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Law and Virtual Worlds 283

Posted by michael
from the virtual-gaol dept.
Greg Lastowka writes "In light of yesterday's spirited discussion of the Shadowbane hack, I thought folks might be interested in this forthcoming article about the laws of virtual worlds. The article has three parts: 1) a history of virtual worlds (e.g. Space War --> MMORPGs), 2) a theoretical analysis of whether virtual world "property" can/should be treated as legal property, and 3) an analysis of whether virtual worlds can/should give rise to any other legal rights, i.e. rights of avatars -- an idea first floated by Raph Koster. I realize there are plenty of strongly-held and divergent opinions on this, so hopefully this might add to the ongoing conversation. Also, we're revising this for publication over the summer, so we will be reading the comments for any corrections/insights/humor that we can incorporate into our revisions."
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Law and Virtual Worlds

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  • Amazing amounts of (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gortbusters.org (637314) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:27PM (#6078395) Homepage Journal
    money can be found on people selling their DAOC, EverQuest, and even Ultima Online characters.

    Sometimes I wonder... why not just buy a character and spend the rest of your time doing something more productive. After all, if you take your salary at an hourly rate, you're really losing money by playing games all day/night/forever.
    • by Jad LaFields (607990) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:32PM (#6078450)
      Speaking of which, can I get someone to live my real life for me? Specifically, the working/commuting/dental exams parts? I think part of the appeal of virtual worlds is that they are less contrained by the rules/laws of the real world.
      • Running errands (Score:3, Interesting)

        by John3 (85454)
        So true...I play Asheron's Call and found that the worst parts of the game were the tedious things like shopping for magic supplies and running from place to place (commuting). Over time the game designers have eased the pain of shopping and added more portals and other ways to jump quickly from place to place, allowing players to spend more time killing stuff. :-)
        • Just talk your boss into letting you 'telework' from your home office and buy "AI-buddy 1.0".

          AI-Buddy is proficient in all matters requiring use of a computer. He even emails your boss updating him of "your" progress. *wink*. Imagine all the free time you would have then.

    • by ePhil_One (634771) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:38PM (#6078522) Journal
      Sometimes I wonder... why not just buy a character and spend the rest of your time doing something more productive. After all, if you take your salary at an hourly rate, you're really losing money by playing games all day/night/forever.

      If you take your salary at an hourly rate, why watch TV, why play with the kids, why sleep, why read a book?

      Its a game, its about enjoying yourself, relaxing, exercising your mind in a different way. Just try to avoid crawling into your basement and shunning human contact for days at a time.

      • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Friday May 30, 2003 @03:39PM (#6079769)
        If you take your salary at an hourly rate, why watch TV, why play with the kids, why sleep, why read a book?

        Because it is worth more to me than the approprate salary payment would be.

        Seriously. I'd work less hours at my job if I could, but the money is worth it to me. I won't work more because I have enough and the other activites are worth more to me.

        • I thought I was the only one...I've told my boss that he can't afford my overtime hours. He laughed and I said,"For real boss, I won't work OT unless you tell me it is a MAJOR EMERGENCY, and IT BETTER BE, or you pay 5x my normal salary." Needless to say he's not really happy with me, but thanks to the wonderful new laws in California I am back on a timesheet and now have right of refusal on any OT :) 40 hours a week is exactly what the company pays me for, and since in the NEW economy, extra's perks and bon
      • Its a game, its about enjoying yourself, relaxing, exercising your mind in a different way.

        But, is that what folks playing in the various MMORPG's are getting? I suspect folks who end up "crawling into their basement and shunning human contact for days at a time" are the ones who have lost sight of why they're playing the game in the first place. But, perhaps it's an easy trap to fall into?
    • This would assume that there is only one type of MMORPG player - those who want the highest level character possible in order to play and experience the pinnacle of the game despite having little or no room for advancement.

      In fact, this is not the case. There are many, many reasons people play MMORPGs, including the thrill of advancement, social interaction, exploration, strategy, and tactics. All of those reasons for playing will encourage a character to start out on his or her own and advance a character
    • In the real world, you can spend a lot of money and time producing something that is worth much less (if anything at all) than the resources you put into it.

      Why do people continue to believe that the things they arguably "create" online have a value equivalent to the amount of time and money they put into producing them?

      When OU was initially released, it had a realistic economic engine that ruined the game play. With todays economic engines, nearly everything you do betters your standing in the game. Wh
      • In the real world, you can spend a lot of money and time producing something that is worth much less (if anything at all) than the resources you put into it.

        Why do people continue to believe that the things they arguably "create" online have a value equivalent to the amount of time and money they put into producing them?

        There's also a real-world term called "replacement cost" which is often used in place of fair market value when one is talking about the worth of something.

