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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