Why Virtual Worlds?

Why Virtual Worlds?

Angela Adrian (University of Bournemouth, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-795-4.ch001

Abstract

This book will examine the legal realities which are emerging from Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). MMORPGs are any computer network-mediated games in which at least 1,000 players are role-playing simultaneously in a graphical environment. They are also known as virtual worlds. The term virtual reality was coined by Jaron Lanier in 1989. Lanier is one of the pioneers of the field, founding the company VPL Research (from Virtual Programming Languages) which built some of the first systems in the 1980s. The related term artificial reality has been in use since the 1970s and cyberspace dates to 1984.
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Innovation makes enemies of all who prospered under the old regime, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is indifferent partly from fear and partly because they are genuinely incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience. – Machiavelli

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Introduction

The internet has produced an increasing number of shared virtual reality spaces, with a combined population well into the millions. The term “virtual reality (VR)” is used to describe an environment that is simulated by a computer. Most virtual reality environments use visual experiences predominantly which are displayed either on a computer screen or through special stereoscopic goggles. In addition, some simulations include additional sensory information, such as sound through speakers. The space allows users to manipulate the VR environment, either through standard input devices like a keyboard, or through specially designed devices like a cyberglove. The simulated interactive environment may range from real world simulations (i.e., pilot or combat training) to purely imagined worlds of aliens or elves, as in VR games. In practice, the better the technology and processing power, the more convincing the virtual reality experience becomes. Immersive VR have developed a number of unique characteristics which can be summarized as follows:

  • Head-referenced viewing provides a natural interface for the navigation in three-dimensional space and allows for look-around, walk-around, and fly-through capabilities in virtual environments.

  • Stereoscopic viewing enhances the perception of depth and the sense of space.

  • The virtual world is presented in full scale and relates properly to the human size.

  • Realistic interactions with virtual objects via data glove and similar devices allow for manipulation, operation, and control of virtual worlds.

  • The convincing illusion of being fully immersed in an artificial world can be enhanced by auditory, haptic, and other non-visual technologies.

  • Networked applications allow for shared virtual environments. (Beier)

This book will examine the legal realities which are emerging from Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games (MMORPGs). MMORPGs are any computer network-mediated games in which at least 1,000 players are role-playing simultaneously in a graphical environment. They are also known as virtual worlds. The term virtual reality was coined by Jaron Lanier in 1989. Lanier is one of the pioneers of the field, founding the company VPL Research (from Virtual Programming Languages) which built some of the first systems in the 1980s. The related term artificial reality has been in use since the 1970s and cyberspace dates to 1984.

These virtual worlds demonstrate many of the traits we associate with the Earth world: interpersonal relationships, economic transactions, organic political institutions, and so on. These virtual worlds are continuing to evolve daily into virtual communities with separate rules and expectations. They operate under their own system of private laws which often deviate abruptly from those of the physical world. Because they exist only online, they seek to ‘legally link’ the online world and the physical world through the agreements that create private rules in the absence of effective jurisdiction by real world governments and the potential development of “self-regulatory structures on the net” (Johnson & Post, 1996). Most citizens of these communities are unaware of these contractual restrictions until they unknowingly breach one of the provisions.

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