        Inasmuch as it would take a h

    • by Mattsson (105422)
      Considering that a character may actually be worth physical money, how long until the first court case regarding the murder of an online avatar? =/
      I'm actally amazed that this haven't allready happened in the US, since people sue for all kinds of stupid reasons.
      Or maybe it *has* happened without it being reported on slashdot? =)
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:28PM (#6078404) Journal
    Thats all we need, another tangled mess of laws to do with frigging online chatrooms and shit.

    Listen.

    Your virtual house in the Sims is worth nothing. No more than if I kicked in your sandcastle at the beach, or knocked over your chess board in the park.

    I can be charged with mischief, or maybe even assault if I threatened you as I knock all your checkers into the sewer grate.

    No more zany computer laws!
    • by itchyfidget (581616) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:37PM (#6078512) Journal
      ... if people are willing to exchange it for money (and evidently this is the case).

      Your values are not my values, but value is in the eye of the purchaser (or in cases of extortion, the vendor...?)

      Having said that, I think it's nuts that people exchange money for this sort of thing.
      • You can't sell what you don't own, however, and in this case you don't own anything on the game servers.
      • I think it's nuts that people exchange money for this sort of thing

        But there are those of us who have limited gaming time for whom it's worth spending $20 (less than 1 hours wage) to buy a zillion golden kumquats (or whatever the in-game currency is) to let us spend our limited gaming time doing the fun things rather than running back and forth between 2 locations over and over again to make money.
      • Virtual property is worth something if people are willing to exchange it for money (and evidently this is the case). Your values are not my values, but value is in the eye of the purchaser (or in cases of extortion, the vendor...?) Having said that, I think it's nuts that people exchange money for this sort of thing.

        If someone gives me a dollar for no reason, then I have given them nothing in return. There was an exchange there, even though one half of that transaction was nothing. Does that mean tha

        • If so, then every day I work, I lose something (nothing) by coming in to work when I could be at home doing nothing (something).

          As someone who has taken an introduction to economics class, I am fully qualified to say Exactly. This is known as an opportunity cost, what you gave up to receive what you got. You evaluated the value of "nothing", and perceived it to be less than the value of your job (paycheck, esteem/prestige, skills gained), and so you took the job.
      • So, by that logic, if someone wants to buy child pornography from me (no, I'm not selling here people, just need an example) then it has value and thus has a right to exist?

        I understand that online characters are sold for money, but I wonder what the people who own the servers that those characters were created on get? Don't they have the right, since they paid for the server, to say what people can and can't do with their characters, which are stored on said server? If a person signs an agreement spec

    • Joseph Smith was convicted of murdering of "Diana the Magnificent" with a two-handed sword yesterday in Texas. He will be executed by lethal injection tomorrow.

      Diana has expressed her deep satisfaction with the verdict. She will appear in exclusive interview with David Letterman later this evening.

    • by Qzukk (229616) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:15PM (#6078888) Journal
      Your virtual house in the Sims is worth nothing.

      Why is it worth nothing? Lets take a look at a progression here.

      If I were to build a house in Missouri, would you deny that it has value?

      If I were to spend hours building bird houses, would you deny that they have value?

      If I were to spend hours making paper roses to sell on a street corner, would you deny that they have value?

      - Now that we have identified that objects I produce have value, regardless of the triviality, lets move on.

      If I were an author and wrote a book, would you deny that it has value?

      If I wrote a book and sold it on a street corner, would you deny that it has value?

      If I wrote a book and sold it online, would you deny that it has value?

      If I wrote a book and only sold it online, would you deny that it has value?

      If I wrote a book and only sold it online, in an electronic format which you downloaded, would you deny that it has value? (in case you're not understanding, this book has no physical manifestation aside from a series of bits in various places.)

      -- If you've said No so far, then we've established that lack of a physical manifestation of what I have produced does not prevent it from having value. So, one last question:

      If I build a house online, would you deny it has value? If so, why?

      Now, lets assume that you said that you denied me my value. At what point was that? Was it the roses? (I have seen a number of nonprofits that employ blind or otherwise handicapped people to produce and sell these or other small trinkets) Was it the electronic version of the book? Even if you did not receive a physical object with "bookness", you obtained the output of many days of the labor of multiple people (the author, the editor(s), and so on...).
      • If I build a house online, would you deny it has value? If so, why?

        If you built the house yourself - as in, wrote the code or designed this virtual house with HTML or whathaveyou, using your own tools (or tools you've bought) on your own servers, then it may have value to you.

