Ethicist and researcher Lucy Sparrow further argues for the need for a “community manager” approach to moderation, with some moderators tasked not only with quietly managing content behind the scenes, but also actively cultivating the wider community of players. I will repeat that call. Moderation is vital and is more than punishment.
It is important to note that these strategies must be applied together. Individual-level tools only work in conjunction with effective supervision. A techno-libertarian approach that suggests all users need is a “blocking” tool will only recreate the layers of hell that already exist on social media.
Virtual reality is reality, act accordingly
Existing laws may already apply to metaverse spaces. What is vital is recognizing that online interactions are real and meaningful. Stalking in VR should be treated like stalking in the physical world; as well as sexual harassment. Although the police rarely have an interest in truly helping people, this does not mean that the companies in charge of various metaversal spaces do not have a responsibility to their users. Therefore, even if a potentially illegal act is not reported to the police, it should still be the basis for strong sanctions – perhaps through a watchlist shared across virtual spaces by a trusted third party, such as an ethical collaboration.
Similarly, while the legal landscape remains globally divided on this issue, we need to expedite any application of gambling mechanics.
The use of microtransactions in many games can easily turn into gambling through systems like lootboxes, and platforms like VRChat already have a lucrative secondary market for avatars, costumes and other digital assets. So far, it’s proven to be a mostly friendly and lucrative space for digital artists. In corporate hands, it could turn into a casino. Existing gambling laws, such as restrictions against sales to children or confining gambling mechanics to narrowly limited digital spaces, could theoretically be used to stop this before it starts. There is even room to update or rewrite the Interstate Wire Act for the 21st century.
Many gaming studios insist that the virtual nature of the transactions, combined with the fact that the “payoffs” are always digital items rather than real currency, distinguish them from “real” gambling. There’s a reason for this: most existing gambling restrictions in the US involve questions of whether stakes have “real value”. But we must expand our understanding of reality to include these mechanisms, because virtual goods are undeniably valuable. And if VR ever becomes a bigger part of our lives – as big as the internet already is – then claims that digital goods have no value will look even more dangerously dated than they already are.
Just say no crypto
The most obvious source of corruption in the metaverse space right now is the risk posed by NFTs and cryptocurrencies. In recent months, a number of Ponzi schemes and other scams built around NFT properties have included the creation of video games and virtual worlds, and many people are still eagerly drawn into online gaming with word salad promises of value to casual players.
While the ongoing cryptocurrency crash may solve this problem, ensuring a viable future for virtual reality means ensuring that its early adopters are not tricked into losing their life savings. For some, the arrival of the metaverse is nothing more than another opportunity to buy various crypto offerings. But that would be poisonous to this young garden of creativity. This would not only stifle that innovative spirit, but also – like the gambling mechanics I’ve already discussed – create and foster a predatory environment for users.