I heard about the Congressional Hearings on Virtual Worlds last week and thought something really interesting was going to come out of it. Sure it was only focused on Second Life, but maybe they were going to talk about the unregulated banking which led to real dollar losses or maybe they were going to talk about all of the "law firms" which are giving advice and operating in the virtual world. Maybe the discussion would expand beyond Second Life and talk about the mutimillion and potentially billion dollar unregulated and unsupervised black market in digital game objects and currency. I mean, this is the United States Congress. They've got stuff to do. There are some wars going on, elections, steroids in baseball. . . If they are taking time away from these issues, something important is going to happen. This body investigated Watergate. They must be having this meeting for a reason. I read the transcript. I just don't see one.
Here is a paraphrase of what happened:
Edward Markey (D - Massachussetts) "We are looking into the future. Look at all the pretty colors."
Cliff Stearns (R - Florida) "Sure looks pretty to you, but bad people can use it to do bad things. Mr. Rosedale, do bad things happen. I really don't think we have to regulate it though."
Philip Rosedale (Linden Lab founder) "We have never seen bad things."
Gene Green (R - Texas) "People can make money in these things. Real money."
Philip Rosedale "Second Life is good! We can save the world, end war and find your lost puppy." (He used a lot more words.)
Chairman Markey - "That sounds really cool, but can't bad adults go after kids?"
Rosedale - "No because we encourage the community to police itself."
Bart Stupak - "You keep records, have you ever had a sting operation"
Rosedale - "No, we never thought we had to."
Jane Harman - "I read this article in the Sunday Times that said there are terrorists in there."
Rosedale - "We've never seen them."
Colin Parris, Vice President for digital convergence at IBM research - "Anything you do in the real world can be done in the virtual world - without all that bio disturbance." (I added the last part).
Susan Tenby, Online Community Manager for TechSoup - "Non profits can operate in Second Life."
Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium - "Second Life is an american virtual world, and there a whole bunch of competitors out there, some are not Americans. Congress must act to make sure the American virtual world is dominant, we are falling behind - remember Sputnik?" (again, I added the last part).
Harman - "Thank you kids for coming out. Chairman Markey, we know you only did this find out how to get to level 7 in World of Warcraft." (I did not add that, or the her quip about 2% experience.)
The whole things is kind of disappointing. They started with the assumption there is no compelling need for Congressional hearings on virtual worlds. The opening statement said there is no reason for Congress to get involved. But if you are going to have hearings, do some homework and talk about real issues. What about the people who lost money in the bank meltdown? What about the sale of "real estate" interests? Please don't treat it is a photo op. It seems Representative Harman was not far off when she said Chairman Markey was looking for experience points. This was a great opportunity for these folks to get on TV and look like they are in touch with today's kids. For those not in the know, it looks like it. For those who know a bit about what is going on, it only showed how sadly out of touch they really are. For those of us in the game business, not only were we virtually ignored in the study of virtual worlds, the industry was treated as a sideshow exhibit.