Sunday, January 11, 2009

Should Virtual Worlds Be Regulated?

Should virtual worlds be regulated? The simple answer is - yes, of course they should be. This is, as they say, a no brainer. Everything in civilized life is regulated. The important questions are how much and what kind of regulation are appropriate. And that is where it gets tricky. What we strive for in ethics is to find a balance between individual empowerment and social harmony. Virtual worlds provide amazing opportunities for individual empowerment and that should be encouraged. However, empowered individuals can be a major threat to social harmony and that needs to be curtailed.

One way to approach the idea of regulation in a virtual world is to ask which of these two desirable goals (individual empowerment and social harmony) is more fundamental. In the real world we usually take social harmony as more fundamental, allowing individuals to find ways to express their individuality as long as it does not seriously impact social harmony. So, should virtual worlds follow the same priority scheme and balance that we find in the real world? Perhaps, yes. Perhaps, no. And despite indications to the contrary, we are making progress.

If we see virtual worlds as an extension of the real world, then our priorities with regard to the real world should carry into virtual worlds. If we see virtual worlds as a thing apart from the real world then perhaps it may make sense to change the priorities. Let's consider two examples; one in which virtual worlds are an extension of the real world and one in which virtual worlds are a thing apart. Perhaps we can then extrapolate from those to cases and make some progress on this issue. And we will do that. But that will begin with the next entry.

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