Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


In news of people taking revenge in odd ways, a woman in Japan is currently in jail after killing her ex-husband's character in an online role playing game.

That's right.  She didn't kill her actual husband; she got into his virtual reality game, called "Maple Story," and killed his online "avatar" -- the individual in the game who represents the player.

Apparently these sorts of games are extremely popular.  Who knew?  I am, as I have mentioned previously, a techno-Neanderthal, and while I had some vague idea that such games existed, I didn't know how common (nor how elaborate) they are.  In "Maple Story" you can form relationships with other players' avatars -- in fact, you can even get married there.  As with many role-playing games, each player has a career -- teacher, military leader, magician, elf, and so on. 

And I thought, "'Elf' is a career?  Why didn't anyone in the Career Counseling Center at my college tell me this thirty years ago?  Here I am being Bill Nye the Science Guy when I could have been Legolas."

In any case, once you've selected your career, you proceed to interact with other characters, forming alliances and having relationships, all the while battling evil and defending your territory against the onslaught of monsters. 

It did momentarily occur to me that if what you really enjoy is the idea that you are a valiant warrior defending the world from the Evil Monsters from the Outside Lands, it'd be simpler and easier just to join the Republican Party.  Then I realized that being from Japan, perhaps this option did not appeal to him.

But I digress.

So, anyhow, this fellow in Japan was a devoted "Maple Story" player, and he described his online persona as his "beloved avatar."  And when his wife discovered that he was cheating on her (for real, I presume, not just in "Maple Story") his wife got into his game, and killed his character.

If I belonged to law enforcement, and a man came up to me asking me to arrest his wife because he'd cheated on her and she'd responded by killing his online avatar, my exact response would have been: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  I'm just compassionate that way.

But no; in the actual case, police were sent out, and they arrested the woman.  She is currently facing charges of hacking, which in Japan could potentially carry a five-year jail sentence.

Now, let's be clear on this; she has not harmed, nor even threatened to harm, her actual real ex-husband.  She is being jailed for killing a character in a game, despite the fact that the character is not in fact a real live human.

This last point seems to have been lost on Japanese legal officials.  I seriously doubt that laws against hacking were put in place to prevent two overgrown ten-year-olds from "killing" each other's computer-generated imaginary friends.  You would think, in these days of computer piracy, stolen identities, viruses, and the tsunami of spam that clogs all our bandwidth, that the people in charge would have better things to do than to jail a woman who has basically done the equivalent of an elementary school bully stomping on another kid's teddy bear.

Now, I think that as far as most things go, the Japanese seem like a fairly sensible people, and I'll bet this woman is freed with a slap on the wrist ("you go and apologize to him RIGHT now and don't you DARE do that again!") within a few days.  But it still highlights a couple of interesting facts about humanity, to wit: (1) some people take role-playing games WAY too seriously, and (2) you need to be nice on the playground or you can get into some serious trouble, even as an adult.

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