What Rights Should Avatars Have?

Should avatars have rights? As Raph Koster admits in his article, “Declaring the Rights of Player,” the subject is nearly paradoxical. “No matter what, any answer I give is bound to be wrong” (Koster, 2012). For argumentative purposes and despite the reality that there is no perfect answer, my answer today, is “Yes, yes they should.”

To support this answer, I will call on my experience as both a manager and player of (several) virtual world games. As a player, particularly in a virtual world game, the purposes for playing may differ, however one thing is constant, a player’s desires to have fun and to ‘reap what you sow.’ Players want to get out of the game, what they put in, and sometimes, ‘way more.’ The protection of a player’s possessions and ‘earned content’ is a good start.

As a game manager, the roles are flipped and priorities are too. Game managers do not seek out players to prosecute, instead they deal with abuse reports, often times the result of one person thinking that another person ‘stole his creation.’ A game manager’s job is to enforce the Terms of Service (TOS) and Code of Conduct. Managers aren’t concerned with policing every person, only with tackling issues where there are infractions against the TOS. If something is not mentioned in the TOS, it is considered ‘fair game’ — pun intended.

Today, Second Life has over 26,000 simulated regions, 4,000 of which are marked as ‘Adult’ regions and nearly 18,000 of which are at least marked ‘Mature 18+’ (Shepard, 2014). In a Mature 18+ region, obscenities are allowed and in Adult regions, you may find virtual prostitution and strip clubs on every corner, so to speak. People choose which regions to visit, based on age and personal preference.

One of the problems of placing real-world consequences on virtual world actions, is the fact that virtual world players are international — one person might be from the United States, while his ‘partner’ might live in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Australia, etc. Different countries have different laws of course, so this complicates things. For example, people can gamble in the virtual game, Avination, based out of Germany, but not in Second Life, based out of the United States. So what, would we do then, in those cases? That, I just don’t know.

What rights should avatars have? Well, at the very least:

  • The right to back-up purchases and own creations
  • The right to remove currency from the game in a timely manner
  • The right for prompt investigations of submitted abuse reports (for cases like repeated harassment, content theft, etc.)
  • The right to an appeal process in the case of account cancellation or banishment

There is a certain beauty to the freedom that can still be found in virtual worlds today. As long as avatars can build, keep their creations as their own, make money and free themselves from unwanted visitors and power-hungry ‘Game Gods,’ rest assured they will keep logging in.


Work Cited:

Avination Virtual Ltd. 2010. Retrieved from http://www.avination.com

Koster, Raph. October 23, 2012. Declaring the Rights of Player. State of Play: Law and Virtual Worlds. Retrieved from http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/jbalkin/telecom/raphkosterdeclaringtherightsofplayers.pdf

Shepherd, Tyche. 2014. Second Life Grid Survey. Retrieved from http://gridsurvey.com/index.php

Do Video Games Kill?

In an article by Karen Sternheimer, titled “Do Video Games Kill?,” Sternheimer seeks to better inform the public regarding the misrepresentation of video games in media effects research. I agree with her many opinions, one being that it is hard to determine if media violence causes aggressive behavior, or if it is just that more aggressive people seek out violent entertainment. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? For a team assignment last week, we were required to research the effect of violence in video games; I was pleasantly surprised by the findings. Most of the research contradicted that the effect was a negative one, except in the case of people with mental illnesses, who were found to be more easily misguided.

People, politicians especially, are quick to point the finger and try to single out a scapegoat. They are fixers and in order to fix, it is necessary to pinpoint the source of the problem — video games are an easy target. The politicians can be seen as ‘helping the children,’ no matter how off-base their proposed propaganda may be. “Blaming video games (for mass shootings) is like blaming a tree for a forest fire,” said Doug DeMotta, owner of Microplay Video in Muhlenberg Township, “They’re looking for a scapegoat. … I think the government should keep their nose out of it” (Urban, 2013). I agree!

The number of violent crimes has been falling, but the public’s perception is that violence has increased. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, the overall violent victimization rate (eg. rape and assaults) decreased by 40% from 2001 to 2010. Similarly, the murder rate in the US has dropped by almost half, from 9.8 per 100,000 people in 1991 to 5.0 in 2009 (Kaplan, 2012). A popular first-person shooter game, Doom, was released in 1993. “…in the ten years following Doom’s release, homicide arrest rates fell by 77 percent among juveniles. School shootings remain extremely rare; even during the 1990s, when fears of school violence were high, students had less than a 7 in 10 million chance of being killed at school. During that time, video games became a major part many young people’s lives, few of whom will ever become violent, let alone kill” (Sternheimer, 2007).

