The Virtual World as a Company Town - Freedom of Speech in Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games
York University - Osgoode Hall Law School
Journal of Internet Law, Vol. 8, No. 1, July 2004
In the 21st century, traditional company towns like Chickasaw, Alabama, where a corporation steps into the shoes of the state for purposes of the First Amendment, are almost non-existent. This paper postulates that they have been replaced by Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG's) such as EverQuest, The Sims Online and Second Life where many individuals have extensive social circles, own property, and even hold down virtual jobs. According to surveys, some of these individuals actually spend more time each week in the virtual world than pursuing basic real world activities such as working, eating and sleeping.
In 2004, one of these virtual worlds, There, entered into a contract with the US Army to create a full-scale, 1:1, virtual replica of the entire earth for purposes of combat simulations, known as the Asymmetric Warfare Environment (AWE). The paper hypothesizes a post-war scenario whereby this immense platform is transferred to private corporations in the same manner that the ARPANET, the military ancestor of the Internet, was devolved into private hands. This universal virtual world may become the successor to the Internet as we know it today and will become a place where the majority of us choose to shop, socialize and do business. The paper emphasizes that the case law on freedom of speech in MMORPG's will have a profound precedent setting effect on how the First Amendment is applied to this coming universal virtual platform, since the legal principles concerning new technologies tend to be set at an early stage of their development. If the right road is not taken, then we run the risk that the coming universal virtual world will be, from a freedom of speech perspective, a nightmarish endless global shopping mall, instead of an empowering enhancement of the real world with its boundless opportunities for encounters with those of differing viewpoints.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 21
Keywords: Internet, Virtual Worlds, Freedom of Speech, First Amendment, Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games, Company Town
JEL Classification: C70, L82, L86, O30
Date posted: July 19, 2004