Since millions of individuals play online games, and many virtual characters are killed daily it’s hard to image exactly how someone could really be found guilty of killing a virtual character. However, apparently this news story from Japan indicates that the defendant was so angry with her Maple Story online husband that she killed his digital persona. Actually according to the story the defendant found that she was divorced without warning and so she logged into the virtual Maple Story world using her ex-husband’s ID and password to kill him.
How can one kill a virtual person?
This seems a little goofy except that Maple Story and all online virtual worlds, including Second Life, require all users to agree to terms of service (TOS). So it’s not much of a surprise that the TOS restrict what users can do...but neither Maple Story nor Second Life have TOS that even mention killing or murder. So that‘s why the Japanese authorities are charging the defendant with illegally accessing a computer which is a crime in most states and countries.
Where are we going with virtual law?
As mentioned in an earlier blog, the American Bar Association published a book entitled Virtual Law in which Chapter 10 is entitled “Criminal Law and Virtual Worlds” and states that the most common virtual law crimes include money laundering, fraud, gambling, and stalking/harassment. As well, some virtual worlds have tried to deal with sexual behavior which is pretty difficult to regulate. But it seems appropriate that the virtual worlds try to protect children from sexual behavior, so all TOS generally do not permit anyone younger than 18 from participating. However, as my favor New Yorker cartoon indicates with one dog sitting in front of a computer talking to another dog and says “on the Internet no one knows you’re dog.” No one really has a clue who is users really are. But defining pornography is not so easy, even when the US Supreme Court tried to define pornography Justice Potter Stewart’s famous statement in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964) was that he could not define it, ‘but he knew it when he saw it.’ So how can pornography in virtual worlds be regulated?