How Real is Virtual Reality?

October 22nd, 2008

We are always talking about the power of the Internet and the influence it has had on our lives. From e-commerce to social networking to the blogosphere, the Internet that has brought about great change and advancement in our lives. Enter virtual reality.

Virtual reality is a concept that is very popular among people and businesses alike. For example, Second Life , the 3D virtual world created by the “residents” that live in it, has millions of residents from around the world. Real businesses have even set up shop on the program. Retailers like Reebok, Nike, Amazon and American Apparel sell digital and real world versions of their products. The only difference between real life and Second Life is that people can fly, walk underwater, or make themselves look like anyone or anything they wish. Another program, MapleStory, a 2D side-scrolling MMORPG (massively multiplayer online voice-playing game), is even more fantasy-focused, where “people” can become warriors or wield mystical powers. These virtual communities have been around for a while, however, and I’m not here to pontificate about the pros and cons of participating. What I want to talk about is how and where we draw the line between real life and virtual life.

Yesterday, The Times of London reported that a Japanese piano teacher was arrested for the murder of her virtual husband after an abrupt but messy online divorce . Though she had not plotted a revenge of any kind in the real world, she will face a maximum sentence of five years in jail if she is found guilty of killing off her digital partner. After reading the article it made me wonder, are our actions in virtual life punishable in real life? What does this mean for businesses that run and operate in virtual reality? If people can be arrested and tried for various crimes committed somewhere in computer fantasy land, there can certainly be risks and potential repercussions for the businesses that have also set up shop there. Maybe this is life and business of the future and a medium that will be accepted across virtually (no pun intended) every business in a variety of industries around the world. Maybe all laws applicable in real life will be enforceable in virtual life.

Could there be a virtual stock market plunge? A virtual Enron scandal? Should we open a virtual crisis communications firm? Just a couple points to ponder here in the real world.

Posted Under: Digital & Social Media, Innovation & Technology
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