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The State of Play: Law, Games, and Virtual Worlds

Jack M. Balkin
Beth Simone Noveck
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The State of Play
    Book Description:

    The State of Play presents an essential first step in understanding how new digital worlds will change the future of our universe. Millions of people around the world inhabit virtual words: multiplayer online games where characters live, love, buy, trade, cheat, steal, and have every possible kind of adventure. Far more complicated and sophisticated than early video games, people now spend countless hours in virtual universes like Second Life and Star Wars Galaxies not to shoot space invaders but to create new identities, fall in love, build cities, make rules, and break them.As digital worlds become increasingly powerful and lifelike, people will employ them for countless real-world purposes, including commerce, education, medicine, law enforcement, and military training. Inevitably, real-world law will regulate them. But should virtual worlds be fully integrated into our real-world legal system or should they be treated as separate jurisdictions with their own forms of dispute resolution? What rules should govern virtual communities? Should the law step in to protect property rights when virtual items are destroyed or stolen?These questions, and many more, are considered in The State of Play, where legal experts, game designers, and policymakers explore the boundaries of free speech, intellectual property, and creativity in virtual worlds. The essays explore both the emergence of law in multiplayer online games and how we can use virtual worlds to study real-world social interactions and test real-world laws.Contributors include: Jack M. Balkin, Richard A. Bartle, Yochai Benkler, Caroline Bradley, Edward Castronova, Susan P. Crawford, Julian Dibbell, A. Michael Froomkin, James Grimmelmann, David R. Johnson, Dan Hunter, Raph Koster, F. Gregory Lastowka, Beth Simone Noveck, Cory Ondrejka, Tracy Spaight, and Tal Zarsky.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-3907-5
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PART I: Introduction

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-12)
      Jack M. Balkin and Beth Simone Noveck

      In his 1992 novelSnow Crash, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson imagined the Metaverse. The Metaverse was a virtual world—a three-dimensional simulation of reality in cyberspace—where people lived, worked, and socialized. Since then programmers have used increasingly sophisticated graphical interfaces to create their own versions of the Metaverse. Although the development of these virtual worlds has been driven by the game industry, by now these worlds are used for far more than play, and soon they will be widely adopted as spaces for research, education, politics, and work. In the years to come our gateway to the Internet...

    • 2 Virtual Worlds: A Primer
      (pp. 13-28)
      F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter

      A snow-capped mountain range stretches over the town’s northern border and tapers down to a southward-facing, concave bay embracing a small archipelago of glittering islands. Homes are clustered in predictable locations: on the islands, against the seaside, and close to the mountains. This is the community of Blazing Falls, a town with over 25,000 inhabitants—roughly the size of Timbuktu or Poughkeepsie. Its young and attractive twenty-something inhabitants can be found chatting and working together in their eclectically furnished dwellings. Most live with roommates, with whom they share both rights of ownership and the duties of taking out the garbage,...

  4. PART II: Game Gods and Game Players

    • 3 Virtual Worldliness
      (pp. 31-54)
      Richard A. Bartle

      Virtual worlds are persistent, computer-mediated environments in which a plurality of players can interact with the world and each other. From their humble beginnings, virtual worlds have evolved to become major hubs of entertainment, education, and community. With this growing real-world importance has, however, come greater scrutiny from real-world institutions. Virtual-world developers are now experiencing a degree of accountability to which most are unaccustomed and of which many are deeply wary. For their part, real-world institutions have discovered a large, shaggy animal in their yard that wasn’t there yesterday and that doesn’t behave quite the same as the usual beasts...

    • 4 Declaring the Rights of Players
      (pp. 55-67)
      Raph Koster

      Do players of virtual worlds have rights?

      One of those questions that I shouldn’t write about. No matter what, any answer I give is bound to be wrong, either from the perspective of my employers or my customers. The pesky thing about rights is that they keep coming up. Players keep claiming that they have them. Of course, administrators of any virtual space are loathe to “grant players rights” because it curbs their ability to take action against people and holds them to standards they may not be able to live up to.

      There’s at least one theory of rights...

