Virtual Crimes Could Lead to Real Punishments

Dennis Faas's picture

Forcing someone into bed is a crime. So are inappropriate relations between a child and an adult.

That's obvious, right?

But, what happens when these actions take place online in the fantasy world of a massive multiplayer video game?

That's the question authorities in Germany and Belgium are trying to answer right now.

This virtual den of iniquity is known as "Second Life". But, to be fair, the game does not promote or encourage this kind of activity. Alas, freedom given inevitably becomes freedom abused.

The problem: no physical crimes were actually committed and no children were really involved. The events described above were orchestrated by adults.

"People have an interest in their property and the integrity of their person," stated Greg Lastowka, a professor at the Rutgers School of Law at Camden in New Jersey. "But in virtual reality, these interests are not tangible but built from intangible data and software."

In other words, what constitutes a crime in the virtual realm is much harder to pinpoint. After all, stealing and murder have been a part of video games for some time now. (Source:

Ironically, Second Life creator Philip Rosedale compares the game to the American Frontier.

"I think Second Life is a kind of a Wild West," Rosedale said. "I think the people coming there now are pioneers. Whether you're a person or a company, you need to be fearless and you need to be willing to try new things." (Source:

Believe it or not, virtual simulations of child abuse are not considered a crime in the United States, but they are classified as illegal pornography in Germany and other European countries. (Source:

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