170: Legislating The Virtual World

Legislating The Virtual World

"Virtual worlds are moving into the mainstream, and technology is blurring the boundaries between our activities in online and real-world spaces. When you can spend real dollars to buy virtual goods, it's hard to say it's only a game. Especially when people quit their 'real' jobs to become successful land barons in Second Life, or threaten to include virtual property in a divorce settlement."

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Well from what I have witnessed, murdering some body in a dark alley will not instantly become reported to the police. Damn games, got me all scared for nothin'. Erhem.

There are a thousand problems on the horizon for virtual worlds...but the idea of a government legislating them never crossed my mind. I suppose I'm too used to corporate influence in America and thinking of things in reverse.

The problem begins as soon as something in a virtual world has financial value in the real one. With that single, cultural and economic shift, the virtual world blurs the boundary. As you noted with the shirt, either way it's money spent and a good received. Yet the list of issues that come with that are surprising: do we tax property in games? If a company releases an expansion pack, your character is no longer as valuable, can you sue them for devaluing your property? Can I sue someone for blowing up my battlecruiser in EVE Online?

As soon as this stuff started being worth actual money and wasn't just a way to spend time, MMORPG's crossed a very significant boundary.

L.B. Jeffries:
As soon as this stuff started being worth actual money and wasn't just a way to spend time, MMORPG's crossed a very significant boundary.

They've already done this: gold farming, and various other illegal activities. I suppose the last wall that people face before the line is truly blurred is that of EULAs in these MMOGs. Once they fall, we're going to have a world within our world, with rules so very different from our own... and that's a scary thought.

I personally think that the culprits of "virtual crime" should not be prosecuted, principally due to issues of jurisdiction. The idea of a real-world law enforcement agency claiming authority over what the author describes to be a virtual reality that is inherently apart from the real world strikes me as a woeful overstepping of reasonable bounds.

karpiel:
I personally think that the culprits of "virtual crime" should not be prosecuted, principally due to issues of jurisdiction. The idea of a real-world law enforcement agency claiming authority over what the author describes to be a virtual reality that is inherently apart from the real world strikes me as a woeful overstepping of reasonable bounds.

That's a good point, but many of these crimes end up occurring in some country, so I reckon they should jurisdiction over the crime. If criminals of virtual crimes are not prosecuted, it means we end up having a haven where illegal activities can happen, which is, for lack of better wording, silly.

stompy:
That's a good point, but many of these crimes end up occurring in some country, so I reckon they should jurisdiction over the crime. If criminals of virtual crimes are not prosecuted, it means we end up having a haven where illegal activities can happen, which is, for lack of better wording, silly.

Still, the crime is a virtual crime perpetrated in a virtual world, and as you can't really drive a police cruiser into second life, I'd say that if any thing virtual offences should be met with virtual punishments.

Killing a million monsters, looting rare items and selling them for real money is, minor a few details, hardly any different than wedging a few quarters in money machines, pulling the lever and waiting for the three 7 to line up for jackpot. One would consider that the time needed to be spent on a MMO would clearly qualify as a major difference, but once you consider the monthly fee and the odds of winning in traditional money games, you actually realize that it's pretty much even.
When money and games collide, law intervenes. Mysteriously, it's been largely standing away from the "immature" video game sphere with a ten feet pole.
As the entire planet is in tremors due to a disastrous financial crisis, we can notice that the main difference with banking systems is that the equivalent of a stock option in a MMO (an item which is as virtual as the so-called real money itself) has a value which barely evolves, and therefore remains more or less free of speculation, until the rule makers estimate that certain factors, like gold farming for example, decrease the value of certain items or even the currency in game. However the control of the value of items is relatively out of the players' hands.
The line would be definitely diluted if a company were to make a MMO which would be a recreation of the financial world. Never before the rules of play would be revealed as essential components of every figment of our fragile societies.

I've seen a lot of interesting articles on this site, and I felt compelled to finally give voice to my own opinions, regardless of how people accept them.

In my opinion, the problem here is that too much value is being assigned to virtual-world items which are undeserving of such value. Real-world items suffer a very real scarcity because resources of time, energy, materials, and man-power must be utilized in the construction of such items, and those resources are finite in extent and availability. In contrast, virtual-world items only require time to obtain or construct, and even this time requirement is merely an artifact of the game's design; it can be circumvented at any time either by clever methods on the part of the gamer or by design/implementation changes from the game developer.

Virtual-world items do not suffer scarcity in the manner of real-world items because they are not subject to the symmetry laws of physics constraining physical substance, symmetry principles such as conservation of energy, mass, momentum, etc. These symmetries limit the availability of resources. This is because virtual-world items are merely information, and information has no intrinsic physical form or physical substance, though it may be manifest via a physical medium(like CDs, DVDs, VHS tapes, digital and analog signals, etc.). While the medium of the information may suffer scarcity under these symmetry principles, the information itself does not(this, I believe, is the heart of the problem about DRM and business models based on information exchange or IP).

Further more, real-world items have a lifetime that is determinable from the design, construction, materials composition, and use of the item. In this way, real-world items have a durability. This furthers the scarcity of the item and, hence, its value. Virtual-world items, on the other hand, have indeterminate lifetimes as they can be destroyed(deleted) at any time by the gamer, the game developer, or catastrophic system failure. Even so, recovery of the virtual-world item is then just a backup away. Compared to a real-world item that, once destroyed, is usually unrecoverable. While durability is a game-mechanic that can be assigned to virtual-world items, such durability is again an artifact of the game's design and not intrinsic to the item itself.

This brings another point. Replication of virtual-world items only requires additional usage of the medium that manifests the information of the item. However, the consumption of the medium is not linear with the replication of the item; whereas, replication of real-world items has a direct linear or nearly linear relationship with the amount of time, energy, materials, and man-power that must be used. At best, virtual-world items may have a linear relationship with the time required to produce the items, but, again, this is due to the design of the game and is not intrinsic to the construction of the item.

At the end, virtual-world items have little to no value because they do not suffer any scarcity that real-world items suffer. The reason for this is that virtual-world items are comprised entirely of information, and information is simply a pattern of concepts that has meaning in the mind of an observer; information does not, in and of itself, have any form or substance that causes it to obey the limitations of the symmetry principles of physics constraining material substance(and I am familiar with Information Theory, by the way).

On a personal note, I prefer to keep the fantasy of the game in the game and the real world in the real world. The last thing we need, in my opinion, is to have the fun of the game spoiled by trying to make it be exactly like the real world.

I second geizr's opinion, as I feel it says a lot about how people treat virtual items, and indeed, virtual worlds as a whole.

Somewhere along the line, people have decided to treat their particular virtual world as a serious 'job' of some description. Now, I feel that they (the virtual worlds) are really meant not to be taken seriously.

I feel that virtual worlds are all about having fun. Sure, there are serious applications for them, like telecommunication, but primarily, it's all about partaking in fantasy for a few hours or so. I'm suspicious of any legislator, law-maker or anyone else that says that virtual worlds must be regulated, as I feel that could lead to disaster.

I, personally, hate the idea of regulation, as it sets a dangerous precedent that could harm the fantasy element, and force them to be just like the real world.

I live in a Third World country and my government is involved in trying to fix some very serious Real World problems that affect the daily quality of life for Real World people. The notion that governments in First World countries are bored enough to want to create laws to control the sale of imaginery magic swords is just pitiable.

I guess I think that there are more serious issues that ought to attract the attention of a country's leaders.

 

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