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Dec-20-2007 11:00printcomments

Logic Fleeting in Online Gaming Safety Debate

Fox Newstainment misapplies random occurrences in attacks against online games.

Woman at computer

(SALEM, Ore.) - In comments have I made regarding other articles here on as well as in another article of my own I have pointed out how anti-game zealots like the self-promoting whackjob Jack Thompson, referred to only as "smackywhack" by some like GU Comics creator Woody Hearns who refuses to refer to him in any other way if at all, and others make unfounded accusations against games (and gamers) in general.

Well (and does this surprise anyone really?) Fox News has entered the fear-mongering fray.

I do not know if they have done so on any of their newstainment or 'rock 'em sock 'em pundits' shows but on their website at posted Monday, December 10, 2007 by Catherine Donaldson-Evans they open fire in their standard slanted sensationalistic 'both barrels; (fear-mongering and sophistry) method against online games and gamers ('fair and balanced' my first latrine!).

The author, Ms Donaldson-Evans, alludes to 'several high profile cases' (and who had a lot to do with them being 'high profile cases' in the first place? Yup! Fox Newstainment!) and how these few cases (out of tens of millions of gamers worldwide) have so-called 'experts' describing the online games as 'breeding grounds for criminal minds'.

I'm sorry, but if it were not so serious these lies and misrepresentations would be funny... something one might expect to read on the parody site The Onion

These games do not 'breed' any psychosis. Any psychosis evidenced by any players were brought into the game by those players. That much is painfully obvious to any sane and intelligent person who looks at all the facts.

Here are the cases they mention:

==> A 2-year-old girl nicknamed "Baby Grace" by detectives was found dead in October in a locked box in Texas — allegedly the victim of a beating murder at the hands of her stepfather and teenaged mother, who met playing the online fantasy game "World of Warcraft."

OK... so some abusive parents play World of Warcraft. With over 8 million players worldwide I am certain there are many. What escapes me is where in World of Warcraft, which I play, does it order you to kill your young child and lock the corpse in a box. Absolutely nowhere, that's where. And even if it did tell them to do so in the game it was these lunatic psychopaths who chose to actually do it. Again, the blame here lies completely with the parents... what does World of Warcraft have to do with it aside from the fact they played the game? Likely they both drank water, watched TV, have sex, etc. Why not blame those activities?

==> A 31-year-old Australian woman named Tamara Broome was nabbed in June when she traveled to North Carolina to lure a 16-year-old boy she encountered playing the same popular Internet game.

OK, a pedophile predator uses the game to locate her victim. Again what does this have to do with the game specifically? It was the medium she used, that is all. Just like if she used the postal service, would that have justified an indictment of the postal service being a 'breeding ground' for deviants? Or would the more accurate, though less sensational, claim be that the deviants sometimes utilize the postal service?

==> Twenty-six-year-old Florida resident Daniel Lenz is also under investigation for allegedly coaxing a 15-year-old girl he played "World of Warcraft" with to run away with him.

Exactly the same argument as made above regarding the Tamara Broome case.

==> In China, a "Legend of Mir III" player is spending the rest of his life behind bars for fatally stabbing another for the "theft" of a virtual sword.

I do not play "Legend of Mir III" but virtual stuff does have value to the possessor. No matter how many arguments one tries to make that it is not a real thing in point of fact a real person, through the game, can and does utilize the item and usually desired items are very hard won in the game so a theft of such will cause ire. And if the victim of the theft discovers who in real life (IRL in game terms) committed the offense they might want to take action. Unfortunately the laws of the real world have, for the most part, failed to keep up with technology so you cannot charge them in the real world with theft... and unfortunately most game companies consider all items in the games 'theirs' so they do not consider there to be an actionable situation so the wronged player gets no satisfaction there. (I can understand the position of the game company - if they step in almost anywhere they would be expected to step in everywhere and 90% of their business would dealing with such petty squabbles).

