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real world, virtual world April 23, 2008

Posted by Bradley in : Uncategorized , trackback

I have just read a paper by Vili Lehdonvirta which challenges the distinction much mmo/mmorg scholarship makes between real and virtual worlds (the author cites a paper I wrote with Michael Froomkin among the examples of this distinction). It’s a really interesting paper. Lehdonvirta says:

This game-like character of everyday life has not gone unnoticed in MMO studies: Castronova equates society with a large game, although he only sees one game instead of a multiplicity (Castronova, 2006a: 171). At the same time, in some instances MMO gameplay is increasingly resembling work: laborious, tedious and occasionally lucrative (Yee, 2006; Grimes, 2006: 982-985). For all these reasons, I believe it does not do injustice to MMOs to treat them on par with other fields of life, instead of placing them on a separate plane.

I agree with this approach and am working on the ways in which real world financial activity and virtual world financial activity resemble each other – traders on the financial markets may behave as if they are playing a game and some virtual world participants are serious about generating revenue. The trouble is that once we collapse the distinction in the literature between the real and the virtual that has significant implications for the application of legal rules.

For lawyers I think the real/virtual distinction makes sense. Lawyers like to solve problems by defining categories and making distinctions, and we can use up a lot of energy arguing about those distinctions. The rules that apply to different types of tangible and intangible property may be different. And lawyers generally spend a lot of time thinking about jurisdiction: jurisdiction to regulate, jurisdiction to enforce, jursidiction to decide disputes. We tend to think a lot about questions about allocations of power between different geographically defined and hierarchically defined authorities. And there’s a recurrent problem of the extent to which people should be allowed to contract around rules which have a public policy component.

Just because it caught my eye, here’s another example of a real/virtual world distinction in the most recent spiffworld Jonathan Coulton video which is a response to the original here (which uses photographs from flickr) (and which Coulton likes) :

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