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They're "Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games." A simple search in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massively_multiplayer_online_role-playing_game) tells us that in an MMPORG, players "assume the role of a fictional character (often in a fantasy world), and take control over many of that character's actions." Some MMPORGs offer the ability to customize or modify one's own character, called "modding" in their MMPORG lingo. If you improve another person's character, it's called "buffing," but if you diminish another person's character, it's called "nerfing." This sounds rather like the real world!

One of the first MMPORGs was Dungeons and Dragons; other well-known MMPORGs (if one knows about them at all!) are World of Warcraft, Entropia Universe, MapleStory and Rohan: Blood Feud. You can play some of them for free (ad-supported), but other MMPORGs charge a monthly subscription to play. This is because it takes a rather large and powerful online server - or even multiple servers - to handle the thousands of players worldwide who are all concurrently accessing the game. The EVE Online game had a total of 51,675 players online in the same "world" (instance of the game) in February 2009.

In many MMPORGs the players can earn virtual currency, such as the "Linden Dollars" in Second Life that can be converted to and from real-world U.S. Dollars, so that players can buy and sell properties, powers, etc. In the game. World of Warcraft ("WoW" for short) fans can now buy real-world gold, silver and copper commemorative coins! The worldwide MMPORG industry grosses huge revenues: in 2008 the spending on subscriptions amounted to $1.4 billion U.S. Dollars in the West alone. This doesn't include the huge user base in countries like China, Japan and Korea, where these games are immensely popular.

When I learned programming, the mainframe computer and its disk drives at college took up a large room;
now I have more computing power and storage in the laptop computer that I can carry over my shoulder.

A recent Tech Republic forum, "In search of a new MMORPG home," brought 95 comments from all over the world, with people discussing their favorite games - more comments than any other current forum! Note: this is a forum for IT professionals, not for high schoolers with glazed-over eyes! A whole cottage industry has sprung up around MMPORGs: a nephew of mine makes a living just by writing instruction manuals for such games.

In the article Gaming injuries up, tree-climbing injuries down, it tells us that English kids are spending so much time in front of their computers playing games, that repetitive motion injuries (such as carpal tunnel syndrome) are becoming more common than falling out of a tree or off a skateboard. This leads us to a most important question: what is happening to these children's psyche and social development when they spend countless hours engrossed in their virtual characters who are slaying dragons... or other players?

The above Wikipedia article states, "In nearly all MMORPGs, the development of the player's character is a primary goal." At first glance, this may seem commendable, almost like striving toward sainthood. But how is it achieved? By accomplishing tasks such as killing monsters, or in combat with other players, or to gain "points" in order to move up to a higher level. So we see that virtual reality can be a twisted form of real reality.

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Just like there are laws in human societies, there are rules of the game in MMPORGs. But we know that some human societies are more successful than others in surviving and prospering: cannibalistic societies and those that practice human sacrifice or elimination of weaker members obviously have much lower survival and prosperity levels. The ancient Greek city-state of Sparta, sometimes lauded for its "Spartan" life-style, exposed its weaker members to the elements and wild beasts to eliminate them: where is Sparta today? Gone! If a society eliminates the weakest 10%, that leaves the next weaker 10%, who are next to be eliminated, and so on. Sooner or later, there aren't enough people left for the society to survive.

Various psychologists have studied MMPORG players. Nick Yee surveyed more than 35,000 players. 15% of players become "guild leaders." 8.7% of men and 23.2% of women players have had an online wedding. 57% have created a character of the opposite gender. 21% preferred socializing in their virtual realities online rather than in the real world, and this percentage consists of significantly more men than women. MMORPGs often have many different "classes" of characters, causing the game to develop a "culture" in which one class is superior to another.

In the New Testament, we read: "For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don't find it doing that which is good" (Romans 7:18). This is a classical description of dysfunctional behavior: a person wants to survive, succeed and prosper, but the "rules of the game" in his head won't allow him to do so. God's laws are designed so that we can best survive, succeed and prosper. But many people have mental blocks to this because of their class system, striving to accumulate "points" and to aquire new powers in order to dominate over others. So virtual reality games are not unlike the virtual realities that inhabit many people's minds without the use of computers!

In previous issues we've considered the question of privacy of our personal information. Here's a good article on that topic: Does the Fourth Amendment cover 'the cloud'?. If you're concerned about how much personal information Google collects about you when you use Gmail for email or Google for your searches, consider using http://www.startpage.com/ (formerly Ixquick) for your searches: it does not collect personal information, and consider using a different email service provider.

Regarding the recent hacker attacks involving Google in China, read McAfee: China attacks a 'watershed moment' and How China exposed Google's hypocrisy. Various news reports stated that "no personal information in the body of email messages" were compromised during these hacker attacks, only the header info (such as the sender's IP address, name, email address, and recipient's name and email address.

But anyone who read these reports closely learned that the system broken into was Google's own system for monitoring messages containing keywords related to human rights issues. Thus, the Chinese security apparatus that was apparently behind these attacks already knew what the body of the messages generally consisted of, so now they know who these people are, what IP address (geographic location such as a home, office or Internet cafe) they were sending from, and who they were corresponding with: a rich haul of info!

In another article, Chinese human rights Web sites suffer attacks, we read how at first, the Chinese government denied responsibility. This is an example of "plausible deniability" in which the evidence for government-sponsored espionage is inconclusive. But then they tacitly admitted it: "Online information which incites subversion of state power, violence, and terrorism or includes pornographic contents are explicitly prohibited in the laws and regulations... China has full justification to deal with these illegal and harmful online contents," said a representative of China's State Council Information Office in a Chinese government summary of an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.

The goal of our CN.Net-News is to share information that we think you'll find helpful as you wrestle with that little monster on your desk, your computer. And we aim to present this information from a Christian worldview. Thanks for your time!

Yours truly,

Dr. Bob the CompuNerd

Dr. R.D. HoskEN
See the "nerd" in my name? (It helps if you're a little dyslexic!)
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