But this leaves the wronged person with three options.

1) Do nothing. Chalk it up to experience and that there are jerks in the world and do what you can in the future to protect yourself. This is what the vast majority do.

2) Wage your war of vengeance in the game itself. Poison the reputation of the offender, etc. In PVP (Player vs Player) games mercilessly attack the person. Problem with this option is it usually poisons your own rep more than that of the offender. You are seen as whiny, unhinged, etc and are told over and over it is just a game and to get over the wrong and get a life. Wrong as those statements may seem there is wisdom in the words. Plus their character or group of friends in the game might completely outclass you which makes any attacks against them of a non-verbal sort in game ineffectual at best anyway. (which may well be why you were targeted in the first place... easy picking of low hanging fruit.) My personal advice would be for option number 1.

3) (what happened in this isolated case) The thief of the item forgot to remember that if you do not know who you are messing with you could be messing with a psychopath who has no compunction against killing anyone who slights them. And that is exactly what happened. It is like flipping off the person who cuts you off while you are driving to work or who 'steals' 'your' parking place at the mall. You never know if they will be the one in a million who will pull out their Glock semi-automatic and flip you off in return 'their way'.

I in no way excuse or accept as reasonable such responses but the fact remains such folks exist in the world. It has nothing to do with the game. If you ran over some psychopath's cat they might kill you for it. This does not mean owning cats 'breeds' being a psychopath. (and I am sure some 'experts' somewhere will try and make that claim')

One of their so-called 'experts', alleged cyber-stalking victim Jayne Hitchcock, president of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), makes the claim that games are at fault because they "can foster more vulnerability than there might be on other virtual meeting spaces such as dating and social networking sites".

Hogwash! The games always warn you to be aware of unscrupulous folks and to protect yourself accordingly... especially they warn you to NEVER give out account information, credit card information or any other personal information unless you are sure about who you are dealing with, and even then to do so warily. But they can only hold your hand and protect you from your own stupidity so much.

Their next so-called 'expert' is University of Baltimore criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross who claims that the anonymity of the games brings folks to be more trusting of others. Why in the world would it do THAT? If they are just as anonymous as you why in the would would that make you trust them more? And so long as you are not a complete moron handing out your real info to anyone and everyone you meet what difference does it make to you in real life since if you keep your personal info secure they don't know who you are. As for getting ripped off in games that gets back to my earlier pointing out that the game companies warn you to be aware that there are jerks in the world and to protect yourself, in game and out, accordingly.

Next on their hit parade of ludicrous so-called 'experts' is Robert McCrie, a professor in the law and police science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. This 'genius' claims the competitiveness and aggression inherent in some aspects of the games brings out belligerence in real world interactions. A pity for him that there is no credible data to support his hypothesis. He tries to caveat himself by adding " especially within those who become addicted to what they're playing" but again, as I've pointed out in other articles and comments, games are not 'addictive'... sure there are weak-willed folks with character flaws who can become psychologically obsessed with games or just about anything. But to blame the object of their irrational obsession for their irrational obsession or what an irrationally obsessed person might do is inherently unreasonable in my opinion.

What ever happened to the concept of personal responsibility in our current society where The Blame Game seems to reign supreme? And why shouldn't it reign supreme with so many so-called 'experts' promoting the concept, hmmm?

The article then gives about four paragraphs to 'the opposing side' not listing anyone specifically, who say what has gone before in the article is bunk (which it is) because players are 'more intelligent and savvy' than the norm (I do not necessarily agree with this as I've played with and met many that those two terms will NEVER accurately refer to) and that the vast majority in the game are there to have fun, overcome the challenges in the game, etc... not to prey on the unsuspecting, naive and over trusting. In that they have a point. A pity they did not give their most legitimate point in the article the same weight as the other claims by attributing some so-called expert to having said it instead of just some amorphous random 'others'.

