5 Bizarre Ways Online Gaming Is Affecting the Real World

#2. Scammers Pull Off Massive Ponzi Scheme Inside Sci-Fi Game

Via Digitaltrends.com

Some scammers con people out of $32,000 and get two years in prison. "Eddie Lampert" and "Mordor Exuel" stole over $50,000 from their investors and got nothing ... well, except $50,000. The only reason they got away with it was because they did it within the game EVE Online -- in other words, they found a loophole that allowed them to rip people off in a completely legal, totally shameless, and extremely nerdy way.

For a game that is ostensibly about flying spaceships around an untamed virtual universe, an inexplicable amount of EVE Online's playtime has you living the exciting life of a space accountant. Unlike other MMOs, your power is determined not just by how many hours you've spent killing things, but also by how much money you've saved up. Players have different ways of accumulating funds: some mine, some invest in the game's economy ... and some pull off massive, thousand-dollar Ponzi schemes.

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"No, just hear me out -- it's totally legit. First, we get a spaceship ..."

In 2011, Lampert and Exuel hatched a plan that would have gained them the admiration of both Bernie Madoff and Emperor Palpatine. They chartered a company in the game called Phaser Inc. and started to attract investors with a simple promise: 5 percent returns on any investment in only a week's time. If that sounds too good to be true, that's because it was: Like all Ponzi schemes, they just used their clients' money to pay other clients, building positive word of mouth despite being completely full of crap.

Before too long, they were a major force in the EVE economy and were handling hundreds of transactions a day. And then, after eight months of that, they said, "OK, that's enough," and posted this image to their website:

Via Joystiq.com
At this point, two giant hands came from each side and formed a cosmic Goatse.

Phaser Inc. told its 4,000 investors that their money was gone: "You've invested it, got a chance on some profit, but it turned out not to be the best choice you've ever made." Lampert and Exuel had pocketed a trillion ISK (the game's currency), or approximately $52,000. And, worst of all, there was nothing anyone could do about it, because shady dealings like these aren't forbidden by the game's rules. Not even on this scale.

While the scammers said that they planned to use the money to "play EVE for a very, very, very long time," all they'd have to do is get in touch with some of the schmucks who pay gold farmers and they could transform those virtual bucks into actual money. In fact, the only reason they haven't done it is probably because someone could find out who they are and then they'd have 4,000 people lining up to kick them in the dick.

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"They passed out again. Someone make a run for more smelling salts."

#1. South Korea Has Cybercops Who Police Online Games

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If you've read this far and thought, "Damn, someday we might have a crazy future where there are cops who specifically patrol virtual worlds to stop shit like this," well, guess what: The future arrives a little early in Korea.

As we mentioned before, South Korea is really, really into online gaming. Authorities say that 70 percent of all crime committed by young people in the country is related to virtual worlds. That's why they had no choice but to institute cybercops whose job description includes monitoring and investigating game-related crimes.

Via Jo Yong-Hak/Reuters
Think CSI meets Tron. It's nothing like that, but let's think about it anyway.

South Korea's Cyber Terror Response Center has been active since 2000 and works on a yearly budget of 10 billion won (almost $10 million). By 2011, they had a network of a thousand agents working all over the country. Pretty impressive, although their recruitment-video-making skills seem stuck in the early '90s:

Their re-enactment of a young player being scammed inside an MMO at 2:40 in that video may not be very convincing, but in South Korea this is a serious problem -- of the 40,000 complaints the CTRC received over six months in 2003, 22,000 were related to online gaming. Sometimes virtual crimes spill over into the real world, with people stabbing each other over game items. As the past decade advanced, they also had to start dealing with bigger threats, like the persistent digital attacks from those dicks in North Korea and scams by international gold farmers.

To deal with that, the South Korean authorities once again have had to step up their game: Last year, Seoul enlisted the first 30 students to be trained at the new school for cyberwarfare. Through the school, those in the South Korean army "seek to nurture warriors to fight in cyberwarfare amid growing cyberterror threats from North Korea and to secure a stable supply of specialists."

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"Don't fuck with me. I'll eat you whole and shit out your head."

What's more, the U.S. has started following South Korea's example. In 2008, U.S. intelligence unveiled project Reynard, an initiative specifically dedicated to figuring out how to spy on MMO players. The idea is to prevent terrorists from abusing this technology by recruiting members and sending orders through World of Warcraft characters and the like. The system would work by "detecting suspicious behavior" (through data mining) in games where 90 percent of all interactions consist of murdering things. Good luck with that.

We know mobsters and drug dealers do it, but are terrorists really contacting each other this way? As far as we can tell, there isn't a single instance of this happening, but maybe that's just evidence that the program is already in action and working like a charm. That, or no one had actually thought to do this until U.S. intelligence announced the idea to the world. Whoops.



Matt Culkin is graduating in May and could really use a writing job; email him at Mrculkin@gmail.com or follow him @MRCulkin. Jack, on the other hand, might never graduate. Email him at coastyjack@gmail.com.



For more instances of games and real life merging, check out 5 Real Skills Video Games Have Secretly Been Teaching Us and 6 Acts of Real-Life Heroism Made Possible by Video Games.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 Bizarre Workers' Comp Claims That Were Actually Successful.

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