A Nintendo Switch and an alert friend recently helped the FBI find a missing child on the other side of the United States. The increasing interconnectedness of games and shift towards gaming as an online experience has certainly brought many changes to the community and to society in general. There certainly have been negative consequences. A significant number of adults report experiencing harassment in online games, for example.
Online crime has also become more prevalent and investigating it has become more challenging and complex over time as well. Leaks last year led to the FBI investigating the accused Grand Theft Auto 6 hacker and many police departments and federal agencies are now devoting greater resources to combating online crime of all kinds. On the other hand, the online nature of gaming can be very beneficial both for the fun and community it fosters and as a potential means to look out for friends. A family in Virginia learned this last year.
On August 3, 2022, a teenage girl went missing from her home in Virginia. After more than a week of searching and terrible fear for her family, she was found and rescued from a man in Arizona who had contacted her online, groomed her, and convinced her to travel 2,000 miles with him to his apartment. While the young girl suffered a traumatic experience, she was safely recovered after 11 days and is now back home. As it turns out, while the FBI carried out the operation to retrieve her, it was one of her friends and a Nintendo Switch that led to her being found.
Fortunately, a friend of the missing girl saw that she was still signing in to her Switch account and using the console. This revealed that she still had the device with her. The friend quickly contacted the authorities to let them know. This allowed law enforcement to track the girl through her Switch, leading them to the apartment in Arizona and the man who was holding her.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending, but it also highlights the double-edged sword of online gaming. It is possible for predators to use gaming and the internet to find and attract victims. In 2019, it was discovered that a child predator was using Fortnite to groom victims and this case seems to be similar. At the same time, it was the internet and the missing girl’s gaming community that led to her rescue.
Between child predators, harassment, and instances like PlayStation users selling drugs on PSN, there’s no shortage of stories about the dangers of online gaming. Still, it clearly has its positive elements as well, and stories like this will surely spur some parents to speak to their children about how to play online safely and responsibly.
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Source: ABC 15