Why, here's an interesting article (now being linked all over the Intertubes). It has particularly choice quotes such as "Kevin Zuccato, head of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre in Canberra, says terrorists can gain training in games such as World of Warcraft in a simulated environment, using weapons that are identical to real-world armaments."
I'm expecting that any day now we'll read the following news bulletin:
"A terrorist attack on London yesterday failed due to the lack of adequate healing, several broken sheepings, and inadequate dps. The detained suspects also agreed to testify against each other after one was accused of ninja-looting a nearby electronics store during the attempted attack."
It's easy and fun to mock the basic stupidity of the article and the "experts" who spoke to the paper. I personally would be delighted to see terrorist cells running around trying to kill people by pointing mouses at them and yelling "pew pew pew".
You can always tell when a group of basically entreprenurial experts, policy wonks and bureaucrats are scared that their normal gravy train is in danger of slowing down: they start moving off into "hot" topics to spin them their way.
But more substantively, I think stories like this raise two questions for people with a serious interest in virtual worlds.
1) How do we talk about practices within virtual worlds that have powerful metaphoric analogs in the real world without inviting basically stupid or careless observers to think that the two things are the same? There is "terrorism" of a kind in virtual worlds, and even people who represent as terrorists (especially in Second Life), just as there can be crime, love, sex and yes, rape in cyberspace. The answer is probably to do what Julian did carefully lo these many years ago and make the question of the mimesis between virtual worlds and the everyday world the centerpiece of our use of such metaphors and descriptions.
2) How do we keep an empirical lid on claims about the emplacement of virtual worlds within the real world, about insisting that the virtual is just a cultural, social, or representation space that is always within the larger social and historical world we live in? I think most researchers are very precise about these relationships: we talk about extremely specific questions of property, law and labor involved in RMT and similar practices, we talk about learning outcomes and effects on real-world sociality, we talk about psychological effects from the representational and experiential choices of players. But we're always haunted by the prophetic imagination of Gibson, Stephenson, Sterling, Stross: even those who have never heard of them or the Metaverse have been affected by a collective unconscious that expects there to be only a few steps between raiding Blackwing Lair and post-Singularity downloads of our consciousness into Moravecian cyborgs striding through AI-generated simulacra. The virtual future, when it arrives tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, is going to be way more specific, ordinary and humdrum than that. Where virtual worlds are not so simply an extension of what we have now--where they are a true "Black Swan" in the making--they're not going to look like the Metaverse, I think, or like anything we already expect them to be.
It seems to me that the balancing act facing us is to argue simultaneously that virtual worlds have important implications as well as untapped possibilities as a cultural form and a social experience while also saying that they're not nearly so important as some people think they are.