It’s difficult to bring up video games, especially online multiplayers, without hearing comments about pedophiles. It has become as expected as hearing about living on mom’s basement and living on Twinkies. Pedophilia is now considered part of the gamer culture by those who aren’t gamers.
Pretty sad since it’s a black mark on games that we really don’t need. Although it’s become part of urban legend and a generally accepted fact, the question has to be asked:
A fair question since the media doesn’t seem interested in giving any sort of fair, balanced, or even handed view of the phenomenon (however big it may or may not be). Hell, one of the top shows recently was To Catch a Predator on NBC’s Dateline where Chris Hansen baits and traps supposed pedophiles from online to real life. That’s spawned underground vigilantes who use YouTube to “expose” supposed predators with screen captures of their chats (which may or may not be doctored) and then showing up to meetings they’ve set up to put the perp on tape. Often while wearing ridiculous costumes themselves (one wears Batman). Nobody bothers to ask why these “justice seekers” are posing at 15 year old girls online, of course.
In real terms, the number of active pedophiles seeking to really take advantage of underrage kids is statistically likely very, very small. Less than half of one percent of gamers are likely predators. This is using the colloquial definition of a pedophile, which is anyone seeking underrage (in the U.S. that’s generally 16 or under) sex partners, though pedophilia is technically defined as sexual acts against those under puberty. The broader term is the more accepted by western society, so it is the one we’re using here.
Judging by media coverage (not to mention the FBI), by contrast, every male over the age of 20 who plays video games online is probably a pedophile. That, of course, is patently ridiculous, but we can’t really blame the stereotype much. Game companies and gamers themselves often enhance this profiling with their own actions.
Not really, but many of them don’t help the situation much. TERA Online, for instance, released to great fanfare. Then, amid complaints of gore and blood in the European Union, the game was modified in April 2012 to match EU standards for 12+ ratings. Quietly, another change was made to the Elin race in order to prevent “unsavory users” from being attracted to the game. Those changes were only made on the EU and North American servers. They involved toning down the blatant sexuality of the underrage-appearing Elins to deter their use as sex objects in the game. For western audiences. Great detail was given by Raging Monkeys on this.
See, therein lies a big problem. Cultures are different around the world. In most of Asia, cartoonish characters that look very underrage to Western eyes are perfectly acceptable as sex objects. In fact, it’s expected. Given that many games are made by or for the Asian market, this creates a sort of culture clash.
These sorts of portrayals, in Manga and traditional fantasy role playing games (RPG) and comics, are popular world wide. When someone who isn’t familiar with the genres or their nuances sees them, however, they often get a little quirky about it. This can be understood, given Western culture and our perceptions of age and sexuality.
Add to that the questionable sexuality of some gamers themselves (as they are perceived by the “real world”), and you have a culture that is only stoking the fires of the gamer-as-pedophile stereotype.
Sort of. Gamers exacerbate the issue by acting like, well, gamers. While the vast majority of gamers are what most would call “normal,” there is a subculture of gamers who are, well, strange. These are the ones who don’t just dress up in costume for cons and events, but who dress up all the time. Everyday is Halloween for them.
There’s nothing wrong with that, on its face, but it creates an image that easily becomes (and generally is) an object of ridicule by those who are “normal.” Add to this the fact that most gamers, by virtue of their obsession, generally not the best physical specimens and examples of health and to that the fact that the ratio of male to female gamers is very tilted towards the male side.. you can start to see the picture.
Stereotypically, the average gamer is a 25-ish male who’s overweight (likely obese), pasty-skinned, usually sports the “Goth” look in general, talks in a mixture of everyday and Old English, and has trouble socially equating with others – especially women.
Given that stereotype and an objective look at it as it is, we can see that most of the “normal” world would see gamers as odd. That oddity can quickly become, in many minds, the worst of things. That might be a Democrat, a homosexual, or a pedophile. Depending on who you ask. Maybe all three.
Although it’s great to be yourself and do what you love, gamers should realize that the way they portray themselves to the world affects their lives as well as the lives of other professed gamers. A lot of gamers, who are otherwise “normal,” often hide their love of gaming in order to avoid being added to the stereotype. This actually makes things worse, for obvious reasons.
Despite their small numbers statistically, pedophiles lurking in the online game world are a concern – and should be. These “active offenders” are men and women who attempt to locate, communicate with, and ultimately physically assault the most innocent amongst us. So we should be concerned about them.
The trouble is, there is a fine line between entrapment and catching a real criminal. As the online videos showing the vigilantes who look for “justice” by hunting down “pedophiles” show, most use entrapment to snare their quarry. For all they know, they could be showing up to confront a police officer or clergy member whose job it is to keep children from becoming victims. Or perhaps it’s just a lonely guy who didn’t really plan on doing anything more than having a Mcburger with someone he’d met online in a game. Even with the lame sexual banter often given (usually pushed by the vigilante, by the way), it becomes obvious who the real pervert might be.
On the other hand, the predators need to be sought out and prevented from causing harm.
Just a couple of months ago, over 400 known and convict-able pedophiles were caught on various gaming platforms by a group known as “Samus.” Operation Samus was conducted by a legal coordinator and four transgender gamers (you heard right, transgender) over a three week period. These investigators managed to gather evidence against 400 criminals, 124 of which were parole violators and known sex offenders.
They did it with proper investigative technique, proper evidence gathering, and without baiting or entrapping the pedophiles they were after. You can read about Operation: Samus (named after the bounty hunter in Metroid) at this link. There are also some great (and realistic) tips for parents who want to keep their children safe online.
When it’s all said and done, it’s all of us who are responsible for keeping children safe from pedophiles. Most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with playing a game that happens to have an underage person involved in it. I’ve personally grouped with 11 and 12 year old players in dungeons and instances in many games and wouldn’t have known (or cared about) their ages if we hadn’t been talking in voice chat. If it’s all about the game and nothing more, then it’s all good.
Although the bad guys are out there, parents shouldn’t use that as an excuse to keep their children from gaming and adults shouldn’t see it as a reason to not be gaming themselves. Like driving a car knowing that you could be in a serious accident at any time, you don’t just not drive the car anymore. Instead, you take proper precautions and then try not to let it interfere with your life.
So take proper precautions, but don’t stop gaming.