Distribution of Power Between Users and Operators in the Virtual World

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* Paper: How Open are Societies in the Virtual? Towards an Assessment of the Distribution of Power Between Users and Operators. By Holger M. Kienle, Gordana Dodig-Crnkovic et al.

URL = http://wikis.fu-berlin.de/download/attachments/59080767/Kienle-etal-Paper.pdf


Abstract

"Virtual environments such as massive multi-player online games and virtual worlds are expected to have an increasing impact on peoples' lives. These virtual environments are not mere play, but are hosting virtual societies and communities. From this perspective, it seems pertinent to ask, what is the degree of freedom that users are experiencing in these virtual environments? In this paper, we try to analyze this question with the help of four lenses|social, ethical, technical, and legal|that expose different viewpoints from which this matter can be looked at. We focus our discussion on two stakeholders|the operators of virtual environments and its users|and look at the distribution of power between them. While our analysis is only a frst step towards understanding this question, we believe that our lenses are a useful approach to structure the discussion."


From the introduction:

"In this paper, we explore freedom for virtual societies and communities, which we believe has been a neglected field of study. Our guiding question is: What factors are infuencing the degree of freedom that users of virtual environments are experiencing? We explore this question with the help of different lenses (or viewpoints) that guide the identification of factors. The lenses that we use are the following: social, ethical, technical, and legal.

Freedom in virtual environments has different stakeholders. In this paper we focus on the users of the virtual environment and the operators that run it. Other stakeholders are lawmakers and regulators.


Our interest in studying freedom for virtual societies is grounded in the believe that society is increasingly shaped in the virtual rather than the physical realm. Also, there are increasing interactions between the virtual and physical, exemplified by location-aware mobile services, augmented reality, and ambient intelligence. Generally, one can expect that virtual environments will enable increasingly rich social interactions, enticing users to increasingly define their lives in the virtual.

When we speak of the "virtual" we have a broad notion in mind. A virtual space can be as rudimentary as an electronic mailing list (e.g., LISTSERV) or a bulletin board [43], and as complex as a 3D virtual world (e.g., Second Life) with social networking sites in between (e.g., LinkedIn). It is often overlooked that massive multi-player online games (MMOGs) spawn vibrant societies [39]. All of these spaces seem to have in common that they enable users to represent themselves with an avatar6 and provide mechanisms for communication among users. Communication among users (through their avatars) entails that multiple users have access to the virtual space and that they can perceive representations of each other. In the following, when we do not want to single out a particular kind of virtuality, we use the term virtual environment."