Imaginary murder, imaginary news

"Two people who need to get out more waste police officers' time" isn't quite as catchy as "Emotionally unstable woman commits virtual murder!"

Published October 27, 2008 6:49PM (EDT)

Last week in Japan, a 43-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of "illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data." But that's not what the headlines are saying. "Online divorcee jailed after killing virtual hubby," is how the Associated Press described her crime, in keeping with several other news reports that refer to both a murder and a divorce that never existed. The way they phrased it is technically true, but a far cry from the real story, which isn't much of one.

The deal is, this woman was "married" to her victim in a "Second Life"-style game, and when he "divorced" her character without warning, she retaliated by using log-in information the man had given her to access his account and delete his avatar. Oh, the humanity! Forget "murder" -- that doesn't even sound like hacking to me. I'm no expert on Japanese law, but as far as I can tell from reports, she legally obtained the dude's password while they were still on good terms. You'd think it might have occurred to him to change it when he chose to put through their quickie "divorce," but he didn't -- and he was so pissed off when he found his avatar "dead" that he called the cops.

And then, somehow, this became a story about an enraged woman driven to "murder" -- even though she had zero plans for real-life revenge -- instead of about a nonviolent woman who played a jerky prank on a guy who was too stupid to protect his log-in information. Or, you know, ask her for a pretend divorce in the first place, which might have prevented the imaginary tragedy. I realize that the concept of "virtual murder" is so intriguing, it's hard not to write something about it (witness this post), but does it really have to be something that relies so heavily on stereotypes of women as emotionally unstable and obsessed with marriage? "Two people who need to get out more waste police officers' time" wouldn't make a very catchy headline, but at least that story wouldn't be just as fictional as the virtual "victim."


By Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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