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The Lawbringer: Consequences 2010

2010 has been a good year for consequences. Comeuppance. Karma. Crime and punishment. These three stories from this year all have one thing in common -- World of Warcraft. Sometimes we forget that our actions inside our MMO of choice can have real-life consequences that don't go over too well with the local, state and federal authorities. This week on The Lawbringer, we go all Cops on you, talking about some 2010 WoW criminals.

You probably know about some of these infamous people already. Hilariously enough, I had to whittle down this list to just three stories, despite the abundance of crazy people getting caught doing all sorts of things in and out of Warcraft. So I present to you three of my favorite WoW criminals from this past year.

Clearwater, Florida presents:

Way down near Tampa is a city called Clearwater, Florida. Personally, I don't know what Clearwater is known for, except for 23-year-old Christopher Bouffard. Back in January, Bouffard was charged with scheming to defraud and two counts of grand theft. What Bouffard did was presumably try to sell two World of Warcraft accounts (or potentially the same one) to at least two different people for about $800 each. After receiving payment from the buyers, he cut off contact, never to be heard from again and never delivering the goods.

Police eventually caught up with Bouffard, who went to jail with a $20,000 bail on his head. Where is he now? I have no idea. It goes to show you, though, that account selling and fraud do have real-life consequences, especially when the paper trail is clear as day and the thief isn't the sharpest tool in the shed.

Here's a fun observation. When the St. Petersburg Times reported on this incident on Jan. 12, 2010, I noticed a very interesting paragraph in the article. It reads:

Arrest reports do not explain why the players Bouffard is accused of defrauding paid hundreds of dollars for characters when they could create their own for free after paying a minimal monthly subscription fee.
Now, either staff writer Rita Farlow is the smuggest troll this side of Goon Town, or this is just one of those things non-players can't wrap their head around. It's an inside-looking-inside insight -- I read that paragraph and knew exactly why, police report or not.

The moral of the story: don't sell your account. You don't own it anyway. Also, don't sell it to people who can track you down (hint: most people) after you scam them out of their money. No one likes having the police at the door. How about just don't steal from people? Losing $800 would piss me off enough to call the cops.

In-game action Account for sale
Out-of-game repercussion Jail and bail

Manatee County, Florida presents:

What's with Florida and crazy WoW players? Has Disney driven you all insane? Let's talk about one of the most infamous ragers in World of Warcraft. Back in February of this year, 27-year-old James Swan was arrested after choking his mom out, kicking his kid across the room and only being stopped after his grandfather shot him in the face.

Did I mention that the reason Mr. Swan went on his outrageous rampage was that his mom, Hazel Summerall, wanted him to stop playing World of Warcraft? As Swan kept drinking and getting louder and more belligerent, his mother confronted him and was met with Swan's very own brand of man-child justice. All it took was one hand on the shoulder, one gesture to get him to quiet down, to set off the warrior within.

There's something that always bothers me about domestic disputes that revolve around video games. It's apparent that this guy has a lot more to worry about than potential progress, but the video game takes center stage. The obsession is a symptom, and I know that over time we are becoming more accepting of that as a society.

Reports say that alcohol was involved. I don't mean to be Mr. Clairvoyant, but after reading a few sentences, I surmised that alcohol might have played a role. What did we learn from Mr. Swan's outburst? Don't drink and get violent because of a video game when your grandfather is such a good shot. Because he will shoot you. In the face.

In-game action Raiding loudly while drunk in house full of kids
Out-of-game repercussion Shot in the face

Washington state presents:

Online romances can be beautiful things. A casual glance across the battlefield, sharing a Fish Feast on the floor together before Marrowgar, or the gentle heal over time effects of your Rejuvenation on the main tank ... I'm feeling sparks here. Online romances can also lead to child pornography charges and affairs with 16-year-old boys from New Jersey.

Jessica Pearce, 33 years old, met a 16-year-old boy from New Jersey while playing World of Warcraft. Their beautiful online romance blossomed into a creepy, illegal, real-life romance as she ferried him back and forth to Washington. She even visited him in New Jersey, taking her 7-year-old daughter along for the ride. They also apparently filmed themselves having sex, prompting the child pornography charges.

Why is this story coming out recently as opposed to 2009 when the events transpired? Only now have many of the records become unsealed. In the case of minors and sexual harassment, courts are usually quick to keep details away from public eyes, with good reason.

Child pornography and crimes involving minors are some of those issues that are difficult to be on the defense about. In a good number of states in the United States, statutory rape is considered a "strict liability" crime, meaning that it doesn't matter what you thought or knew about the defendant's age -- if you did the act, there's not a whole lot you can use to defend yourself. Child pornography and the defense of minors is kind of a big deal in the United States.

I have no idea how this happens so much. One would think cooler heads would prevail in situations like this. Every year, though, there's a new story about an older woman making these connections with a younger boy and traipsing around the country, looking to get caught. For your own safety and well-being, keep the online relationships online if you're a minor. I'm sure the last thing your parents need is your 33-year-old cyber-lover showing up for dinner with her kid.

In-game action Goldshire with a minor
Out-of-game repercussion Probably banned from a whole lot more than WoW; also in new guild <Sex Offenders>

Don't be these people

So there you have it -- three stories of in-game WoW shenanigans that lead to some dire, real-life consequences. Getting shot and going to prison are not on my to-do list any time soon, so I think I'll heed the warnings that these upstanding citizens have so thoughtfully laid before us. Soon, I'd like to do an international version of Consequences, in which things get much more ruthless. At least no one died.

Do you have any nominees for best WoW in-game action turning to out-of-game consequences? German kids smashing keyboards and World of Warcraft YouTube freak-outs need not apply. To the comments with you!

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wow.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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