An idle thought for a Sunday afternoon: virtual worlds such as Second Life, The Sims Online and World of Warcraft are hugely popular online games, in part because they manage to combine elements of the real world with fantasy and the unreal, and also because they allow for all kinds of behaviour (good, bad and in between) to find a harmless outlet. Such behaviour includes malicious acts known as “griefing” in Second Life, adults pretending to be children for sexual purposes, and even the rise of what amounts to a virtual Mafia in The Sims.
The game Grand Theft Auto has also become hugely popular by allowing game players to engage in all kinds of nefarious behaviour, including theft, murder, assault and battery, prostitution, drug-dealing, and so on. So why isn’t there an online version of Grand Theft Auto, where people can form gangs and beat other players up, steal their virtual money, blackmail or extort other players, set up prostitution rings and so on? It seems like it would be a slam-dunk.
Obviously, there would be a risk of real-world violence being blamed on Grand Theft Auto, but that already happens. I’m only half-joking here. I think watching people’s behaviour inside such a game would be like an incredible real-world psychology laboratory in action.