Spying on players


  • Coder

    I think the concept of player privacy is an interesting game design aspect to discuss. I've been many games handling these issues in different ways.

    In the first game I ever helped staff was built on digichat, in it was common practise for the Storytellers to wander around the public rooms invisible, watching the scenes going on and sometimes when appropriate they'd start running a scene on the spot. If you wanted real privacy you had to create a password protected private room. This actually worked out surprisingly well for the most part.

    On RfK, we had a policy that we would never be dark on the grid, as I understand it due to various horror stories from MU* past. However what we did have was a debug channel which outputted information when most coded systems were used like rolling dice or feeding, the most interesting part was when after many requests a simple 'txt' code was added. It was really just an alias for page and like most of our other systems, it was set up to output into the debug channel.

    This turned out to be really interesting and valuable for us in staff since we got a live feed of the things that characters were talking about ICly at any given moment, giving us a much better idea of the current state of the game.

    The biggest problem I tend to discover in the transition from being a player in a game and staff in a game is that as your awareness of behind the scenes things increase, like player requests, metaplot etc etc you often lose awareness of what's going on at the player level since you don't get to interact with people in scenes the way that you used to. Spying on players is one way to gain that sort of awareness but it's something that is easily abused and can lead to the loss of player trust.

    What are your experiences and thoughts on player spying?



  • I had to think about this when building my own game and finding out that every single page ever made was logged permanently server side. On one hand, sure, that pretty much means he said-she said was never going to be a factor. But I decided to remove it entirely, simply because I think even if I was completely transparent about it, a lot of players would feel extremely uncomfortable about the lack of privacy.

    I think staff has to cultivate an atmosphere of trust, and I think a lack of privacy/spying undermines it heavily.


  • Coder

    No.

    --

    I was tempted to leave it at that, but I suppose I better clarify:

    I hate spying. I hate spying commands. I hate logging commands.

    I find it extremely hard to justify. Concerns about security don't really do it for me. It turns me off like nothing else on Earth if I know that a game has policies in place to support spying on players. The most common reason that I've seen is to prevent the abuse of code, but I'm not sure it's that effective. I have seen time and again players become staffers and the temptation is too much. They'll start flagging people suspect or dropping an observer on them or going dark or whatever the method is for the game for the silliest of reasons. It's nuts.

    None of this is IC: ICly, I have played multiple spies, moles, etc. It's awesome. It's good fun. But doing so requires the kind of trust that OOC spying can shatter.

    So, no. I've staffed on games that support it -- looking at you, Firan -- but every game I've ever built hasn't needed it, and we haven't had it.

    I will add one more thing: the games I create tend to be OOCly open and communicative, pretty small (20, 30 players), PvE rather than PvP, with a game culture that encourages all logs to be posted. If a staff member / storyteller wants to keep their finger on the pulse of the game, it's not hard.

    I understand in theory that it might not be the same for larger games, PvP games , games that don't post logs, etc. -- but I like the ability to be chill and open, and I have pretty strong feelings about avoiding games with OOC spying baked in like that as a player.



  • @Tez said:

    So, no. I've staffed on games that support it -- looking at you, Firan -- but every game I've ever built hasn't needed it, and we haven't had it.

    Yeah, the reasons for OOC spying that make sense are so rare that I haven't really come across them at all in practice, and I have a hard time seeing where you'd need it. In cases where I'd investigate abuse, I think the best compromise system I could come up with was having all pages be temporary and flushed at the end of the session, and players can voluntarily submit a copy of their own logs for review (but since it's server side, can't be doctored). Basically the same thing as report functions on MMOs.



  • @Groth said:

    The biggest problem I tend to discover in the transition from being a player in a game and staff in a game is that as your awareness of behind the scenes things increase, like player requests, metaplot etc etc you often lose awareness of what's going on at the player level since you don't get to interact with people in scenes the way that you used to. Spying on players is one way to gain that sort of awareness but it's something that is easily abused and can lead to the loss of player trust.

