Whereas many articles discuss the implications of real world law applied to virtual settings, Balkin examines the issues of freedom and regulation in these cyber worlds. The three primary types of freedom as outlined by Balkin are the freedom to play, the freedom to design, and the freedom to design together. These rights are similar to the real-world constitutional rights of the freedom of speech, the freedom of expression, and the freedom of association.
In the freedom to play, players choose whether or not they engage in virtual world games with their in-game characters and personalities. The freedom of design belongs to the developers of the games who construct and maintain the game and server upon which all players depend. The freedom to design together is perhaps the most important in terms of advancement and growth of the virtual community. Players and developers alike enhance the game through updates and contributions. Ultimately, this type of freedom, with some restrictions of course, drives the innovation of the game products, leading to an increase in consumer base and player satisfaction.
Some argue that rules in virtual worlds should develop on their own outside from real-world experiences. Yet, with the emerging field of using virtual worlds to simulate and test real life models, it becomes appropriate that actual law should have some significance in virtual communities. As the trading of virtual goods with real currencies continues, it seems inevitable for legal regulation in gaming worlds. Then, how will developers respond to outside law governing their gaming products? Constitutional laws, especially First Amendment rights, depend on the nature of the game and its community. There are games that are commercial in nature, while others are expressions of art and social interaction. In either case, the profitability of the game to the owner is irrelevant. Rather, the most important distinction in assigning real law onto online game communities should be in the game’s commercial and economic similarity to the real world.
In this introductory essay for the Symposium issue of the New York Law School Law Review, Noveck explores the role of law in virtual game worlds. In order to develop a foundation on which to base law, it must be acknowledged that cyber worlds are a social community and there is a delicate relationship between the game players and the game creators and owners. This relationship, when extended to ownership, remains blurry and incompletely outlined. Hence, there is growing debate over the application of the real world law to virtual worlds.
Online role-playing games steadily grew in popularity since their mainstream start in the early 1990s. The steep increase in fan base correlates with the acceptance of Internet connectivity as an essential component of the average household. In turn, game companies realized the earning potential of online multiplayer games. By investing in sophisticated game physics and functionality, popular games could lure in users for long-term play.
Virtual worlds, at their core, are social networks and communities. They have traits which mimic human interaction within real-life communities. Property is created, goods are accumulated, and currency is traded. Instead of simply studying the laws of virtual worlds, Noveck suggests study of laws in virtual worlds as a way of learning about how law functions. Virtual worlds do not have written laws which govern player interaction. In fact, they are similar to real-life law in which it is continually revised and developed by new situations and new circumstances. However, there exists a basic constitution which is rarely, if ever, touched. Recognizing this, it may be possible to simulate a fictional law system to test in virtual worlds. This represents an application of virtual worlds towards possible benefit in the real world. These trials show a modern method of applying technology in order to better serve current real-life law models.