The Atlantic TNRO on Second Life

Should the government regulate virtual reality? (sorry, registration required)

With fist fights and muggings breaking out after the release of Sony’s PlayStation III, it’s clear that video games aren’t just for kids any more. But even the PlayStation is child’s play for the 1.4 million players in “Second Life,” a virtual-reality universe that is fast becoming one of the hottest places online. Not only do they spend the bulk of their free time logged onto it (one-third spend more hours a day in it than out), but a large subset even turns a sizeable profit, in some cases enough to live on. One “Second Life” entrepreneur, a German-Chinese woman named Ailin Graf, makes an estimated $150,000 a year buying and developing “Second Life” real estate–virtual land that is in reality nothing more than ones and zeroes. Real-world companies are getting involved, as well: For a price, players can outfit their virtual selves (called “avatars”) in American Apparel clothing, buy tricked-out Toyota Scions, and slip on a pair of digital Reeboks.

[…] [A]s “Second Life” grows in size and popularity, and as the links between “first” and “second life” strengthen, another question looms: At what point does it truly stop being a game and become an extension of the real world–and thus subject to real world government intervention?