Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sociolotron, the Sex MMO

Pursuing the Libido's Dark Side
Lord Foucault is an admitted rapist. He does it on impulse -- for the thrill of it and for the feeling of control he has over his female victims.
But he's not attacking women in real life. Instead, Lord Foucault is a character in Sociolotron, an online virtual world that gives players a platform where they can act out a wide range of fantasies.
"My character ... does it for a few reasons," said Lord Foucault. "He does it for power, and it is motivated by opportunity. If he sees a girl that interests him and he can have sex with them, he does."
Sociolotron, currently in beta, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The game offers fare such as battling monsters, questing and other fantasies familiar to players of games like EverQuest and Ultima Online. But Sociolotron differs by providing a way to indulge in sexual taboos like rape and bondage with consequences like sexually transmitted diseases and even pregnancy. And it is quite explicit in informing would-be players about what they may experience in-world.
To some of the game's players, it's appealing to know that they may encounter what would be a nightmare in the real world.
"Rape in reality is an ugly thing," said a player known as Pert. "But many people have rape fantasies that have nothing to do with real rape, like being raped by a tall, handsome stranger and the like. It's those fantasies that can be lived out."
Indeed, Pert said she sees opening her character up to Sociolotron's risks as something akin to wandering through the pages of dark novels.
"I get out of it what I would get out of an erotic book, some excitement that is without real danger, something risque," she said. "I enjoyed the Anne Rice Beauty series, (and) it's a bit like being in that book."
To Patric Lagny, Sociolotron's developer, the game is about breaking down the social conventions that limit what players can do in the EverQuests of the world.
"I see it as an environment where you should be able to do anything you want," he said. "It goes beyond the real and gives people the opportunity to do things you couldn't in reality."
Rape in virtual worlds is not an entirely new concept. In 1993, Julian Dibbell wrote a piece for the Village Voice titled "A Rape in Cyberspace." In it, he described the circumstances of a rape and its aftermath in the game LambdaMOO.
The difference between LambdaMOO and Sociolotron is that in the former, the rape Dibbell wrote about shook up the game; it was unexpected, and players were unclear on how to deal with it. In Sociolotron, players know rapes may occur -- and there is a mechanism for dealing with it when it happens.
According to Lagny, rapes -- as with other in-game crimes like theft, murder and the like -- are quickly investigated. If the perpetrator is caught, he or she is sent to trial. There, a prosecutor, judge and jury -- all roles filled by players -- preside as the accused argues his or her case. Penalties for rape range from a week to two weeks in the game's jail, said Lagny.
"It looks like they're saying, why don't we take the mechanisms of society as they exist, which already have checks and balances built in," said Dibbell, "and just map them into the game play."
Dibbell suggests, however, that in-world rapes rise above other crimes, even though each is no more than a reconfiguring of 1s and 0s.
"I think sexual crimes are interesting," he said, "because unlike killing or (other) physical violence, there is a real psychological element of degradation and humiliation."

And the reactions of those who have been raped in Sociolotron is revealing, especially given that they knew ahead of time that it could happen to them.
"While being raped, it's a loss of control," said a female Sociolotron player known as Phoenix. I "have (only) been raped once by an unknown rapist, (and it) scared the daylights out of me at first."
Men, too, are often rape victims, as well as perpetrators, in the game.
"I spent about an hour talking to a male victim of a male rapist in the game," said a player known as Ginger, "and he was actually quite distressed about it all in a real-life way."
Even the rapists themselves sometimes have the tables turned on them, said Lord Foucault.
"Being raped myself was shocking at first," he said. "When it happened on a public street where anyone could see it, I was shocked."
Surprisingly, however, some players find that, even though they identify with the emotions their characters feel, they don't always think being raped in the game is all that awful, especially after the first time. And that has every bit to do with the fact that they know they are participating in a world where, as Lagny says, players are encouraged to act as they wish.
"We get very emotional about what happens to our characters, as we do put a lot of work into them," said Phoenix. "But we also need to remember (that) when we signed up for the game that we were all warned about what can and will happen in the game. And we have to figure out how our characters will deal with the 'emotional damage.'"
For Lord Foucault, that meant deciding that what had happened to him was "cool" and then figuring out ways to make sure it didn't happen again.
Ren Reynolds, who wrote about Sociolotron on the blog Terra Nova and who has written about rape issues in single-player games, said it's vital to remember that what happens in the game stays in the game. Therefore, he added, people shouldn't be afraid that the game's players will step away from their computers filled with violent lust.
"It's extremely spurious," Reynolds said, "to argue that playing the game is going to encourage real-life acts of rape."
In fact, Reynolds said, the fact that rape and other so-called bad acts are possible in a game like Sociolotron can actually be a valuable social experiment.
"On the face of it, it looks immoral," he said. "But there are all kinds of reasons, from notions of what games are and what imagination and playing with concepts are, and the fact that, assuming that everyone there is an adult and knows what they're doing, it's not that easy to mount a moral argument against it."
More to the point, said Ginger, Sociolotron's world is one where caveat emptor is the ruling philosophy, and adults who consent to participate in such a world should be left to their own devices.
"If you can't handle virtual bad things happening to you in a virtual world, then you really shouldn't be playing," Ginger said. "This place has been created to get away from the mainstream, to give players a dark environment with which to play in. If they don't want a dark environment where bad things happen, then they should go back to (The Sims Online) or wherever else it was they came from."
SPOTLIGHT: Sociolotron, the Sex MMOWe chat with the creator of this unique online game.
These days, online games come in all shapes and forms. EverQuest is your typical, D&D-influenced fantasy game, The Sims Online takes the most popular PC game of all time and introduces social interaction, and some are nothing more than reality sims, letting you lead a double life without the messy process of actually dying.