    • 5 The Right to Play
      (pp. 68-85)
      Edward Castronova

      The virtual worlds now emerging on the Internet manifest themselves with two faces, one invoking fantasy and play, the other merely extending day-to-day existence into a more entertaining circumstance. In this essay I argue that the more daily-life aspects of virtual worlds have begun to dominate their fantasy status. This is unfortunate. Virtual worlds represent a new technology that allows deeper and richer access to the mental states invoked by play, fantasy, myth, and saga, states that have immense intrinsic value to the human person. Yet virtual worlds cannot provide these mental states if themagic circle, the boundary that...

    • 6 Law and Liberty in Virtual Worlds
      (pp. 86-118)
      Jack M. Balkin

      As increasing numbers of people flock to virtual worlds and invest their time and resources there, the law will surely follow. How should we balance the interests of law and liberty in virtual worlds? I argue that both contract law and free speech law will play central roles.

      There are three kinds of freedom in virtual worlds. The first is the freedom of the players to participate in the virtual world and interact with each other through their in-game representations, or avatars. This is thefreedom to play.¹ The second is the freedom of the game designer or platform owner²...

  5. PART III: Property and Creativity in Virtual Worlds

    • 7 Virtual Crime
      (pp. 121-136)
      F. Gregory Lastowka and Dan Hunter

      In a recent article, we explored the emerging social phenomenon of virtual worlds and the legal issues raised by these environments.¹ We focused upon two primary questions. First, we asked whether the virtual items and properties currently being bought and sold by residents of virtual worlds should be regarded as property in a legal sense. We concluded that no obvious reason exists prohibiting the recognition of legal interests in intangible virtual properties. Second, we explored the question of whether the current technocratic, corporate, and anarchic governance systems in virtual worlds should be problematic from the standpoint of democratic governance. We...

    • 8 Owned! Intellectual Property in the Age of eBayers, Gold Farmers, and Other Enemies of the Virtual State Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the End-User License Agreement
      (pp. 137-145)
      Julian Dibbell

      Possession, they say, is nine-tenths of the law, and not being a lawyer myself—or even a legal scholar—I’ll have to take their word for it. But having spent considerable time in the company of lawyers and legal scholars lately, I do know this: the remaining tenth is storytelling. As a journalist, therefore, I feel at least somewhat qualified to stand before this august body of lawyers and legal scholars and do my professional thing, which is to tell a story. By no coincidence, the story I want to tell right now revolves around a legal case, a case...

    • 9 Virtual Power Politics
      (pp. 146-157)
      James Grimmelmann

      Every decision made by the designers of a virtual world is a political decision. Every debate over the rules and every change to the software is political. When players talk about the rules, they are practicing politics.

      Consider the following classic story from Lucasfilm’sHabitat, launched in 1985. A “vendroid” on one side of the world would sell a doll for seventy-five Tokens (theHabitatunit of currency). A pawn shop at the other end would buy dolls for a hundred Tokens each. A similar price disparity held for more expensive crystal balls: One machine would sell them for 18,000...

    • 10 Escaping the Gilded Cage: User-Created Content and Building the Metaverse
      (pp. 158-179)
      Cory Ondrejka

      In 1992, Neal Stephenson’s science fiction novelSnow Crashintroduced readers to the concept of the Metaverse. While other science fiction had described immersive online games¹ and virtual spaces,² Stephenson was the first to describe an online environment that was a real place to its users, one where they interacted using the real world as a metaphor and socialized, conducted business, and were entertained:

      Hiro is approaching the Street. It is the Broadway, the Champs Élysées of the Metaverse. … [I]t does not really exist. But right now, millions of people are walking up and down it. … [O]f these...

    • 11 There Is No Spoon
      (pp. 180-186)
      Yochai Benkler

      Virtual worlds are likeThe Matrix. The answer to the question: “Who should own this spoon, the provider or the user?” is,there is no spoon. Once you understand this, the discussions of “virtual worlds” bring about an eerie déjà vu—”it feels like you’re in a room,” it’s a “virtual community,” we should have a “declaration of independence” for “new spaces for self-governance.” There is code, interface, and the social relations they make possible. There is no “governance of a virtual world.” There is simply the question of governance in the relations among users of a class of software...

