The issue that brought a lot of discussions to the foreground about this virtual world was the virtual rape of a Belgian woman which has resulted in the Brussels police having a presence in Second Life. (Note: I don’t know Flemish but am assuming the title of the article is self-explanatory.) While whether or not it was an actual rape is open to debate, the general consensus is that it was a problem and it does have direct consequences in the real world for the “victim”. As Wired commentator, Regina Lynn, describes,
But in a game, you don’t want to lose the long-term investment you’ve made in your character. And these days, your real world income or professional reputation can depend on your online self.
While she provides a number of other interesting points (and links to further discussions and related material), that point stuck with me. Having an investment in anything provides the opportunity for loss. In this case, and I think we can all agree though we may quibble over exactly what that was, the Belgian woman has lost something. While legal matters are far removed from my specialty, the question seems to become
- Was the woman’s loss outside of her expectation?
- Was the other character’s interaction inappropriate enough to make it a crime? If so, which?
With respect to criminal, we might first wonder if any sexually oriented activities (if we are still thinking about the alleged “rape”) are acceptable in Second Life. In some areas of the virtual world, they are. Upon entering Second Life, you are introduced to Community Standards. As described in the paragraph “Global Standards, Local Ratings”, the general rating of the world is “non-Mature” (i.e., “PG”). However, in the same paragraph it also states that certain areas may be Mature. If the woman understood the area she was entering was a Mature one, understood the consequences of entering such an area, it would tip the responsibility scale in her direction.
Second Life, while virtual, has many real-world characteristics. Crime is taken seriously. You can report the ne’er-do-wells and even scan the Second Life Crime Blotter. Even Reuters has it’s own news branch.
The presence of real-world agencies is not new. The FBI has established a presence to investigate gambling in Second Life. As well, the IRS has an interest. While any conversion of Linden Dollars to US Dollars seems rightfully taxable, the actual transactions within Second Life are even under consideration. Tax isn’t just a Second Life issue, even World of Warcraft has potential for IRS involvement.
The virtual world is considered by some to be the last place for inherent freedoms. Second Life, through its theoretically unlimited real estate and ability to flag areas as private and for “mature” audiences, seems to embrace this notion. In such a place, groups can create societies with atypical ethical, moral, religious and social standards. They exist in peace and isolation and are not constrained by conventional needs of humans.
As I reflected on what to say in this post, I asked myself, “Why would it change?” That is, it seems at the moment that the inhabitants of Second Life can live a peaceful existance given that the world is limitless. The Earth doesn’t have that advantage. The limitations presented by the fixed world forced (or at least gave rise to when mixed with greed and power issues) exploration which meant societies with orthogonal ideals were exposed to each other. For some groups, the need to
“show the way” to the others was strong. Was there ever a need for Christian missionaries to invade third world countries?
Second Life – and the Internet in general – doesn’t have the resource problem. It’s problem is that it is deeply connected to the real world. There will always be this connection. (Can the virtual world exist and evolve without the real world?) And while the virtual worlds can eliminate to some degree dependency on tangible, limited resources, it is still deeply infused with human nature. There will always be people with greed and the need to assume power and the need to impose their ideals on others.