Ultima Online-esque 2D environment where players could customize more imaginative avatars for their sexual escapades.

Patric Lagny of Muelheim, Germany founded Sociolotronics LLC and lays claim as the mastermind behind this decidedly unique type of online game. Originally a programmer at Blue Byte before absorption into Ubisoft, Lagny worked on moderately popular PC releases Battle Isle, Battle Isle 2200 and The Settlers before striking on his own.

Sociolotron was started three years ago under Lagny's own financial burden, and to get a better idea of what the heck drives someone to develop such an odd type of MMO, we asked Lagny to sit down and explain Sociolotron to us. Here's what he had to say.
1UP: Where'd you even come up with the idea of an adult MMO? Who finances this kind of game?Lagny: The idea is pretty obvious. Everybody is doing it in regular online games like UO. Furthermore there is the "Ultimate Guide of Carnal Knowledge" or something like that circulating for years know which is basically a D&D compatible rule set for sex in RPGs (you find it on Google) and I was hoping that somebody would do a game like that for years.

I started working on Socio after working hours for my own amusement and hoped that I could let it run on a DSL or cable line one day from home, just for a handful of players for free. Then two years ago the company I worked for had to close down and I decided to invest my work power fulltime in Socio and try to turn it into something I could make some money with. There is nobody who finances it, it's a one man operation, I rendered the graphics, did the programming, concept and so on. It's run by my savings and family support.
1UP: Walk us through a typical online day in Sociolotron.Lagny: Funny enough, I can't give you a player's day from first hand experience, since I never played Socio myself. During the past two and a half years of development a great crowd of dedicated players has grouped together in the forum that I set up for Socio and those guys gave me input, made suggestions about improvements and so on. We set up a hierarchy over time and through those channels came the input to me. I never had time to sit down for a day or two and actually play Socio so the dynamic development process and about half of the features came from players and they told me what's right and what's wrong.
I think my best guess is that players spend their day gathering raw materials for the production pipelines, spend time chatting in the local bars, plot politics for the player run government and have sex during what time there is left. When I started, I intended to make a sex chat with a little game around it, thanks to the player input Socio has turned into a game with some sex options.
1UP: How much control do you have over your appearance? How does that change the experience?Lagny: Socio started as a text only game and around halfway down the road, I decided to add graphics. Therefore there is a great emphasis on textual descriptions at first. When you look at a character you get a detailed textual description of his appearance and features like body fat, makeup, beauty, and such are all described quite sophisticated. The graphic representation however does not change.
Sure, you see cloths and equipped items and such, just like in other games, but you don't see actual fat people or thin people running around. The skin color and the haircut change too of course, but that's about it. The reason is that Socio uses pre-rendered 2D graphic much like UO, so every object needs to have 4-30 frames for every direction and, in case of cloths, also for every posture, of which we have about 30 or so, so it's a tremendous amount of graphic data and since Socio was always intended for download only distribution, I had to keep the data as small as possible.
Other than that, your body appearance not only affects the textual description but also the game features. A fat person for example looses dexterity, a thin person is weaker and so on.
1UP: So, what's the main point of the game, anyway? It doesn't seem like leveling up.Lagny: There is no real point in Socio and it's certainly not leveling up. It's just an alternate reality where people can do whatever they like to do. I think the freedom players have in Socio is the real target when they try to get away from the real world for a while. You can have a pretty usable character in a short time and after that it s the other people that keep the players around.
1UP: How does the 'sex' work? Considering much of the game is text based, it sounds an awful lot like regular cyber sex with some animated avatars.Lagny: There are different postures you can obtain and postures combine in various ways for example for regular sex there's doggy stile, missionary and a few others, for oral sex, one can stand, the others on all four or 69 position, you get the idea. Like in reality sex then consists of a lot of pumping until orgasm :) but the system gives textual descriptions and the players are encouraged to do their own textual role play. The graphic shows the positions and also the movements during sex, also due to the 2D nature of the graphics there are cover problems in the 3D space. In general the system supports cyber roleplay, that's the original idea.
