Course syllabus on virtual worlds

Here is the syllabus of the virtual worlds course that I’ll be teaching this term at Lawrence University. It is still in revision, so I’ll be updating it till it is finalized.

Order, Conflict, & Unrest in Virtual Worlds

Why study virtual worlds? Currently, millions of people are spending time in worlds such as World of Warcraft, Minecraft, Second Life, and Eve Online. Within the next decade or so, millions more will join them. If one is spending even two hours a day in a virtual world (a conservative estimate), it adds up to 14 hours a week, the equivalent of a part time job. Some spend upwards of 40 hours a week in these spaces, if not more. As a result, virtual worlds are increasingly becoming important sites of social interaction.

Importantly, the economic boundaries between the real world and virtual worlds have proven to be porous. For example, players trade and sell virtual loot for hundreds and thousands of dollars. Users open virtual businesses, get married, and hold funerals in these spaces. These worlds have successfully built their own economies, transactions, interactions, social norms, and cultures. All of this brings with it its own challenges, especially for real-life legal systems whose regulations necessitate clear cut state boundaries in order to function properly. Incidents that occur inside of these worlds simultaneously cut across a number of jurisdictions, a complication that makes real-world government interventions and regulations practically impossible. In other words, virtual worlds create alternative social orders. Virtual or not, they are becoming a reality of our daily lives. Therefore, as netizens, it’s in our best interest to understand them fully.

Through theory and participation, this course provides students with an in-depth understanding of what virtual worlds are and how they intersect and impact real world orders. To this end, the students will be introduced to the governance models of these worlds, discuss the social, political, and economic orders that they build, and examine how its participants negotiate power through game play.
Goals for Student Learning

  • Develop the necessary skills for engaging in various virtual worlds including game worlds, social worlds, and teen/kid social worlds.
  • Examine the different governance styles and the legal jurisdiction of virtual worlds.
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of the different actors that take part in the governance of virtual worlds.
  • Understand the significance of the contractual agreements that take place between users and virtual world developers.
  • Examine the economic dimensions of virtual worlds and the significance of intellectual property and copyright in these realms.
  • Explore other issues that arise inside of virtual worlds.

* Be advised that students may encounter offensive language and sexually explicit content throughout this course. You may wish to choose another course if this presents a problem.

* Students must abide by the Code of Conduct in Virtual Worlds as delineated in this syllabus.


Because the subject-matter of this class is virtual worlds, students will be required to spend around four-to-five hours a week (if not more) in various worlds, gaming, exploring its structures, and interacting with others players. Some of this interaction could take place in class on Thursdays, but most will happen outside of class. You will have gaming partners in class to help you meet the technical benchmarks required in class. In addition to technical benchmarks, you will be asked to turn in weekly concept maps, 3-4 response papers, presentations, and a final fifteen-page research paper. There will also be a film screening at the beginning of the term.

Readings & Gaming

For each week  you will have approximately 80-90 pages of reading. Your readings will mostly be on the e-reserve, however, some will be found online. Please come to class with a printed copy of your reading for the day.

Our primary game worlds will be World of Warcraft (WoW), Minecraft, and Second Life. You will be assigned a gaming partner throughout the term. In order to enjoy the games in their fullest capacity, you will need to purchase either a game card or open an account. The cost to you is the following:

Concept Maps

For each of the readings assigned for each week, students will present a concept map at the beginning of class meetings, showing the most important top level, second level, and third level concepts and/or practices from that week’s readings.

Concept maps can be hand-drawn and scanned, then projected, or constructed online with one of many of the web tools available or they can be drawn on the whiteboard. The goal is to engage the entire class in trying to sketch a systemic map of each week’s subject matter.
Terms: Identify three new terms introduced in the reading. These terms should not be words you don’t know, but terms that have specific meanings in the readings. Explain what these terms mean.
Questions: Come up with at least three intriguing questions to lead the class discussion. Questions should be complex enough to spark debate and participation.

Response Papers
Throughout the term, you will be asked to write four three-page response papers, some of which you’ll be working with your gaming partner. The topics are as follows:

  • Comparing End User License Agreements (EULA) of two of the virtual worlds
  • Report on the Women In Gaming Symposium taking place at Lawrence University
  • Comparing content creation on World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Second Life.
  • Legal analysis of a gold farming case study.

Moodle & Class Wiki

Our course has a Moodle site and a class Wiki. The Moodle site includes our class policy, requirements, assignment descriptions, and links to submissions. It may also have additional background information that will help you with our class readings. Our class wiki is also located in this site. You can find our most up-to-date class schedule and links to useful online articles, websites, and web videos in the wiki. Feel free to add any link that you feel is interesting and pertinent to our class discussions under the Additional Links page of this wiki. Students are expected to visit our Moodle site regularly and use it to get updates on the course. Class announcements will be posted here too.


