Virtual Worlds, Real Rules

Michael Froomkin,a longtime cyberlawyer, and his wife, Caroline Bradley, have released Virtual Worlds, Real Rules. Here they argue that we could use VWs to simulate legal systems IRL without having the downsides of experimenting with actual legal systems. They suggest that property, tax, even torts, might be relevant areas to apply the insights of VWs.

Interesting idea. I wonder whether it will be possible to get past the "hey, it's just a game" factor (by which I mean that people don't take it as seriously online as they would IRL) or the fact that the systems tend not to allow for much experimentation coz they're driven by the needs of the developers, not the populace. Be *very* interesting to see how this might develop.


Comments on Virtual Worlds, Real Rules:

DivineShadow says:

"...or the fact that the systems tend not to allow for much experimentation coz they're driven by the needs of the developers, not the populace. Be *very* interesting to see how this might develop."

Ten years ago I was writing a short story about a galaxy-wide 'simulator' of real life. I courted with the notion of a system that catered to the experiences desired by the participants - billions of them. One of the outcomes of this type of systems was that since desires don't just overlap, but very often conflict with each other, the simulated world was a land of chaos, impunity and unfairness. In the end the twist was that this simulator is what you actually call Real Life every day. This begs the question. Do you want to play Real Life? Or are we playing games to escape real life? Where do we draw the line between what we want to take place inside our simulator and what should remain outside? How much should we enfoce it and at what cost? Perhaps more importantly: Who draws this line and can they really enforce it at a reasonable cost? Do we really want self-governance? Will the game still be FUN for a majority?

Head over to: http://www.gamespot.com/gamespot/features/all/gamespotting/071103minusworld/1.html

For a full review from Greg Kasavin on the game of Real Life.

Posted Sep 18, 2003 2:39:34 PM | link

torill says:

Why is it important to get past the "hey, it's just a game" factor? Particularly in order to test out anything rule-based, where you would like to see how the rules can be bent, twisted, abused and avoided, you want the game-approach.

While it may be hard to get people interested in a real life game, a simulation like this wouldn't have to be real life. Give people a chance to play rich to see how they deal with the rules when they have the resources to bend them, and I am sure that bent they will be.

Posted Sep 19, 2003 1:37:52 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

The first step in getting past the "hey, it's just a game" factor is to not advertise or classify them as such. Most virtual worlds are listed as Games. I vote that someone drops that categorization and see how people react.

Posted Sep 19, 2003 2:19:16 AM | link

Zbigniew Lukasiak says:

A simulation project with some working albait primitive probabillistic model of economy.

Open Project To Investigate Money And Economic Systems:
http://www.nooranch.com/synaesmedia/optimaes/optimaes.cgi

Posted Sep 19, 2003 9:32:06 AM | link

Greg Lastowka says:

My favorite line from this is the text accompanying footnote 144: "One set of implications of this lower level of complexity in virtual worlds is that they do not (so far) include lawyers." And footnote 144: "We would argue that this shows that game developers lack imagination when it comes to creating seriously aggressive monster classes."

Posted Sep 19, 2003 12:21:09 PM | link

Dan Hunter says:

Torill: "Why is it important to get past the "hey, it's just a game" factor?"

Games are great and important when people want to play, and they have all manner of interesting/therapeutic/important roles to play in our society. However the Bradley/Froomkin piece is arguing specifically that these worlds can be used to simulate legal rules/approaches/systems in circumstances where it's a bad idea to try this out irl. So if we find that, say, retributive justice is a really useful dispute resolution mechanism in UO, the implication would be that parading malefactor's heads on a pike is going to be good for society irl. Of course there may be some uncontrolled-for variables in-game that mean that it isn't a great idea for us in physical space...

My question then was tthe extent to which lessons learnt in-game are applicable in the wider world.

Posted Sep 19, 2003 1:17:43 PM | link

DivineShadow says:

Dan,

"My question then was tthe extent to which lessons learnt in-game are applicable in the wider world."

I believe that we can learn a great many lessons from observing the behaviors of people in online games. I make a big distinction between 'lessons' and 'rules' or 'formulas'. Observing a virtual community might shift thought weights and open new avenues of thinking when trying to come up with solutions to very real problems. But we'd be fools to believe we can observe a virtual world and extract a 'formula' that works in that environment, then implant it as-is in the real world and expect it to work.

Posted Sep 19, 2003 2:53:48 PM | link

Raph Koster says:

Anyone who thinks we don't have lawyers in these worlds hasn't tried discussing whether or not something is an exploit with a player. :)

Posted Sep 19, 2003 4:10:59 PM | link

Bruce Boston says:

I would have to think that one of the difficulties of simulating a real life economy has to do with the basic assumptions of economics; simply that economies are by nature, 'reactive' and people are by human nature, 'proactive'; not the other way around.

