Greg Lastowka died last night, much too young, after a long and difficult struggle with a rare and aggressive throat cancer. Greg was a law professor at Rutgers-Camden, the world’s leading legal academic authority on virtual worlds and online games, and a friend. He will be missed.
I discovered Greg’s work the way a great many people did: through his groundbreaking 2004 article with Dan Hunter, The Laws of the Virtual Worlds. It gave the first in-depth treatment of virtual worlds in the legal literature, and it posed fundamental questions about how property and governance ought to work online. When it hit SSRN, I had just competed a long and sprawling paper on law in virtual worlds, and my first reaction – after the sinking sense of being preempted – was to wonder just who it was who had beaten me to the punch.
The answer, it turned out, was a modest, generous, and thoughtful young law professor who was more interested in being part of a thriving academic community than in building a superstar’s reputation for himself. Greg, I came to learn, was a loving husband and father, a former Peace Corps volunteer who had served in Turkmenistan, and a dedicated public servant who took on the most unbelievably thankless tasks that university administrations can slough off onto their faculty. He was a booster of good scholarship wherever it could be found, a low-key and patient institution-builder, and a calming presence in contentious debates. Greg was a mensch.
He was a generation ahead of me in the academy, and he was one of my favorite people to see at conferences. We wrote on overlapping topics and he was helpful and encouraging to me on many occasions, something that matters a lot when you are just setting out in the academy. One of the great satisfactions of my first few years of teaching was to give a reader’s report enthusiastically advising Yale University Press to publish his book, Virtual Justice. Greg built a professional and personal identity for himself that struck me as very much worth emulating. At work, he studied amateur creativity in Minecraft; at home, he played Minecraft with his son the precocious programmer.
His illness was a bolt from the blue. It came on quickly and awfully, and gave him no good options. He tried experimental therapy, but he also – from what I could see – made his peace. He spent his final year with his family, whom I have never met but feel almost like I know through Greg’s wonderful stories. And he connected with his friends and colleagues, old and new. He was a gentleman to the last.
Good bye, Greg. Thank you for logging in and playing awhile with us.