    I agree with your assessment of the problem; I've observed the same. You at once know more and less from the staff side -- what you know is simply different and it is not quantitatively or universally better or more useful. It's a different perspective, and one that comes with advantages and disadvantages that, frankly, are often overlooked entirely or hand-waved away, though they are indeed real. (This is part of the reason the 'but staff knows metaplot!' argument is generally a bag of horsepuckey; in reality it's a trade-off.)

    I do not think spying is an appropriate means to address this, however.


  • Pitcrew

    Spying OOCly is bad. Period.


  • Coder

    @Apos said:

    @Tez said:

    So, no. I've staffed on games that support it -- looking at you, Firan -- but every game I've ever built hasn't needed it, and we haven't had it.

    Yeah, the reasons for OOC spying that make sense are so rare that I haven't really come across them at all in practice, and I have a hard time seeing where you'd need it. In cases where I'd investigate abuse, I think the best compromise system I could come up with was having all pages be temporary and flushed at the end of the session, and players can voluntarily submit a copy of their own logs for review (but since it's server side, can't be doctored). Basically the same thing as report functions on MMOs.

    I would never want to spy on players OOC actions, there are some things which can not be unseen, which can not be unread and many of those things happen where players quite reasonably think noone is looking.


  • Pitcrew

    I like the idea of players being in charge of their own oversight by submitting logs via the system. If the don't they can't argue anything. Other than that, yeah ooc spying is scuzzy.


  • Coder

    Like @Groth, I started in a place where staff would commonly be invisible on grid to look for opportunities in starting scenes. Our staff-bits were even IC characters of power or position. Back then, I didn't see anything wrong with that, mostly because I was 1) young and 2) I wasn't doing anything I'd regret on an ethical level even now, though thinking about some of that RP is rather embarrassing now-a-days.

    There was a debug channel on TR for the dice roller, not sure anyone actually listened to it staff side, because it was spammy as shit. Don't think there was any real need for it either, the only really memorable time I recall is seeing someone making a lot of combat rolls, getting curious and realizing they were in a temp room just rolling dice. For whatever reason. Sating my curiosity as a staffer for why you want to roll a bunch of dice isn't really a great reason to have logging, though.

    In some ways, I miss the spontaneity of that time, when as a player or staffer, a public scene could mean a sudden PrP. Experience and cynicism tell me that at least half the time, the unknown presence of a staffer is for reasons other than the enjoyment of the players present. I'd rather have assurances that dark-listening isn't allowed period than have that spontaneity back, but it's certainly a trade-off.

    All MU's provide the code necessary to know every single thing done by any player at any time. You have to trust a game runner to at least some extent. I personally wouldn't be comfortable with the logging of texts sent between characters ICly. I'm not saying there's not value in it for staffers, but it's still a trade-off I wouldn't make.



  • I am deeply turned off by spying on players. I don't want to play or staff on games where it happens.


  • Coder

    I have tools already to track how many commands people are using just in default systems. If someone is burning through commands at an unreasonable rate they are probably trying to force the code to break which in and of itself is something /I/ do every time I right a new piece of code, to see if it needs a Semaphore or not. Anyways I know that individual could either be 1) A problem player, or 2) Someone looking for bugs to try and help the game.

    Either way I will watch to see if they're flooding commands all the time and will discuss it with them.

    As to OOC spying, no, I don't want to know what you and that other person are doing in your private room. Humans have some weird sexual desires and honestly, some of them freak me right the fuck out, but I don't care what two consenting adults do.

    I just have a few simple rules: No Rape. Period. Any parties who participate in such plots are gone. Bye. Don't care if it was IC or not. Every time I've heard 'it generates story' is bs, it generates annoyance, and disrespect, and turns rape into entertainment and that is something I will /not/ allow on my games due to my past.

    Anyways, that was off topic...

    No OOC spying isn't necessary, I too encourage a game culture where logs are posted all the time because I find they help promote RP and make it easier for people to get involved if they can see the kinds of things going on.



  • Yeah, no. No 'spying' on players. And moving around the grid wiz-invis and 'watching rp' is precisely that, OOC spying. It's just as bad as spying on pages, private group channels, etc.