Even real life economies do not work as accurate predictors of other real life economies. Policies that may or may not work in one country, may or may not work in another. And, clearly the demographics of real life economies and virtual world economies are very different.

But really, how do you predict the effects of resource scarcity? How do you Predict 'invention'? How do you predict 'public reaction'? How do you predict the effects of combining trends? How do you predict the evolving needs of people? How do you predict education levels? I would think that as soon as people are able to accurately predict an economy, it is no longer an accurate prediction.

On the other hand, I'd be happy if we were able to use a virtual economy to accurately predict another virtual economy. My guess: people aren't that simple.

Posted Sep 19, 2003 5:42:55 PM | link

DivineShadow says:

Bruce,

"On the other hand, I'd be happy if we were able to use a virtual economy to accurately predict another virtual economy. My guess: people aren't that simple."

You have to admit that you actually *can* predict a virtual economy basing yourself on another virtual economy.
Just look at the games out there that have more than four or five "servers", "galaxies", or "worlds". Each of these server instances is generally (except in EQ and soon in UO) totally and completely self-contained in the sense that while they might be externally influenced, the economic turns whithin one particular 'world' do not directly impact another 'world'. You can see that the economies of these separate spaces behave nearly identically with few exceptions.

Evidently, given the same environment, the same cultural mix and same 'micro-verse' rules, you can predict the reaction of a series of worlds based on the experience of just one.

While we can generalize some behaviors when the cultural mix, landscape and rules remain constant, I certainly don't have the brainpower to generalize the long-term effect of the nuances introduced by different companies in their worlds.

I'm left to

Posted Sep 19, 2003 7:10:12 PM | link

Jia Ji says:

A side note about lawyers in online games, ATITD has had a mediator guild (http://www.atitdportal.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=14959) for a while. They basically act as voluntary arbitrators in player disbutes. Since we have no anti-griefing policies, players are pretty much left to themselves to sort out their squabbles. In fact, we view this sort of thing as a vital part of the game, going so far as to add game mechanisms that cause tension and conflict between players in the gameworld.

Recently, new technologies were introduced that all have a sort of Faustian societal bargain associated with them. It'll be interesting to see how quickly players sell each other out for personal gain or if they manage to avert disaster (one recently proposed law tried to set regulations on the new techs but it was just short of the 2/3rds vote needed to pass).

Posted Sep 20, 2003 4:05:06 AM | link

torill says:

Dan: "However the Bradley/Froomkin piece is arguing specifically that these worlds can be used to simulate legal rules/approaches/systems in circumstances where it's a bad idea to try this out irl. So if we find that, say, retributive justice is a really useful dispute resolution mechanism in UO, the implication would be that parading malefactor's heads on a pike is going to be good for society irl."

Once you use a simulation where humans interact with the simulation in order to test human behaviour, you meet a classic methodological problem: the human awareness of the simulation. This is a flaw that has plagued behaviouristic psychology experiments with humans, and has made much of the results from this research invalid or at best only indicative rather than absolute.

So judging from other laboratory experiments with humans: a simulation of real rules will always be flawed by the fact that it is a simulation.

My opinion is that it is better to say that the simulation is a game, and see what comes up when people play with the rules. And so the researchers can take note of the more flamboyant expressions of retribution, such as parading heads on spikes, and study the somewhat realistic expressions as alternative modes of action, not as facts or absolutes.

Posted Sep 22, 2003 8:38:33 AM | link

Bruce Boston says:

DivineShadow,

I understand what you are saying but I might have to disagree here. Predicting the future of an economy is a bit more difficult than orchestrating a concurrent reaction across multiple micro-economies.

While I think it is clear that there are some basic rules as to how Virtual Economies work, (for example, I am particularly interested in Castronova's upcoming writings on what he calls 'MUD-flation'), I think it's a bit of a stretch to say that people could 'accurately predict' the future results of an economy.

Case in point, it would be pretty difficult to predict the answer to a simple question like; "OK, 3 months from now, what will the exchange rate of SWG Credits / US$ be on eBay?" Even if we limited the question to a single server.

If we could use the current rate on an older server to predict the future rate on a younger server, I would agree it's possible to use one virtual economy to predict the future of another. Unfortunately I just don't think this is possible for any extended period of time.

More likely, economies in a particular virtual community, like SWG, appear to be independently acting similar, when in fact, they are mutually sharing efficiency information thus working in cooperation. It's no secret that tips on how to maximize your characters time and resources are written by someone on one server and used by many on many servers. My guess is it is this sharing of information that causes multiple servers to act the same and not the actual similarity of policies on these same servers.

Younger servers can have the same rules of older servers, but will rarely have the same rate of economic progression and in many cases have a completely different path of progression, simply because they have better information/smarter players than the older economy did.

Personally, I think that the fact that virtual economies are 'unpredictable' hints to the fact that they are actually real micro-economies, and not the synthetic manufacturings that many believe.

Posted Sep 22, 2003 4:25:13 PM | link