Back to Reality: The Ontology of Virtual Worlds and the Law

50 Pages Posted: 27 Sep 2011

See all articles by Freek Rijna

Freek Rijna

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: September 25, 2011


They are intangible, imaginary and artificial. But when you steal virtual objects, you may be convicted of theft. An example is the recent RuneScape case, in which two Dutch boys were convicted for stealing a virtual sword and mask. But is it not strange that it is possible to steal something that merely exists in the fantasy of a game? Lawyers write a lot on the subject, but a strictly legal approach lacks persuasiveness as it does not explain what a virtual object really is. Using John Searle’s ontological theory this article examines the mode of existence of entities that seem to exist in a virtual environment, such as mp3 files, text documents, software, virtual money and virtual swords. It thus provides insight in important questions about virtual worlds. Does it matter that something is intangible? Or that it only exists because human beings think that it exists? Should that have legal consequences? Answers to these questions allow us to keenly analyse legal problems.

Keywords: Virtual Worlds, Virtual Objects, Searle, Ontology, Social Reality, Virtual Theft, Virtual Property, MUVE, MMOG

Suggested Citation

Rijna, Freek, Back to Reality: The Ontology of Virtual Worlds and the Law (September 25, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Freek Rijna (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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