        However, in this case, you didn't build the house. You interacted with a game engine which flipped bits on EA's servers. You didn't write the code that did it, you don't own the hardware it is stored on. You're merely playing a game
        • A key point here - if EA shuts down those servers tomorrow, they don't owe you anything, except perhaps a partial credit for any pre-paid game time. They won't and should not compensate you for the virtual house and the virtual pizza oven, because you never owned them. They won't (and also shouldn't) compensate you for the money you spent playing the game to try and build that house, either, because you were only paying to play the game.

          This is an excellent point! In the end, you don't even own the gam
          • So, just because something is temporary, it has no value?

            But, doesn't a car lease have value? It'll disappear, it's only temporary.

            I went to a wedding once where the couple paid like $800 for an ice sculpture. It melted. So, did it have no value?

            The roses in your example will be black in a few days. Things which are temporary are still valuable.

            Now, then, are you saying that they only don't have value because they're not tangible? That it's the fact that they only exist on the server, which could b
          • Ah, but there are people who have web pages hosted on computers that are not their own. Those servers could be shut down by their owners at any time. Does that make the web pages that people put on those servers the property of the servers' owners? Or, perhaps they're valueless since the people who put them on those servers have no direct control over them.

            Basic economics tells us that anything can have value, as long as someone wants to pay for it.
        • However, in this case, you didn't build the house. You interacted with a game engine which flipped bits on EA's servers. You didn't write the code that did it, you don't own the hardware it is stored on. You're merely playing a game on someone else's machine/network, and paying money for the privilege.

          Do you really think most homebuilders cut down every log themselves and assemble it themselves? Does using others' help deny value? If I hired someone else to build me a house on some land I don't own yet
          • They pay people to cut down the logs. They're not paying people so that they can watch them cut down logs, and then watch them refine them down to 2x4s and watch them assemble them into a house.

            In this case, technically, all of the "work" was already done. We're just paying to view it, and interact with it.
        • if EA shuts down those servers tomorrow, they don't owe you anything

          This is codified in the EULA. But what about systems where items in the game are expressly given value which can be exchanged for "real" money. (What was that one game that showed up on /. a while back, before "There"... all I remember about them is that they were planning on making items decay over time and that you could pay to get better items. I wonder what happened with it? Or There for that matter...)

          In this case, if some hacker
          • I'd imagine if a system allowed you to pay real money for items, and you had real money in there as a "reserve" to buy more items, that they'd be basically like a bank, ala Paypal. I admit that sort of thing does make it more complicated; luckily it is in the minority as far as games go.

            What if the game engine allowed me to import a building I drew in autocad?

            You'd still own the autocad file - you could use it elsewhere (unless you assign the rights to it to them upon uploading, I suppose. Still, that'd
      • Since the game is provided as a service (not a good) then you cant claim it as a goods or service. You made your online book, you own the copy right for it, in fact copyright law is specifically there to protect such transactions, so that you can be the only seller or only person to give the rights to sell your copyrighted material.

        To SELL copyrighted material without a license is piracy. (though copying for you and your friends for free is not since no money was made, but thats another argument).

        you di
  • by mekkab (133181) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:30PM (#6078423) Homepage Journal
    For those who don't know... [juliandibbell.com]

    A bit of relevant history! Social justice, if you will.

    DISCUSS!
    -Professor B.
  • Its simple (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kevin_conaway (585204) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:31PM (#6078432) Homepage
    If something malicious done in-game causes damages in the outside world, then that should be treated as any other crime would and punished accordingly. This really only applies to server and software hacks, not duping the new guy into giving you all his gold. If you use a hack to alter the gamestate to say give yourself an item or take an item from someone else, this should be prosecuted because it is deriving other players the game that they are most likely paying for.

    kc
    • Stealing someone's in game assets is not the same as stealing something in the real world. It is just computer cracking and there's already laws to prosecute it.

      Jason
      ProfQuotes [profquotes.com]
  • Two things (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bame Flait (672982) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:31PM (#6078435)
    MMORPG's and their ilk are beginning to tread into a world that has long been known to text-based mudders. As a nerd who worked in development on various text muds on and off for the past 10 years, I can see clearly the failures of those who administrate these online communities. By and large, the folks running the games of today are not the ones who have years and years of experience doing it (as most people who played text games still do as a matter of preference).

    I have particular concern for those who use published tools (like NWN's Aurora toolset) to create persistent online worlds. Rarely do these individuals seem to have a firm grasp on what they're getting themselves into.. least of all on issues of virtual rights that may or may not present themselves.

    Most places I have worked had agreements with builders that virtual property created for the game would become the property of the game and its administrators. As for actual items in the game, it's ludicrous to expect (in spite of the incessant everquest ebay activity) those items to be protected legally. Game administrators need to know their rights, however, to keep the few litigious individuals at bay. (How bored and obsessed do you have to be to sue because the server crashed and you lost your vorpal sword of owning +2?).

