Something that's happened in the past few days is a weird and overblown fiasco with Pharyngula. Today, he published a few of the death threats he got, including the headers.
Scanning down the comments thread, I'm reminded of an alternate reality game, such as I Love Bees. Except, in this case, the puzzle the geeks are solving is not an alternate reality: they've more or less torn someone's life apart.
I guess I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy after writing something so somber as that, but I don't. Instead, I'm just reminded of the newest holy grail in game design: using humans to do Useful Things while they play their games. There's a few examples out there, all very polite, very clever, very harmless.
But geeks are not harmless. In this world, we have a tremendous amount of power, and it is not terribly limited by any kind of civilized force.
So it strikes me... using players to accomplish Useful Things... what if it wasn't polite or safe?
It used to be that the impolite, dangerous people were largely disorganized. If you had a stalker, it was bad... but it was just one stalker. Even if you were Madonna or something, all your stalkers would act independently. But if there's one thing geeks are good at, it's organizing... we can even do it without any leaders. We can do it anonymously (and Anonymously). (Of course, we're basically pacifists in the real world, no matter how brutal we get on-line...)
So if it was built right, a project could grow exponentially and out of control as long as there was still something to do and a reward to be achieved. ARGs are limited because they require writers. Games like the new galaxy-detection system or visual pattern definition systems are limited because they have no real rewards...
Can you think of anything that could be arranged more perfectly? Dangerous and impolite? Self-propagating, self-rewarding?
Think of it as this: Griefers for Progress. How would you do it?