Virtual worlds have often been called the digital equivalent of the Wild West, where animated alter egos can live in a fantasy frontier. But in some of these universes, a sheriff has come to town.
Slipping a four-letter word into an instant message now could land a user in a virtual timeout. Repeated attempts to make friends with an uninterested character could result in a loss of blogging privileges. And if convicted of starting a “flame war,” or an exchange of hostile messages, a user may endure the ultimate punishment — permanent exile.
A virtual world for mobile devices, called Cellufun, has established a courthouse, where rule-breakers are indicted by their peers and tried by a jury of other community members. If found guilty of a charge, such as using profanity, users must carry out varying levels of sentences, from being mute for 20 minutes to being banished.
For the duration of punishment, a user’s avatar — a cartoon version of his or her real-life self — is pictured behind bars.
[…] Virtual worlds such as Second Life and Cellufun began with few rules and little oversight. Avatars can create their own societies and carry out realistic activities, such as buying land, building houses and forming social groups. But as the worlds’ populations grow, some have developed more sophisticated legal codes and justice systems to police members’ behavior. Many virtual worlds hope that creating an orderly environment will entice more users — and prevent the need for real-world legal intervention.
See the classic A Rape In Cyberspace