Death in the Metaverse: Mapping Uncharted Social and Legal Territory

Pixels and Policy normally approaches the interplay between virtual worlds and some aspect of business, culture, policy or politics. However, there is one issue that transcends these areas not because of its easy definition, but because it is such a hazy concept.

Can the virtual world change the way humans deal with death? And what happens to our virtual goods when our earthly bodies pass?

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Dusan Writer on Pixels, Policy, and the Barbarians at the Gate

Today we have an excellent syndicated post from Dusan Writer, Editor of the information-rich Dusan Writer's Metaverse. A well-researched thinker and virtual worlds writer, Dusan has provided comments and critiques on Pixels and Policy articles in the past.

In Digital Barbarism, Mark Helprin lays down the gauntlet against the Creative Commons, open source and machines:

"Very clearly, the choice is between preeminence of the industrial or of the collective, of improvisation or routine, of the soul or of the machine. It is a choice that you have perhaps already made, without knowing it.

Or perhaps it has been made for you. But it is always possible to opt in or out, because your affirmations are your own, the court of judgment your mind and heart. These are free, and you are the sovereign. Choose."

Now, Mark sets up his argument as a battle – one in which the lone artist must rail against the gathering forces of darkness, the code kiddies at the gates, the collective enslavement to the power of technology, and how the digital age is upending traditional notions of property and creation.

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Discussion: Is Virtual Consumerism Built on Social Pressure?

We wrote an article last week that asked whether virtual world consumerism is essentially a product of social pressures. In support of our opinion, we cited an article from the Virtual Economy Research Network that made the case. One of its better points:

Beyond individual appearance, consumption can also be associated with
group membership and belonging.

Through their visibility, items of
virtual clothing, accessories, and full avatar skins serve as marks of
membership within particular groups.

Bank1 What the article is saying is something anyone who went through high school would know: It's a whole lot easier to be accepted by a (virtual) social group if you look the part.

For the most part, Second Life's furries hang out with other furries, and someone dressed in a Steampunk outfit will likely have a difficult time being accepted.

Well, our article caught the eye of my friend and critic Dusan Writer, who took us to task and inspired a lively debate on his website. 13 posts later, its apparent there's a clear divide between those who view the consumerism in Second Life as a product of social pressure and those who view it as a means of digital self-expression.

But what kind of social pressure is it that makes self-expression dependent on purchasing things? This sentiment is inherent in Dusan's argument that consumerism is self-expression: Second Life avatars are expected to express themselves through what they've purchased, and the in-world society gives positive feedback to avatars that look especially attractive due to their purchases.

Though this pressure may not be visible, it certainly is a social pressure. The unspoken need for people who associate with the Furry mindset to purchase Furry outfits in order to participate in Second Life group activities is evidence of this. Furries who show up looking human will find a much different atmosphere than their fox-eared companions.

I'd like to keep this discussion going — post your thoughts and I'll follow up through the week as the discussion develops.

Reuters and the Flawed Research Value of Virtual Worlds

Have a puzzling economic problem or a social program you'd like to beta test before dropping it on the American people? Reuters recommends you turn to virtual worlds as a possible test-bed for real-world policies.

In a recent article, Reuters jumped on Edward Castronova's well-trod "Metaverse as a laboratory" bandwagon, even calling up the respected Indiana University virtual worlds researcher for his thoughts on the utility of virtual worlds:

"We can do controlled experiments in virtual worlds, but we can't do that in reality," said Castronova.

"Controlled experimentation is the very best way to learn about
cause and effect. We are on the verge of developing that capacity for
human society as a whole."

To find out why Reuters is out to make Castronova skeptic Dusan Writer squirm, read on below the fold.

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