Vice Squad
Sunday, June 03, 2007
A Virtual Horse Racing Tragedy

A superb thoroughbred racehorse is an extremely valuable asset, given the potential earnings from race purses and stud fees. If your extraordinary horse is killed via the negligence of someone else, you might be able to sue for significant damages. (The opposing attorney might try to point out the speculative nature of your damages claim, but courts have mandated awards that include lost stud fees, for instance.) This seems straightforward enough.

But what if your special racehorse is not exactly real? To be specific, what if your horse is part of a virtual world, a horse racing simulation? And what if your horse is not killed by negligence, but is purposely 'deactivated' by the operators of the simulator? Do you have a valid claim for damages -- and would your claim depend on whether the explicit rules of the racing simulation allowed the operators to make any changes (presumably including deactivations) that they pleased, or if the game encouraged the use of real-world money to purchase virtual property?

As it turns out, the deactivation of an extraordinary horse did take place, on Horseracingpark. The owner was paid an undisclosed amount of compensation. A captivating article by Jason A. Archinaco in the February, 2007 issue of Gaming Law Review tells the story, and offers a legal analysis of the damages issue. Archinaco asks (page 27), "Are such situations as the 'deactivation' of [the virtual horse], despite the statements in the license agreement, more akin to an intentional act such as murder than a simple 'permissible modification' to the game world rule set?"

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