How Will We Regulate Online Games Whose Premise Is About Virtual Illegality?

from the a-huge,-huge-mess dept

Two years ago, it was obvious that the "wild west" area associated with online games was going to face some serious legal questions that would get very messy, very quickly. If you think things are bad now, when politicians try to create laws for the regular internet, just imagine how screwed up they'll get when dealing with virtual worlds where things look the same, but are very, very different. While he trots out the misleading statement about how the online gaming economy equals the GDP of some random small country, Ed Felten makes the (almost too) obvious point that, whether or not anyone likes it, governments will step in and regulate online worlds. This is where things get complex very quickly. While some embrace the idea that outside laws should apply within the game, it creates some huge problems: as the reasons things happen in an online world are very different. Just look at the recent arrest in Japan of a man who created an online bot bully in an online game. At first, it may seem sensible for the offline laws to apply to the online world. He used the bot to steal from characters, and the goods he stole had real value in the outside world. However, if stealing is really such an issue, why isn't it programmed out of the game entirely? What if the purpose of the game is to steal from others, even if there is value in the outside world? Since a virtual world lets you start from any set of conditions or rules, and doesn't involve physically harming anyone, many laws that may make sense on the surface make a lot less sense as you dig deeper. Felten uses the example of virtual stock markets in these games that use real money. Should those be regulated? Perhaps... but then how do you deal with a virtual world that's supposed to represent an unregulated financial market where anything goes? Virtual worlds let players experience life with completely different rulesets. Why should they be forced to only function in a world that matches the real one?


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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous of Course, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 1:56pm

    virtual taxes

    If the virtual wealth was required to remain virtual, that is to have no value outside of the game, would there be any need for additional regulation?
    If the government did step in to regulate the virtual world, would there be a virtual tax on the virtual wealth payable in real world money?

     

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  2.  
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    VGJunkie, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 2:02pm

    How about...

    We let the game companies regulate the worlds they create? Will the US Govt have the right to regulate a MMO game that is from another country?

    There are far worse things in this world, and the people like JT have nothing better to do then to try and crucify the gaming industry. I mean, video games are the only source of violence, which forces us to rehash this violence into our own world right? (Kidding... TV, music, ..etc have been vehicles for violence long before video games).

    As games get more and more realistic looking, things will get worse. Hopefully somebody steps up and shoots these bastards down before they demolish the creativy that some of these gaming companies bring to us. I'm all for M+ games not being sold to minors, but don't blame the gaming industry for making the games, blame the adults who buy these games for these kids, or the retailers that sell these to kids.

    Also when it comes to mentally unstable people tha t play games like GTA, how is the game manufacturer supposed to know that they will "set off" these loose cannons? You don't. Same goes if this person watches a violent movie, but yet you don't see lawsuits over violent movies....

    /end rant

     

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  3.  
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    meh, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 2:32pm

    Re: virtual taxes

    I'd pay in virtual money. All it sounds like to me is that now the government wants to play the game. Who am I to say they can't? But if it's legal (programmed into the game) for them to charge virtual taxes on virtual money, I will pay them virtually.

    Also, if it's legal (programmed into the game) for the government to charge virtual taxes on virtual money, I'll charge them a virtual tax on their money.


    I honestly don't understand this article or the idea. Someone explain.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 2:33pm

    It EXACTLY like poker...

    Think about it.

    Some people/countries/authorities are for it, some are against it.

    Online games should have their own rules. Period.

    You can "buy in" in a virtual world and, with time and effort, make more virtual money that can be traded for more REAL money than you spent when you started.

    How is this ANY different than poker or any form of gambling? There is risk involved and if you suck, you lose money.

     

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  5.  
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    Luke, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 2:46pm

    Re: virtual taxes

    If that ever happened, guess how many people would play that game. None. If you are paying $5-10 a month to play a game, and then the government charges you an extra $10, would you still really want to play? I wouldn't. I would just look for another MMORPG that doesn't include that extra $10.

