Bryan Peterson offers his thoughts on some of the biggest digital stories this month.
I’ve been following the curious story of a woman in Japan who was recently arrested for “virtual murder” after she killed a character, her cyber husband, in an online game (to clarify, no real persons were harmed in the writing of this column). The game, “Maple Story”, like many others, allows players to create and manipulate digital characters to fight enemies and overcome obstacles whilst engaging in online relationships and social activities.
It was the “Murder by Mouse” blog headline that first caught my eye; surely knocking off characters is part of many online games? But this wasn’t the superfluous savagery that many associate with computer games. This was a premeditated offing brought about by spurned online love.
The woman, a 43-year-old piano teacher, had been happily (if virtually) married to a chap (or his digital representation) until he divorced her without warning, abruptly annulling their pixel-to-pixel nuptials.
“That made me so angry”, police quote her as saying; so much so that she drove 620 miles across the country, sneaked into his house, logged on to his computer and killed off, or more accurately deleted, the online character that he had spent a year developing.
When the nonplussed participant, who had never met his ex computerised spouse in the real world, tried to log on to the game and realised he was dead he complained to the police, who tracked down the electronic assassin and arrested her. She has been charged on suspicion of “illegal access of a computer” and “manipulating electronic data”, rather than the more sensational title of “virtual murder” that many online commentators dramaturgically revel in. If convicted she could be jailed for up to five years or fined up to £3200: a real enough chastisement for a virtual dispatching.
I await the trial earnestly.
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Another assured way to call in the electronic services of Inspector Remorse is the knowledge that you definitely shouldn’t have made that foolhardy phone call, dispatched that temerarious text message or sent off that unamiable email in the early hours, especially when compounded by a hangover (or so I’ve been told).
Fortuitously, those philanthropic boffins at Google have come up with a solution to the latter problem (regrettable email that is, not excess alcohol imbuement).
Google, ever the innovators, have introduced a new feature to their popular Gmail email system which can be set to kick in between 10pm and 4am and requires the would-be late night email scribe to answer a series of simple arithmetical time-limited questions before the message can be sent.
The system, drolly entitled “Mail Goggles”, is intended to allow the abstemious to correspond freely subsequent to the simple test, whilst an inebriated (or “tired and emotional” as Google put it) author may find such an examination impossible. And if you’re struggling to calculate an answer for 16 x 3 at three a.m., there’s a good chance it would be prudent to reconsider your sobriety before emailing early morning missives to your boss, ex, mother in law, Shetlink administrator or virtual husband.
It’s the internet equivalent of blowing into the bag; an information superhighway drink-driving clamp down, if you will.
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