Michael Bohling

Read the first page below or click here to read the full essay: Michael Boling – Defying the ‘Magic Circle’: Unethical Acts in Virtual Worlds

This article investigates the complex and controversial exclusion of real world law from virtual worlds. By including examples of several documented unethical acts that have occurred in virtual worlds, this article suggests that real world law should be carried into virtual spaces in order to protect users. Some forms of protection discussed within this essay include the transfer of property rights and consequences of legal prosecution in order to deter unethical behaviors. Finally, this article includes benefits of adopting these strategies, while also acknowledging the potential negatives.

Imagine a world where you can be perfect; a world where you can be whoever you want, whenever you want. Imagine a space you can retreat to in order to escape the pressures of the real world, achieve a new identity, and interact with a whole new population. Virtual worlds provide all of these ideal opportunities to their users. In fact, over 300 million users had registered accounts for a virtual world, according to data reported in 2008 (Waterburn 2009, 2.) As we move even further into a technological era, one can assume that this number has most likely increased as well.

With such a large user base, it would be ideal for virtual worlds to be safe, enjoyable places where users can enjoy and be immersed in their experience. However, users can have their experience spoiled by others. Much like the real world, virtual worlds serve as a place where many unethical practices occur. Some of the most well-known unethical occurrences demonstrated in virtual worlds are basic harassment, extramarital affairs, sexual harassment, and virtual theft. Although many doubt the seriousness of these practices because they are not committed in the real world, their impact is felt, and has a serious influence on other users. However, the topic of unethical events occurring within virtual worlds has generated some debate in terms of liability and punishment. Some believe that if these unethical practices are not occurring in the real world, then they are not a real world problem. Others argue that the users that witness and are sometimes victims of these practices are real people, and therefore the acts should receive real consequences.


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