Saturday, December 13, 2003

Tea from an empty cup

Salon has an article about the Sims Online - and the trials and tribulations of the editor of its online newspaper, The Alphaville Herald. I don't play Sims, but there was some interesting stuff mentioned in the article... most notably on the question of whether crimes can be committed in the game. There are players who specialise in scamming newbies out of their simoleans (virtual cash), and the gut instinct would be that it's all part of the game etc. But the virtual money can be exchanged for real via ebay - does this mean that a crime has been committed and that the scammer should be charged with fraud or theft? Or is it a fake "crime" by a fake person...?

More troubling is the existence of online "prostitution" (netsex for simoleans) performed by players who are minors. The law is pretty much a gray area here...

What fascinates me is the use of online environments like Sims Online to explore the evolution of government from the State of Nature. Sims has rules against physical violence - you literally cannot assault another Sim - but there's plenty of scope for people's behaviour to impinge on others, and for people to club together in an effort to regulate it. Probably the absence of violence makes such clubbing together much weaker than it would be if people were being killed or maimed (rather than simply having their stuff stolen); but its still a fascinating online laboratory nonetheless.

(And believe it or not, there is a link between the title of this post and the content. Really.)