March 9, 2011

The Dangers of Online Games (by Michael J Harrington)

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 1:18 pm

Michael J Harrington

Nearly everyone (everyone reading this) has used the internet, whether it is for getting information, doing work, or just wasting time.  An increasingly popular trend, however, is beginning to overtake the internet, quickly becoming a leading form of internet entertainment.  Online gaming has become immense; there are approximately seven million World of Warcraft players and Call of Duty: Black Ops has an online population greater than all but two real world countries. This new form of entertainment is taking the world by storm, partly because it offers a new way to play and interact with one’s friends.  On most online games one has the option to either play cooperatively with their friends or against them, but either way there almost always is some way to communicate with one’s teammates.  If the game is a computer based one then generally the method is through a chat box, although sometimes a microphone can be used, but in console games most likely there is only way to discuss tactics with one’s teammates, through a microphone hooked up to the console.  But what kinds of things are said in game?  Do we really know who’s on the other side?  Are we giving away our privacy through these games?

Chatting in a video game helps to build trust between strangers enabling them to more fully carry out their objectives.  But this trust is not always a good thing, you wouldn’t want your twelve year old son talking to every random stranger online and gaining mutual trust, mainly because you cannot truly know who anyone on the other side of the TV really is.  They could be another nice twelve year old playmate for your son, or they could be a raging pedophile, of which the latter would not be a suitable playmate for anyone’s child.  But when we play games online often times we develop fairly close relationships with our teammates.  In fact, 75% of online gamers report that they have made “good friends” while playing.  But these friends are only friends in the sense that they spend a small amount of time killing zombies or earning goldwith you.  These people might be burglars waiting until you go to your piano recital or pedophiles trying to get close to you.  It’s hard to know for sure who you’re talking to online, but oftentimes people tell online strangers facts that they shouldn’t.

But this issue is more complicated than people simply trusting people and telling them intimate details inappropriate for an online relationship.  There are several  factors that affect how deeply this trust can go.  One such factor is the method of communication being used by the players.  As mentioned before, oftentimes computer games use an chat box as the prevalent method of in game discussion for players, and console games only utilize microphones.  This distinction is important however and tends to make console games more dangerous to our privacy, since talking is a more powerful tool of communication than typing generally.  In fact, one study found that although players who used a microphone didn’t develop trust any faster than their keyboard bound peers, they did gain a deeper level of trust than would normally occur using a chat box.  This is very important because console games are now more popular than ever and this demand is only growing.  With this more developed from of trust cybercriminals and other miscreants listening in to your conversation could very quickly develop a close enough relationship with you that you would tell them everything they wanted to know.

Also, there are various methods of chat in some games, for instance in World of Warcraft there are several channels one can use for communication.  There is a server wide channel for general questions, specific regional channels for forming parties and trading objects, guild, party, or raid channels (if you are a member of the guild, party, or raid using the channel), and user created channels, which include channels in a radius around the player (like speaking out loud) or private channels (like whispering).  On these channels anyone with access can listen in.  This is reminiscent of eavesdropping, except in the real world there is normally at least a chance to catch an eavesdropper, whereas in the virtual world they can literally be invisible to you.  This several channel system is actually good for privacy though, as long as all players are aware of how far their conversation really goes.  If you want to tell your friend something private do so on the private channel, not the guild wide one.

This is a problem that affects everyone, not just gamers.  Communication in game is reminiscent of everyone’s daily activities, talking to family and friends, discussing problems with one’s employer, and arguing with the checkout worker.  In order to understand our own dealings in the real world we can study online interactions and analyze the problems which are inherent to them.  Although there are serious privacy issues concerning online games a major one, privacy problems concerning online communications, can be fixed fairly easily.  The main way we can combat this problem is through being aware of what we say and who we say it to online.


  1. I am currently taking a course in which we have discussed the dangers of online gaming and I agree that there are many, however for the most part, they are a constructive pleasure. I agree that because of the dangers of interactions between some of the players or foul language, people can be exposed to strangers and such. However, removing these dangers would be impossible so the best way I think to handle the situation would be more regulation. I feel that the regulation currently is too soft and that is what allows these dangers to remain in the online gaming world. If employees of the firms paid more attention to the conversation between players, then the consistent hecklers and people who would be considered threatening could be weeded out and the overall experience of interacting with gamers in the online setting would be more rewarding and safer.

    -Vishal Desai

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

  2. Daniel Latz

    This post highlights a problem that i have seen with online gaming for a long time. It is for this reason that I hardly ever talk online, unless it is necessary to complete an objective. It seems as though people forget that the internet is a very public space, and anyone can play the video games. Upon listening to some of these people’s conversations, I am absolutely stunned. Just by what is said in some of these conversations, I can find out alot about a person, such as where he/she lives, his/her hobbies, and even his/her agenda. One problem that people face is that they do not utilize the private chat party features of games. A conversation between friends can easily be made in a privat chat group, but more often than not they chat for everyone to hear.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 1:38 pm | Reply

  3. David Luken

    First off I’ve played a great deal of online console video games from Gears of War to Halo to Call of Duty. Sometimes I would connect with my friends online sometimes I would play with complete strangers. I had actually develop loose friendship with friends of my friends who would be online at the same time. Regarding online communication in the games I played I would label it more as inappropriate or vulgar rather than dangerous. I have sworn up a storm on many occasions combining cuss words in unimaginable ways. I have also taken part in my fair share of trash talking. To me that is one of the highlights of online games, its a competitive environment and boasting is fun. I agree the things that come out of my mouth should not be heard by a twelve-year old, but the ESRB (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) also says that any of the games I listed above should not be played by anyone under the age of seventeen because heads are blown off in a visceral manner. Regarding the danger of giving up personal information to strangers who could have malicious intent, I feel this is not a problem as long as you take basic precautions. Rarely has anyone found out personal details such as where I live and even if some know I am from Cincinnati, it would still be hard to find me. I agree people should be aware the dangers of online communication and guard their personal identifying information.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 3:19 pm | Reply

  4. Danny Macovei

    I don’t see this as a problem with the games at all, but as a problem with the people playing the games. If you play the game, you should be responsible. If your child plays the game, you should teach them how to be responsible. The process of developing a friendship with somebody online is similar to the process of developing a friend you meet at a concert, or some other public event. Upon meeting them, you get to know them before you decide to have them over for dinner. The fact that you can do this hastily does not mean that concerts are a problem. People who are harmed by becoming friendly with strangers too quickly are not the responsibility of the event holders, and are not the responsibility of game creators. The fact that not every person is a friend is just something that people have to learn in life, and the gaming world is just as good a place to learn this as in the city.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 10, 2011 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

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