Several high-profile cases involving people who met playing online games have led experts to caution that such Web sites have a unique environment that could be a breeding ground for criminal minds.
Massively multiplayer online games — or MMOGs, as they're called — can foster more vulnerability than there might be on other virtual meeting spaces such as dating and social networking sites, where participants are inclined to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior from the start.
"When you're in a social situation like that — playing a game, having fun — you're comfortable with the people you're playing with," said cyber-stalking victim Jayne Hitchcock, president of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). "People are just not very careful. They lose all sense of reality and themselves."
Such conditions can lead participants to be more trusting of each other and less cautious. Players tend to be focused not on meeting each other, finding a love connection or promoting themselves, but on getting through the game, working as a team and concocting strategies to win. The pressure to make a good impression and project a certain persona is off.
"You're hiding behind a cloak of anonymity and false pretenses," said University of Baltimore criminologist Jeffrey Ian Ross. "They force you to pick an alter ego."
"The majority of people who play these games don't fall victim to this sort of thing," said Ross. "They're either savvy, or they're very rule-bound."
Furthermore, most of those who participate are primarily interested in devising ways to advance, defeat the enemy and win, not prey on unsuspecting fellow gamers.
Because, heaven forbid you don't want to play a game to have a good time. Heck, there are games that simulate life, like the Sims. Every facet of life will have its oddballs. Me, I'm just in it for the loot.