Perhaps we should thank the W-Hats, though. Perhaps it's people like them who will push Second Life's society to take shape. Where griefers are concerned, the question is, where will Linden Lab draw the line? And, perhaps more importantly, how? Will the code remain law, and the enforcement remain at the whim of SL's administrators? It's hard to see a robust world, one that looks like an online country, developing from that. Or will policing the world be left in the hands of its residents? If so, Linden Lab will have to make clear what is ban-able and what is not - they will have to make laws that go beyond the code, or allow their residents to do the same. Already, vigilante groups have sprung up that seek to punish avatars they perceive as criminal; the problem is, their techniques usually amount to little more than griefing the griefers, and many of them get banned, too.
Letting residents affect each other's reputation through the kind of rating system found on eBay will only go so far. Bad reputations don't bother the W-Hats or the Something Awful goons; bad reputations are their lifeblood. At some point, enforcement is needed, enforcement of laws that are stable and clearly laid out for all to see, including in their application, and hopefully with substantive input from the people those laws are meant to govern. That may be a lot to ask of a virtual world, but if Philip Rosedale is serious about building a country - and it often looks like he's not, other than for marketing purposes - that's the kind of thing that will have to happen.
Meanwhile, the Grid continues to grow. And let's hope it continues. In many respects, Second Life is, in fact, the only virtual world that matters. The fact that you can create something that can make the Grid disappear for a day is only evidence of how much freedom its residents have - or did, until late October. Striking a balance between freedom and restraint will be difficult there; but then, it's difficult in any country. Here's hoping Second Life can manage it with a minimum of grief.
Mark Wallace can be found on the web at Walkering.com. His book with Peter Ludlow, Only A Game: Online Worlds and the Virtual Journalist Who Knew Too Much, will be published by O'Reilly in 2006.