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It isn’t uncommon to hear about people falling in love in virtual worlds these days. After all, if you’re spending twenty hours a week playing World of Warcraft, it’s almost as likely that you’ll meet someone special in Azeroth as at your workplace. Likewise, wedding dresses sell quite well in Second Life, where the whole point is to meet people through their avatars. And like real life, sometimes they live happily ever after, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes things just get complicated.
Murder, however, is a little trickier. After all, what is virtual murder? In rolepaying games like World of Warcraft, you’re supposed to die (and quite frequently, especially when you’re new to the game), but death is impermanent. And in Second Life, you can’t die at all. Even in the old days of MUDs, you might be eaten by a grue, but all you have to do is restart the game.
Julian Dibbell brought up the issue of virtual rape fifteen years ago, and even with technology advanced far beyond that of the text-based LambdaMOO where these early virtual crimes took place, we are still asking the same sorts of questions. Is there such a thing as virtual rape? Or virtual murder?
If media headlines are to be believed, then one Japanese woman has found a way, because after a virtual wedding and an upsetting virtual divorce, she (presumably angry in a very real way) “killed” her virtual husband. The couple met in the Maple Story, an online roleplaying game developed in Korea (and more well-known in Asia than North America). After she suddenly found herself divorced without warning, the woman used the login information that her “ex-husband” had given her during their time together to get into his account and “kill” his character. The news reports on the story so far are unclear as to exactly what this means, but my assumption is that she deleted the character from his account–which, in a roleplaying game with impermanent world death but where a character’s level can represent hundreds and hundreds of hours of time, is definitely a significant blow.
Of course, we’re still not talking about “murder” in any sense of the word. The woman was arrested, but on hacking charges (“on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data”). And if she can prove that her victim actually gave her his login information, then it seems unlikely that even that will stick. Though whether it was real murder or not, there were obviously real emotions involved, and that–more than the crimes you can commit–is what seems to be bringing these “virtual” worlds closer and closer to the “real” world.
If you are interested in the subject of crime in virtual worlds, be sure to catch Professor Susan Brenner’s article, “Fantasy Crime,” in the first issue of Volume 11 of JETL, to be published next month.
- Casey Fiesler
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