In a growing trend, a man was arrested in Japan for allegedly robbing people and selling their possessions--online. The Chinese exchange student reportedly used unbeatable bots in the game Lineage II to beat up and rob other players' characters. He then allegedly auctioned off the items online, turning his virtual stash into real-life cash. While most in the blogosphere condemn the act, few can hold back a chuckle at the thought of a virtual thug robbing distraught players of their "Earring of Wisdom" or "Shield of Nightmare."
Online crime--such as e-mail scams and theft of financial data--is nothing new. But theft of virtual goods is still an odd concept to grasp and has led to much what-kind-of-world-do-we-live-in commentary among bloggers. However, incidents like the Lineage II arrest are becoming much more commonplace, as enterprising crooks find new ways to make a profit in the relatively uncharted territory of the online world. As players have begun spending real-life money on virtual property, criminals see an untapped reserve of potential victims.
As players spend their own money and long amounts of time acquiring character experience and virtual goods, they face sometimes serious real-world losses. And there may not be an easy fix to the problem. Blizzard, the maker of popular online game "World of Warcraft" recently met with a flurry of criticism for scanning players' computers to detect cheat software that allows just this sort of bot to run in its game. So while there is an outcry for game publishers to eradicate cheating bots from online games, players largely bristle at the thought of giving up their personal privacy for the cause.
But as real as the crime may be, there is more head shaking than outrage circulating in the blogosphere. More than a few bloggers have pointed out the irony of a presumed computer nerd turning the tables and playing the role of a virtual schoolyard bully.
Blog community response:
"As if MMO geeks didn't get enough grief from normal people in their lives, now they have to worry about virtual pickpockets and thugs."
--the daily bj
"I regularly say that every form of theft and fraud in the real world will eventually be duplicated in cyberspace. Perhaps every method of stealing real money will eventually be used to steal imaginary money, too."
--Schneier on Security
"The thing I don't get is WTF was he charged with when he was arrested? It seems incredibly stupid to me to arrest someone for what he did in a video game! It's a game people!!! We don't see kids being arrested for fragging other players in Halo, or shooting cops in Grand Theft Auto, so why did this man get arrested for stealing something that doesn't even exist?"
"Maybe this will turn the tide on who is bullying who. It might be the small scrawny smart kid who rules the virtual playgrounds of the future."
--The Dry Martini