Whether they take the form of games, social spaces, or educational environments, virtual worlds are now truly global in scope. The popularity of virtual worlds in Asia is phenomenal. From Thailand and Malaysia to Indonesia and the Philippines, the Asia Pacific region's on-line gaming market generated approximately $1.4 billion in annual revenues last year – a figure that is expected to reach $3.6 billion by the end of the decade. Much of this growth will be propelled by 180 million Chinese Internet users, the majority of whom will play on-line games.
China is just part of the story. Korea is an epicenter of innovation. For example, Cyworld, a South Korean Web community site, boasts one-third of the country’s population as its residents. India is already the region's third largest market for online games and participation in virtual worlds is sure to follow there as in other developing economies. Yet the conversation about virtual worlds is dominated by Western voices. While there are tradeshows for the videogame industry in Asia, most discussions of virtual world research have been located exclusively in the West to the exclusion of meaningful international participation.
There are significant negative consequences to the lack of global dialogue about virtual worlds. The absence of cross-cultural dialogue means that virtual worlds are being set up and run without sensitivity to diverse cultural, legal and social norms.
This lack of cross-cultural understanding does not just harm the industry; it also manifests itself in the social tensions emerging online. Last June, close to 10,000 Chinese players rioted within The Fantasy of the Journey West to protest the presence of what they thought was Japan’s national flag. Two years ago, players of Lineage II teamed up to slaughter game characters perceived to be “Chinese gold farmers.” Meanwhile, thousands of Chinese players complain that Western gamers in World of Warcraft apply racial profiling, excluding Chinese players from social groups based on language skills and recognizably Chinese surnames.
In this era of global virtual worlds, differences in legal approaches to free speech, privacy and intellectual property across cultures also need to be navigated. Companies of one nationality operate virtual worlds with servers located in another country and subscribers resident in a third. These spaces do not respect national boundaries nor should they. We are excited by the possibilities of enhancing cross-cultural interaction and understanding, and this requires that we provide guidance to politicians, courts and legislatures about approaches to virtual worlds. With the trade of virtual assets and currencies across national borders, we need to develop regulatory approaches that understand global technology while respecting local values.
These virtual worlds are crucial building blocks of global civil society. As such, they harbor the promise for relationship-building and cooperation across national borders. Solutions to the cross-cultural growing pains of this new medium require a sincere commitment to transnational dialogue.
State of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse, the fourth annual State of Play conference on the future of cyberspace, will be held in Singapore on January 7-9, 2007. Organized by Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, New York Law School, Trinity University, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, this pioneering global conference on virtual worlds invites experts across disciplines to discuss the future of cyberspace and the impact of these new immersive, social online environments on education, law, politics and society. The hallmark of the conference is its multi-disciplinary perspective.
Among the topics explored at this year's conference are:
. Virtual worlds and cross-cultural cooperation
. Virtual and digital property
. Youth cultures in virtual worlds
. Regulation of virtual worlds
. Taxation and digital assets
. Global virtual worlds journalism
This fourth annual event is sure to be our best yet. In addition to a remarkable slate of speakers (including writers Neal Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, and Julian Dibbell and legendary I Love Bees designer Jane McGonigal), we will also host the world premiere of two documentaries on virtual worlds (The Ideal World and Gold Farmers). Conference panels will be streamed live on the web, and the entire gathering will synchronized with mixed reality activities in Second Life, There, and World of Warcraft.
We hope you will join us for this important and vibrant conversation about the future of the global metaverse. For more information, see: http://www.nyls.edu/stateofplay/