Japanese piano teacher Maple Story, avatar murder, killed avatar

Virtual ‘Maple Story’ Murder Reveals Online Lives Gone Too Far

October 24, 2008 10:59 AM
by Josh Katz
The arrest of a Japanese woman who killed the online version of her virtual husband shows how the line between reality and fantasy can become blurred.

The Killing of an Avatar

A 43-year-old Japanese piano teacher could face five years of jail or a fine of up to $5,000 for, essentially, the murder of her online husband from the game “Maple Story.” The woman was enraged after the man, who was married to her in the game but not in real life, abruptly broke off the online relationship, so she signed on to his profile with his identification and password and terminated his avatar in May, the Associated Press reports.

An avatar is an online representation of a real-life person.

“I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry,” a police official quoted the woman as saying.

Police arrested her on Oct. 23 and she is being charged “with illegal access onto a computer and manipulating electronic data,” according to the AP.

Her online husband, a 33-year-old office worker from Sapporo, Japan, had reported the crime and death of his avatar to police. He claimed to have “raised” the avatar for more than a year, Sky News writes.

“Maple Story,” like the popular computer game “Second Life,” creates a virtual world that mimics real life. The game boasts more than 50 million subscribers, “who buy new clothes and gameplay enhancements from an online shop and can even ‘earn’ a wedding,” according to Sky News.

Background: When ‘Second Life’ becomes real life

Studies have indicated that the personality of a person’s Second Life character may bleed into that player’s real life. If someone has a more attractive avatar, not only might that person act more extroverted than normal when playing online, but that extroversion may carry over to real life. In one study, individuals acted more confidently and aggressively if they had just played with a tall avatar, even if they were not tall in reality.

Corporations are also joining in on the fun, for advertising and human resources purposes. Intel and IBM, for instance, have created Second Life communities where employees can mingle and even attend company meetings. “If an avatar falls asleep on screen, that’s a good sign the staffer isn’t paying attention,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Spanish health officials have been dispensing advice about drug use and STDs to teenagers through Second Life. A virtual nurse and a virtual patient could shield the teenagers from in-person embarrassment.

Kevin Alderman, who noticed that the game prevented users from touching, founded the company Eros LLC and developed the SexGen software for Second Life. Now, avatars can engage in a variety of sexual positions and activities with other avatars. Since each avatar represents a real human being, the software adds a new dimension to user relationships on Second Life.

Alderman’s avatar, Stroker Serpentine, is currently in a loving and “physically” intimate relationship with an avatar named Fyre Rain. The real woman behind Fyre Rain lives 1,000 miles from Alderman and has a family, as does Alderman. However, his wife Debbie is fully aware of the relationship, and remains unperturbed. She argues, “He might be physical with himself, but he’s not actually physical with her, and that doesn’t bother me. It’s a role, a fantasy, a character.”

Related Topic: Others in legal trouble for computer lives

The “Maple Story” killer is hardly the first person whose online activities have gotten her into real-life trouble with the law.

In one recent incident, a teenager was arrested for stealing monkeys thanks, in part, to social networking site MySpace. The perpetrator fled the state, but police were able to find him by checking his MySpace account, where he had posted his new phone number and address.

At the end of July, Facebook photos led to a stiff sentence for a young drunk driver, also illustrating the importance that image can have in the Internet age. College junior Joshua Lipton, 20, posed as a “jail bird” at a Halloween party just two weeks after a car accident in which he caused a woman serious injury while driving drunk. The prosecution used pictures of the party on Facebook to demonstrate Lipton’s lack of remorse, and the judge concurred, sentencing him to two years in prison.

A similar case came up earlier that month in the form of an 18-year-old Pennsylvania man who bragged of his speeding and drug and alcohol use on MySpace even after being charged with a DUI-related homicide.

MySpace turned fatal when Lori Drew’s daughter had a falling out with classmate Meghan Meier. Lori Drew invented a MySpace profile of a boy who flirted with Meier and then rejected her, allegedly driving her to suicide. Drew was ultimately indicted on “federal counts of conspiracy and accessing protected computers without authorization.” In this case, Drew’s use of MySpace to pretend she was someone else was considered a violation of the terms of the site.

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