     

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  6.  
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    Kyle Ward, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 6:26pm

    Re: virtual taxes

    Games already have their own rules, programming is basically just a set of rules. Games play how they are programmed to play, and no other way. Once the government starts making rules for games, I'm shooting real people, and they will probably be people from the government. Every aspect of our lives is now being invaded by the government. The rules of the games will be decided by the game makers and not by the government. Realize this people- we can make anything we want to make. We just might not be able to sell it and if we do there will have to be waivers and other BS like that. It's free expression to play a game how it is intended to be played. I don't know many games where you can actually make money by selling stuff, minus a few MMORPGs, and in those you cant actually steal that stuff. Accept that its a game, and not a job. If someone manages to steal something from you and you call the cops- you need serious help. I am in college now to get a degree in Game Design and ive been playing games for many many many many years now. The government is just trying to get into EVERYTHING, so lets smack their hands and make them get back. There is no need to game laws.

     

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  7.  
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    Vlatro, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 6:47pm

    Re: virtual taxes

    Congress moves 10 times slower than the technology market, which in turn moves about 10 times slower than the average geek mind. They'll take care of this just like they did with illegal downloads. They'll shake their heads in dissapointment, make examples of a few people or companies who haven't the money to fight back, and then realize they can't stop it and turn it over to the court system. Thats what we need to fear. Judgments set a precedent that can be upheld without a law against the action in question really existing. It just needs to be an interpretation of an existing law for enforcement. Not everyone has the resources to appeal a bad ruling, and if left to stand that judgment becomes a precedent for other cases. That is who the RIAA and MPAA are targeting, the end user rather than the source, as they will benefit from having greater financial resources. Soon we'll be seeing waves of law suits between individuals over petty matters that will limit the freedoms of everyone. People bitch and wine about the president or congress, but it is the judicial system that is destroying this country. The courts will be the battle ground for this fight, as it's the only government power that can effect changes as quickly as they occur in an online environment. God save us if the EUA's (End User Agreement) for each piece of software becomes a rule set upholdable in court regarding the conduct of on line actions. Software companies will stake no liability, and the lawyers will gladly rush in to fill the gap as moderators and interpretors of virtual right and wrong.

     

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  8.  
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    Vlatro, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 7:20pm

    No Subject Given

    Imagine this dialog:

    Lawyer:
    "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I intend to prove that the defendant, MrCool69 did deliberately in a most brutal manner assault 6 people online with a level 10 plasma gun during a friendly Halo skirmish. Moreover we will illustrate that these crimes were in fact Hate crimes, and his motives were fueled by racial hatred, as every single victim was on the red team. He targeted 6 people on the red team, leaving the entire white team unharmed. MrCool69 is a racist and a cold blooded killer. But to truly understand the extent of his crimes we must consider the total damages including the combine loss of over 2 million experience points, and the emotional anguish of the victims, their families, and the greater online population of red-suited avatars everywhere. As long as people like MrCool are allowed to roam the online world freely, no one with a red suit under +20 defense shielding will be safe. We are asking that you see this trial through and follow your best moral judgment, and realize that this is in fact a capital crime, deserving the highest punishment... Deletion of his character, and $5000 in penalties to help aid the victims in mending their shattered egos.

    Meanwhile...

    Hillary Clinton:
    We are asking for federal funds to form a committee to investigate the unresisted dirstrabution of virtual firearms, as well as the sale of fully automatic virtual weapons that we feel poses a threat to the American youth. We have over the last year heard an increasing number of very alarming reports. Reports of children downloading guns in schools. Reports of police officers in many games being targeted for the guns they carry...

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2005 @ 8:01pm

    No Subject Given

    how 'bout we don't?

     

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  10.  
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    Newob, Oct 12th, 2005 @ 2:53am

    Serve the Computer. The Computer is Your Friend.

    "This is a message from the designers of Real Life. We are sorry to inform you that due to new Imaginary Government regulations you will no longer be permitted to break Imaginary Laws in Real Life. Also forbidden are Real Life sex, Real Life money, and Real Life profanity. From now on, only Imaginary sex, money, or profanity as permitted by Imaginary Laws will be allowed in Real Life. Thank you for your cooperation."

     

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