Weeks Pages/Week3

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Lecture Videos

VW Credits

Lecture Notes

This week has been adopted by Team Mutumbo at 2:02 pm on 9/12/2006

Team Mutumbo consists of:

Jordan Bleicher

Art Samuels

Joel Schellhammer

Logan Schiff

Jessica Clark

Virtual Worlds Introduction

Key Questions

  1. To what extent will or should real-world governments regulate or otherwise interact with virtual worlds?
  2. What points of control are available for regulation of virtual worlds?

What is a Virtual World?
A virtual world is an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called "digital worlds," "simulated worlds" and "MMOG's." There are many different types of virtual worlds, however there are six features all of them have in common:

  1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.
  2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D "cartoon" imagery to more immersive 3D environments.
  3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.
  4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.
  5. Persistence: the world's existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.
  6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like teams, guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc.

Purposes for Virtual Worlds

  • Commercial Gaming - MMORPG
  • Socializing/Online Community Building
  • Education
  • Political Expression
  • Military Applications
  • Castronova says that Virtual Worlds are a good place to study the meaning of "Utopia," the creation of governments, social norms and conventions, markets, poverty, and law and economics (see Appendix A of "Virtual Worlds").

Reality, Virtual Reality, and Gray Areas
Actions contained within the virtual world, constrained by code
Actions that overlap with the real world

  • eBay market for virtual property
    • Virtual World, Real Money
      • Norrath: $3.42/hour income per capita
      • The Sims Online: exchange rate of 15,000 simoleans per US$
      • $20 million in sales through eBay online games category
  • Virtual sweatshops
  • Tax on virtual income
  • Crime

Why Go Virtual?
Outlets for creative expression
Social laboratories
Outlets for baser tendencies:

  • Grand Theft Auto debate:
    • Cathartic or desensitizing?

Virtual Rights, Real Remedies?

Virtual Property Rights

Arguments for virtual property rights

  • Justifications for real property apply to virtual property
    • Labor-desert
    • Utilitarian
    • Others?
  • Ownership in virtual world is “virtually” identical to ownership in real world
    • Exclusive right to use
    • Persistent control
    • Right and ability to transfer

Arguments against virtual property rights

  • Virtual property is created and controlled by provider of virtual world, not by player
  • Virtual property, insofar as it exists, remains in possession of provider
  • Player only possesses license to use in virtual world

Against whom may these rights be enforced?
Who should enforce these rights or provide remedies for their violation?

Possible real world analogues

  • Casino/gambling chips
  • Domain names
  • Trademarks
  • Others?


  • Contracts for Virtual Performance
    • Exchange of real-world cash for virtual world performance (delivery).
  • EULAs

Intellectual Property

Should in-game creative expression be protected?

  • YES: user creations constitute independent creative expression
  • NO: user creations are insubstantial additions to the virtual world

What form of protection should be available to this expression?

  • Copyright
  • Rights of Publicity in Virtual Personae

Who should own the rights to this expression? Should this be addressed on a case-by-case basis?

Other Virtual Torts and Crimes

  • Attacks on property?
  • Defamation of virtual personae?
  • Harassment?
  • Virtual prostitution?

Castronova on Virtual Worlds

Questions to consider when reading

  • What do you make of the comparison Castronova repeatedly suggests between the first European immigrants to the "New World" and those who are beginning to spend substantial amounts of time in Virtual Worlds?
  • Castronova predicts that VW's "may soon become one of the most important forums for human interaction" and "induce widespread changes in the organization of Earth Society." What forms will such change take and how profound will they be?
  • How can we reconcile Castronova's claim that Virtual Worlds will substantially affect our future with the view of John Barlow that traditional governments should not try to regulate cyberspace? Is there a tension or a conflict here?