As this course progresses, you will find out that your experience in virtual worlds mirrors your experience in real life: in these spaces, you’ll meet the nicest people as well as the worst jerks. You’ll experience things that are divine and witness some questionable things. Here are some guidelines to help you keep your sanity and prepare you for the brave new world that you will be introduced to throughout the semester:

  • There will be jerks that will bully you, call you nasty names, and push you around. Word of the wise: log off.
  • There will be offensive content that you may see and not like. If you are one to get easily offended, log off or go to a different region.
  • Be a chief, don’t grief. Remember, you are representing Lawrence University and you should always keep that in mind. Lame and inappropriate behavior has no place in a collegiate setting.
  • If you plan on griefing, however, create a throwaway account that has no attachment to your real life identity (no credit cards, for example) and use your personal computer, NOT Lawrence University computers. When accounts get banned, Game Gods ban the IP address of the offending computer. This means that should you use a university computer for your joy ride and get caught, the computer terminal in question would be out of commission for an indeterminate amount  of time. If you use the wireless on campus, chances are, you’ll be found out regardless. Be a pro: use the wireless at an Internet Café instead. Then you might have a fighting chance.
  • Do not reveal any real-life information under any circumstances. This includes name, address, social security number, phone number, or any personal information unless you are certain that you know the person in real life.
  • This is a silly warning to note here, but you’d be surprised at how many times you will get propositioned: Do not accept to video cam with ANYONE unless you are willing to star in the next porn video and risk your chances of becoming the future president of the United States of America.

That said… let’s game on…

TECHNICAL BENCHMARKS (one point late fee if deadlines not met):

April 13 Level up your WoW toon to level 10.


April 20 Level up your WoW toon to level 15.


TBA Attend two (or more) dungeon run with your peers.


April 27 Level up both primary professions to 100.


May 7 Find an auction house in WoW and buy and sell couple of items.


May 22 Collaborate on building a something in Minecraft.


May 29 Build an object in Second Life. Details TBA.




Response Papers Assigned topics 25%
Research Paper Proposal (15%)Paper (85%) 35%
Concept Maps In class presentations 15%
Technical Benchmarks Meeting all technical benchmarks in a timely fashion. 20%
Participation & Attendance
  • You have two excused (with sick note) or unexcused absences. More than 2 absences will result in 1/3 letter grade deduction.
  • Attendance does not mean participation. So be active in class and online in some way.



 Week 1: April 1-3

 Introduction: What Are Virtual Worlds?

 Lastowka, G, & Hunter, D. “Virtual Worlds: A Primer,” The State of Play.

Taylor, T.L. “Gaming Lifeworlds: Social Play in Persistent Environments,” Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture.

Case study: Baseball murder case (magic circle), Lastowka, Virtual Justice, p. 102-103

Movies of interest:

Recommended Readings:


Bartle, R. “Introduction to Virtual Worlds: Some Definitions,” Designing Virtual Worlds.

Bartle, R. “Introduction to Virtual Worlds: What They Are and Whence They Came,” Designing Virtual Worlds.

The Virtual Policy Network.”The Virtual World Primer,”

Lastowka, Greg. “History,” Virtual Justice.

Kzer Universe, “Virtual Worlds: Industry and User Data,”

Technical benchmark:

  • Open an account in WoW, Minecraft, and Second Life.
  • Purchase 90-day gaming card for WoW
  • Review the WoW guide and select a race/class for your first toon.
  • You must select a toon in the Horde faction and in Eitrigg realm.
  • Review your toon’s characteristics and begin questing.

Virtual Worlds Governance

Week 2: April 8-10

Bartle, R. “Why Governments Aren’t Gods and Gods aren’t Governments,”

Mnookin, J., 2001. “Virtual(ly) Law: The Emergence of Law in LambdaMOO,” Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates and Pirate Utopias.

Zwart, M. “Piracy vs. Control: Models of Virtual World Governance and Their Impact on Player and User Experience,” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. Available from

Case study: LambdaMOO, rape case

Recommended Readings:

Dibbel, J. “Rape in Cyberspace,” My Tiny Life,

Koster, R. “Declaring the Rights of Players,” The State of Play: Law, Games, & Virtual Worlds. (player rights are actually good design principles as well)

Castronova, Edward, “Governance,” Synthetic Worlds.

Technical benchmark: Level up your WoW toon to level 10 by April 13.