They do come up with Michael Goodman, a director at digital entertainment research firm Yankee Group who is quoted "I would argue that it is a little more difficult to mislead. You know coming in that the person is not who that character is. You know the person on the other side is not an elf." A pretty milquetoast defense of games and gamers considering the histrionic hyperbole and unbridled sensationalism the article has given the anti-game(r) side so far.

The article then goes into that since there are some 30 million online gamers there is a greater potential for real world interaction. But the same arguments can be made regarding almost anything including Facebook and MySpace. And like them there is nothing that should cause a sane reasonable person to turn off their personal safety protocols. There are just some folks who never use personal safety protocols and the larger the group the more likely it contains some of these clueless victim wannabes. That is hardly the fault of the medium, regardless of what it is. It is the fault primarily of the predatory perpetrator with contributory negligence on the part of the clueless victim wannabe. The laws cannot protect stupid people from their own stupidity. And blaming 100% of the games/gamers for the actions of less than 0.001% of players or the stupidity or naivete` of the other 10% or more is wrong from the very start.

Put the blame where it belongs and leave everyone else alone.

The article quotes Sony Online Entertainment, the company that brings EverQuest and other games to the market, that about 20 couples who met in the game have married... out of millions who have played. A whole whopping 20. And another 20 couples from Anarchy Online, another game according to its Norway-based creator, Funcom NV. Whoopee! Can anyone say 'statistically insignificant"? I knew at least some of you could.

The article then jumps back to the "Baby Grace," case whose real name was Riley Ann Sawyers, her mother Kimberly Dawn Trenor met second husband Royce Clyde Zeigler II playing "World of Warcraft."

But other than the fact the couple met playing World of Warcraft there is nothing to do with the game that has been shown to be relevant in any credible way in the abuse and death of the child. It is like when Kliebold and Harris did their attack on Columbine in Colorado all the relevant factors were ignored. All many focused on for quite a while was they had played the game Doom. Then again out of ten million or more who had done so they were the only ones to shoot up their school. But that little nugget kept getting glossed over, ignored or swept under the rhetorical rug. Same thing here.

In the 2005 Chinese murder of "Legend of Mir III", as reported in the article, player Zhu Caoyuan by teammate Qui Chengwei happened after Zhu's game character sold a virtual sword loaned to him by Qui to another player.

Qui went to police about the "theft," but his reports were ignored because no real weapon was stolen. An enraged Qui broke into Zhu's home and fatally stabbed him in the chest with an actual knife.

This was clearly a case of an unhinged individual who would have clearly done something similar eventually regarding something else. However in this case he did go to the cops first. Had the cops been able, through up to date tech laws, to deal with the issue it might not have escalated into murder, but it still would have done nothing regarding the homicidal tendencies of Qui Chengwei. No anti-gaming or anti-gamer law ever will.

The article then goes on to mention "In 2005, the baby of a South Korean couple suffocated when they left the child alone to play "Warcraft" at an Internet cafe. A Wisconsin boy named Shawn Woolley died in 2002 of an apparent suicide in front of his computer because he was rejected by a fellow "EverQuest" player.". Again cases of personal irresponsibility having nothing to do with the game involved. Anyone who will let their child suffocate or who will kill themselves over a game had severe mental and personal issues before they ever came across the game. The only thing the game provides them with is their Blame Game excuse attempt.

The article then drags in the Megan Meier case from Missouri where adult neighbor mother Lori Drew, through concerted effort, harassed and psychologically attacked a 13-year old girl through MySpace to the point that the girl committed suicide. But again MySpace was merely the medium. In this case the adult, in my opinion, committed a criminal act (or many criminal acts). The authorities have not charged Mrs. Drew as they claim they had no 'cyber-bullying' law (they do now, a misdemeanor) but I fail to see how with the evidence at hand they could not have charged her with a variety of crimes up to and concluding negligent homicide or maybe even felony murder in the first degree due to a death resulting from an adult abusing a minor through the common carriers (be it phone or internet). What difference does it make what the medium was?

