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Video Game Obsession Gone Incredibly Wrong

Recent news stories have featured the arrest of Kim Schmitz, a.k.a. Kim Dotcom.  His illegal download-facilitation company, Megaupload, has helped defraud artists and copyright holders of at least hundreds of millions of dollars.  I am a published author, and I appreciate the very, very modest income stream I get from that.  So, scammers like Dotcom turn my stomach.  They produce nothing and make money by helping others obtain copyrighted materials for free.  This is antisocial behavior.  It feels like the kind of thing for which we would reprimand a six year old: “It’s wrong to take things that don’t belong to you, Jimmy.”  Apparently, “Dotcom” never learned this lesson.

He once joked that he was not a pirate, but simply provided shipping services for those engaged in piracy. I like to think that I have some insight into this man’s psyche because in my work I regularly encounter self-centered, neurotic, and antisocial computer and video game addicts.  They are mostly young men who dream of being able to while away their days plugged in to their video game interface and not have to worry about making a living, or developing the social skills that would allow them to have successful personal and professional lives.  Several young men who attend my cyber addiction groups sympathize with “Dotcom” and think he is being mistreated by the U.S. Government.  He has a $35 million dollar mansion with dozens of video game consoles and tricked-out easy chairs all through it.  He lives in a video game paradise, complete with hot women, decadent food, and frequent parties.  Of course young men without jobs, or underemployed,  who live in their parents’ basement idolize this overweight, self-indulgent, socially abrasive video gamer.  While his enormous wealth and his championing of so-called “Internet freedom” seem worthy of respect, a deeper look at his life will hopefully disabuse his admirers of their misplaced veneration.

As a teenager, Dotcom earned a reputation in his native Germany for cracking corporate PBX systems in the United States, and tried to parlay it into a career in data security. That effort led to his arrest on charges of using and selling stolen calling card numbers.  In 1998, Dotcom was sentenced to a probationary sentence of two years for computer fraud and handling stolen goods. According to a report by News Record, he had traded stolen calling card numbers he bought from hackers in the United States.  In January 2002, Dotcom was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, deported to Germany, and sentenced to a probationary sentence of one year and eight months, and a €100,000 fine, the largest insider-trading case in Germany at the time. Dotcom also pleaded guilty to embezzlement in November 2003 and received a two-year probation sentence. There are numerous other examples of his early transgressions, but clearly these instances paint a picture of a man who does not like to do honest work for a living, and who spent countless hours playing video games—he was a top rated in the world for Call of Duty.  Rather, he likes to scam.

He certainly trumpets “Internet Freedom” but only because he has found a way to easily use the Internet to facilitate crime, for which he had heretofore engaged in with impunity.  This man is a serial criminal who shows no signs of letting up.  What is the alternative to arresting him?  Letting him continue to defraud more artists and creators?

Kim Schmitz and his cadre of fellow hackers are highly intelligent people.  I only wish that more of them could use their talents to really help humanity.  We need cyber geniuses to solve many of today’s problems.  Cyber adepts have recently been doing this with a “game” called FoldIt which allows players to help scientists help find cures for diseases, like HIV.  The world is moving inexorably in the direction of people like Kim Schmitz.  We have to watch out for this type of genius who is often misunderstood, even maligned, in school.  We must nurture this vast powerhouse of potential by making sure that these folks do not get swallowed up by the cyber world.  We must encourage empathy, connection, and compassion.  I have a lot of ideas about how to do that, but I would like you to share some ideas of your own.  Please join the discussion by posting a comment.

 

6 Responses to “Video Game Obsession Gone Incredibly Wrong”

  1. Brett says:

    Kevin,

    I’ve often read the thoughts of my gaming “peers” about internet “freedom” in the form of piracy, and stared in bewilderment. Do people not see the irony of preaching about freedom while at the same time stealing? I don’t understand how so many online junkies can get so indigninant and upset. It’s one thing if you flat out say you don’t care that it’s stealing, etc, it’s another to actually turn it around and try to appear to be the one who is being wronged.

    In my opinion, this is part of the larger picture of the decay of personal responsibility and society has a whole. Whenever I’d (lovingly!) confront my friends on their attitudes, they’d use justifications such as “so what if they’re losing 10 bucks from me, enough other people still buy it legit from them, they’ll be fine.” I may be making too large of a leap here, but this seems indicative of the fact that our society is becoming more and more de-centralized and fragmented. By extension, if they think their 10 dollars doesn’t matter, do they think the rest of the actions matter to our society has a whole? Do they think that their contribution (or lackthereof) to society matters?

    Looking forward to hearing your take on this!
    -Brett

    • kevin says:

      Brett, this situation reminds me of the culture of the community in which I grew up. The people who had the good jobs had, “gotten in at Ford’s.” Yes, the people who were envied had assembly line positions at an auto manufacturer. These coveted jobs were veritable gravy trains in the minds of many of the folks I knew. General Motors was referred to as “Generous Motors,” and the people in my neighborhood who worked there thought nothing of staying home from work and having a co-worker punch them in [on the clock], or using “five finger discount” to bring home toilet paper and other household supplies. There was a mentality of permissiveness that allowed us, the “downtrodden,” to take from the wealthy when it was possible. I knew people on welfare, men who had been in prison, and on many occasions, my mother bought government cheese from welfare recipients who needed the cash. My mother has never been able to turn down someone in need. A friend of my brother’s regularly raided the returnable-bottle bin at a local supermarket, and another neighbor often went “boosting,” which was code for retail theft. He and his girlfriend would go mostly to supermarkets and shove high-priced steaks and roasts into their coats; they would then sell these at cut-rate prices to people on the block. I came to loathe these people, and saw them as the losers they were.

      I see these Internet pirates in similar terms. They can justify their criminal behavior however they like, but stealing is stealing. As I consider the mindset of Internet thieves who, as you say, wave the banner of freedom, I am sickened. They are parasites who produce nothing, but feel entitled to live off the fat of cyberspace. Brett, I write books, and when someone buys my book on Amazon, I do make a small royalty, and I mean small. Should I be deprived of that? Is it fair for someone to illegally share or download my book and deprive me of the pittance that I deserve for thousands of hours of work? That is where the argument hits closest to home for me. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

      • Brett says:

        Thanks for the reply!

        I love the analogy to the workers at General Motors. How could it possibly be argued that people who are willing to let someone else shoulder the burden for them aren’t in someway de-valueing society?

        I firmly believe that “character is who you are when no one is looking.” In the on-line world, no one is ever looking – you are anonymous. How many people would steal from stores if the employees and other customers collectively closed their eyes and the person knew he wouldn’t be caught?

        In the example of your book, compare two scenarios. Scenario one, someone illegally downloads it online completely anonymously. Scenario two, they bring their laptop to barnes and nobles to download illegally, in full view of the person who is legally buying your book, and who points out that it’s costim him 5 (?) extra dollars because of all the people like him who aren’t paying their fair share.

        I don’t think anyone could make the argument that scenario two would occur even a fraction as much as scenario one. It’s this disconnect with the collectivization principle that really bothers me.

        Posted this from my iPhone, sorry for any grammatical errors! :)

        • kevin says:

          I am glad you appreciate the analogy. I agree with you that this online piracy is similar to many other egregious examples in society of people feeling entitled to parasitism without being responsible to produce themselves.

  2. Robert says:

    I knew people like Kim Dotcom. Kevin, you’re absolutely right: these young man are often marginalized in school and this is what fuels their forays into the dark side. Have you heard about any studies relating to excessive video gaming making people exhibit Asperger’s symptoms?

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