Criminals and Computer Games

Vol. 10 No. 2


Deanna Adams is Co-Vice Chair of the Video Games Committee of the Section of Science and Technology Law and the Young Lawyers Division liaison to the Section of Science and Technology Law.

Sophistication in the development and use of virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) has created equally sophisticated methods by which users can commit crimes. Although intellectual property infringement and theft of in-game property are media focal points surrounding in-world crime, certain in-game criminal activities have drawn a different type of attention necessitating state involvement—namely, transnational organized crime, terrorism, and gang activities.

Virtual worlds are computer-based simulated environments in which users take the form of avatars and engage in activities much like those performed in the real world. Virtual world platforms are often cloud-based, and savvy and novice developers alike have started rudimentary virtual world development.

MMOGs are also moving to the cloud. Cultivating the fervor of social networking, MMOGs combine social media with the excitement of game play. These online games are capable of supporting large numbers of players during simultaneous game play, and users can access games via any Internet-based gaming platform.

Both technological and social advancements historically provide a breeding ground for abuse and manipulation by those pursuing illegal activities. Social networking and gaming platforms can be used to breed large-scale money laundering schemes, accumulate massive pools of potential terrorist or gang recruits, provide a new means of criminal communication, and serve as virtual training grounds.

To combat these new threats, the United States utilizes a number of strategies to eliminate, monitor, and prevent dangers resulting from cybercrime and electronic communications. In 2011, the National Security Council released the report “Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime: Addressing Converging Threats to National Security.” The report highlights 10 primary threat categories posed by transnational organized crime, including dangers for the economy, cybercrime, and the presence of a nexus between criminals and terrorists.

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