. Some of those recently released were old men. I wonder if any are children.

Recently, US POWs were displayed by Iraqi television, and the administration claimed this violated the geneva conventions. Helen Thomas asked if the US showing Afgan "enemy combatents" on television was also against the same convention. She was not answered. She was moved to the back of the press gallery from the front where her seniority has placed her for many years.


The precidence set in Iraq is far more unsetteling. The UN Security Council explicitly voted for "serious consequences" if Iraq did not "comply fully" with inspections. The US acted virtually alone as judge, jury and executioner.
As jury, the US found Iraq in violation of the resolution. As judge, the US decided what "serious consequences" meant. As executioner the results are clear.

Although it there was a coalition, there is no chance the coalition would have acted without the US and there is little doubt that the US would have acted without the coalition. That is not much of a coalition.

Thus far the US has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction (wmd)- the ones which Sadam Hussain said he destroyed and the US said they had intelligence which made certain that he had not. The same ones the inspectors could not find. The inspectors said they needed more people and more time. The US Army has quite a bit more resources on the ground right now than the UN ever did and has had complete access to facilities because of the war - which the UN never did. So the WMD are not easy to find. Like Bin Laden and Sadam Hussain we are told that they are no longer important - even though many of us believed the original goal was to find and neutralized them. Changing the goals of a mission in progress is not good precidence, either.

Yet the worst precedence is that of pre-emptive war. Countries like India who have neighbors like Pakistan are now considering pre-emptive war and in many ways have far more right to do so than the US ever did. Iraq could have tried to send agents against the US - Pakistan and India exchange these agents on an annual basis. It's rather like exchanging Christmas cards which say "F*ck You" but it is between two nations which have fought several wars in the last half century and now both have WMD of the nuclear kind.

If India and Pakistan fight a war few will call it pre-emptive because it is not. But even if they never lifted a finger - even if the governments are not behind the killings (as both governments claim) the US has taught them a lesson. It is a lesson we hope they do not practice.

And yet, like piracy, the worst has not yet happened. It would be very ignorant for either side to think an exchange of nuclear arms will in any way serve their interests - even if the leaders do live through it. The leaders are human and have children who I assume they want to protect.

So in the short run the US actions to depose a horrible regiem - one which used torture far, far worse than anything the US government has ever used. In doing so the US has done a great good in the world. It is the methods I question.

As in the case of Afganistan, there was an alternative. Consider if the US shared the intelligence on WMD with the inspectors. Either the intelligence is wrong (which today, April 22 2003 is looking quite likely) or the WMD are found. Either way the US has set a good precedence. The US follows the rules. The US accepts the limitations of real UN agents carrying out a real UN inspection. Perhaps someone would tip off the Iraqis.

Perhaps the WMD would be hidden and used later and people would die because of it - yet this is the price we must pay to follow the rules. It is not free but if we believe we are a world of law it is what must occur.

If the police have evidence, perhaps very good evidence, that a man has drugs in his flat they do not jump in and break down the door and grab it. They get a warrent - or they try. An impartial judge decides. Then they do barge in but they do not immediately convict the man even if the drugs are found they hold a trial. A jury of that man's peers decides his fate (if he wishes a trial by jury). He is provided with legal defense if he cannot afford to provide his own. His lawyer may be slick. The jury may be swayed by the slick lawyer. In fact, the jury might accept the guilt but vote for innocense because they feel the law is unjust.

There is always a price for living under laws. Only if we are committed to live with these laws can we improve them. Every time we step outside these laws, like some gunslinger in a western, we may do a good deed right we do not advance justice.

And like the gunslinger we better be prepared to sleep with the gun under our pillow and wake up at the slightest sound in the night because our enemies have learned it is right to attack pre-emptivly.

This is ironic as the war with Iraq was touted as increasing our national security. Yet it should not come as a surprise. It is not just my opinion that our security is lessened. The CIA openly stated before the war that going to war with Iraq would increase the likelyhood of WMD being used against Americans. In America.

(You can find this on, program number 227 Why We Fight where Senator Bob Graham, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee who requested this report actually asks the This American Life radio staff to try to get an answer from the Administration on this because they will not answer him.)

Section III: Super-duper Superconductive Superpower Argument

I do not expect this argument to resonate with many Americans. In my experience of telling this story, many people seem totally unconcerned with it because America is the sole Superpower. No precedence is bad because only the US has the power to act on that precedence. We must consider first whether might makes right and second, are we really all powerful?

Might Makes Right?

Cynically, we say all the matter is might. If a nation can do it, they will - if it serves their interest. Yet the US is at least pretending not to do this. The US has the power to take all the oil from Iraq. Yet we do not. The US has the power to hunt down radical islamic leaders who voice anti-American sentiment all over the globe and kill or at least threaten them. We do not. The US gave aid to China during the Vietnam war when a major dam broke. China was supporting Vietnam.

America should be a shining beacon of justice to the world. We are not now and I fear we may never be so again.

Thus it is a question of degree. America will do as America wants, but within limits. Some law is allowed but the US will not sign onto anti-land mine treaties or even rather mild environmental ones.

But without question America does follow rules. Might does not make right.

Other Powers

Superpower does not last forever. Just ask the English, or the French. The make up of the security council's perminant membership reflects power just half a century ago yet it is already rather outdated.

It is not difficult to imagine a country with a work ethic like Japan but cheap labor like China rising from the East with a brilliant economy. By attracting the most educated among us - the most creative the most enterprising such a nation could quickly overtake America in wealth. America has maintained it's superpower status by outspending other nations, such as Russia, yet we have acquired a massive debt in the process. Eventually the debt will come due. The interest on the debt alone is a huge fraction of the national budget - far larger now than military expendatures.

Further, forces within America fight right now to pull down the exact forces which drive our economy at a dizzying pace. Riots at the WTO meeting in Seattle reflect a larger sentiment in America. About one third of Americans under the age of 65 when without insurance during the 2001-2002 two year period. One quarter of those had no insurance at all for the entire two year period - that is one twelvth of the entire population. Numbers are far higher among children. People are beginning to ask why, as the richest nation in the world, do we live so poorly.

No one works more hours than Americans. Studies have shown that four 50 hour work weeks are no more productive than four 40 hour work weeks, but still Americans come in to work overtime. Employers expect it, and workers fear layoffs without it. More security for workers is virtually certain in the future and this will inevitably lead to a weaker economy (but perhaps a higher standard of living).

A common argument is that the nations are not nearly as large as America. With the European Union, the beginnings of end of the nation-state are near. Soon only nation-continents may be left with excluded countries as archaic anachronisms as single city nations such as Luxomburg and Monte Carlo are today. An Asian Union could be a serious force to be reconed with.


Precedence matters. Whether it is music piracy or war, considering what would happen if others follow in our footsteps is critical to living in a society ruled by laws and not might. The US has set very poor precidence, yet the worst has not occured. Americans now are unlikely to listen to this argument as they feel safe now, but may not in the future. It is this unknown future for which we must prepare and hope that law - good law which we have had plenty of time to work on - rules rather than mere might.

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A debugged program is one for which you have not yet found the conditions that make it fail. -- Jerry Ogdin