Imagine this…

Snapshot_002You wake up in the morning and look out your window at the snow. You go to your inventory and pick out a nice outfit and shoes. Then go into appearance and, after wearing your clothes and shoes, you quickly take off all your hair; you need to look sophisticated today. You attach a new ‘do. On second thought…

A quick skin change and some low key accessories later, you teleport out. A few seconds pass, and you find yourself among a group of people in shorts & skirts under the bright sun of Tropical Eden. You realize that the organizers of the contest you came to enter preferred tropical dress, so you popo open your inventory and change outfits, shorten your hair and put on different shoes.

Now that you are ready, you walk to the line that has formed. As you do, you notice the chat around you. “No furries allowed in the contest.” A well dressed wolf curses and disappears and a few tails come off. “Please no biting during the contest.” A lady behind you whispers to a friend, “That is what garlic is for.”

After a short wait, you walk onto the stage and up to the judges. The coordinator thanks you and tells you to whom you should send your application.Each judge asks you a couple of questions. You answer as you can, thank them for your chance to enter the contest.

You leave the stage, tp home, and log out. The next day you log in, look out your window at the snow and change into a winter outfit. A few friends invites you to go skiing with them and you accept. While you are skiing you get an inventory offer, a note card entitled “Congratulations Winners.” You open the note card and read it.

You are the second place winner. You’ve won 10,000 bucks, a photo shoot for advertising through the next month, multiple clothing and accessory prizes from the company sponsors. You are so excited you immediately tell all your friends and send a message to the coordinator to thank him. You don’t get a response, but you aren’t worried. After a bit more fun skiing and some chat at the ski lodge you head home.

At least, you try to head home. Your home is gone, not can’t-find-where-I-parked-my-car gone. Your home is… being returned to you with all the rest of your stuff because the sim that you lived on is an “invalid location.”

You send a message to your neighbor, the nice mermaid who lives in the cove next to your area of the sim. She says that she hasn’t tried to go home recently but has seen a few of her things returned and that she has heard from from a couple of the other six who live on the sim. You are a bit upset but need to go, so you bid her good day and log off.

The next day you log in, but you can’t look out the view at the snow because your home is still gone. You notice, also, that have been ejected from the land group and so will need to speak to the rental office to get back in, otherwise yo will not be able to place your house back on the land. You search for the real estate agent, who is surprisingly not your friend anymore. once you’ve found her name you send her a message. You get a busy response, “We apologize for the inconvenience, but the person you are messaging is a bot and cannot respond. Please send messages directly to the person from whom you purchased your land.”

You are a bit frustrated but remind yourself that you just won a lot of money and some fun stuff. You send a message to the coordinator, but he isn’t online. Slightly frustrated you log early that day.
A week passes. You find a new home on Sunny Paradise the sim that your neighbor moved to; she was a good neighbor before and is a good neighbor now. You find out that the sim on which you were living was repossessed because the owner was not paying the tier (taxes) on the land. Wondering where the 5,000 bucks that you paid the owner to rent your space went, you are glad that you will be getting some money coming in once you receive the contest prize.

Another week passes, and you receive an inventory offer, a note card entitled “Tropical Eden Contest Entry Form.” You accept it and notice that the contest is starting taking entries for the next cycle. Confused, you send a message to the coordinator asking about your prize.

He responds, “ty for participating in our contest; we found that you are using copybot sofwtare so have been disqulifie when you have change viewer plz be free to entr again.” Shocked and upset you respond that you have only the viewer downloaded from the website and that you want your prize. You also mention that there was no mention of viewers or anything else in the contest information. You get no response.

Barely holding yourself in check from berating this, obviously misinformed gentleman, you remind him that you paid 50 bucks to enter this contest and that you were declared the winner both in a note card and by general message. You still get no response. Angry and decidedly less inclined to socialize you turn down your friend’s invitation to visit a club that is having a ‘Best in tinies’ contest and log off.

