Julian Dibbell,
"A Rape in Cyberspace, or How an Evil Clown, a
Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens
Turned a Database into a Society"

Julian Dibbell (b. 1963) writes about the social implications of new technologies in a monthly column for the Village Voice called "Strange Loops" and in articles for other magazines and newspapers, including Time, Wired, and the New York Times. His memoir about his "experiences in an online, text-based virtual reality," My Tiny Life, is scheduled for publication in 1997 (Henry Holt). This essay appeared in the Village Voice , a New York weekly that covers arts, culture, and politics, in 1993.

Julian Dibbell's home page

"A Rape in Cyberspace" text

second thoughts

1. Near the beginning of the essay, Dibbell offers "a warning" about being "too steeped in the surreality and magic" of the online world he describes to be very objective (¶ 4), while later he acknowledges that up until the virtual meeting in evangeline's room he was "still the rankest of newbies" (newcomers) to cyberspace and "couldn't quite take it [virtual rape] seriously" (¶ 28). What evidence do you see of these conflicting perspectives -- of veteran versus newbie -- in the way that Dibbell tells the story of LambdaMOO?

2. How do you feel about legba's response, and the response of other LambdaMOO participants, to Bungle's attack? How persuaded are you by Dibbell's argument that "what happens inside a MUD-made world is ... profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally meaningful" (¶ 16)?

3. To make a decision about "toading" Bungle, according to Dibbell, the residents of LambdaMOO first had to define themselves as a community or social organization (¶ 22). What political groups does he suggest were the major forces contending, at the meeting in evangeline's room, over this definition? How would you analyze the results and aftermath of this meeting in terms of those political forces -- who won and who lost?

4. Explain the "transformation" that Dibbell undergoes and the conclusions he reaches in the last several paragraphs. What's your view about the relationship, pondered by Dibbell, between virtual rape and free speech?

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