The IT Law Wiki


Virtual world(s) is/are

a persistent computer-simulated environment allowing large numbers of users, who are represented by avatars, to interact in real-time over a computer network such as the Internet.[1]
a precise re-creation of a real-world environment via multisensory data and computer graphics that allows interaction between humans and synthesized objects. It consists of a set of multisensory devices employed as both actuators and effectors.[2]
an online computer-mediated 3D, 2D or text based environment that provide a shared and persistent experience; interactions occurring in real-time; an underlying automated rule set (the "physics" that determines how individuals effect changes) and, individuals are represented within the world typically as "avatars".[3]
blend three-dimensional or 3D gaming environments with elements of online social networking, allowing their users to interact in and shape their own online content. Through avatars, virtual world users socialize, network, play, and often conduct business in graphics-intensive landscapes using text or voice chat, sounds and gestures, and video.[4]
software artifacts, communities, and commodities. They are places and spaces whose geography and landmarks can be as familiar as your own neighborhood, teeming with personalities that are rich and genuine and multifaceted, but — simultaneously and paradoxically — they are also always finally layers of logical abstractions mediated by the conventions of digital computing. They are also (often) branded media properties capable of generating massive revenues, or else generating very little, a phenomenon not irrelevant to their frequent and sudden demise.[5]


The history of virtual worlds can be traced back to the 1970s, when the term "virtual world" was already used by the scientific community and other experts; mainly in the context of virtual reality or computer games. In the 1970s, Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) were created for users to interact with one another and the environment in a series of chat rooms.

With the rising popularity of virtual worlds such as Linden Lab's Second Life and Blizzard's World of Warcraft, the term "virtual world" became more popular. Today most popular virtual worlds are graphically-based and appear in the form of virtual social worlds (VSW), massively multiplayer online game (MMO or MMOG) or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG).

Entertainment and social networking still represent by far the most significant application of virtual worlds in terms of number of users and market volume. More than 70% of virtual world users are using worlds mainly dedicated to entertainment or social networking. . . . Virtual worlds are attracting a significant volume of real economic transactions of virtual goods and services between consumers (consumer-to-consumer, C2C) as well as between businesses and consumers (business-to-consumer, B2C). . . . Virtual worlds also provide opportunities for the public sector to enhance its e-government services and public sector information (PSI). These include in particular i) increasing citizen participation among Internet users; and ii) providing public sector information (PSI) in a media-richer and interactive way.[6]

There are six important features that appear in most virtual worlds:

  1. shared space (multiple users)
  2. a graphical user interface
  3. immediacy (“interaction takes place in real time”)
  4. interactivity (“the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content”)
  5. persistence ("the world's existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in)", and
  6. socialization, or a sense of community.

Virtual worlds blend three-dimensional or 3D-gaming environments with elements of online social networking, allowing users to interact in and shape their own online content.[7] Through avatars, virtual world users socialize, network, play, and often conduct business in graphics-intensive landscapes using text or voice chat, sounds and gestures, and video.

Because new virtual worlds are constantly being created, their exact number is hard to determine. Obtaining accurate demographic and virtual world usage statistics similarly can be difficult since commercial virtual worlds do not routinely publicize information on user traffic.[8] Some reports state that there may be as many as 200 youth-oriented live, planned, or beta virtual worlds,[9] with these numbers expected to grow in the coming years.[10] Users, especially tweens and teens, are embracing online virtual worlds in significant numbers.[11] Popularity among children, especially among pre-teen users, is projected to increase.[12]


  1. Virtual Worlds-Immersive Online Platforms for Collaboration, Creativity and Learning, at 3.
  2. Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, at 2.
  3. the Virtual Policy Network, "What is a virtual world?" (full-text).
  4. Virtual Worlds and Kids: Mapping the Risks.
  5. Jerome McDonough et al., Preserving Virtual Worlds: Final Report (Aug. 31, 2010) (full-text).
  6. Id.
  7. Paul R. Messinger, Eleni Stroulia & Kelly Lyons, "A Typology of Virtual Worlds: Historical Overview and Future Directions," J. of Virtual Worlds Res., Vol. 1, No. 1, at 3 (July 2008) (full-text).
  8. European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), "Children on Virtual Worlds: What Parents Should Know" 11 (Sept. 2008) (full-text); Jeremiah Spence,"Demographics of Virtual Worlds," J. of Virtual Worlds Research, Vol. 1, No. 2, at 5 (Nov. 2008) (full-text).
  9. Virtual Worlds Management Report: "200+ Youth-Oriented Worlds Live or Developing, Virtual World News" (Jan. 26, 2009) (full-text).
  10. Mark Hefflinger, Report: "Virtual Worlds to Grow at 23% Through 2015," Digital Media Wire (June 16, 2009) (full-text).
  11. The number of registered accounts in the virtual worlds sector totaled approximately 579 million globally in the second quarter of 2009. This figure represents an increase of 38.6% from the previous quarter when global registered accounts totaled 417 million. Of these 579 million registered accounts, kZero estimates that nearly 60% are ages 10-15. Approximately 20% of users are ages 5-10, and 15% are ages 15-25. Users over age 25 constitute the minority at 5%. Virtual Worlds News, "Virtual Worlds Popularity Spikes" (July 15, 2009) (full-text).
  12. The number of youth participants in online virtual worlds is projected to grow to over 15 million by 2013, with the most significant growth among the pre-teen (ages 3-11) segment of users. See Virtual Worlds News, "Teen, Pre-teen Migration to Virtual Worlds On the Rise" (May 21, 2009) (full-text).

See also[]