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A Player's Right To Privacy

by Selina Kelley

"It's OK to snoop players, they're all going to cheat anyway."

Are they? Does having the assumption that all players will cheat give any one person (or group of people) the right to snoop a player? I don't know, but I know that whenever the topic of snoop comes up, I get an awfully sick feeling in my stomach.
The Saint

The Saint is always snooping around and well, making lots of money.

I'll be honest, I've snooped people. At one time, I snooped a lot. There was this heady sensation to having the power of knowing what people talked about, knowing what they did. There was no justification for my snooping someone, nothing that I could ever really say to convince myself that it was "OK", but for some reason, it was difficult to stop.

I've always felt that snooping is wrong and that it is a gross invasion of privacy. Difficult as it may have been to stop snooping, once I had done that, it was as if a great burden had been lifted from me--the burden of guilt. Guilt that in some way I had violated my personal integrity and had violated the trust that was given to me as an "overseer" to the mud.

I was introduced to the snoop command at a relatively early "mud age". I was a mere player and a victim of the "Evil Witch Mud Co-Admin" [tm] and her "snoop" command. I didn't really understand what it was or how it worked, I just knew that somehow, a person was able to see what someone else typed. Once I became a wizard and a member of a "Balance" team, I was directed to snoop people to ensure that the mud remained balanced. So I did, diligently. In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable, but soon it didn't phase me at all. A few times, I caught conversations between people that were concerning me and couldn't find it in myself to turn off the snoop. Sometimes I heard good things about me, sometimes bad and in my own (at the time quite immature) way, I got my revenge on anyone that had mentioned anything "bad" about me.

I began to snoop constantly. For nearly four months, almost every minute I was online I had an active snoop on someone. When they logged out, I just switched to a new person. I was oblivious to the "wrongness" of snoop and would have laughed if anyone had mentioned it to me.

What stopped me? I think it was a realization that I was turning into a person I didn't like. I started hearing things about me that were more bad than good and I hated that. I took out my anger on some very good friends and as a result I lost them. From that day forward I vowed to never snoop again.

I broke that vow only once. It was just a few months after I made it and I snooped someone a couple times. I felt justified because I was told they were stealing code, but it still made me feel dirty, even when it was proven that they were, in fact, stealing code.

I don't like snoop. I'm like an ex-drug addict who has taken the 12-step program, no longer craves and will never turn back. I feel it greatly diminishes the enjoyment of not only the snoop-ee, but ultimately the snoop-er as well. I've removed every instance of the snoop command from the mud I am currently on. I've also made it quite clear to every new player, every new immortal, every single person on my mud, that any invasion of privacy is wrong.

I believe in freedom to play and that freedom includes being free to say anything you want to someone without fear of being "watched". I believe that for me to enjoy myself on a mud, I have to be able to state, without doubt, that no player on the mud I am on will be snooped.

Many people don't understand why snooping is wrong. I've heard many arguments for snooping - to fix bugs, to track balance, to catch thieves - but I believe for every argument given, there is a solution that does not involve snooping. There's always a second option, always an alternative.

It's all about ethics. How would you feel if you found out your boss tapped your phones? Or if your wife/husband/significant other put a bug in your clothing to see if you cheated on them? Sure, in some cases it can be legal (police phone-taps for example), but the ethical questions that arise out of such an act are enormous.

There has to be an amount of trust on a game. If you make a thousand rules, there are a thousand ways to break them. If you have a snoop command in the game, it will be used. No matter what restrictions are in place, there is always a way to get around them and a way to insist that it's "OK" because of "XYZ-lame reason".

I don't begin to be a person who is lily-white, who knows the answers, who can preach to someone about snooping, privacy and the rights of players, but I do believe that the privacy of a player is tantamount to a successful mud. The more comfortable a player is on your game, the more likely they are to bring their friends to play there too.

I'm almost two years snoop-free and proud of it. Sure, it might not be an easy, quick, or simple thing to achieve, but I think being snoop-free lends an integrity to a mud and to its staff, that few muds can claim.

Selina Kelley is one of the tirelessly working members of The Mud Connectors review team and is now a member of our Staff Writers.