You Be the Judge: Cyber Crime and Punishment

Human relations can be very complex, even when they are not real.

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A quiet 43-year-old piano teacher in search of a little more excitement in her life found plenty of adventure when she began playing a 2-D virtual-reality game in cyberspace. The game, MapleStory, takes place in the animated “Maple World,” which exists on the Internet. Players enter the game through a computer program after choosing a cartoon character to represent themselves. These characters, who live continually in the virtual world of the game, even when the player is away from the computer, are called avatars. Whenever the player re-enters Maple World, he engages in computerized adventures such as fighting monsters or meeting the avatars of other players. In fact, the relationship between players, as played out in the computerized world, is a big part of the appeal of this game.

The piano teacher in our story befriended another player in Maple World. The two became so close that they married each other in a Maple World ceremony. From this point, they were able to acquire greater powers, amass game currency (which is only honored for purchases in Maple World), and engage in adventures together. For a time, all is well … until, without warning or reason, her husband announced, “I divorce you.”

Human relations can be very complex, even when they are not real. She was, once again, a solitary avatar in Maple World. Angry, because her avatar was jilted and left without the credits she had earned with her husband, the teacher entered Maple World using her ex-avatar-husband’s password, which she had obtained when they were married, with the sole intention of killing his avatar. The husband was hit by a Maple World bus. He never saw it coming.

When the ex-husband entered the game the next time, it was his turn to be surprised. Maple World informed him that his avatar alter ego was dead. Road kill. Flattened. Kaput. And, unlike other more forgiving games, he could not revive his game character. His life and his game credits in Maple World, under that character, which he had spent a year to create, were gone.

He called the police to report that the “wife” had illegally accessed his computer and murdered his beloved avatar.

Is the woman guilty of illegally accessing her Maple World husband’s computer? She said that when they were married, he had given her, as his “bride,” the access code for his account. Hence, she maintains she didn’t enter his account illegally.

The teacher was arrested and driven 620 miles across the country to the town where her ex-Maple World husband lived. She is facing charges, not of Maple World homicide, but of computer hacking, i.e., “illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data.” If tried and found guilty, she could receive a sentence of up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine.

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