Can Brussels, world capitol of PC thought, prosecute online violence?
Earlier this year, one animated character in Second Life, a popular online fantasy world, allegedly raped another character.
Some Internet bloggers dismissed the simulated attack as nothing more than digital fiction. But police in Belgium, according to newspapers there, opened an investigation into whether a crime had been committed. No one has yet been charged.
"No one has yet been charged" ? What are they going to do, haul in a two-dimensional avatar? How do you cuff 'em, and what jail cell could hold them?
Two years ago, Japanese authorities arrested a man for carrying out a series of virtual muggings in another popular game, Lineage II, by using software to beat up and rob characters in the game and then sell the virtual loot for real money.
Ah, arrest the three-dimensional fellow behind it! But if only "virtual loot" was "stolen" within a game, who is the complaintant in a three-dimensional courtroom? Because, in reality, nothing was stolen.
Julian Dibbell, a prominent commentator on digital culture, chronicled the first known case of sexual assault in cyberspace in 1993, when virtual reality was still in its infancy. A participant in LambdaMOO, a community of users who congregated in a virtual California house, had used a computer program called a "voodoo doll" to force another player's character to act out being raped. Though this virtual world was rudimentary and the assault simulated, Dibbell recounted that the trauma was jarringly real. The woman whose character was attacked later wept -- "post-traumatic tears were streaming down her face" -- as she vented her outrage and demand for revenge in an online posting, he wrote
Hey lady - you were not attacked. You were just playing a game with nasty people; you should have logged out and found new friends. To compare what was likely a 16-bit image of an assault to an actual physical rape is repugnant in and of itself, and something only those furthest removed from reality could equate.
Here's where we are headed:
Philip Rosedale, the founder and chief executive of Linden Labs, said in an interview that Second Life activities should be governed by real-life laws for the time being. He recounted, for example, that his company has called in the FBI several times, most recently this spring to ensure that Second Life's virtual casinos complied with U.S. law. Federal investigators created their own avatars and toured the site, he said.
Up next: Federal and local state taxes for virtual gaming winnings!