A Response to Ethical Issues Surrounding Second Life
It seems that this blog will be one full of questions rather than mere analysis or observation. We have talked in class briefly about ethics in second life, but it is still a hard issue to analyze. On one hand, it seems irrelevant. Why should there be a code of ethics or law in place in a world that isn’t “real” in the sense humans would normally define reality? Similar to playing Grand Theft Auto, a video game, why should it matter if there’s violence, or other ethically offensive acts, in a virtual world? On the other hand, second life involves identities we create for ourselves. If unethical or illegal acts occur against identities we create ourselves, not unlike personas we possess in the “real world”, why should legal responsibility not apply? If we are actively interacting with other human beings, should our legal system not apply in second life as well?
These are the questions I found myself asking when I read about Miss Avatar and Mr. Avatar. In the article, it describes a Japanese woman who faced real jail time after her “online husband dumbed her.” The woman was so outraged that she hacked into his account and killed his avatar. The woman faced $5,000 or up to 5 years in prison if she is convicted of committing an “online execution.” Police say there were no plans for a murder in the “real world”. Although it may seem silly to put someone behind bars for killing off an avatar in second life, this leads me to question human motivation behind behavior in second life.
Why do human beings engage in second life realities? Is McGonigal correct in her pessimistic view of reality, or is it merely a place to act out suppressed human urges. This article states that research from Dr. Alex Gordon has found 80% of female avatars to be men and 75% of male avatars to be women. Further, 43% of people claim to be in second life to learn more about themselves. What does this say about human motivation in second life? Is it a way to fulfill curiosity, or is it real human identities being acted out absent of the societal constructions of our “real world”?
This brings me back to the most pertinent question: should we be held accountable for unethical or unlawful acts we commit in second life? In class, someone paralleled human behavior in second life to fiction human beings produce. The idea was that fiction that contains horror or violence does not come from a person who should be trusted in the real world. While I do not agree with this thought, as I am a fan of many artists who create work I would not want to parallel to the real world, it’s hard not to ask this question in context of second life behavior. Do human beings need an outlet to act out that which is unacceptable in real society?