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gamers as terrorists
by lucy lediaev

Wired.com, February 22, 2008: Having eliminated all terrorism in the real world, the U.S. intelligence community is working to develop software that will detect violent extremists infiltrating World of Warcraft and other massive multiplayer games, according to a data-mining report from the Director of National Intelligence.

Maybe we should sign my 6-year-old granddaughter up with the US intelligence community. Over a year ago, sitting on her dad's lap while he played World of Warcraft, she quickly learned to distinguish the bad guys from the good guys. We still laugh about the night she warned her father to watch out or he was going to be destroyed. His response, "No, that's a good guy" was uttered right before his WOW alter ego's demise. She then said, "I told you, Daddy; he was a bad guy."

Now, we hear that the US intelligence community is going to evaluate WOW player habits to try to spot real and potential terrorists. Frankly, the people I know who play WOW seem to have a clear understanding of the difference between reality and fantasy--even the 6-year-old, who now has her own WOW character. For our government to think they can write a computer program to effectively evaluate gameplay in a fantasy RPG is beyond imagination. I'm sure that my otherwise mild-mannered son-in-law displays behaviors that have nothing to do with his normal or usual persona when he plays WOW. I'm sure the 6-year-old, who sees everything through rose-colored glasses (she thought Oscars should go to the actors and movie makers who cooperate and play nicely together), stalks WOW enemies with vigor and intends them harm.

We are constantly told that there is a shortage of human expertise for day-to-day evaluation of the masses of information collected from a variety of communications media. Wouldn't it be better to write expert computer programs that could evaluate the Tower of Babel that is comprised of the immense amount of multi-lingual chatter on the internet, in e-mail, across phone lines, and picked up by satellite. As I understand it, there is a huge backlog of information that is simply waiting for people with appropriate expertise and language skills to analyze it.

Of course, you could argue that it is not possible to write computer programs "smart" enough to properly evaluate the chatter. If, indeed, that is the case, how could anyone imagine that one's style of play and behavior in a fantasy game could be reliably analyzed for terrorist intent.

Frankly, I'm guessing that neither computer program option is really viable. However, if our government has money to burn, why don't they create a computer system for air traffic control in this country that will will reduce the near misses in the air and on the runway--a system that will anticipate delays and avoid stacking planes in the sky around major hubs.

I've always thought that the oxymoronic "intelligence" community has a lot in common with theater of the absurd. The article cited above has simply strengthened this belief. It doesn't seem to matter if the Democrats or Republicans are in power; the spy organizations among us seem to have lives and agendas of their own--many of them with very little relationship to both fiscal and political reality.


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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erik myers
3.4.08 @ 1:05p

This is a ludicrously hilarious concept.

I'm not sure that style of play would come into it, so much as analyzing the type of discussion happening. I mean, in terms of game play there's not many ways you can vary. It's fairly directed, even if it feels pretty free. On the other hand, it's essentially a 10-million person chatroom, and there's an enormous amount of free-flow text generated by humans to be consumed and processed.

But that brings it right back to the whole "we have scads of information that need to be analyzed."

To drop into total geekspeak on this: They can't even stop the gold farmers. They're gonna stop terrorism via WoW, now?

Sounds to me like someone's looking for an excuse to play on work time.

lucy lediaev
3.4.08 @ 2:52p

Sounds to me like someone's looking for an excuse to play on work time.

I work with a young woman (US Army Reserves, just back from Iraq) who plays WOW. Her comment was similar: "Those guys at the Pentagon just want the government to pay for their WOW accounts and let them play on the job."

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