Well there you have it; the proof is in the statistics. So then why are we still wagging the finger? It may be that we are trying to find excuses for why our children are going off the beaten path. As Sternheimer points out, the video game explanation constructs middle-class shooters as victims of the power of video games, rather than fully culpable criminals. When boys from “good” neighborhoods are violent, they seem to be harbingers of a “new breed” of youth, created by video games rather than by their social circumstances. White, middle-class killers retain their status as children easily influenced by a game, victims of an allegedly dangerous product (Sternheimer, 2007). Are we ashamed of ourselves? It seems so.

We can blame video games for killing and violence in the real world, no more than I can fault my 38 week old unborn baby for my excruciating back pain. There are many other (deeper) issues to be dealt with here. In my opinion, the fingers need to be pointed at ourselves (i.e. self, the parents) and accountability for the individual also (i.e. self, teen, younger child). Douglas Gentile, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Iowa State University, said it best, “…media violence is not different from other risk factors for aggression. It’s not the largest, nor the smallest,” he said. “If there is any important difference at all, it is simply that media violence is easier for parents to control than other risk factors, such as being bullied, having psychiatric illnesses, or living in poverty” (Kaplan, 2012).

Work Cited:
Kaplan, A. (2012). Violence in the media: What effects on behavior? Psychiatric Times, 29(10), 1-8,11. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1151083524?accountid=13158

Sternheimer, K. (2007). Do Video Games Kill? Contexts. 6(1). Winter 2007. pp. 13-17. Retrieved from: http://www.theesa.com/facts/STERNHEIMERCONTEXTSARTICLE.pdf

Urban, D. K. M. (2013, Jan 12). Violence in video games. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1268802096?accountid=13158

The Debate Against Violence in Video Games

Violence, guns, killing – in games — are these really what we want to expose to our young people today? With school shootings and adolescent serial killings, who is responsible? Who is to blame for the negative influences? Today we will show you why protection must start with you, the parent. We will show you that video games and game content are a major influence on adolescent minds in today’s society and why these influences must be stopped.

The 2 teenage boys who murdered 12 schoolmates and a teacher and injured 21 others at Columbine High School in Colorado before killing themselves, lived in a pathological environment — their lives centered around violent video games. According to analysts, a causal factor relates to the young killers’ obsessions with violent imagery in video games that led them to depersonalize their victims (Kaplan, 2012).

Even analysts on the opposing side can agree that people with certain mental illnesses, can be lead to think that violence is acceptable through video games (Urban, 2013). Mentally ill individuals are naturally more vulnerable to dramatized violence and it is easier for them to misinterpret realities (Kaplan, 2012).

So what does research show? A 2002 report by the US Secret Service and the US Department of Education, which examined 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks from 1974 to 2000 in the United States, found that over half of the attackers demonstrated some interest in violence through video games (Kaplan, 2012).

In a 2009 Policy Statement on Media Violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics said, “Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed” (Kaplan, 2012). Evidence strongly suggests that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, and for decreased empathy (Kaplan, 2012).

In a Psychiatric Times interview, psychologist Craig Anderson, PhD, Director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State University, said the evidence for the violence-aggression link is very strong from every major type of study design: randomized experiments, cross-sectional correlation studies, and longitudinal studies (Kaplan, 2012). Research shows that boys and girls who play a lot of violent video games change over the school year, becoming more aggressive (Kaplan, 2012).

There is also growing evidence, that high exposure to fast-paced violent games can lead to changes in brain function when processing violent images, including dampening of emotional responses to violence and decreases in certain types of executive control (Kaplan, 2012). In more recent studies within a high-risk population of incarcerated juvenile offenders, violent video games are associated with violent antisocial behavior.

If there is a chance that any of the above is true, why even take the chance?

Work Cited:
Urban, D. K. M. (2013, Jan 12). Violence in video games. McClatchy – Tribune Business News. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1268802096?accountid=13158

Kaplan, A. (2012). Violence in the media: What effects on behavior? Psychiatric Times, 29(10), 1-8,11. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1151083524?accountid=13158