ESRB Warning: Use of Virtual Worlds by Children May Result in Addiction and Blurring of Borders – The Advisable Regulations in Light of Foreseeable Damages
This article analyzes the possible models for regulating the use of Internet-based virtual worlds by minors. While virtual worlds introduce a unique experience to their users, there is a strong indication that such use, if left unregulated, may cause harm, especially to minors. This article explains that the dangers associated with virtual worlds are different from those created by other types of media. The various phenomena which may be caused due to the use of virtual worlds and the damages likely to be caused by such phenomena, rest on two assumptions: that minors are especially prone to suffer from such dangers, since the exposure of minors to the experiences offered by virtual worlds is not mitigated by factors such as a more developed sense of reality and responsibility, and, that in the use of virtual worlds there is a greater potential to induce such harms when compared to the use of video games or other Internet applications. The methodology underlying this article is based on a comparativecritical review of the existing literature in the fields relevant to this interdisciplinary realm: technology, psychology, philosophy and law. This article concludes that non-legal regulation is insufficient and puts forth several suggestions for legal regulation. The proposed regulation is based on four principles: Awareness – forcing virtual worlds companies to issue a warning of the possible damages similar to the warnings printed on cigarettes packs; Prevention – operating technological measures to identify minor users and tracking their use length; Help – establishing help centers and posting distress buttons in the virtual world; and Liability – imposing tort liability on virtual worlds companies that fail to implement the proposed changes.
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