This article details a successful attempt by a Chinese man to get real-world repayment for stolen virtual goods.
What effect will it have on the economies of the world when the economies of virtual worlds are harmonized and integrated into the real economies? One of the central ideas of the Western, market based economy is that infinite growth (or at least, growth for the forseeable future) is possible. I’ve always considered that idea suspicious. Perhaps these virtual spaces will give the real economy more room to grow. At least the virtual economies do not yet seem to have the same old externalities (pollution, class divides, mono-culture, etc). What externalities do these economies have that we just haven’t noticed yet?
That virtual and real economies will merge is a difficult idea to take seriously right now. One sure bet is that wherever humans go, they will take their cultural institutions with them.
On a somewhat related note, this Salon piece mentions the troubles the makers of The Sims Online are having with virtual prostitution, perhaps involving underage people. If no real-world sex happens as part of the transaction, is it still prostitution?