    It's a thankless job running an online game.
    • Every MMOG I've played has had something in the user agreement stating that the game publishers own everything and that the players own nothing. It's not as personal as your interaction with your builders, but with 100,000+ folks, can you blame 'em? :)
  • by bigpat (158134) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:32PM (#6078438)

    Will sell my Slashdot "avatar" for no less than $5000.

    Many Insightful and Funny posts, not many Informative ones though. Currently one Moderator point left.

  • by Bull999999 (652264) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:32PM (#6078447) Journal
    Now people can play lawyers on MMORPGs instead of Slashdot!
  • *blinks* (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zeriel (670422) <sholes@athe r t onia.org> on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:34PM (#6078470) Homepage Journal
    Eh, I'm not sure we need any new legalese to deal with this. If you crack a system, you can be liable if that system belongs to someone else. This could easily be construed to include server-side cheats in addition to the time-honored tactic of rooting the server and changing the database (which I had been known to do in Phantasia and a few MUDs/BBSs back in the early '90s, sad to say.)

    Why complicate matters further?

    Further, damages (in terms of $$$) are easy to calculate...how many hours/months/billable time increments did it take a person to achieve what was destroyed? How much can be got back? Total it out, it's simple math. Perhaps not enough compensation for some basement loser who plays such things 80+ hrs/wk (like my roommate =P), but I think those folks are in the very small minority anyway.
    • Further, damages (in terms of $$$) are easy to calculate...how many hours/months/billable time increments did it take a person to achieve what was destroyed? How much can be got back? Total it out, it's simple math.

      Except that if I play a MMORPG, I'm not paying them $15/month or whatever just so that I can get a level 100 character with a +5 Sword of Ultimate Whatever. I'm playing for fun. Of course, it's annoying to lose that stuff, but how much of the total value of playing is lost?

      • Re:*blinks* (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Zeriel (670422)
        Well, you'll note my phrasing...if the place is smart enough to do regular incremental backups of the gamestate, you really shouldn't lose any more than a day of playtime to acts of God or l33t crackers. Here's your $0.50 in damages, have a good day. =)

        OTOH, the cracker might see $0.50 x 5,000 to 25,000 (players) disappear out of his pocket, in addition to criminal penalties. Personally, I think that's the way to do it--you don't really give people cash for being obsessive about a game and having it rui
  • I think there is precedent for virtual property in the patent business.

    What you register, when you register a patent, is an idea - intellectual property, if you like (even if it describes a device - IANAL though so maybe these are very different concepts in law). The patent documentation serves as written proof of this - a certificate that your creativity is recognised as unique and non-copyable.

    Thus if someone has a character, or other online 'item' that they have created, doesn't it make sense that as
    • If Virtual Property in videogames can be sold, bought, stolen, arrested for stealing, and jailed for,

      then I will be suing nintendo for the countless times in the middle of a long game with no save built into the cartidge that it decided to reboot.

      Furthermore!

      If I play a mud that I DO NOT pay for, but do spend time on, and the server is taken down, I will sue for my property. It must at least be copied to me in usable form!

      And frankly, This post right here...

      This post..

      I want access to this post for th
  • I can see certain elements of criminal law being applied to online situations. Theft/destruction of property (let's say your house in the sims can be considered intellectual property, with standard disclaimers to those /. posters who believe such property doesn't exist). I imagine with time a whole new set of common law will apply to the digital realm.

    As for civil law? I can't see this happening. Sexual harassment lawsuits against avatars? Gender and disabled rights in a pre-industrial or post-apocalyptic

  • by Papineau (527159) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:35PM (#6078486) Homepage

    Would you like be sitting on the chair for being a PK? Or even fragging an opponent? It's intentional murder, after all (well, that's what some lawyers say at least).

    Now, do you still want physical laws applying in MMORPG or other games?

  • Obvious Opnion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gerf (532474) <edtgerf@gmail.com> on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:36PM (#6078502) Journal

    These are only virtual realities. They are not, and shouldn't be protected in the same way as physical properties.

    However, if you view the value of things as how many man-hours go into it, then yes, there is some kind of value, and right associated with these characters, and products. However, just because there is time involved, does not inherently imply value, or even many rights.

    The company has a say in this more than the Gov't, or the gamer. The company runs the server, the company saves your profiles. If this company were to go under, they have no reason to hold onto those profiles, as they are simply another part of their business, which they own. You have no say, no matter what you think. However, a nice company may do something like transfer their servers, code, or other necessary info to open source, and thus preserving the environment. This does not mean individual properties are saved, which is what people would want to save, most of all.

    Really, if your life is so consumed by the internet as to make it a pseudo-physical part of your life, then you need to think about something else for a while. Go into a rehab facillity, something. Please get some sunshine and a tan, we all need it (me especially...).

