The biggest crimes related to video games are usually whenever EA releases something like their five-dollar "Look at virtual boobs" DLC. But sometimes games have featured prominently in crimes that are very real and very weird. Like when ...
You all know what Minecraft is, but you may not know that many people play on privately run multiplayer servers. Some cater to half a dozen friends, others host tens of thousands of strangers, and many offer custom rules and features. Running Minecraft servers can become a small business. Some make a few hundred or thousand bucks a month from donations, usage fees, and sales of in-game tools, and one large server was pulling in 100 grand a month.
When the money's that good, you want to lure people away from your competitors. And sure, you could just advertise your best features and promote a fun environment, but that's hard. If you're unethical, it's way better to simply launch a DDoS attack on a rival server, because it's easy to attract customers when the other options have the functionality of bricks.
For those of you who either aren't tech-savvy or have been led by CSI to believe that DDoS stands for "Dangerous DOS Office Spam," a distributed denial of service attack floods a server with so many simultaneous requests that it slows to a crawl and can't do anything. It's like shutting down a sandwich shop by sending in 300 people to all demand their order at once. Only in this case, it was up to 600,000 computers that had been linked into a botnet through malware infections.
That botnet, called Mirai (after an anime, because people launching DDoS attacks to gain an advantage in Minecraft are, shockingly, kind of nerdy) was built by three students to take down both rival servers and tools specifically designed to stop DDoSes. Once they realized how powerful Mirai was, they decided to see what else they could do with it. One of them repeatedly crashed his college's network, and they also started targeting organizations and either extorted them to call off the attack or offered a "service" to protect them.
Eventually they made their code open-source in an effort to muddle attempts to track them down. That led to 2016's Dyn attack. Dyn's perpetrators are still unknown, but they killed internet connections all along the East Coast, bringing major services like Netflix and PayPal to a standstill. It was a day that will live in infamy because we were all forced to converse with each other in person. All these shenanigans attracted the attention of the FBI, and Mirai's creators were eventually caught. We guess the lesson for all you kids out there is this: Don't try to turn your sketchy Minecraft cheating into a criminal empire.
The appeal of eSports is in theory the same as that of regular sports -- two teams of experts in their chosen game compete to see who's best. Unlike wrestling or wars of the star variety, the thrill comes from knowing that victory isn't scripted and anything could happen. Oh, except in 2015, 11 people were arrested in South Korea on StarCraft II match fixing allegations. There were another eight arrests in 2016. And two more in 2018.
These weren't random scrubs. Two of the players caught up in the 2016 scandal, Lee "Life" Seung Hyun and Bung "Bbyong" Woo Yong, were considered among the greatest to play the game, aside from the "coming up with a nickname for yourself" part. These were the faces of the sport.
The problem is that the amount of money in StarCraft gambling vastly outweighs the amount of money in StarCraft playing, like if the money gambled on the NFL every year was being thrown at the National Lacrosse League. Adding to the problem is the fact that prize pools are skewed heavily toward the winners. In one tournament, the champion walked away with $36,000, while a quarterfinal finish meant only $2,200. For throwing just two matches, Life was paid 60 grand, and the gambler who backed him walked off with about 56 grand in profit. You'd take an easy 60,000 bucks if all you had to do was claim you had a bad day on the job, right?
And these weren't back-alley deals, but sophisticated operations with financial backers, brokers, and other structured roles. Unless the StarCraft world is able to outpace the money that gambling rings can offer, there may be more match fixing in the future, even with the risk of arrest. So look forward to the inevitable high-stakes yet super geeky movie about StarCraft crime.
Everyone likes cheating in video games. It's relaxing to give yourself infinite money to build a virtual city, or infinite health to slaughter virtual demons. But that only applies to single-player games. Cheating in multiplayer is a massive dick move, because everyone is supposed to be on a level playing field, and it's not like 13-year-olds need any tools beyond Red Bull to annihilate most of the competition anyway.
That brings us to Sudden Attack, a Counter-Strike-esque shooter that's huge in Asia. In 2014, three teenagers were hit with criminal charges for raking in nearly $80,000 by selling cheat programs that gave users big advantages, like the ability to see and move through walls. Yes, three kids made more money than most of us will see in a year by offering the ability to toss grenades through the ceiling at virtual enemies.
There's a win you can feel good about.
They're far from the only people to get busted for this. In 2015, a 30-year-old man was arrested for selling cheats for another online shooter with a goofy name, Alliance Of Valiant Arms. He made $168,000. And Chinese officials nabbed 15 people for developing cheats like auto-targeting for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, a game that's had over 1.5 million accounts banned for cheating. Those arrested were slapped with a combined $5.1 million in fines. Oh, and that was right after another Chinese operation rounded up 120 suspects.
Cheat programs often include spyware that mines passwords, because why profit from your customers once when you can also rob them or sell their data later? So remember that cheaters never prosper, and also they make you a huge asshole.
We've all thought about what we'd do if we suddenly came into possession of millions of dollars. Buy a luxury condo, go on a fancy vacation, drop a million bucks on a crappy iPhone game ... what, that last one isn't your dream? Because that's what a 45-year-old California man did after he embezzled 4.8 million from his employer.
The money went toward luxury cars, a golf club membership, furniture, plastic surgery, sports tickets, and yes, roughly a million dollars on the generically named Game Of War, aka Kate Upton's Boobs: The Video Game.
Machine Zone Inc.
The comptroller and accounting department head wasn't exactly a criminal mastermind, using a company credit card designated for operating expenses on himself. He did falsify records and take steps to cover his tracks, but it doesn't take long for people to draw a connection between an employee suddenly driving sports cars and massive amounts of money not being where it's supposed to.
Game Of War is the definition of "pay to win," and even worse, the vast majority of your purchases are inevitably destroyed by rival players. Dropping a million dollars may be the game's equivalent of the atomic bomb, but those gains would inevitably be lost, leaving everyone to wonder if that money should have been spent on literally anything else available to humanity.
So it's the mid-1980s, you need to smuggle some drugs, and you're also a huge nerd. The solution to that dilemma, as video game collector Julian Turner found out, was to pack drugs into NES cartridges of Rollergames and Golf. Which was smart thinking, because you need drugs to enjoy NES Golf for more than five minutes.
Turner picked the games up at a flea market, and when he got home, he realized they felt unusually heavy. So he unscrewed the backs, found two shiny silver baggies in each cart, opened them up, then called the police. The drugs, possibly heroin, had clearly been in the carts for a while. Another collector supposedly found a Golf cart with $5,000 in bills dating back to 1985 in it, and while that story was unverified, it does seem clear that at least one mid '80s drug dealer was forced to offer customers NES games after a wacky mix-up that found some heroin secretly sitting under a family Christmas tree.
While those carts may have failed to find their criminal homes, the tradition of dweeby smuggling is alive and well. In March of 2018, Dutch police busted an operation that was 3D-printing fake Nintendo carts stuffed with LSD, cocaine, and MDMA. And in 2014, a Kentucky man was arrested for gun smuggling when he was caught shipping magazines and disassembled guns in a hollowed-out Xbox.
And yet somehow that all pales in comparison to the 73 vials found within fake Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES) carts at Guadalajara Airport, each containing a small live spider. Details were scare, but gaming sites reporting the story with quippy headlines like "Don't you hate it when you find bugs in your video game?!" was crime enough.
Just go buy a Nintendo Switch, and hopefully it'll keep you from being anywhere near a crime ever again.
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For more ways video games blur the line between fantasy and reality, check out 5 Totally WTF Times Real-World Problems Invaded Video Games and 5 Real Skills Video Games Have Secretly Been Teaching Us.
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