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Oct 23 2008   6:23PM GMT

Ripped from the headlines: Avatar abuse

badarrow Barbara Darrow Profile: badarrow

By Elaine Hom, Associate Features Editor

Imagine going to jail for a murder you didn’t commit.

Sounds like The Shawshank Redemption, doesn’t it? I’ll bet it’s all too familiar for the woman — who was recently jailed for murdering her husband. Not her real husband, mind you. Her virtual husband.

Confused? The husband divorced his wife without warning –  not in the real world, but within the online realm of Maple Story, a popular virtual world (I wonder what kind of honeymoon one goes on in a virtual marriage…?). Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, especially a virtual woman with the power of a password at her fingertips. She logged into her husband’s Maple Story account and killed his avatar. He went to the police and she ended up in the big house.

It boggles the mind how seriously people take this avatar business. When major companies like IBM encourage their partners to take part in Second Life (SL) by creating a partners-only “island,”, all I see is a transparent attempt to gain points for being “hip” and “with it.” Don’t get me wrong, online video games are great. MMORPGs are insanely popular. But trying to legitimize it by saying that it’s for business purposes?

In reality (that’s the key word, really — REALITY), no one in their right mind uses avatars for business. I’ll admit that it’s a great chance for partners to “meet” other partners in scheduled events. Cisco’s version was more of a virtual trade show than a SL-type virtual world and I can see how that worked. But who’s going to take anyone seriously negotiating contracts or having (no pun intended) animated business discussions when it’s through a cartoon doppelganger? If this is the future of business, count me out. And if arresting people for killing other people’s avatars is the future of police work, then NBC’s Law and Order is going to get really boring.

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