Although video games began to attract players around forty years ago, technological advances in the last ten years made gaming especially popular. The use of sophisticated auditory and visual characteristics, the ability to multi-play online, incorporation of color-rich graphics, and the increased speed have changed the gaming industry dramatically in the last decade (Sublette & Mullan, 2012). Online gaming has built its own virtual world where players possess virtual property, buy and sell, steal, fraud, and protect their intellectual property — to name but a few of their regular activities besides gaming. These features raise a number of questions with regards to criminal justice system. How to regulate transactions in the virtual world is a nascent issue in the courts, sometimes lawyers being unable to draw clear lines because of the nature of online gaming.
Online gaming’s unique feature is that it allows players from different corners of the world play in real-time, encouraging greater competition and requiring that players spend more time playing the game. This potentially raises the addiction problem. In recent years online gamers spending too much time on computer and dying because of heart failure have made headlines. The increased addiction to online gaming also has implications for social behavior of players as research suggests that addiction and engagement in “problematic game play” experiences lead to negative consequences, including aggressiveness and violent behavior (Sublette & Mullan, 2012). While such psychological aspects of online gaming may not be of direct interest to criminologists, the consequences of addictive online gaming may well be.
Of greater concern for criminologists, of course, is the direct criminal behavior that is thriving in the virtual world today. One of the serious problems, especially in the developing markets of the Middle East and Southeast Asia, is piracy. In an attempt to curb piracy, some Asian large vendors use the model of “charging for network connection” instead of “charging for software license” (Ying-Chieh, et al., 2005, p. 217). Because of the ability of tech-savvy consumers who can easily engage in piracy and the lack of transparent and enforcing intellectual property laws, piracy remains a huge problem for both game developers and players. The virtual world requires that stronger mechanisms are put in place to protect intellectual property of game developers and virtual property of consumers.
Ying-Chieh et al., identify several forms of crimes involving online gaming: theft, fraud, robbery, kidnapping, threat, assault, battery, destruction of property, counterfeiting, receipt of stolen property, privacy violations, software piracy, and extortion (p. 249). And while these activities can more or less be subject to criminal investigation, there are still many issues which the courts are unable to clarify. For example, the existence of virtual property and monetary transactions in online gaming must subject them to taxation. In countries such as Australia and China, this has been incorporated into law but it has not in the United States. Besides the economy of the virtual world, there is also the question of control by regulators of virtual games that, as some consumers recently have complained in courts, are abusive (Kane, 2009, p. 25). The courts and lawyers are sometimes confused on how to solve disputes and cases brought to them. This again is the testament to the fact that the issues surrounding online gaming are complex, requiring specialized approach that would take into consideration the unique nature of the gaming industry and the virtual world. The criminal justice systems of most countries so far unfortunately are have not been able to adopt such an approach.
Kane, S.F. (2009) Virtual judgment: legal implications of online gaming. IEEE Security & Privacy, 7(3): 23-28.
Sublette, V., & Mullan, B. (2012). Consequences of Play: A Systematic Review of the Effects of Online Gaming. International Journal Of Mental Health And Addiction, 10(1), 3-23.
Ying-Chieh, C., Chen, P.S., Jing-Jang, H., Korba, L., Song, R., & Yee, G. (2005). An analysis of online gaming crime characteristics. Internet Research, 15(3), 246-261. doi:10.1108/10662240510602672
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