Week 3: April 15-17

Lastowka, G. “Jurisdiction,” Virtual Justice.

Castronova, Edward, “Right to Play,” The State of Play: Law, Games, & Virtual Worlds.

Case study: Legend of Mir, murder of the Chinese gamer.

Recommended readings:

Johnson, D.R. & Post, D. “Law and Borders–The Rise of Law in Cyberspace,” Stan. L. Rev.,

Due: EULA response paper, April 20.

Technical benchmark: Level up your WoW toon to level 15 by April 20.


Week 4: April 22-24

Balkin, J.M., 2004. Virtual liberty: freedom to design and freedom to play in virtual worlds. Va. L. Rev. Available from

Grimmelmann, J. “Virtual Power Politics,” The State of Play: Law, Games, & Virtual Worlds.

Case study: Second Life, Braggs vs Linden

Technical benchmark:

  • Choose two professions for you toon and level them up to 100 by April 27.
  • Group dungeon runs begin. Everyone is expected to participate in at least one dungeon run throughout the semester.

Week 5: April 29 – May 1

No classes.

May 3 & 4: Women in Gaming and Identity (WIG) Symposium

Virtual Economies & Intellectual Property Ownership

Week 6: May 6- 8, Reading Period

Lastowka, G. “Property,” The Virtual Justice.

Castronova, E. “The Economics of Fun: Behavior & Design,” Synthetic Worlds.

Case Study: Second Life, sex bed case

Case study: Runescape,  virtual theft case

Due: WIG response paper, April 7.

Technical benchmark:

  • Find an auction house and place two items on sale to be auctioned off and buy two items.
  • E-mail me the screenshot of the transaction by May 7.

Gold farming

Week 7: May 13-15

Dibbell, J. “Life of a Chinese Goldfarmer,” The New York Times,

Dibbell, J. “Owned! Intellectual Property in the Age of eBayers, Gold Farmers, and Other Enemies of the Virtual State,” The State of Play: Law, Games, & Virtual Worlds.

Case study: Dark Age of Camelot, Mythic vs Black Snow Interactive

Recommended Readings:

Heeks, R. “Current Analysis and Future Research Agenda on ‘Gold Farming’: Real-World Production in Developing Countries for the Virtual Economies of Online Games,” Development Informatics Working Paper Series. (selections) Available from

Due: Virtual Sweatshops and gold farming response paper, May 18.

Technical Benchmark: Watch at least 10-15 Minecraft survival video guides and Second Life content creation videos on YouTube.

User-Generated Content in Virtual Worlds

Week 8: May 20-22

Lastowka, G. “Minecraft as Web 2.0: amateur creativity and digital games,” Amateur Media. Available from

Ondrejka, C. “Escaping the Gilded Cage: User-Created Content and Building the Metaverse,” The State of Play: Law, Games, & Virtual Worlds.

Recommended readings:

Lastowka, G. “Minecraft, Intellectual Property, and the Future of Copyright,” Gamasutra. Available from

Due: Research paper proposals due.

Technical Benchmark:

  • Minecraft day, Gaming club.
  • Collaborate on a Minecraft build, May 22.

Freedom of Speech in Virtual Worlds

Week 9: May 27-29

Blitz, M.J. “A First Amendment for Second Life: What Virtual Worlds Mean for the Law of Video Games,” Available from

Harmon, A. “A Real-Life Debate on Free Expression in a Cybercity,” The New York Times,

Ludlow, P. & Mark Wallace.”The Death of Urizenus,” The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed to Dawn of the Metaverse.

Recommended Readings:

Manjoo, F. “Racking Muck in Sims Online,” Salon,

Review Balkin’s section on this incident.

Technical benchmark: Create an object in Second Life. Send it to me in-world, May 29.

Due: Content creation response paper, June 1.

Grief Play, Law, & Negotiating Governance

Week 10: June 3-5

Foo, C.Y. & Koivisto, E.M. (2004). “Defining grief play in MMORPGs: player and developer perceptions.”

Humpreys. S. & Zwart. “Griefing, Massacres, Discrimination, and Art: The Limits of Overlapping Rule Sets in Online Games,” Available from

Bakioğlu, B. ” Governance in Virtual Worlds: Grief Play, Hacktivism & LeakOps in Second Life.”

Guest Speaker: Mittani, the CEO of GoonWaffe, head of GoonSwarm Federation, a principal leader of the CFC, former chairman of the Council of Stellar Management, as well as entrepreneurial publisher of the popular online game news sites,

Week 11: Finals week: June 9-11

Research papers due, June 9.







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