A scene from RuneScape, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game. Source: RuneScape.
It was only a game — played in the vast virtual world online called RuneScape. But according to a Dutch court, a 13-year-old boy suffered a very real beating because he picked up an amulet and mask while playing, and some other teenage players wanted what he had.
The Dutch Supreme Court, AP reports today, has upheld the conviction of a teenager who, with an accomplice, attacked the boy and threatened him with a knife until he finally agreed to log on and “drop” his virtual winnings. Then his tormentors could pick them up and advance in the game.
The assault happened in 2007, and the two attackers were originally convicted in 2009. Their names have been withheld because were were juveniles. One of them appealed. He has now been sentenced to 144 hours of community service.
The defendant’s lawyers argued he wasn’t trying to steal anything real; the amulet and mask “were neither tangible nor material and, unlike for example electricity, had no economic value.” In similar cases in the past, courts have not been able to agree whether make-believe winnings in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (RPGs for short) are covered by real-world laws.
But RuneScape has 10 million active players who are reported to log on regularly. The Dutch court ruled that the victim’s fantasy winnings had intrinsic value because of “the time and energy he invested” in winning them.
RuneScape takes place in the medieval realm of Gielinor, a world with kingdoms and cities through which players can run or sail or teleport. It is published and marketed by the British firm Jagex Ltd. Guinness World Records has called it the world’s most popular free RPG. To those who have spent countless hours playing, it is more than a game.