1UP: How far do you push the adult angle? Is it simply sex? Or can you be 'evil'?Lagny: We're trying to allow mostly anything, except child pornography. We keep a close watch on what's going on and players know that childplay is forbidden. Every player is encouraged to report any such attempt. I can then check the server logfiles for proof and the respective player will be banned.
Crimes are possible and are a regular part of the game play, but we also have a player run justice system that stretches from police investigation over trials with player run jury, judges and prosecutors to a prison where convicted criminals spend a few days in detention, once they are caught, either by the robot guards or the player run police.
Characters can actually die and are either replaced by a heir or can chose to become a demon in an afterlife. These spiritual planes are similar to our main plane, just physically separated and more PvP combat oriented. Demons can be summoned back to earth by using black magic and even be resurrected.
So I guess there's a lot more in Socio than just Sex that can be considered "adult" and in fact I see the sexual aspect mostly as a side aspect now. Sure, people have sex, most come to Socio because of Sex, but then they enjoy all the other features Socio offers. In my eyes the widest possible degree of freedom is what people want, mostly because the current political situation takes away more and more personal freedom, on the street an in the bedroom too.
1UP: The character models are sort of...well, they're not Playboy models...Lagny: People who want to look at playboy models should buy the new Mansion game by Playboy. Flawless beauty is boring, although Socio offers plastic surgery to come close to the ideal if that's what people want, but it has the risk of permanent scars in case it goes wrong and other side effects.
1UP: Okay, in one screen shot (left) it says 'Gypsy Moon was raped. Duration: [20-March 2005 through 19-April 2005]' Er, can you explain that?Lagny: Rape is defined as sex without consent and that is recognized by our server just like other crimes for example theft, murder or indecent exposure. The justice system creates a crime object which can then be investigated and the criminal can be brought to prison just like any other crime. Socio is supposed to be a post apocalyptic and dark setting and implementing an 'excuse me, would you like to have sex with me, please' button was just not what went with it. Instead we gave the players the opportunity to impose a punishment on criminals themselves. Some people do that, but others just perform lynch justice and kill the criminals. Of course that makes them criminal too but sometimes emotions go so high that people accept that just to get back on somebody they really dislike.
1UP: What happens to a player when they're being 'raped'? Can they still walk around, interact? Here, the player was being raped for a whole month!Lagny: I don't know what you are referring to but a rape is simply a sex act where one player tries to escape but is held back by the other player. It lasts as long as any normal sex act and both players are able to walk away afterwards. Technically it's like a normal sex act, just that there is a crime object generated that can be used to bring the criminal behind bars. Rape is really something that plays only a minor role, plus players can prevent it by wearing lockable chastity belts, both men and women, which is why it's really more like an option. It was highly overrated in past articles mostly because the authors wanted to have some sensational hook for their articles. I can't stress enough that it is merely a minor part in the role-play in Socio.
1UP: The graphics seem reminiscent of Ultima Online with everything on a 2D plane. What's the theory behind 2D > 3D in today's industry?Lagny: For me, 2D was the only way to go. I could prerender all graphics and didn't need a 3D game engine. 2D is much simpler to do and gives less stress in the troubleshoot department than 3D but there are also other questions. For the next version, 3D is clearly the way to go simply because we will be able to show more animations with less data, plus we can avoid other difficulties. I think 2D is still good for some game genres, especially were cute cartoon characters in great details are needed. Other genres, like RPGs can profit from 3D when it is done well, like for example in Vampires Bloodline. The 3D graphic really adds to the mood and you begin to feel cozy in those neighborhoods and like to walk around.
Interested in checking more about Sociolotron? Head over to the game's ICQ Group
This is a place for players of Sociolotron and those interested in learning more about it to hang out, chat and have fun.

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