Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom, also known as VMK, was a free multiplayer online community run by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Online. It was created and operated as a virtual representation of both the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom theme parks, containing areas and mini-games which were based on real park scenery and attractions. VMK was launched as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth promotional campaign to commemorated fifty years of Disney theme parks back in 2005. As it was targeted to kids aged 8-14, it’s conceivable that many don’t remember a world before it.
Let’s not hide behind the word “virtual”. Connections made in online communities are real. When considering the totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns – arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work, thought and emotion – we are well beyond the basic definitions of community and entering the realm of culture. Although Disney owned the virtual-estate, do they have the ethical right to disintegrate the culture within?
As online communities continue to aid and develop human connections, do we need to start considering the ethical responsibilities of the platform controllers to maintain these cultures? Should these cultures have the right to exist free from the possibility of complete annihilation? As these communities continue to blur the line between what is real and what is virtual, will we need to consider ethical guidelines or laws that resemble the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide for virtual cultures? Should we begin to draft a Declaration for Avatar Rights?
With deepest respect to the inconceivable suffering of those persecuted for their culture, ethnicity or religion, I am not trying to downplay the horror of genocide. I ask you to consider this hypothetical connection: What would you do if your community, all your friends, your combined wealth and creative expressions were simply deleted by a corporation or a government last night? Should we allow the word “virtual” to be the shelter for a platform controller’s ethical responsibilities even if no one gets physically hurt?
Captured before closure:
“My favorite web site, Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK) is closing May 21st. I’m sad and MAD! I can’t live without my friends on VMK. PLEASE sign my guestbook like a petition to SAVE VMK for me and my friends. Pass my site on to everyone you know so they can help too. I love VMK cause I can WALK, TALK, EAT, DANCE, SHOP and play checkers all by myself.
PLEASE HELP ME!
p.s. VMK is GERM FREE too!
p.s.s. and no one stares at me there”
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