Virtual Crime = Real Prison Time?

Master Chief leads the LAPD on one of the slowest chases since the white Bronco incident.

Master Chief leads the LAPD on one of the slowest chases since the white Bronco incident.

Defendant found guilty in the wrongful death suit filed by remaining members of the Flood.

After a long deliberation, the judge at the Chief v. Flood trial stated, “I am supposed to be impartial, but you disgust me Mr. Chief.  I hope the surviving members of the Flood can find a nice world to settle and I pray they find peace away from your atrocious acts.”  Mr. Chief declined comment.

What you have just read is not real.  However, what you do in an online game could lead to something similar.  No, not the destruction of a bulbous pile of squirming chaos, but the choices you make could lead to possible jail time.

There was a recent Associated Press article that makes us ask the question, “When does a game turn into a real life criminal offense?”  A woman playing “Maple Story” used another character’s identification and password to commit virtmur (virtual murder; let’s be proactive and create some new phrases.  Anyone with a better or alternate phrase can post them in the comments.  As gamers, let’s plant our flag on the subject of linguistics).  According to the article, she logged in using his account information and killed his character because he divorced her character in the game.  I know this is convoluted and confusing, but let’s break it down:

  • Two (2) virtual characters meet at a virtual bar in generic virtual earth city (true virtual drunken love; how sweet it is).
  • They fall in virtual love and get virtually married (virtual marriage is defined as a virtual male and a virtual female according to the state of California.  No offense to our CA readers, but your state kind of lost its political relevance when you elected the Terminator).
  • Virtual male wakes up and realizes virtual female is virtually (and realistically) insane and virtually divorces her (don’t let the virtual door hit you on the virtual ass).
  • Female freaks out in real (non virtual) world and hacks into male’s non virtual virtual (real?) account  and commits virtucide (sorry, that’s all I got).

Now, if convicted in reality court, she faces up to 5 years prison time and a $5,000.00 fine.

First off, I want to go on record as never understanding why people’s virtual versions get married in the interverse (internet universe; can you top that?).  It was even creepy when there were only text command games that had no graphics in the early versions of internet gaming (there are two doors: one to the north and one to the east.  Which one do you choose?  E-A-S-T.  East door opens, and you realize you are letting life pour down the drain).

Kickin' it like it's 1995.

Kickin' it like it's 1995.

While even virtual love can make you crazy (wait, can the mind separate between virtual and emotional love when it comes to interacting with another person/character?), there are laws against hacking, which can be something as simple as logging into your friend’s email without his/her permission.  In those respects, most of us have the potential to be amateur hackers (use that as a pickup line this weekend, and let me know if it works).  All it takes is knowing someone’s password.

As most of us are primarily console gamers, we are currently safe from the chaos that is computer gaming.  However, if things continue to go in the direction they are currently, we’ll eventually have to worry.  As computer games grow into a virtual business world (see Second Life), government is not far behind.  If you design virtual clothes that you sell for real cash in an online world/game (well, not cash since we are transitioning into a cashless society.  Money, credits, beads or possibly rubles are probably better terms to use), you have to bet that the IRS isn’t far behind.  Granted, the governments of the real world are relatively far behind in regards to laws governing the internet and games played online.  We can only hope they continue to leave us alone, but all it takes is a few high profile virtual crimes for it all to come crashing down on us, the innocent gamers.

Not a terrorist.

Not a terrorist.

In the real world, the most overused word seems to be terrorism.  Sometimes it is used correctly, but most of the time it is used by design to elicit a psychological response.  Now that we have cyber terrorism (cyberism?), let’s take a look at a commonly used gaming statement and extrapolate the consequences on three different platforms.  For those agents scouring the internet for terrorists, this is just a fictional scenario used for educational purposes only.

  • Hypothetically speaking, if I send you an email that says that I am going to kill you, it is accepted that I mean you and I can go to jail for death threats (actual terror caused).
  • If I say the same thing while playing around in Second Life (or some other similar game), the target is uncertain, thus it may or may not be a threat, and if it is, it is muddled and hard to prove (possible terror caused).
  • Finally, if I say it while playing any online shooter on the 360 or PS3, it is accepted that I mean the character, and no one takes offense (terror averted, because there was no terror, unless you were playing with a politician or lobbyist).

The main difference between all of these events is the emotional investment of the actual person involved (read Travi’s Violence Across the Uncanny Valley; pay special attention to the “Feelies” part towards the end).  Obviously, if you open your email and see a death threat directed at you, you are definitely really emotionally invested in your continued existence.  A Second Life player also has a growing amount of emotional investment proportional to the amount of time put into the game (hours played divided by 24 = emotional investment, with 1 being ridiculously invested).  However in a shooter game, you just respawn and talk more trash.  No big deal.  But as everything continues to evolve, laws will be made by people who don’t totally grasp the nuances of gaming.  If laws are made for an online computer game, they may end up being used by the judicial system as a precedent if a lawsuit is filed involving a console game.  This wouldn’t make sense to gamers because we understand the nuances of console gaming, but the world is run by people that don’t understand much of anything.

I see the potential of gaming as a common ground of our generation.  I know you may argue against this on many different grounds (male gamers outnumber female gamers by, well, a lot; console gaming vs. computer gaming; quarter of the world is given an AK-47 for their 13th birthday instead of an Xbox 360; etc.).  However, for us, it’s the one place you don’t have to be politically correct and you can just exist without worrying about anything.  Yes, I know there are a few racist little bastards running their mouths online that can ruin the experience, but for the most part, we get together, blow off some steam by killing our friends’ virtual counterparts, and go on our way.  I don’t want that to change, but all good things come to an end.  The question is, how will we respond and react when we see the beginning of government intervention (or intrusion) into our houses by way of our gaming consoles?

Post your ideas, because we really like to know what you think, and if anyone has any additions to the new linguistics of virtual murder, post them here as well!  Just do me a favor: the next time you talk about the internet with anyone, please call it the interverse and see how they react.

As always, long live the gamers!

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