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Online Games—The New Stalker's Ground

We're seeing an alarming trend in cases connected to online games being used as a playground for cyber stalkers, pedophiles, and other forms of cyber crime. Here are a few interesting cases:

  • A 31-year-old Australian woman was arrested when she traveled to North Carolina to lure a 16-year-old boy she encountered playing World of Warcraft.
  • A 26-year-old Florida resident is under investigation for allegedly coaxing a 15-year-old girl he played World of Warcraft with to run away with him.
  • In China, a Legend of Mir 3 player is spending the rest of his life behind bars for fatally stabbing another for the "theft" of a virtual sword.

Online gaming has evolved considerably in the last few years, from static games where a player competed against the computer, to "virtual communities" in which one player is virtually pitted against another.

Popular online games such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Halo are known as massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs. They allow players to interact and chat with each other in real time.

Players adopt virtual personas in the form of characters or "avatars" when playing. Unlike social networking sites where participants might try to be polite, these gaming sites pit player against player in a highly competitive, and often "virtually violent" atmosphere. Because they include socialization opportunities via web chats and instant messaging, they also provide fertile ground for pedophiles.

Just recently, a 20-year-old man from Saratoga Springs, New York, was arrested for allegedly stalking a 15-year-old girl he met while playing the online game Halo. This man drove 40 hours from New York to Spokane, Washington, a trip of almost 2,600 miles, to meet her and then sent her a threatening text message when she rejected him. The girl's parents watched the man drive by their house, noted his license plate, and called the police. His case is pending.

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