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The Think Tank: Do government spies scare you away from your favorite MMO?

Shawn Schuster

The NSA is listening to our MMO chat logs, and I feel fine. Monday's news has sparked outrage among some gamers, while others yawn and carry on, knowing that they have nothing to fear.

So I polled the Massively staff members to gather everyone's thoughts on the topic. Would any of us stop playing our MMOs of choice, knowing that there are government spies all around watching our every move? Or does that just mean more noobs to bash in PvP?

I am surprised that anyone would be surprised at the government spying on our online gaming. It just makes sense if you ask me. After all, the chats are relatively private and have several walls between the public and personal. Of course, the developers might have issues, but it all depends on how the government is getting the info. The men-in-black could probably just stand outside of Orgrimmar and get plenty of juicy bits!
Scare me from playing? No. They don't scare me from going to the mall, either. Privacy is extremely important to me regardless of whether I have anything to hide, but what the NSA is doing in WoW sounds like people-watching in a semi-public space, and people-watching is just people-watching, whether you're doing it for entertainment or for market research or for spy games. It's another thing entirely if the NSA is hacking the private property of game studios or intercepting protected communications of players without warrants, but it's unclear whether that's going on. And even that wouldn't frighten me from playing, no more than I'm frightened out of using Gmail. It pisses me off, however, and is and should be illegal.

On the other hand, I'm having a good laugh at the idea that FBI agents are spending time in Second Life "hunting for terrorists." Finally, a lucrative career playing video games! I mean, "doing research." The Massively yacht can become a reality, folks.
Honestly, I don't care in the slightest. So someone could monitor the things I do. That's been true as long as I've all been alive. If the government really wants to watch you, it can do it. xkcd sums it up beautifully. Data is imaginary; burritos are real.
Can't say that it scares me from playing. More like it's annoying that so many people adopt the we-can't-fight-city-hall attitude that allows this sort of stuff to continue. But I guess you can't force people to care or act responsibly.
In this day and age, I think it's prudent to assume that nothing is really safe and private the way that we might hope. Spies won't keep me away from MMOs any more than spies will keep me off the internet or from making phone calls. For one thing, anything they might hear or observe from me is going to be really boring. For another, I've tried to be smarter about not blabbing personal details of my life everywhere. I'm more concerned about identity theft than the NSA, truth be told. And it's kind of funny in a sad way that there are grown men and women playing panda-people in a fantasy video game in an effort to thwart terrorists. Oh, if only I could go back and tell people from the past that this was the future they were about to inherit.
It is concerning to me that intelligence agencies have snowballed unchecked as they have for the last 12 years. At this point I'd be more surprised to hear the NSA wasn't sitting in my closet with a cup to the wall. Beyond the privacy implications, however, I'm not really worried about Johnny CIA playing pretend in Azeroth. Games like WoW have law enforcement value when protocols are followed. Still, there seems to be some confusion on whether communication between players was actually "intercepted;" clarity on that would certainly impact the way I view the issue.
This doesn't deter me from enjoying my favorite MMOs. In fact, it just sounds like some clever geeks in the NSA and CIA successfully convinced their superiors to get paid to play video games. Good on them!
None of this scares me away from any games, but my problem is with the definition of terrorism being sought. Are they looking for specific keywords in chat logs? Because if you're going to get on someone for organizing an attack on a building, that's just called raid night. And where does the line begin or end? Personal threats against another person? Racist and sexist threats? These are all found in every corner of the internet, but the threshold seems to be fuzzy and subjective. Dear NSA, let me introduce you to a little thing called the Greater Internet F***wad Theory (explicit language).
I think what would worry me more would be to find out that the NSA was ignoring what is a very real way for people to communicate with each other globally. Could you imagine the outrage if it were discovered only after another national attack that the terrorists were using chat rooms in MMOs to communicate and plan? To say that people would flip out would be putting it mildly. So the spying doesn't concern me at all because the games I play track everything I do anyway, from my play time to what quests/missions I prefer to what I buy and how much money I spend. Dear gods, could you imagine how boring it would be to monitor zone chat in a game, having to wade through the constant, dull, dbaggery just to find even bigger dbags? I envy these people not.

What do you get when you throw the Massively writers' opinions together in one big pot to stew? You get The Think Tank, a column dedicated to ruminating on the MMO genre. We range from hardcore PvPers to sandbox lovers to the carest of the carebears, so expect some disagreement! Join Senior Editor Shawn Schuster and the team for a new edition right here every other Thursday.

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