In the beginning, Adam and Eve in habited a paradisaical garden free of consequences where death was just a transient and meaningless condition... until Adam reported Eve for violating God's Terms of Service, and they were both banned from the garden. In my final paper, I would like to explore virtual worlds—worlds in which death is only temporary—and the ways in which death must be reinvented to exert control over immortal avatars. Galloway notes, citing Foucault, that within new control societies, “The old power of death that symbolized sovereign power was now carefully supplanted by the administration of bodies and the calculated management of life” (13). I would like to examine how this analysis extends into virtual worlds, and how these virtual worlds might in turn serve to better illuminate the machinery of governance at work in control society.
At stake here are the questions of from where does death derive its influence? Of what worth is a virtual life? How does one kill a username? How does justice change in the presence of the all-seeing eye of the database query? Does one live differently knowing that death is always “just”? How do interactions with administrators resemble rituals of prayer? And finally, how can virtual death collapse the locality of the avatar and the globality of the user's real identity to have real consequences for the player.
I will start by applying Stephenson's observations on virtual death to several examples of virtual death drawn from the MMORPGs Runescape and World of Warcraft, as well as from Second Life. To further explore this topic, I intend to engage Boyd's article on social networks and Lee and LiPuma's article on circulation to understand just how a virtual self becomes invested with real worth. I will then use Galloway's protocol and perhaps either the Appadurai or the Terranova to examine the nature of these e-societies, or e-scapes, and how administrative control operates. Finally, I will try to use the Rafael to unpack the concept of justice and analyze the control over virtual life and death through this lens. I hope to be able to use this paper to explore life and death in these virtual worlds, and perhaps through this investigation draw conclusions about that virtual world we call our own.