By now pretty much everyone in America has heard about Second Life. Unless you live in a cave, you probably know about World of Warcraft. Even if you don’t participate in virtual worlds, you probably know someone who does. Maybe it’s the woman who does your taxes, one of your clients, or your brother’s pesky kid. You may think it’s a bit silly, but it’s also big business. Blizzard Entertainment recently announced thatWorld of Warcraft now has over 10 million active players across the globe. The game costs about $20, expansion packs go for about $30, and monthly subscriptions cost between $13 and $24 per month. WoW isn’t the only game in town, either. People who spend their time and money in online worlds are like football fans, die-hard 24 watchers, or golfers. When they’re engaged in their passion, they don’t like to be disrupted. Enter the griefers. Just as there are people who enjoy disrupting conversations in discussion boards and chat rooms, there are people who like to do the same thing in online worlds. They’re organized. They like disrupting online events, creating mayhem, and generally annoying other participants. In short, they derive enjoyment from making these online worlds unenjoyable for other participants. The companies that run online worlds do what they can to thwart griefers, but they’re difficult to stop. Terminate a griefer’s account, and he’ll just create a new one. Online worlds are becoming more mainstream as technology progresses and their social acceptance moves beyond early adopters. People use them for entertainment, commerce, information gathering, social interaction, complex simulations, and more. For now, griefers are primarily causing grief for companies that run online worlds. But it won’t be long before they’re annoying a lot more people. Will technological solutions to griefing emerge, or will we start seeing “in-world” torts akin to the “virtual property” claims we’re already seeing in Second Life? How will already confused courts deal with such claims? [Second Life personality Hiro Pendragon (shown above) is not run by a griefer. In fact, I’d bet he wears those katanas to scare ’em off. The image is under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license and can be found in Pathfinder Linden’s photostream here.]

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