    Reminds me of how much I disliked Kaleb on TR once I realized he had something set up to watch RP in the Elysium when he wasn't there.

    If you want to get an idea of what's going on? Go participate, or ask. Yes, people will lie to you. Yes, people will do things in private scenes they shouldn't or they won't actually spend resources when using powers/etc. Oh well.


  • Pitcrew

    I had an observer bit attached to my character on Firan, which was used by the staffer that played my IC frienemy. It was, frankly, very uncomfortable for me and led to a lot of my plot-involved RP (and yes, some of that was tinysex, I have no shame in admitting that, sex was a huge plot device on Firan) being done through ooc channels or just handwaved and decided on OOCly.
    I like being in control of who sees what I type, personally. For the most part, I'm fine with staff seeing my public RP, and so on. But as staff, if you play a character, allow your players the ability to hide things from you, for the love of all that's holy. It'll be less stressful for you than reading what I OOCly think of your clunky combat code, trust me.


  • Admin

    A long time ago I was noticing our (limited) free space on the MU* account was going down faster than expected and du -a showed a weird log file I hadn't seen before.

    On a quick investigation that text file included... everything, every single command made by every single player, timestamped over a period of a few weeks. I boggled and went to the game's owner, who after thinking hard said he did execute a command he found on staff help files - there was nothing on that help file, just the existence of the command itself. It didn't seem to 'do' anything so he forgot about it.

    I believed him (the guy had shell access but hardly ever used it), but that command had been there for years. It was probably made for debugging purposes... maybe? But the damn thing was the ultimate spying tool, and on the complete spaghetti code written by 15-20 coders over a very long period no one knew who put it there in the first place (and of course there was no git blame back then).

    We disabled it but... well, in a game with more than one or two coders and no code reviews, spying is effortless.


  • Coder

    Supervising RP used to be okay until it became spying on players.

    This didn't take very long in the hobby, either.


  • Pitcrew

    I have had staff pop into rooms where I have been rping to observe rp and when visible I think it is cool and a good way to keep tabs on things. Doing it unannounced and invisible is hinky to me.


  • Banned

    Considering that the NSA records everything we do online, it doesn't matter to me if people spy on me, especially since I do nothing that would invite suspicion.

    If you can't do it in public, don't do it at all. :P


  • Pitcrew

    Staff in the open and clear about their presence, attention, or intentions are observing.

    Staff hiding and generally being very cloak and dagger about their presence in an attempt at a Got'cha! moment are spying.



  • I just assume people are going to read whatever I write eventually. I have had a lot of really terrible TS logs passed into my hands over the years. A lot of the smarmy things people say about each other. Just a lot of things I didn't want to see but had to read because...how could I not?!

    On Shadowed Isles we all knew the owners were spying. They put the blame on their coder but man, those bitches were crazy and lied all the time anyhow.

    Staff can say they don't spy. Maybe they don't. Maybe they do. You'll likely never know. Beyond that, maybe your rp partner is sharing your love of toe sucking with the world. So before you let someone textually tie you up and call them Daddy, maybe check yourself to see if that would be a big deal to you.


  • Banned

    @Luna said:

    I just assume people are going to read whatever I write eventually. I have had a lot of really terrible TS logs passed into my hands over the years. A lot of the smarmy things people say about each other. Just a lot of things I didn't want to see but had to read because...how could I not?!

    On Shadowed Isles we all knew the owners were spying. They put the blame on their coder but man, those bitches were crazy and lied all the time anyhow.

    Staff can say they don't spy. Maybe they don't. Maybe they do. You'll likely never know. Beyond that, maybe your rp partner is sharing your love of toe sucking with the world. So before you let someone textually tie you up and call them Daddy, maybe check yourself to see if that would be a big deal to you.

    On Shang, one of my favorite things to do was TSing in public and ayy lmao'ing at the funny comments people would make.

    I don't like shang anymore partially because nobody goes on the grid these days. They all hide in their rooms and page.


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