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Spy Games - Are We Approaching "1984"?

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Spy Games

Are We Approaching "1984"?



Imagine an inescapable dead end, a sense of hopelessness formed by the constant surveillance and humiliation of human existence and its fundamental rights of privacy. As a young inquisitive student, I was introduced to a book that would instill a fear so unshakable; it exists sixteen years later in the form of paranoia. 1984 by George Orwell gave birth to the "Big Brother is watching you" (Orwell) phenomenon and has since been a gauge by which it becomes a warning to society today. Information has been disclosed, compliments of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, which declares that American and British spies have infiltrated the virtual game worlds of World of Warcraft, Secondlife, and even Xbox live. Conducting surveillance and collecting data in online games played by millions of people across the globe delivers an eerie feeling of Orwell's dystopia. The equilibrium in America has leaned too far in favor of the government and away from the people. To illustrate the extent of which these actions deteriorate human rights, the following case study will explore GVE definition, gaming demographics, alleged spy activity, and lastly the rights at risk during such exploits.

GVE Defined

GVE is the acronym that represents Games and Virtual Environment. For the sake of keeping the contents of this case study specific to spying on games, I will detail only the characteristics of GVE that validate cause for concern. To begin, it is important to point out that todays GVE's allow individuals to meet and congregate with like-minded others online. The majority of them offer several means of communication that range from; private chat to broadcast chat via text and voice. Some GVE games offer third party interfaces that allow limited functionality from a web browser. This will overcome the obstacle of high bandwidth or the inability to download software. It makes using Internet cafes and similar environments favorable for GVE users.

Another key feature that poses a threat is the ability to restrict areas or groups within the virtual environment, making them member-only accessible. Quite simply put, GVE's are an opportunity. They are an opportunity for terrorists and criminals to communicate and socialize in an advanced manner. The ability to communicate within these mediums also carry with it a certain level of trust between the user and the gaming company. The users expect that their privacy be of upmost importance to the company and be given considerable priority within the company's operating procedures.

Gaming Market and Demographics

Investigating the statistical data and gaming population will better explain why NSA, CIA, FBI, and the Pentagon would show interest in, what appears to be innocuous, online gaming. The gaming population crosses gender, age, and cultural boundaries. Extensive studies by SAIC report the primary population for gaming is 18 through 35 years of age and male. The study also showed that the average age of a 'typical gamer' will increase by one year each year and women currently make up about 33% of all adult gamers. The emergence of gaming as the dominant form of entertainment has positioned it as the rival to traditional entertainment industries. By way of growth, revenue, and consumption, the gaming industry outpaces film, music, and the television industries with staggering numbers. In fact, an article 'Playing the Brand Game' states the film industry is predicted to be just one-third the size of the computer game market within four years. (Lindstrom) Ironically, that prediction was given six years ago and, as the following chart illustrates, today's growth rates favor the Game industry with a 12.5% cushion.

Industry Growth

Game 20%

Film 7.5%

Television 7.1%

Music 2%

As gaming grows increasingly social, online and cyber media become essential elements in what has led to todays scale in surveillance. Comscore provides the following statistics pertaining to online gameplay as of 2007: (Comscore)

* There were 217 million online gamers worldwide, 42% of which were female.

* Among systems used online had Xbox 54% use followed by PS3 with 45%.

* 58% of social gamers were over 40 years old

* 79% had a college degree or better.

* 8% of that 217 million access their game via mobile phone. (Just over 17 million)

In defense of NSA, when the basic statistics and facts are examined, there appears to be an untapped medium by which terrorist groups can reach core target audiences. That channel of communication poses as an opportunity for potential criminal targets to "hide in plain site", which in turn leads to a threat or 'fear'. That fear led to a hasty decision to act, but only in a manner that eludes to the unpopular characteristics of hypocrisy.

Spy Activity

In fear of terrorists or criminals using the in-game chat functionality to communicate secretly, move money or plot attacks, intelligence operatives have intruded the virtual game world by direct order. Ambitiously collecting data and contents of communication between players, the spies also hoped to recruit informants during their mission. Again, referencing Snowden's newly disclosed classified documents, "So many CIA, FBI, and Pentagon spies were hunting around in Secondlife a "deconfliction" group was needed in order to avoid collision". The idea of the infiltration is that the spies would create avatars, which would allow them to



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