Friday, October 24, 2008

Do CSIs Dream of Electric Murder?

From Sapporo, Japan comes a report of a woman who killed her husband after he divorced her. Sad, but not unheard of, right? Except that according to the police, the marriage, divorce, and murder each took place within the confines of the on-line game "Maple Story."

As with many virtual world crimes, this one required some meatspace assistance. The woman's Maple Story avatar had been married in-game to another player's avatar. When her on-line spouse divorced her in-game, she exacted her vengeance by accessing the other player's account (using his ID and password) and deleting his avatar.

She has been arrested, not for the virtual-world crime, but for the meatspace offenses of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.

Let's transpose this to the US. What claims could the other player bring against the woman? Players in these games spend an inordinate amount of time developing their avatars, accumulating in-game wealth, real estate, powers, friends, and the like. They often identify quite closely with their virtual persona and, as seen from the alleged actions of this Japanese woman, will sometimes develop a deep emotional attachment to the character.

So intentional infliction of emotional distress is one possible claim; the woman must have known that deleting the virtual character would exact some emotional toll on the character's meatspace counterpart. Another claim could be a form of trespass to chattels, keeping in mind, of course, that the "chattel" in this case would consist of the electronic records of the terminated character and the character's in-game attributions and assets, all of which exist in the form of magnetic impulses recorded on a remote hard drive ultimately controlled by the operators of the on-line game.

While I don't agree with the "Virtual Worlds are Law's New Frontier" crowd, it can be fun to see how existing laws might adapt themselves to deal with these new situations.

1 comment:

  1. Goodness gracious, my 12-year-old plays Maple Story! I suppose I should be watching my (virtual) back.
    Leopold Bloom