Thursday, October 30, 2008

Virtual Crime

by Joyce

I should probably quit reading newspapers, but then I’d never have any blog topics. I read an article last week that stated a woman in Japan was arrested for virtually killing her husband. She didn’t kill her real husband, she killed his online gaming personality. My first thought was, huh? I read further and found out that she was arrested for illegally accessing the man’s computer and stealing his password. Wait—it gets better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). They weren’t married in real life—only in the game. When her virtual husband divorced her virtual self, she killed him.

This just sounds so bizarre to me. I know there are all kinds of virtual gaming sites out there, but I didn’t realize people took it so seriously. I did some more research and found out that there’s a game called Second Life which has over six million registered users. Real businesses are even getting involved. IBM has set up a virtual office. Reuters has opened a virtual agency, and former presidential candidate John Edwards even had a virtual campaign headquarters.

Not too long ago, police in Belgium investigated a virtual rape that allegedly occurred in the game. Police in Germany investigated an incident where a virtual adult had sex with a virtual child. Although no real act took place, the incident violated Germany’s child pornography laws. Although these are virtual crimes, players take the events so seriously that they are suffering from real trauma. One woman whose character was attacked in the virtual world suffered from real life post traumatic stress disorder.

Crimes such as theft are more common. Virtual thieves are making off with virtual money and property. On occasion, real crimes such as stealing credit card or social security numbers occur and authorities take these very seriously. The FBI has been called on several occasions (they’ve even created their own characters and checked out the site).

This all made me wonder if this virtual world is really any different than the worlds we create in our books. Haven’t we all heard of readers who take books so seriously they believe the characters are real? That’s our goal, isn’t it—to create virtual worlds for readers to enter to escape from real life for awhile?

What do you think of these virtual games? Have you ever played one? Or do you prefer your virtual world in the pages of a book?


Annette said...

What a lovely practice ground for REAL criminals to hone their skills. Sheesh.

The closest I come to any of those virtual games is my Lil Green Patch virtual garden at Facebook. And if I spent as much time tending to my REAL one as I do to goofing off in the virtual one, the real one wouldn't look so pitiful.

Which leads me to wonder if these people who hang out in their virtual worlds have a REAL life? Or do they desperately need to get one?

Joyce said...

Some of these people probably aren't happy with their real lives. Making a new one in the virtual world is easier than trying to change their real one.

nancy said...

Joyce, you snagged one of my future blog topics! Rats! I think this is hilarious---and a very interesting development in the way human beings interact.

Why not kill off the virtual husband? Better to do it in "game life" than real life!

Joyce said...

Killing someone virtually isn't all that different than when writers kill off someone they don't like in their books. Or is it?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

There you go Joyce. As writers, we live in a virtual world a good portion of the time. In fact we try to drag innocent readers into our bizzarre virtual world and hope they get immersed in it.

I think there will always be willing subjects to go for a ride and take something much more seriously than they should.

For those that take it to the extremes like in your blog? Well, I just sit at my keyboard and shake my head.

Dana King said...

The former CEO of my small consulting company was pushing for us to get involved with Second Life. That was over a year ago, nothign came of it, and we still tell jokes about it. And we're an IT company.

My thoughts about people who spend too much time in virtual lives is that they should spend even more time there. As much as possible. Minimizes their chances to reproduce.

Gina said...

I have only one question. Do virtual criminals go to virtual prison?

Wilfred Bereswill said...

The case of Megan Meier, here in St. Louis, was the victim of internet bullying. She was a 13 year old girl that was victimized when the mother of another girl in the neighborhood created a MySpace Account and posed as a 16 year old boy. This "boy" befriended Megan and then started writing cruel things about her, driving her to suicide.

At first, there appeared to be no laws covering internet bullying. But I've heard that this case may go to jail. If she's found guilty, I sincerely hope this supposed Adult woman goes to jail and not a virtual one.

One link to the story is here.

Annette said...

I was just checking comments and choked on my coffee when I read Dana's.

Joyce said...

That mother--and I use that term loosely--should be held accountable in some way. At the very least they should be able to charge her with harassment. She was definitely harassing that poor girl.

Joyce said...

Yeah, I think Dana pretty much summed up what I was thinking.

Joyce said...

Gina, my guess would be yes.

R.J. Mangahas said...

Um...yeah. Not healthy people. I've read about instances where parents were arrested for child abuse because they negleted to care for their infant. The reason: They were too busy in their virtual worlds.

Will, I think cyber bullying is a lot different than those peole who just spend WAAAYYY too much time in their virtual worlds.

kathie said...

Hi Joyce,
I'm not really a fan of this kind of virtual stuff. I know there's tremendous value in some of it, but something seems so different about the stuff you described here. I do wonder if writing books is a similar exercise--creating and nearly living in alternate worlds--but, wow, this stuff...perhaps is my small mind or old fashioned attitude. Great post and don't quit reading those papers.

Mack said...

SecondLife is dominated by sex and role playing but there is a bit more to it than that. There are efforts to provide educational and cultural centers. Some authors have made appearances. Michelle Gagnon, for example, has made one appearances to share her experiences as a writer and another is planned to discuss her book Bone Yard at a virtual book club.

There are also a large number of academics and librarians of all sorts who want to see if a virtual world can be used to educate and inform. Certainly there are problems using SecondLife this way, one of the main ones being technical - a fairly hefty computer is needed to run the graphics. However, there are very interesting opportunities to bring people together from all over the world. I once participated in a book discussion where the leader was in Brazil.

I'm not an apologist or spokesperson for SecondLife. There is much about it I feel is silly. But it does have real potential and is not populated entirely by losers without a real life.