The Sims Online

About a year ago, I stumbled across a really interesting case. Most people know about the game The Sims, but very few, specially here in Europe have heard of the game The Sims Online. Here we are not dealing with simulations. The players have an avatar which has to socialise with other avatars in order to build communities, businesses and culture. The case I speak of is the one of Peter Ludlow. He was a journalist within the game and started his own blog/newspaper reporting on events in Alphaville, a city in The Sims Online. In one of his stories, he uncovered the presence of teenagers selling cybersex for money. Soon after this he was thrown out of The Sims Online by Maxis. Suddenly we are emerged in a debate about Avatar’s rights to free speech. Although Maxis has rebuted the claims that he was thrown out because of this story, the question still remains of what rights an avatar has to practice free speech. When a game completely evolves around communication and socialisation, do they not have a right to defend themselves when the corporation decides to just cut them out. It is not an easy question. Of course the standpoint of the designers goes more on the “its just a game” principle, but academics have started to recognise that this statement is not justified. Considering Simoleons (the online currency of The Sims Online) to be just monopoly money is false. And when you think of players spending more than 30 hours a week building and actively participating in a community, saying something is ‘just a game’, doesn’t feel right! Where does The Sims Online stop being a forum for socialisation and start being ‘just a game’?

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