Virtual Insanity is a weekly column by Stephen, mixing editorial reflections on games in general with the latest news about the digital world. Have a game you’d like to see covered in the column? Let us know in the comment section.

For those who have never heard of John Gabriel’s Internet Dickwad Theory (from the brilliant online comic Penny Arcade), allow me to enlighten you:

A more philosophical way to look at it is through the story of the Ring of Gyges, from Plato’s Republic. In the tale, a shepherd named Gyges discovers a golden ring which allows him to be invisible (if that sounds very Tolkien-esque, it’s because he in fact based Lord of the Rings on the tale). The shepherd uses his new found power to overthrow the king, leading to the question of whether morality can exist when a person’s actions can remain unknown.

It’s a deep philosophical question, one we can’t solve here, but you can certainly see examples in the realm of online gaming. I bring is up thanks to a fun experience I had playing Halo: Reach this week, my go-to shooting game for its far more forgiving physics and shield system (seriously, Call of Duty online is basically a death simulator for me; instant kill headshots may be realistic but they sure aren’t fun). In one particularly close match, I was gunned down by the opposing team, when one decided that it would be fun to teabag my corpse, which I catch in full view through the post-death camera.

For those of you that aren’t aware what teabagging is, a graphic:

Honestly, it’s a goofy if juvenile action and one you’d think I would let go. But for some reason I was livid. In the real world, I am totally non-confrontational, to the point of being almost milquetoast. I apologize when people bump into me. I try to diffuse any potential altercation by talking my way out of it. I’ve only been in one fist fight ever.

However, shielded by a virtual avatar and screen name, any qualms I might have had against retaliation were right out the window. I proceeded to exclusively hunt the opposing player for the remainder of the match, alternately teabagging and shooting his corpse, and if I had my microphone in at the time, probably would have filled the airwaves with more profanity than an Ozzy Osbourne interview. I was pissed.

I don’t even remember if we won the match, but I do remember the sudden realization of how uncharacteristic my actions had been. I’m not usually one to get so riled up. That’s not me. Or, possibly, maybe it is me if I wasn’t held back by societal norms and opinions. Are our virtual avatars truer representations of our inner selves, freed from the confines of circumstance and other people? If I want to really get to know you, can I learn more watching you play a game that gives you freedom? Deep down, would we all murder strangers at random if our legal system was more like Grand Theft Auto? Or does the change come from the fact that games allow us to live a life detached from who we are, hence our desires to try things we normally never would?

I am not sure either way, but it’s interesting food for thought, food that becomes more substantial as technology allows games to evolve their worlds to new levels of complexity.

And now for some gaming new:

  • During Blizzcon this week, Blizzard announced that players subscribing to World of Warcraft for the next year will get their hotly anticipated title Diablo III completely free. Blizzard claims this is a way to reward loyal players, but some are starting to wonder if it’s a sign that long time MMO king World of Warcraft is starting to hemorrhage players, especially with new contenders Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars II right around the corner. Regardless, if you are a loyal WoW player, you have a free game to look forward too. And also an expansion that will let you play as a Panda, fulfilling your inner dreams of saving Azeroth as an animated Jack Black.
  • This week’s biggest release, Arkham City, has received extremely positive reviews for letting players feel like they are the Dark Knight himself and face down classic villains like Joker, Penguin, and Mr. Freeze. However, not all has been great. There’s been some controversy over whether the game is a bit too misogynistic for its own good, mostly through a jarring overuse of the word “bitch” (especially when players play as Catwoman), not to mention cleavage heavy outfits for both female leads. For those that have played the game, what do you think: are people over-reacting or does AC take it a little too far?
  • Next week is the release of EA’s flagship shooter Battlefield 3. I was underwhelmed by the beta (yes, I realize it’s a beta), and cancelled my preorder, but I don’t doubt it will be an amazing game. If you’re grabbing it day one, let us know! I’d love to feature some feedback on it next week. However, I only have eyes for Skyrim at this point, which launches in three weeks on 11/11. I feel like Harold Camping as I anticipate the date, though unlike him, my anticipation will actually be fulfilled.
  • Other big releases for this coming week include Dance Central 2, Microsoft’s flagship Kinect title and the best hope lanky white nerds have for learning fresh moves for the club, and a new Dragon Ball Z title, if you can’t get enough ridiculous hairdos and muscular guys screaming and shooting balls at each others faces (sorry, can you tell I hate DBZ games?) Snark aside, it looks like a promising fighter for fans of the series. So go! Have fun with it, and then anonymously rail against me in the comment section for hating it. No one else will have to know it was you.

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