An article in the New York Times December 9 detailed programs by U.S. and British spies to infiltrate World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Xbox Live. As a mom who periodically plays World of Warcraft with my kids, I was ambivalent.
On the one hand, if it’s true that real terrorists are playing World of Warcraft and may at some point decide to use the game for planning an attack, I’m glad someone is paying attention. On the other hand, what if idle talk about vanquishing enemies (meaning the monster in the dungeon we happen to be running) gets mistaken for a real threat? I hope the NSA is extra careful not to use noobs as spies.
Brian Crecente at Polygon, one of our favorite gaming sites, covered this story, and he highlighted an important point: “None of the documents cite any counterterrorism successes and, according to today’s report, none of the myriad of intelligence and gaming experts interviewed for the story knew of any either.”
Online gaming, in the end, is just like any other online activity. There are so many people shopping, talking, and gaming online, the challenge is how to identify real threats in the flood of information that’s out there. It appears that, so far anyway, not even the spies have figured that part out.
It’s clear that we as a society must talk openly about how to balance national security and personal privacy. I for one am glad the New York Times and other media are covering the story. We deserve a chance to make informed decisions about how much privacy we (and our kids) sacrifice for national security, even in our games.