  6. PART IV: Privacy and Identity in Virtual Worlds

    • 12 Who Killed Miss Norway?
      (pp. 189-197)
      Tracy Spaight

      In the spring of 2002, after more than a year in preproduction, I began work on “Real People Virtual Worlds,” a documentary film exploring how people interact with each other in the graphically and textually mediated settings of online worlds. Along the way, I expected to interview people who make like they’re elves or slay monsters or just hang out in virtual taverns with their virtual friends. And I did. What I didn’t expect is that I’d stumble into a real-life murder mystery, complete with intrigue, deception, and, ultimately, the disappearance and death of a beauty queen.

      Karyn logged onto...

    • 13 Who’s In Charge of Who I Am? Identity and Law Online
      (pp. 198-216)
      Susan P. Crawford

      As we enter this new century, identity online seems full of opportunity. Someday “virtual-world” identities will be just as important as “real” identities—just as “e-commerce” has become indistinguishable from “commerce.” Control over online avatar identities will have many real-world consequences, because these clouds of bits may include our credit records, our buddy lists, our job records, personal references and other reputational information, medical histories, certifications, and academic transcripts. As soon as something is valuable and persistent, we seek to associate rights and duties with it. What will be the law of online identity to which those rights apply? And...

    • 14 Privacy and Data Collection in Virtual Worlds
      (pp. 217-224)
      Tal Zarsky

      Virtual worlds pose new and specific privacy concerns that are at times greater than those arising in other online interactions. To see why, consider the examples in the following story:

      It was early in the morning when Joseph K. heard a knock on his door. Joseph, who spends forty hours a week in an online virtual world while using the avatar “Castleman,” rushes to the door where he confronts the neighborhood mailman, who with a sly smile hands him his mail. “Here you go, Castleman,” he says. Joseph slams the door angrily, as he was hoping to avoid sharing information...

  7. PART V: Virtual Worlds and Real-World Power

    • 15 Virtual Worlds, Real Rules: Using Virtual Worlds to Test Legal Rules
      (pp. 227-244)
      Caroline Bradley and A. Michael Froomkin

      In virtual worlds such asUltima OnlineandEverQuest,¹ the Internet may accidentally provide an environment that lends itself well to the testing of legal rules. We argue that the ability to test legal rules in these virtual worlds could help solve a long-running and worsening problem in the design of legal rules—the barriers to experimentation caused by an increasing tendency to the harmonization of law. Legal harmonization occurs for many reasons, including regional integration,² a wide acceptance among policy makers that good rules promote economic success,³ and lobbying by business interests.⁴ Obviously, it makes sense to try to...

    • 16 The New Visual Literacy: How the Screen Affects the Law
      (pp. 245-256)
      David R. Johnson

      Online games have given us a whole new set of tools with which law and legally significant relationships can be created. The tools we first try out in the context of multiplayer online games may open up fundamentally new modes of communication and collaboration. Games may show the way toward new kinds of legal texts, new institutional forms and, ultimately, new kinds of social order.

      Our new computer and network capabilities won’t change human nature or fundamentally alter governments. But they may well change the way we form and act in social and economic groups. They may allow for the...

    • 17 Democracy—The Video Game: Virtual Worlds and the Future of Collective Action
      (pp. 257-282)
      Beth Simone Noveck

      The ceo of United Parcel Service is not a happy man.,² the website which allows visitors to search the campaign contribution database of the Federal Election Commission and to create maps of Red and Blue buildings, streets, and neighborhoods, makes it easy to find out that he gave a substantial sum of money to George W. Bush.

      During the on-line conference with Michael Moore³ following the release ofFahrenheit 9/11, the computer screen showed the Director in his baseball hat but it also indicated “hot spots” of activity—big colored nodes—where people were participating. Not to be...

  8. About the Contributors
    (pp. 283-288)
  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-290)
  10. Case List
    (pp. 291-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-304)