  • whether virtual world "property" can/should be treated as legal property

    Sure - if it is not specifically contractually prevented by the terms the user agreed to in joining the community responsible for the game, and the transfer of said information does not violate anyone else's copyrights.

    an analysis of whether virtual worlds can/should give rise to any other legal rights

    Sure - if the community agreed-upon terms under which the game is conducted accomodates such rights.

    These are simply collectiv

  • by DaedalusLogic (449896) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:49PM (#6078632)
    If you let kill-joy technocrats put laws around your games. Although it would be funny if you kill another player's character and your superbadass wizard in Diablo and a little virtual cop car rolls up and gives him life in prison.

    Even the story of this game being hacked. It's really cheap... bad sportsmanship... but in the end you've gotta laugh that someone was able to do that. If this game was a subscription service I think the company in charge should have a backup policy in place to prevent this from ruining what you've really paid for... Otherwise... it's a game, lighten up.
  • ...laws to pretty imaginary property and imaginary people. Just what we need

    Unless some kind of actual, recognizable harm is done in the real world the law shouldn't be involved at all. Anything else is the purview of the person who runs the server and the game. That is, if they say virtual theft in their world is okay, then either you deal with this fact or you move on to some other game and some other world. That is the sole extent of your choices and anything claim to further 'rights' is nothing mor
    • Assuming that there are no licenses wrapped around the virtual world stating "you may not sell or buy items within this world", then the virtual items have value.

      Note these facts: (at least, what I take to be facts)
      - The market places real monetary value on the "virtual" property.
      - I never see the money I make from work. It exists entirely within computers. It passes from my employers bank account to mine to some retail shop entirely "virtually". (Thank you checkcard!) If we were still on the gold stan
  • by Rxke (644923) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:52PM (#6078660) Homepage
    imagine, you create some kind of Ueber-universal Avatar, that you use everywhere: in games, but also in places like /., other forums... Some people build up quite a reputation in several fields, through hard work, searching studying,...teaching things online. Let's imagine, I'm using this avatar 'Mr. Smith' (Yea...,) widely recognized in certain semi-pro forums, et.c. If somebody hacked into my ueber-avatar-account and start posting spurious things in my name, or go on a rampage in some games, using hacks,... my Avatar would lose a lot of it's 'worth,' however virtual it may seem, but i would be really pissed off, for the so-called virtual money-worth-karma-acceptance et.c. is, or could be, in fact very important to me for my work, research, et.c.
  • I just didn't really feel all that motivated by the whole idea of Avatars being extensions of persons. If anything, copyright is a better analysis of them. For example, while I realize that having the same name for your avatar as someone else is restricted for logistical reasons, I know I would be bugged that someone would steal what I considered my *idea* by using the same avatar name as me. The whole avatar to me just seems like an idea, and perhaps a copyrightable one. If anything makes them property, I
  • by serutan (259622) <snoopdougNO@SPAMgeekazon.com> on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:54PM (#6078687) Homepage
    Here's an excerpt from the Declaration of the Rights of Avatars: "That avatars are the manifestation of actual people in an online medium, and that their utterances, actions, thoughts, and emotions should be considered to be as valid as the utterances, actions, thoughts, and emotions of people in any other forum, venue, location, or space."

    Well I certainly wouldn't play RPGs if I had to worry about being charged with criminal assault for starting a brawl in a Greyhawk tavern as Zorgo the Rogue. The whole point of RPGs is to ESCAPE from reality into different worlds with their own rules. Let's not drag the real world into it, PUH-LEEEEEEEASE!!!

  • Contract/agreement (Score:3, Informative)

    by DreadSpoon (653424) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:56PM (#6078700) Journal
    This really should belong to the companies/organization running the virtual world. If they state, "we own all virtual property, blah blah" then that's that. And honestly, every single MUD/MMORPG/etc. should have that in the agreement...

    People make claims about how they put time and money into building characters and amassing equipment in these games. People need to realize you're paying for the right/time/resources for you to _have fun_ while doing this. You paid to be allowed to spend your time playing a game.

    It's like an arcade; you don't own the game or anything when you put in a quarter (or dollar, as is becomming common), you are just paying for the right to play the game for a while.

    If you don't like those rules... don't give them your money to play!
  • Virtual society... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bziman (223162) on Friday May 30, 2003 @01:56PM (#6078702) Homepage Journal
    While I admit, that I'd be upset if I spent time building a character only to have it destroyed by another player. However, if this is "outlawed", there will be no bad guys, and no fun. Who wants to play against the computer all the time -- that defeats the purpose of online gaming.

