According to the news sources, a Dutch teenager has been arrested for allegedly stealing virtual furniture from other users “rooms” in a 3D social networking website, HabboHotel.
The site is a virtual world of floating rooms, each inhabited by a user(s) and is a “world where you can meet and make friends”.
In this world of comic mateiness, the 17-year old is accused of pinching nearly £3,000 ($6,000) of furniture from other users by creating “fake” HabboHotel sites and obtaining passwords from other users.
Unlike previous virtual thefts, the police have been involved in this instance because the furniture is purchased with real money. Several other teenagers have also been contacted and questioned by the police with regards to the alleged crime.
Thefts of this sort are a growing issue in virtual worlds; in 2005 a Chinese gamer was stabbed to death in a row over a sword in a game. Shanghai gamer Qiu Chengwei killed player Zhu Caoyuan when he discovered he had sold a “dragon sabre” he had been loaned.
The line between real and virtual worlds seems to be blurring all the time. We’ve already seen news reports on the Chinese “slaves” working 18-hour days in World of Warcraft to earn gold for players in other countries. Now we have murder and theft to be added to the list of activities available in both worlds.
However, the thing that most interested me about this story is the fact that these “criminals” have signed up for websites with their real names; their real account details. If I were going to commit a crime which included phishing, scamming and stealing, I’d be pretty sure to try and minimise the e-paper trail left behind me.
All of this seems like another blow for the online gaming community. With complaints about lost efficiency at work equivalent to the GDP of Jamaica to these new alleged crimes, it seems that the anti-gaming squad have plenty to be working with for their next batch of reports.
But they shouldn’t underestimate the gamers. When you realise the immense impact that a place like Jamaica has you must also realize the impact that virtual worlds have too.
And some of the larger sites (Habbo is about the 16th largest by user base) such as Lineage with circa 4.5 million subscribers could probably already equal the GDP of a smaller nation all by themselves.
When you put it in context, one theft and one stabbing in a network of users this large and profitable is not a huge deal. The difference is that this has happened because of environments and situations that do not physically exist – and we don’t have the ability, laws or experience to enforce such contraventions.
Hopefully, this isolated crime will not deter others from enjoying online gaming. I, for one, will still continue to encourage others to try everything at least once, especially interacting in an online world. Everything that is except incest and country dancing.