A UK government minister made a virtual pledge to police virtual worlds this week, as the problems of the real world are increasingly reflected in the likes of Second Life.
Lord Triesman, talking at the Virtual Worlds Forum in London, flagged up a number of "causes for concern" that would need government input to control. The list was a familiar one, featuring child pornography, ID fraud, money laundering, and copyright infringement.
Triesman, who looks after intellectual property at the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, also mentioned that New Labour bugbear, anti-social behaviour, surely a sign that the virtual ASBO is on its way to disperse rowdy avatars planning to picket UK.gov's virtual embassy in Second Life, for example.
The good lord was apparently rather short on detail of any planned legislation, but also said he hoped the operators of virtual worlds themselves would initially take the lead with self-regulation. We all know how good industry is at policing itself, of course.
Triesman's approach might not go down quite so well with film bigwig Lord David Puttnam, who warned the conference about the dangers of too much commercialisation of virtual worlds aimed at children.
Puttnam, the man who pulled Chariots of Fire on to our screens all those years ago, raised concerns that virtual worlds from the likes of toymakers are largely about teaching children to be good consumers, rather than instilling any broader set of values. Puttnam also said that operators needed to take the idea of virtual world addiction more seriously, and echoed Triesman in flagging up the problems of virtual crime.
It wasn't all bad from Puttnam's point of view, though. He said broadcasters needed to engage more with virtual worlds, pointing out how they were a more active medium than TV or radio. To date, TV's efforts to introduce interactivity had "crashed and burned" he said. ®