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The Law of online gaming

Monday, November 6, 2006

A news from MSNBC, one year ago:
BEIJING - A Shanghai online game player who stabbed a competitor to death for selling his cyber-sword has been given a suspended death sentence, which in effect means life imprisonment, state media said on Wednesday. The case had created a dilemma in China where no law exists for the ownership of virtual weapons. Qiu Chengwei, 41, stabbed competitor Zhu Caoyuan in the chest after he was told Zhu had sold his "dragon sabre", used in the popular online game, "Legend of Mir 3", the China Daily said.
Sounds crazy but, that's reality.... (or is it not?) Oh well, can't really tell the difference these days. This raises a question. People can be criminalized for killing, there's no debate on it. But what about stealing virtual things? Here's what actually happened in the case above:
Qiu and a friend jointly won their weapon last February, and lent it to Zhu who then sold it for 7,200 yuan (US$870), the newspaper said. Qiu went to the police to report the "theft" but was told the weapon was not real property protected by law. "Zhu promised to hand over the cash but an angry Qui lost patience and attacked Zhu at his home, stabbing him in the left chest with great force and killing him," the court was told.
Poor Qiu. He lost his sword and now he killed a man because of it. I bet he'll never play online games again for the rest of his life. Well, this is probably not the first time that games causes trouble. Gambling is a game too and it causes trouble. If you win a bet from me and I refuse to pay, there is no way that the law will grant your claim. Same case, if you cheat on poker game, or steal my card, I cannot accuse you of stealing.

So, do you think what the police has done is right, or wrong? Should a sword be 'not protected' because they are virtual?

I think the police is correct in their decision but is incorrect in their considerations. I am no fan of online gaming, but here's my reasoning: The player had allocated costs and time to obtain the virtual thing. This is where the value is. Essentially, law does not protect property. It protects economical value. The "sword" has an economical value. It is similar as anti-virus, mp3 software or even a collection of my tags in del.icio.us. They belong to me. Well, to a non gamer it may has no value at all. But take for example collecting hobbies: stamps, pins, postcards, paintings. Nobody will say that those products are value-less.

But, the police had made the right decision by refusing to acknowledge enforcing Qiu's claim. Online gaming is treated like gambling. If you cheat or steal my card, you cannot claim it to the court. Same way applies to virtual "swords". Those things has values, but you cannot claim its enforcement because of public ordre. If everyone gambles or play online games, there will be no actual value adding activity and this could jeoperdize the economy.