    Perhaps it makes sense to regulate offline actions affecting in game actions -- such as hacking into the game. But on the other hand, I have no problem with selling in-game items for real world money. Why not? It's not like the in-game items were manufactured out of nothing. Someone had to go through the work. Who cares if money changed hands in the game or in real life? And besides, people who do that are likely to do it both ways, so the economy of the game is likely to balance out.

    The point is, aside from outside problems like hacking, things like murder and theft within the game must be controlled by the virtual society -- if you get mugged in the game, next time, you'll make sure to travel in a group. Or maybe you and your friends will get together and form a police force. And so on.

    The same societal forces apply to the game as to the real world, because the same minds control both. But it's okay if your game persona gets killed from time to time or goes to jail or whatever. That's what makes the game different from real life and what makes it a useful diversion. If people stick with it, some form of order will eventually emerge, just like it does in any other group.

    • by zipwow (1695)
      While I admit, that I'd be upset if I spent time building a character only to have it destroyed by another player. However, if this is "outlawed", there will be no bad guys, and no fun. Who wants to play against the computer all the time -- that defeats the purpose of online gaming.

      These laws aren't meant to restrict the way the game works itself, but rather the consequences from out-of-game actions.

      For example, if I killed your character and stole your stuff according to the rules of the game, I'd be f
  • Your bank account is bits. Those bits do not all represent actual paper dollars as the bank does not keep your money on hand, it is reloaned. Even the cash they have on hand is virtual - it is a fiat and not secured by any other physical resource.

    So yes there is already a longstanding protection of virtual assets in our economy. Everquest assets should be no different.

  • by pla (258480) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:00PM (#6078752) Journal
    In an RPG, you can choose to play an "evil" character. A "lawless" or "chaotic" character.

    At the very heart of role-playing, you act (in-game) in accordance with how your character should. That may well include "Kill the wimpy newb and take its stuff".

    The main idea of this thread would effectively kill the entire idea of an RPG - Basically, a player couldn't do anything except stroll along the bunny-grounds holding hands and singing kumba-ya.


    And let's not overlook when PETA and the like get into the act. Plan to level? Better not kill any of the game's "indigenous" life, or end up whacked with a virtual-cruelty-to-animals charge. Want to solve a quest and get some powerful ancient weapon? Oops, distubing an archaological site has some hefty fines to go along with it.


    Grow up, people. This topic deals with GAMES. Games, games, games, games, games. NOT the real world. If you have trouble telling them apart, and in-game losses "hurt" you IRL, you need to jack-out right now and go interact with other humans, in a real, live, actual physycal setting.
    • Some people want to play evil characters. That's all well and fine, but realize that most people DO NOT. We're faced with all sorts of 'evil' in real life, so when given the option, most people want to be the Hero. If you play an evil character, you'll be outnumbered. Most people play to have fun, and for most people, that 'fun' does -not- involve being on the receiving end of a sword, spell, whatever. If you play a character who's annoying, don't be surprised if most people shun your character -becaus
    • Like D&D at the local cardstore?
  • MMORPGs face one serious economic problem - inflation [ranter.net]. I don't think it's coincidence that all the successful MMORPGs keep their monetary policies under strict control, so that the money supply doesn't get out of hand.

    What really intrigued me in this paper was the talk about currency exchange between real-world currency and the game currency (pp 49-51). Right now, it's not much of a concern. However, considering the growth in on-line gaming, I can well imagine a world a few years from now, where sever

    • MMORPGs could serve as a test bed for the study economic conditions. If players were given a strictly enforced set of rules the data it generated could actually be useful to someone. The only problem is a lot of time would have to be spent in different seperate games tweaking the environment so that it more closely approximated conditions that happen or can happen in the real world.
  • ohh boy. That's gonna be ugly.

    Many, many actions in GTA would be 'illegal' IRL. Do we now have whole new sets of laws, one for each game?

    In this one, it's legal to carjack another player's virtual property, but in that one, you (and your real world persona) may get thrown in jail for 'stealing' virtual property

    Talk about blurring the lines.
  • [obligatory Matrix reference follows]

    Where is the line between intellectual and virtual property? If we go down the road of naturalizing the virtual worlds we invent and bring them up to status with 'consensual reality', then do we risk blurring the boundaries and losing ourselves in [nearly] inconsequential realities, bequeathing care of this reality to those enamoured with power?

