A few years ago, there was a brief flurry of interest in the legal question concerning how offline laws fit into online virtual communities. This becomes very tricky, very quickly -- especially with the growing ability to sell virtual goods from these communities for real money. So, what happens when a virtual character steals from another virtual character and sells what they get for real money? The quick answer, some might say, would be that the thief is guilty of real-world theft, and deserves to be punished. However, since the stealing was allowed in the game, isn't it a part of the game? Worse, what if it's a major part of the game and encouraged? Suddenly the lines get very blurry. Over in Japan, someone has now been arrested for creating an automated in-game bully that would hang out in the popular game Lineage II, beat other characters up and steal their goods. Unfortunately, the article doesn't make it clear whether the arrest was for creating the bot... or for the thug-like virtual muggings. Either way, it raises some troubling questions. Even when real money is involved, the virtual world a totally made up world -- where the creators of that world can put in whatever restrictions they want. So, you could make a fairly convincing argument that if the game creators allow it, it's hard to see how it can be breaking the law (especially when players may come from all over the world, where the laws may differ). At worst, it could break the terms of service of the game -- which is why people (including game developers) need to start realizing that their terms of service are basically a constitution for the game and the game developers themselves play the role of the government in a game.
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