This event, put together by tVPN, included representatives from most of the U.K. Departments of State, along with many of the major regulatory and international bodies such as the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). The U.S. embassy sent a representative, as did the EU commission. There were speakers from several different countries and companies like IBM, Cisco and Nortel, as well as five major U.K. universities and the Oxford Internet Institute.
The Virtual Policy '08 conference has already influenced the policy formation effort in preparation for the OECD Technology Foresight Conference next year, and the U.N.'s Internet Governance Forum meeting in December. In fact, Reynolds will be speaking at this U.N. conference in Hyderabad, India, as well as several conferences in the U.K. before the end of the year. In the meantime, tVPN is seeking funding for conducting research and developing reports on topics such as a global policy review, the legal framework for virtual property and the relationship between child development stages and virtual worlds.
When I asked why real world governments care so much about what goes on in virtual worlds, Reynolds pointed out to me that, cumulatively, "people spend millions of hours in virtual worlds every day, so many governments feel they have at least a minimal duty to know what is going on in virtual worlds. For some governments the negative issues are to do with child safety or fraud or terrorism. On the positive side, virtual worlds are also associated with the green agenda and innovation."
Regardless of their logic, there's no keeping governments from legislating virtual worlds. Reynolds would rather be realistic; he said tVPN is in favor of regulation when it's appropriate and proportionate. He believes some regulation can protect virtual worlds and help them reach their full potential - the challenge is figuring out what those good regulations might look like and how different governments around the world could work together on the process. By empowering the stakeholders to share information and work together for the common good, he thinks the worst outcomes can be averted.
"This is both a matter of explaining the drastic impacts governments might have on the development of virtual worlds if they are hasty to put them in a pre-existing policy box, and of course to explain simple facts about virtual worlds and their uses. I think virtual worlds are highly vulnerable to being politicized, which could result in legislation and regulation from around the world that has a range of unexpected consequences." But, he says, "my vision is to maximize the social good that we as a global society can gain from virtual worlds."
Wendy Despain writes for and about videogames and plays around in virtual worlds, but ducks behind bushes when the fights break out.