A six-foot-ten man with tattoos covering his face kneels by his bedroom window, holding a sniper rifle resting on the window sill, pointed out into the street. I am walking down this very street, minding my own business, on my way to a friend’s house. The sniper takes his shot, piercing directly through my right calf. He wasn’t trying to kill me – not yet anyway. He just wanted me immobile. My soon-to-be murderer jumped out the second-story window, pulling a hunting knife from his boot on the way down. He landed with ease – this was not his first time. He sauntered over to my squirming body, grinning as if he lived for this moment. The knife came down quickly in the center of my back, and I lost all feeling in my legs. Again, slightly higher, this time, and just as excruciating. Over and over, the knife plunged into my back, and I could barely hear the piercing over his manic laughter. The carnage keeps going until I’m able to tear my eyes from the screen and remember that I’m still sitting in my living room on the family computer, perfectly safe.
In the early 90s, AOL Instant Messenger was the epitome of cyberspace, and another user could do whatever they wanted to your helpless virtual presence with nothing but a keyboard and a dial-up modem. Only limited by their horrible imaginations, users had ultimate virtual power over one another. They could create a world around you, just to destroy it. Just to destroy you.
The infamous scene above took place in a “chat room” – a group form of text communication usually categorized by a common interest. Everyone helplessly read the words, unable to stop, as if the sniper was right in their homes, holding their head toward the monitor, and blocking their hands from the keyboard and mouse. So many witnessed my brutal murder, and not a single one did anything to help. They could have summoned a dragon to swoop down and eat the man, but no – we were in an alternative rock chat room, and fantasy creatures weren’t allowed.
“I used to believe that instant messaging couldn’t kill you in real life,” user NiNfAn86 said, “Now I know it’s not that simple.”
Above: Actor Jack Nicholson prepares to murder his entire family in the Oculus Rift game “The Shining 2: Outshined”
Decades later, online murder can not only be read in text form, but visualized in the latest 3D “game engine”. It could be on your computer’s screen, or even on a pair of giant goggles that block out the real world entirely – making it that much more difficult to stop looking. If you thought clicking an “X” close icon on a window was tough, just wait until you have to remove something strapped to your head to avoid being virtually murdered in any number of gruesome ways.
Even worse, users don’t even need to have a vocabulary of any sort to describe what they’re doing to you. They can point an ACTUAL virtual GUN at your ACTUAL virtual HEAD. Murder is waiting for you everywhere in VR; it makes walking the streets of Philadelphia at 2 in the morning feel safe.
As online games begin to feel more like reality, so does murder.
“A man turned to me in virtual reality, and shot me in the face. Then he stole every virtual object I had on me, so not only was I murdered, but mugged as well!”
This is Jack Dumpster, founder of Media Immersion for the Less Fortunate, who wrote about his own experience with being murdered in a virtual space in his article “The Most Terrifying Thing That Never Happened”.
Above: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio sexually harasses a player in Kate Winslet Simulator 2016
“I couldn’t believe how real it felt.” Dumpster told me in a reddit thread, “I’ve killed virtual people before, but they were just NPCs in single player games. This was a real person actually murdering me in almost-real life. As a murder survivor myself, I can’t help but relive that moment over and over again.”
People are virtually murdered across all forms of interactive media. Fifty billion people are murdered on the Internet every hour. According to one poll, 132% of Americans have been murdered in one digital form or another. With 364% of Steam users buying a VR headset in the next week, murder is about to be given a whole new meaning.
“When someone murders you in VR, you really feel like you’re dead,” 4chan user fr4ckm3s1d3w4yz told me. “When my guild is PKing n00bz in WoW, it’s totally harmless because they still have the Hot Pocket on their desk in their peripheral vision when they’re dying. In virtual reality, it’s just you and that +4 STR +4 STA Doomblade, and not so much as a Cheeto to make you feel safe.”
So even if no bodily harm comes to you, is it murder if someone puts a virtual sword through your heart? “Absolutely,” fr4ck said.
In a Dailymotion video of Counterstrike – a first person viewport interactive war simulator in which users settle their differences with guns and knives – media technologist John Horshock pulls out his sniper rifle, brutally murdering another player innocently walking around as a virtual chicken.
Or this image, posted to Photobucket, of a man waiting for another player to fall off the roof of a building just to make their day worse by shoving a large combat knife into their sternum.
I messaged Horshock on Myspace about his animal abuse incident on Dailymotion. After buffering for ten minutes, he gave up rewatching it, but remarked, “I can see what I did was wrong. There’s a real human being controlling that virtual chicken, and I had no right to take that from them, even if they were AFK at the time.”
He added, “I only buy cage-free eggs, and I support CTGDHVSOFBA rights, and I’m sad that a chicken was killed.”
There’s no such thing as a game about murder that you can’t be killed in. But as more people strap screens closer and closer to their eyeballs, they need to know where the line is drawn between innocent online video game murder and Virtual Reality Actual Real-Feeling Murder.
Horshock himself Snapchatted a picture of his face looking sad with the text overlay “Developers need to consider the safety of all living creatures, and add options to allow users to make their chickens invincible.”
This post was inspired by this little gem of an article. In all seriousness, please don’t sexually harass people online. All they do is cry about it and write articles like this. Please don’t create more articles like this. It’s not worth it.