Ethics & Virtual Worlds: Second Life as a Case Study

An introduction to Linden Lab’s Second Life and virtual worlds, the ethics of virtual worlds, and an outline of related issues in need of informed Shari‘ah reflection.

Linden Lab’s Second Life is one of the many interactive virtual worlds where people spend a great deal of time and money. Virtual worlds include online metaverses, online computer games, and video games (e.g. Second Life, Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft, and Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto). Participants in these increasingly-realistic life-like virtual universes engage in activities ranging from simple conversations and financial transactions, to simulated sex, violence, and rape, or even marriage and divorce. There is a real need to examine the legal status and ethical standing of interactions within these virtual worlds.

The first section of this Analytic Brief introduces Second Life and its applications, followed by a summary of criticisms and concerns that have already been raised.

The second section gives a summary of how ethicists have analyzed virtual behavior in the context of computer games and virtual worlds.

The third section of this Brief presents issues related to virtual worlds which are in need of informed Shari‘ah reflection from scholars and opinion leaders, and shows how classic Islamic legal reasoning already provides answers to many of the relevant issues.