By Shamus Posted Friday Mar 10, 2006

Filed under: Nerd Culture 6 comments

In pondering the concepts of “Good” and “Evil” as they relate to gaming, I come across a real-world example. A spammer. Why are spammers so reviled? Let’s take a look at just one example:

The spammers are just HAMMERING away at this site. I’m getting several spam trackbacks and comments an hour. I’m removing them as often as I can, but it’s an unrewarding task, to say the least. There is one spammer in particular: His IP changes once a day, but all of his spams have the same pattern and point to his same site of ads, which is just a bunch of links to other sites. A sort of spam portal. Anyway, let’s say he’s advertising viagra this time. Then his name in the comments will be “generic viagra”, and for his comment he will have the words “generic viagra” in bold, and then again in normal type. Then he sends another comment, except for “online pharmacy”. Then again for “weight loss pills”, “online casino”, “online poker”, and so on.

This guy sends me almost fifty of these a day, and none of them are accepted. All of his comments are held for moderation, and then I delete them. He’s doing this because I have a high Google ranking (compared to him, anyway) and the way to bring his Google ranking up is to have lots of other sites link him. But this is crazy. His IP address changes once a day, and I assume he has to keep moving around as people start blocking and banning his IP. He’s putting a lot of work into his online pollution, and most of it goes to waste.

It isn’t that hard to get a decent Google ranking. If he found a subject that interested him and wrote about it, he’d have a lot more success. If he spent the time on blogging that he spent on spamming, he’d have a decent page rank without having to change his IP and find new ways to subvert the spam filters.

Spammers are universally hated, although they cause no physical harm to people. They just cause widespread annoyance.

But this leads me to one of the things I’ve been thinking about in regards to Evil: It’s isn’t always what the Evil agent does, it’s the reward that they get that defines how evil they are. The cost (to others) and benefit (to self) are both part of the equation. Most people would be willing to slap a total stranger in the face for a million bucks. Change that to punching and slightly less people are willing to do so. Keep increasing the cost to the victim and the act becomes more evil. Decrease the reward, it it becomes more evil as well. Punching a stranger in the face for a million bucks isn’t nearly as bad as punching someone for a quarter. Killing someone for a million bucks would usually be viewed as less evil than killing someone for their shoes. (I’m talking about perceptions here, no need to point out that killing is killing. I know, I know.)

Which brings us back to spammers. Aside from a few at the top of the food chain, these guys are not getting rich. Their reward is moderate (although I have no idea how much, really) but because of the number of people involved the cost to others is tremendous. Sure, one spam is annoying, but multiply that by the millions who get it, and you’re generating a lot of annoyance. Compare that to the fact that only a very, very small number of people will read your ad, only a small number of those people want what you are selling, and an even smaller slice of those people would be willing to buy it from you. Of all the millions of people who get the ad, I’m willing to bet that only a few dozen will respond. Once the sale is made, what is the spammer’s cut? Is it even a hundred bucks?

Would you be willing to annoy millions of people for a hundred bucks? Of course not. (Unless you’re a spammer, in which case please send me your home adress, because I’d like to punch you in the face for absoloutely free.)

This cost / benefit thing relates to both Galactic Civilizations II and my recent discussion on Grand Theft Auto. I’ll have more on both later.


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6 thoughts on “Spamutations

  1. Shamus says:

    Testing some spam filter stuff:

    1. Goatcathead says:

      Nice IP

  2. Shamus says:

    Crud. Doesn’t work.

    I want to ban certain IP addrs, but I can’t. WordPress doesn’t have any tools for dealing with IPs, only bad keywords. I thought that if I added the IP to the keywords it might block it, but that doesn’t seem to work, as the previous comment shows.

    If I could block just a couple of regular offenders, I could eliminate almost half of my comment and trackback spam.


  3. Usually that’s done in the firewall.

  4. Shamus says:

    Sadly, my hosting service doesn’t offer me that level of control. :(

  5. Will they permit you to place an .htaccess file in your web root? If so, and if they permit you to use “rewriterule”, you can deny access for specific IPs using that.

    But the syntax is a bit hairy.

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