How should the law respond to the growing importance of virtual worlds? In this essay, forthcoming in the University of Chicago Legal Forum, Professor Orin Kerr of Volokh Conspiracy considers how criminal law does and should apply to conduct in virtual worlds. The first part argues that existing laws regulate virtual worlds with little or no regard to the virtual reality they foster. Criminal law tends to follow the physical rather than the virtual: it looks to what a person does rather than what the victim virtually perceives. This dynamic greatly narrows the role of criminal law in virtual worlds. The second part concludes that legislatures should not enact new criminal laws to account for the new social harms that may occur in virtual worlds. Virtual harms are better regulated by game administrators than federal or state criminal laws. Internal virtual harms should trigger internal virtual remedies. It is only when harms go outside the game that the criminal law should try to punish and deter wrongs not redressable elsewhere.
Dean Saul Levmore and Orin will debate Orin’s paper next week on the Faculty Blog. We hope you'll join in the conversation!