Beyond Griefing

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Beyond Griefing

Post  Jin on Wed Apr 06, 2011 7:06 am

Interesting article by a lawyer about the law related to virtual theft.

Citation: Adrian, Angela (2010) Beyond Griefing: Virtual Crime. Computer Law and Security Review. 26(6) pp.640-648 - requires access to sciencedirect or the CLS Rev.

Abstract: Because there is so much money involved in virtual worlds these days, there has been an increase in criminal activity in these worlds as well. The gaming community calls people who promote conflict “griefers”. Griefers are people who like nothing better than to kill team-mates or obstruct the game’s objectives. Griefers scam, cheat and abuse. Recently, they have begun to set up Ponzi schemes. In games that attempt to encourage complex and enduring interactions among thousands of players, “griefing” has evolved from being an isolated nuisance to a social disease. Much in the same way crime has become the real world’s social disease. Grief is turning into crime.


In addition to considering the law and the problems that it might face, the author also summarises a few notable case studies, including the "EVE Online Investment Bank" - presumably the Ponzi scheme she refers to in the abstract and the less-well-known case of the unfortunate FFXI player who lost some $4000 worth of online equipment.

Jin

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Re: Beyond Griefing

Post  Jean-Loup on Thu Apr 07, 2011 2:42 am

Thanks for this article, I will read it next week when I will have more time.

Does the author know if theses behaviors are from isolated individuals or organised groups?

It would be interesting to know if griefers are real gamers (i.e. the guy will profit from his scam in the game, for instance his own character will be wealthier, more powerful, etc) or they are just criminals trying to abuse gamers (i.e. scamming gamers and selling their account on ebay).
It remembers me the Habboo attack by Anonymous (obstructing the game and creating a new kind of denial of service). Could we say that they are 'griefers' too? They did that 'for the lulz'...

Scamming gamers is a new behavior, but I won't be surprised if tomorrow someone discovered that criminals are involved. Internet Games is a huge market, and there is also a market for selling World Of Warcraft gears, hacked accounts, etc... do you know that you could even pay chinese guys to level up your WOW character?

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Re: Beyond Griefing

Post  Jin on Thu Apr 07, 2011 5:39 pm

From what I understand, both individuals and organised groups conduct this type of 'criminal' behaviour. For individuals, you have the person behind the EVE Online Investment Bank - a giant online Ponzi scheme - being a single individual who went by the avatar name of 'Cally'. For groups, there's obviously the gold and item farmers that you've mentioned.

I use 'criminal' somewhat reluctantly because their actions might fall into one of three categories:

1. Contrary to criminal law in the real world (IRL!)
2. Contrary to the End User Licensing Agreement that is the 'constitution' of the online game, and maybe contrary to real-world criminal law
3. Contrary to neither, but having a doubtlessly detrimental effect on the victim

It's quite rare for acts committed in online worlds to infringe real-world criminal law. If they do, they tend to be fraud or threatening communications. For example, the UK's Fraud Act is capable of being applied online (see sources listed below) and the UK's Communications Act was used not too long ago to charge a man who tweeted a 'menacing communication' on Twitter. But in terms of a World of Warcraft Orc beating up newbies repeatedly to 'steal' their elite purple axes, the law finds it a little difficult to intervene.

This is for two reasons: firstly, by agreeing to the EULA, you agree to play by the rules of the game. Nothing in the rules of a Player-versus-Player game like WoW should prevent players from killing each other in battlefield - it would completely defeat the purpose of the game. Therefore, if the EULA rules are not infringed, there is really no grounds for punishment. The griefing Orc is neither a virtual criminal nor a real criminal. 'Cally' from EVE Online, for example, was not deleted or banned from the game despite absconding with what turned out to be USD 170k worth of in-game money because he had not breached the EULA.

Typically, if the EULA is infringed, the game administrators can delete or censure the perpetrator. Such examples abound in Second Life and other more commercial-oriented virtual worlds. However, I believe that that's insufficient; simply seeing a virtual criminal banned from the game does nothing to prevent him from creating alternate accounts and continuing the scam, nor does it restore the victim with what s/he lost. Added to this problem is the inability of the law of theft to apply properly online. Guinchard and Adrian both talk about it at length...

As such, it's perfectly possible for players to contravene neither the game EULA nor real-life criminal law and still be massive detriments to their victims. As you said, there's quite a lot of real-world money already sunk into these virtual worlds and as they evolve, we can only expect to see these numbers (of both virtual crimes and real-world money going into virtual worlds) increase.

Some further reading:
Guinchard, A. (2010) Crime in Virtual Worlds: The Limits of Criminal Law. International Review of Law, Computers, and Technology. 24(2) pp. 175-182. Available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1694484

Kerr, O.S. (2008) Criminal Law in Virtual Worlds. In: University of Chicago Legal Forum – Forthcoming, GWU Public Law and Legal Theory Paper No. 391. Available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=1097392

Brenner, S. (2008) Fantasy: The role of criminal law in virtual worlds. Vanderbilt Journal of Entertainment and Technology Law. 11(1). Available at: http://works.bepress.com/susan_brenner/1/

PS: Forgive the long and somewhat badly-written reply! Am in the process of writing a dissertation that will hopefully come out a lot better, haha.

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Re: Beyond Griefing

Post  Jean-Loup on Tue Apr 12, 2011 7:39 am

thanks for your review. I would be really interested in reading your dissertation when you will finish it Smile
As I came for the IT side (studying tech, IT risks and so on) I really appreciate lawyers' vision of cybercrime.

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