Should theft in a virtual world count the same as real theft?
There is an interesting article in The Guardian on this:
"If you've spent £500 building up your armed forces and someone takes
them away online, I guess you can feel hard done-by and you want your
£500 back," he told Buzzfeed.
He also pointed out: "The perception from some people is that if you
steal online it's less of a crime than if you steal physically."
But this massively misses the point, sorry.
Yes, hacking someone's account is bad, and we already have laws covering that. But the idea of virtual theft is nonsense.
For a start, the game providers can (and do) restore lost items. To them the items really are just a data record, no matter what people paid in real money for them, and it is a relatively simple matter for them to restore them to their owner. They can also arrange for them to be removed from their new owner if they want. They can suspend accounts involved in hacking. They have ultimate control of the virtual world. So there is no actual theft, and the cost of the items is irrelevant - the only cost is the inconvenience for the victim and the game operator but that cost is the same whether it is a £5 item that is restored or a £5000 item that is restored.
Obviously if the game operator will not restore items, the damage by the hacking is more severe, but as I say, we have laws to cover that already, and the financial loss, and time, and distress caused will obviously be a factor in such cases.
Of course there is another massive issue with making any law on virtual theft - it is totally valid in a virtual world to play a baddie, one who's role is to do bad things, and steel things in the game. If a law was made it could mean such legitimate in-game actions being criminalised!
P.S. The episode of Big Bang Theory portrayed this very badly - making out that the theft was almost real, when in fact Blizzard would have restored the lost items, and suspended the thief's account pretty quickly and painlessly. I know people who have been through this.
P.P.S. In a way, the difference between theft in the real world and in the virtual world is that in the latter you can have a chat to God and have him sort it out and put it right. That kind of makes it way less of a big deal.