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Parents of high schoolers or college students would recognize the scene: online video gamers gabbing about the virtual culture, nomenclature and weaponry that normally bind them to a computer screen. But what was surprising at a recent three-day conference in New York was not the chatter, but that it came from so many J.D.’s. The conference — “State of Play: Law, Games and Virtual Worlds,” held at New York Law School and cosponsored by Yale Law School — looked rather like a cocktail party of the world’s trendiest geeks: video game players, designers and executives, plus law students, professors and even a smattering of practicing lawyers. All 220 participants were gathered to discuss the lofty issues of video games and their role in the legal sphere. The standard conference attire bore no resemblance to the law firm look, casual or otherwise: a chic blazer over a European-style checked dress shirt and thick black glasses. The standard speech was a blend of postmodern academic argot (plenty of mention of the “simulacrum”), video game terminology (“avatars” and “metaverse”) and an occasional nod to legalese (“third-party arbitrators for online dispute resolution”). The topics of the conference were either very cutting edge or very far-out, or both. Speakers included such leading lights as David Johnson, a former Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering partner and computer law expert; Jack Balkin, a First Amendment professor at Yale; and Julian Dibbell, a technology writer and journalist. Lawyers, of course, love anecdotes and hypotheticals, but at what other CLE conference would those come from the happenings in such games as Electronic Arts Inc.’s The Sims, Sony Corporation’s EverQuest, and Linden Lab’s Second Life? Take the question that F. Gregory Lastowka, an associate at Philadelphia’s Dechert, grappled with: If a gamer creates an identity, builds a castle or accrues virtual possessions — all online — should he or she have the right to own that intellectual property? Another question: If gamers own their identities, can they sell them? (Some already sell online identities, as well as virtual wands, jewels and currency, on eBay.) And what happens when gamers commit heinous (but virtual) acts, like rape or murder, online? Do social — not to mention legal — norms apply? Can the violated party sue, and the perpetrator be expelled? (Such disputes have gone to litigation in Korea.) Although the online video gaming sphere is fast-growing and lucrative (video games in general are an almost $11 billion industry in the United States; online games, however, make up less than $1 billion of that, according to Jupitermedia Corporation), these types of conflicts aren’t exactly clogging U.S. courts. But Beth Noveck, a New York Law School professor and conference organizer, predicts video game law may be the next big thing: “I think we’re going to see an evolution of gaming law, in the same way we’ve seen an evolution of cyberlaw.” She is planning another State of Play conference later this year, and hopes to reach out to practicing attorneys. For the practitioners present this time, the very novelty of the event — plus the CLE credit — was a main attractor. In the dawn of the commercial days of the Internet, says Bruce Boyden, a senior associate in the Washington, D.C., office of Proskauer Rose, and a self-described gamer, it was the law professors and theorists — not practitioners — who recognized the legal conflicts likely to arise with widespread use. “But they weren’t taken seriously by the business world and the mainstream legal world until [there were] actual cases,” says Boyden. So this time around, why not try to be there first?

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