    Funny, this feels real, but perhaps it's just another level in a simulation [albeit a very good one]. Mind you, I do see the o
  • The whole point of participating in a virtual game is that anything goes. Dungeons and Dragons, Mechwarrior, Warhammer 40K are the predecessors to these virtual worlds, and the whole point of these games was to destroy your opponents and play with your teammates. It was like that because of the rules. If you did't like the rules, or the game master, you didn't play the game. So if Shadowbane can't control the game properly, whether it is because of bad programming that left a vulnerability, or for any o
  • by johnstein (602156) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:29PM (#6079037) Journal
    The biggest issue here isn't simply "do avatars have rights online?". Some people live their lives almost exclusively online. Their dearest friends are found and interacted with in a digital sense. These people, in all honesty, are in fact their avatars. That is WHO THEY ARE.

    On the other hand, some others use the internet as a supplement to their life. They utilize it to keep in contact with their real-life friends and have few, if any, online aquaintances. Some others are in the middle. ( I am excluding those who do not use the internet at all or only use it for communication for their jobs. i.e. email.)

    There are several layers of "immersion" that people undergo. I am reminded of a story my "democracy and technology" class discussed a few years ago. Here is a reference to the story [ascusc.org]. Essentially, some college kids 'hacked' a chat program; the kind where each person has a visible avatar. They used some commands to make unsuspecting chatters "rape" each other or do other "naughty" acts to each other. If I remember correctly, it was only via text that this occured. (The visual avatars did not animate).

    The question posed, was this illegal? Was it virtual rape and assult? On one hand, if the abused person was very immersed in his or her 'virtual reality', the incident would indeed be traumatic (to some degree at least). If the immersion was low, the abused would likely become annoyed and go on with his/her life.

    The same thing goes for MMORPG's. Some people spend incredible amounts of time ammassing items and power in these games. It's an ivestment of time, money, and energy to them, so if someone hacks their account, they stand to lose quite a bit. How could you not say that a crime hasn't been committed if someone loses something that they worked so hard for. However, let's be realistic. It's digital information. It's 1's and 0's on a computer server far far away... or is it?

    Right now, the arguements are using two sets of facts. One side is deeply immersed in the 'bodyless' virtual reality and to them, there is little difference between an avatar and the person controlling it. Thus, the person's rights should carry into the avatar's world.

    The other side says that a virtual crime is not a crime at all. That people need to seriously reconsider their priorities and realize what exactly constitutes their reality. Yadda Yadda Yadda...

    At this present time, with so many people of varying degrees of immersion into this new world without rules, there can be NO law that will satisfy everyone. In fact, I don't believe any law can even come close to addressing the widely chasmatic viewpoints that people hold regarding this topic. But who knows.

    -John
  • It's Pretend!!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by simetra (155655) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:34PM (#6079110) Homepage Journal
    That's why there are pretend worlds and crap online, so you don't risk losing actual assetts. You play a car-racing GAME because you don't want to trash your ACTUAL car. If you crash your car in the game, do you cry and try to find someone to sue? No, because it's fairly obvious that it's PRETEND. You will not suffer REAL financial hardships because of this; you won't have to buy a new car. You won't have to shell out REAL money for repairs. You spend time in imaginary places to avoid real consequences. Now you want to get real compensation for imaginary losses? Okay, but how about if we then make a law that if your imaginary character dies, you must be killed too?
    Sure, you want the good of reality, and the good of imaginary. You want to have your cake and eat it too. And you want to waste our time on this. Go blow a dog.
  • by Mu*puppy (464254) on Friday May 30, 2003 @02:46PM (#6079236)
    -and here are some of my thoughts and observations on the matter. Granted, the MUCKs and MUDs I've been on have been subscription-less, but I think many of the concepts still apply.

    1. Ownership. The person who 'owns' a MUCK, MOO, MUD, MUX, or MMRPG, is the person who owns the physical machine hosting it. It's just that simple. They can turn it on, and they can turn it off. Your 'avatar' is nothing but a collection of 1's and 0's that reside on/in the owner's hardware. Of course, paid susbscriptions would fall under contract law I'd imagine, but outside of that, the owner could simply turn off/move/disconnect/wipe the machine and that's that.

    Next level is the wizcore/admin/staff/whatever. Generally speaking, they are given administrative domain of those 1's and 0's on the machine, and as such, have some limited legal responsibility. Hence why servers carry AUPs (Acceptable Use Policies), most of which basically say 'As someone physically owns this machine and can be held responsible for it's contents, you WILL play by these rules or you will be removed from this server. We're just following the rules of CYA. If you don't like it, go somewhere else.'

    2. The ownership of 'areas.' I've seen this issue wrangled over before and have the following to say: -PLAYERS- make an area, not just the physical setting. Someone may have developed the background, feel, and descriptions of an area, but once you let players run amok in an area, it becomes a collective work-in-progress between everyone involved. You may have designed the area and 'own' that design (more on this later), but you do not own an area AS IT IS NOW.

