Monday, March 23, 2009

The feudal world of Second Life

It would be difficult to deny the claim that the closest real life analogy to the "land ownership system" in Second Life is the old-fashioned feudalism.

Second Life even sports a parallel to feudalism’s hierarchical chains of subinfeudation. Several large commercial operations purchase entire Regions from Linden, landscape and subdivide them, and then rent or sell plots to users. Like feudal lords, these “land barons” play a major role in dispensing justice related to landownership. Many of them impose “covenants” on their land, such as a prohibition against running businesses from virtual homes. Tellingly, users upset at a neighbor’s violation of the covenant must look to the land baron for recourse; Linden Labs has no involvement in these local disputes. Similarly, Linden stays out of seignorial disputes between these (land)lords and their tenants. Whereas offline landlords are expected to rely on the state when evicting recalcitrant tenants rather than self-help, Second Life land barons have no recourse but self-help.

Written by: James Grimmelmann, Virtual World Feudalism, 118 Yale L.J. Pocket Part 126 (2009),

Image by Torley



A few words on issues of privacy in the context of virtual worlds with an excellent comparison to the prison.

The essential irony of virtual worlds is that populations seeking to build new lives away from the public eye are moving into an environment that is subject to constant surveillance. Virtual worlds currently operate like Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison. The Panopticon permitted a single guard in the center of the prison to monitor all of the prisoners. The same degree of surveillance exists in virtual worlds. The denizens of virtual worlds are constantly under surveillance by “game gods,” the private companies that design, maintain, and administer virtual worlds. The game gods then must comply with government requests for call details, wiretaps, stored chatlogs, and other business records. The result: game gods’ cameras are on all the time and the footage reaches law enforcement and the intelligence community.

Written by Joshua Fairfield, Escape into the Panopticon: Virtual Worlds and the Surveillance Society, 118 Yale L.J. Pocket Part 131 (2009),



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