No one wants to feel anxious about their online identity these days. We all want to connect, to play, to share information, to put ourselves on Youtube videos, post photos, and it has even become uncool to be antsy about meeting people you met online.
Unfortunately, regardless of what we'd like to believe, stalking still happens. A high school girl was recently approached at school by a man who crossed borders and travelled hours to find her.
For one 16 year-old girl, her long-time WoW guildmate began to stalk her. The female college student she had been hanging around with in a virtual world for months, chatting about fashion and parties, turned out to be a 20 year-old Canadian male.
She met him face-to-face when he showed up at her high school, claiming to be her guildmate's best friend. Armed with odd gifts like a set of his car keys and a The OC DVD box set, he showed her some photos of her guildie that she'd recognize, and asked her to lunch.
It became apparent very quickly that something was very wrong. His behavior was strange; he not only offered her a new laptop computer, but he also hung around the school parking lot for hours, claiming he didn't know how he would get back home.
Luckily, the girl and her friends had the presence of mind to inform school officials. The local deputy uncovered that although the man knew the woman, Vera, whose identity he had virtually assumed, she did not know that he had been posing as her, even using her photos, on both MySpace and WoW. In his car the police found several bottles of hard liquor.
Although I have read similar stories, this one has a bizarre ring to it, as if the man is perhaps more unstable and obsessed than downright predatory. One thing that really struck me was that he was only twenty years old, a detail I must have missed during my first read, and one that genuinely surprised me. That is an age where, if he had been struck by a drunk driver, or diagnosed with cancer, people would be referring to him as practically a kid.
For parents especially, this sort of thing is most definitely frightening. Although there are many precautionary steps that we can take online, there is only so much a parent can do to protect their children while giving them room to evolve, learn, make choices, and have independence. 24/7 monitoring simply isn't realistic.
On a side note, the author's portrayal of World of Warcraft is one of the most skewed I have come across in awhile. He claims that players, working in guild groups, are on a "never-ending quest to gather power" which struck an odd chord with me. I move my character through content, and try to upgrade my gear, master my skillset, and the like, but I have never viewed my progress in-game as an attempt to acquire power over others.
He also claims that "players can be fanatical in their pursuit of Warcraft gold", linking it to how we gain power. Personally, I feel that anyone who is fanatical about WoW gold is likely fanatical about stalking 16 year-old girls too. Of course, the real tip-off that the author has never even seen a WoW player or a copy of the game is that, according to him, news reports have shown that some players spend real money for WoW gold on eBay.
Feel free to comment on your reactions. I read it about four times and came out of it feeling a bit like someone had me in a fear + stun lock.