If she had done it all on the phone it would have made no real difference. Harassment is harassment regardless of how it is perpetrated. But like I said, it still has nothing to do with MySpace just like all the rest of the hysterical sophistry has nothing to do with online games.

An unfortunately large portion of the population of the US, even in Salem, Oregon near the Silicon Forest, are woefully ignorant about computers and the internet... an ignorance that provides a fertile place for fear-mongering to proliferate.

The article winds up pointing out that the Yankee Group's Goodman as well as the FBI treat such crimes as referenced here, no differently than any other crimes, with Goodman agreeing with this practice, but the last paragraphs go right back into fear-mongering with such statements as "It remains to be seen whether online game-related violence will flourish as the number of players continues to grow — and the popularity of digital entertainment rises.

And while it might be a stretch to liken the Web to a modern-day Pandora's box, the analogy does hold some water.

"You're going to see a lot more of these stories, unfortunately," predicted WHOA's Hitchcock. "Nothing surprises me anymore in terms of the ways the Internet can be used to harm people."

In point of fact the analogy holds water about as well as a strainer. In other words, not at all.

And it is patently ludicrous to lay at the feet of gaming or gamers or any other medium these claims and blames. We will see a lot more of a lot of things. Information spreads a great deal faster these days than it has in the past, and that includes misinformation and sensationalistic yellow journalism like that which Fox Newstainment provides. But there are myriad legitimate and credible causes and reasons for it all. But to date absolutely nothing has shown that gaming is one of those credible legitimate factors.

People need to not only take responsibility for their own actions, inactions and choices but also they need to expect others to do so as well and to hold them to it. Otherwise little will change for the better... in cyberspace, in Salem, Oregon, or anywhere else.

Comments Leave a comment on this story.

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Neal Feldman December 25, 2007 9:56 pm (Pacific time)

cybersavvy - Oh and btw - since when is one comment erroneously phrased 'a lot of misquoting'? Seems you are the one far less accurate than I. Ah well...

Neal Feldman December 25, 2007 9:53 pm (Pacific time)

I looked back at the article and see that while I was quoting the article (as I had stated from the start the commentary was about the article" I can see how it might be seen that I was putting the article's authors words to Mr/s Hitchcock when Hitchcock's words in the article (which I did link thereby effectively quoting in totality) which in specific were different were used by the article's author to support that which I put in quotes. So for the irrelevant nit pick aspect of it mea culpa on that. Now can we discuss the actual concepts of the article? Hmmmm? So much for me never accepting I make an error, Earth-shattering that it was. Oh my, careers were ruined and continents slid into the sea because of it. Geez. Get some perspective. Ah well...

Neal Feldman December 25, 2007 9:46 pm (Pacific time)

cybersavvy - I cannot help what you fail to see. That is your problem, not mine. I put in quotes the words that were used in the article. I was commenting on the article, not Hitchcock personally. The article clearly blamed the games, not the perps, and if Hitchcock allowed his/her quotes to further that then I have no sympathy that this was how they were taken by me and others. And as someone who actually participates in online games etc I know for a fact the claim of leaving oneself open due to confortlevel and the rest of the pop psych pap BS is hogwash as I said in the article. You know nothing about the person... what in the world would make that a trait generating trust? Just because you both team up to kill goblins or whatever in a game does not mean anything at all about the other person. They could be a saint or a serial killer. But since you deal with them through the interface of the game it does not matter. But the games themselves warn you to only pierce this veil of anonymity very warily if at all. Those people who have no, as I described them, personal security protocols are the ones who leave themselves open... not because of the game or because of any 'comfort' but, to put a sharp point on it, because they are morons. Anyone who leaves themselves open like that isn't dealing with a full deck, IMHO. And those of us who ARE able to play a game without ruining our lives or allowing others to ruin them for us (you note the reference to active or tacit participation in the ruination?) should not have our choices limited because some people are stupid or do stupid ill-advised things. Otherwise nothing in the universe is allowable that is not appropriate for a brain-addled infant. I believe in freedom... but freedom with responsibility. Make your choices but be responsible for them. Do not try and shirk responsibility by playing the Blame Game in its myriad forms. I do not believe folks have the freedom to be incredibly irresponsible and then make everyone ELSE pay for their irresponsibility. To me that is unacceptable. Do you get the thrust of the article yet or are you so focused on picking irrelevant nits you have no clue even still? The article was not about Jayne Hitchcock. Jayne Hitchcock was not even central to it in any way and would not even have been mentioned at all if not so prominent in the anti-gaming article I was commenting on produced by Fox Newstainment. Are we clear on the concepts yet or must I use single syllable words with no more than five letters in them?Must... I ... Speak ... Very ... Slowly ... For ... You ... To ... Understand... Me? Get it yet? Probably not. Ah well...

