Saturday, August 1, 2009

Other: Doin' Hard Time For Virtual Crime

Last year, I talked about how peoples' "lives" in on-line games are bleeding more and more into the real world. The July issue of Scientific American1 has a short article on how current laws cannot address in-game crimes, which can lead to real-life repercussions.

They mention the, well, humorous case of the British couple divorcing because the husband's Second Life avatar was boinking another player in the game (just don't ask), and how the wife had gone on to date someone she met on World of Warcraft. Something I hadn't known was that the husband had countered that he had to seek on-line solace in the first place because his wife was already a WoW addict. ?!

A less funny story I hadn't known concerns a real-life murder back in 2005. Chinese Legend of Mir 3-addict Qiu Chengwei actually killed his friend after that friend borrowed an in-game sword and then sold it for real money. When Qiu reported the virtual theft, the police told him there was nothing they could do about something that happened in a game. Then Qiu was really, really sentenced to death for the murder, although the Chinese authorities later commuted it to life in prison.

A Brussels prosecutor even wanted to charge a man whose avatar raped another player within Second Life. That failed to happen, but it brings up how much of their emotional lives people can invest in these communities, to the point where virtual theft and violence can be traumatic for some.

Obviously, most people look initially to the game companies to police their players, but it's impossible to prevent a determined person from creating another account if theirs is deleted. The article also points out that most companies would rather count their profits than expend time and energy getting rid of paying players, even if those players' antisocial behavior pushes others out of the game.

Yes, I am one to talk about not leaving an MMORPG behind when I log out, as I just admitted to sending a doll to a Puzzle Pirates employee. But the game's owner, Three Rings Design, makes a serious effort to minimize griefing. While most of the game's players are adults, they do welcome anyone who can abide by the terms of service, including teenagers. (In fact, they just opened a new "ocean" aimed at children and families which has extremely strict language filters and has even removed mentions of alcohol from the game.) It certainly helps that it has a much smaller subscriber base than, say, Second Life's one million active users, but they also actively engage the players.

1I will read the August issue before the end of August!

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