When the virtual world spills over

By Cory Gaskins

In recent global news, there have been four reported cases of crime that were Internet-related. This posits the question, “how is the real-life human interaction being affected by the Internet?”

On October 6, police filed charges against a 21-year-old male chef from Kanagawa prefecture in Japan, for illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data in order to “kidnap” characters used by a 20-year-old office worker in Kitaibaraki City. According to the investigation, he used the office worker’s password and ID in order to illegally access Japan’s largest ‘Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game’ (MMORPG), a type of computer role-playing game, called “Ragnarok Online.” The 21-year-old took control of four of his colleagues characters and then transferred them to his own game account before deleting them.. The chef has been quoted as saying, “I wanted his characters. We got into a spat, and I wanted to get back at him.”

On October 18, a British man was sentenced to life after he murdered his wife because of her profile on the social networking website, Facebook. In February, the 34-year-old truck driver separated from his wife. A few days later, he noticed that she had changed her relationship status on her Facebook profile from “married” to “single.” He then returned to his house to murder his wife. He told the police that he felt “humiliated” and “devastated” to find out his spouse had changed her profile status just four days after they split, when they have been together for 15 years.

On October 22, two boys aged 14 and 15 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, were found guilty of stealing virtual items from a classmate. The boys kicked and hit their victim, and threatened him with a knife until he transferred a virtual amulet and mask to them while playing another computer role-playing game called “Runescape.” The boys were sentenced to 160 hours and 200 hours of community service, respectively. Under the Dutch law, virtual possessions are regarded as an individual’s possessions, and this case was therefore considered as theft.

Just a day after, on October 24, a 43-year-old woman from Miyazaki city was arrested for “killing” her virtual husband, because she was enraged from the sudden “divorce.” The woman was married to a 33-year-old man within the online gaming site “Maple Street,” but later divorced from her electronic husband. She later used his ID and password to illegally access and manipulate the data in order to “kill” the husband’s online persona. She stated that the man had given her his ID so that she could play and develop his character. She claimed that was the reason why she plotted revenge when the man decided to split from her without any talks.

One of the merits of online role-playing games and social networking sites are that they let users access others from different parts of the world. It is easy to suggest removing “marriage” systems and items from online games, but that is an extreme example of a possible solution to the problem. As the online world increasingly affect the lives of people in the real world, there is a growing need to address how we can prevent similar cases from happening in the future, as well as plan for when the virtual one affects people’s real-life interaction.

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