cybersavvy December 25, 2007 7:24 pm (Pacific time)

You say - One of their so-called 'experts', alleged cyber-stalking victim Jayne Hitchcock, president of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA), makes the claim that games are at fault because they "can foster more vulnerability than there might be on other virtual meeting spaces such as dating and social networking sites". Jayne said, verbatim - "When you're in a social situation like that — playing a game, having fun — you're comfortable with the people you're playing with," said cyber-stalking victim Jayne Hitchcock, president of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). "People are just not very careful. They lose all sense of reality and themselves." I fail to see that Ms. Hitchcock has blamed the games. In my opinion, her statement is more correctly asserting that the participants let their guard down in a game situation. This is a perception problem on the part of participants, not an intentional social danger built in to the games. More importantly, Neal, while it is perfectly acceptable for you to print your opinion, don't put your interpretations in quotes as if someone else had made the statement. Very unprofessional of you, and that's my opinion.

Neal Feldman December 24, 2007 9:02 pm (Pacific time)

cybersavvy - no misquoting. I took straight from the article. And in case you may have missed it this was a COMMENTARY - ie an opinion piece. MY opinion. You can agree or disagree but whining about it will be unlikely to change it. So when you can explain how I 'misrepresented' my own opinion I would be interested in hearing it... should be good for a few laughs at least. The article says it all... Fox Newstainment and others benefit from the hysteria blaming games when the blame belongs squarely in the lap of perps and those who refuse to act responsibly. Basically leave the games and gamers alone and get a real job ad a real clue. But I guess some just can't comprehend english. Se habla? Ah well...

mutabalis December 24, 2007 11:10 am (Pacific time)

I am a 50-something year-old artsy nature girl/grandma who has never played a video game. My 14 year-old granddaughter is much like me, very tuned into art and nature versus things like video games. However, my grandson (10 and 11) have played them since pre-school age, and I have always been amazed at how easily they grasp the complexities of some of these games. I believe human evolution will benefit from the mental skills these games develop. There are alot of things about gaming that is going to attract troubled people, but I think there are alot of fields of interest that do the same---art being one them as I know from my immersion over the years in the art world. We shouldn't stomp out art because of those people. Art doesn't cause these people's problems, and neither does gaming. I think that as long as the people who play understand that they could meet a troubled person on gaming sites, or that they can become addicted, or escape from reality through them, that is the extent of the responsibility anyone should feel. I don't have an interest in playing, but I think that condemning something across the board because of the small percentage of troubled people involved is just silly. Enjoy your games, I say.

Neal Feldman December 24, 2007 10:06 am (Pacific time)

Oh really? How so? Ah I see.. anonymous and factless. Typical. Ah well...

cybersavvy December 24, 2007 10:04 am (Pacific time)

Sounds like a lot of misquoting, Neal. You need to get your facts straight before you make such a misrepresentation in print.

Anonymous December 24, 2007 8:04 am (Pacific time)

This article "smackywhacks" of desperate yellow journalism.

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