    3. You can always disconnect. I hear tales of character rape, abuse, any number of things where people make the claim 'I was forced to do X.' Bullshit. At any time, you can disconnect from the machine, or even turn off your computer. You can say 'Sorry, nope, not gonna be a part of this,' get out of the situation, and report it. Where your 'avatar' may be a collection of 1's and 0's bound by the laws of the server programming, YOU are not. IMNSHO, if someone can manipulate you mentally/emotionally that easily, you shouldn't be on the 'net to begin with. For the most part, yes, in character actions have in character consequences (ie. you killed someone and the local authorities are gonna execute you for it), but if there are things not in accordance with the AUP (ie. someone's got psionic control over you, drags you off into a dark alley and is going to rape you), you DON'T have to RP it out. Staying pretty much equals consent, as 99.99% of the time you can EASILY get out of it through out of character means.

    4. Develop areas/characters/items -outside- of a game first. If you ever want to use a character/area/whatever outside of a game (ie. a novel), make sure you develop it -outside- of a game before moving it into the game, so you have at least some form of 'prior art' available to you.

    Most of all, remember, it's only a game. If you make real-world contracts for the transfer of characters/property, that's all well and fine, you have a real-world contract. If you play on a server with an AUP, the administration has full rights to boot you for non-compliance.

    In conclusion, most of the time the administration -wants- to keep the players happy. Wether it's a pay service or the 'reward' for the staff is simply the game itself, a server is nothing without a player base. There many more servers out there, if you don't like how one is going, you can always pick up all your marbles and go play somewhere else...

  • SimCourt anyone?
  • by ktakki (64573) on Friday May 30, 2003 @03:09PM (#6079461) Homepage Journal
    ...to NBC, Law And Order: Special Moderators Unit

    Bailiff: All rise, the Honorable Cmdr Taco, presiding.

    [...]

    DA McCoy: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we will show beyond a reasonable doubt that on the evening of November 22nd, the defendant, Mr. H4x0rD00d, did knowingly and willfully employ an aimbot and an OpenGL wallhack during the commission of...

    Defense Attorney: OMG, LOL! Objection!

    Judge Taco: Overruled. STFU.

    [...]

    Judge Taco: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, how do you find the defendant?

    Foreman: On the count of wallhacking in the first degree, we find the defendant guilty. On the count of using an aimbot with intent to 0wn, we find the defendant guilty. On the count of misdemeanor page-widening, we find the defendant not guilty. On the count of trolling with intent to flame, we find the defendant not guilty. On the count of felony sock-puppetry, we find the defenNO CARRIER

    k.
  • reality check? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Shadestalker (598690)
    From the article:

    "Avatars, the user-controlled entities that interact with virtual worlds, are a persistent extension of their human users, and users identify with them so closely that the human-avatar being can be thought of as a cyborg. We examine the issue of cyborg rights within virtual worlds and whether they may have real world significance."

    A cell phone is a user-controlled entity that interacts with the provided communications netwrok, is a persistent extension of its human user, and users ident

  • by luzrek (570886)
    Anyone ever watch, or play any of the .hack stuff?

    While it is fiction, it does seem to deal with a large chunk (and more) of this conversation.

  • No mention of Neverwinter Nights on AOL, nor of the current version, nor of Diablo---seems to skip straight from MUDs to Everquest.

    I guess the real question here is whether there should be some established standards on the obligations of the company / entity which maintains the virtual world as opposed to the situation now where it's all handled by contract law (and possibly computer cracking / security laws)---since AOL wiped my Elven Champion-Wizard-12th level Master Thief (Dreamsmyth, an ``Elflord'' and
  • I read the entire near 100 page abstract (yeah, it's a boring day at work) and found it very interesting.

    He seems to base his thesis on two decent arguments: first, investing time into making something, even if this investment is in a virtual world, gives something inherent value. secondly, that because in game properties are being sold via ebay that there is some sort of real-world value to these objects. He even points out that people have made 'us dollar to everquest platinum' currency conversions, an
  • About 7 years ago I played a MUD (DragonHeart if anyone has heard of it). There were some months that I'm sure I spent at least 10 hours playing the game.

    The game had an interesting option, people could spend money to buy special (donor) equipment in the game. People in the game sent in a check for a specified amount per armor piece ($30 for a helm, $120 for a sword, etc.) along with a custom description of that piece of equipment. This equipment wasn't as good as the best gear in the game, however, it
  • Can/should virtual world "property" be treated as legal property?
    Lets look at "intellectual property". (almost an oxymoron in itself)
    To say that an idea could be treated as property has always amazed me.
    Property can be destroyed - an idea cannot.
    Property can be stolen - and idea cannot (although it can be copied)
    Upon transferal of property, the original owner loses possession - not so with an idea
    And so on.........
    Seem more likely that lawyers got together and realized that the only way for

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