Of course, by now, you realize that this scenario is about a ‘game’ or more accurately a virtual world. The entire scenario is fiction, both in the fact that it is virtual and the fact that I made it up, but the things that happened in this scenario do happen to avatars all over the virtual world Second Life® (SL). I hope for their sake that no one person has had to deal with all of these things.

I consider this scenario particularly intriguing, though, not just because of the inherent drama in such happenings but also because of the many hidden legal questions that I am learning to ask about them.

If these, or equivalent, things happened to someone in their real life, they would seek legal assistance, attempt to negotiate, and failing that file suit against both the real estate company and the contest coordinators, but in SL there is no law. Assuming the allegations about copybot software are untrue, everything that happened, including the blatant discrimination against “furries” is legal. Immoral, but legal.

Many of the things that happen on SL are minor in relation to their real world equivalents. For example, in this scenario you have lost 50L$ (L$ is the game money) which is equal to about ~$0.20USD. You have been deprived of 10,000L$ which is equivalent to about ~$40USD, and though you have had to move, you neither lost your home nor any of your personal property.

But those same things can have a major impact when compounded. The rental company made  40,000L$ (or ~$160USD) from you, your mermaid neighbor, and the other renters on the sim. The ‘well dressed wolf’ who was refused the right to enter the contest, suffers the oppression of blatant discrimination.

These are only a few of the many legal issues occur, like in real life, daily for an avatar in SL. This tension between the realities of life and the law and the entire absence of law in the life of an avatar is what changed my mind about the law. It opened my eyes to how greatly we all depend on the law and how important the legal profession is to those who need the kinds of assistance that avatars don’t have available to them.

And speaking of avatars and the law, the SL Bar Association, of which my avatar, Tigr Yoshikawa, is a member, will be hosting Bias in the Legal Profession March 17, 2010 at 12:00 noon, PST. Linda Batiste and Beth Loy from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), West Virginia University will be discussing the professional work environment for lawyers with disabilities.  They will discuss barriers faced by attorneys with disabilities and what employers need to do in order to accommodate lawyers with disabilities.

The seminar will be held at The Sojourner Auditorium at Virtual Ability Island, in SL. Space is limited to 70 avatars. This event is free and has been approved for 1.0 hours of continuing legal education credit by the State Bar of California.  This seminar satisfies the specific requirement in California for one (1) hour in training related to elimination of bias in the legal profession.  (CLE provider is Fitz2  consulting, provider no. 14547)

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Tom Kamenick

    Great post! I’m surprised you haven’t brought up something that has probably led to more real-world disputes in virtual worlds than anything else – selling in-game money and items for real-world cash. Although SL permits such exchanges, most online games prohibit it, and some vigorously police such activity. The End User License Agreements of such games usually contain language to the effect that all in-game items are the property of the game publisher, and trading in-game property for real-world property is punishable in a variety of in-game ways. Of course, a quick google or ebay search will show you how ineffective these are (and there’s entire industries of “gold farmers” in foreign countries – low paid workers paid to play the game for hours on end to collect gold and items that the company then sells). The enforceability of those EULA’s has raised some interesting legal questions.

  2. Ashanti Cook

    Tom, My personal experience led me to my interest. More so, in instances where the activity is clearly illegal the questions are not are hard to answer. If the user is violating the EULA or TOS then the questions are probably ones of enforcement and damages. I’m no expert in any kind of law nor am I a true gamer. I don’t know much about how MMORPGs work.

    The things that I am focusing on most is areas where the activities are currently not considered illegal because they are currently not considered in the law at all.

  3. Tom Kamenick

    I find this stuff really interesting. I know that some MMO’s have player-run or player-supported criminal courts where your character can do jail time and be branded a criminal. Some even have something akin to civil dispute resolution protocols. Of course, for those kind of things to have any binding effect on players, there has to be in-game programming for it to have effect. On the other hand, especially in a very social game, social punishments like shunning or boycotting (“don’t hunt with X, he steals drops!”) can be very effective.

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