It is not just a game

By Barbara Davi

We are surrounded by technology in all aspect of our life and having a foundation in something like Virtual Reality vulnerabilities is important to understand.  As a starting point for anyone unfamiliar with VR concepts, the Virtual Reality Society has some very good information.  

Virtual Reality Concepts

The concepts behind virtual reality are based upon theories about a long held human desire to escape the boundaries of the ‘real world’ by embracing cyberspace. Once there we can interact with this virtual environment in a more naturalistic manner which will generate new forms of human-machine interaction (HMI). “(source:

Some may see this as the stuff of science fiction.  It is not.  This is technology that exists today.  Our children are escaping here and so are many adults.  It is fun and a relaxing way to escape for many exposed to our modern world of technology.

A virtual environment allows someone to fully immerse themselves in a highly visual world which they explore by means of their senses. This natural form of interaction within this world often results in new forms of communication and understanding.

Freedom within the 3D virtual environment

The experience of a virtual world mimics that of a real-world scenario but often without many of its constraints. Virtual reality enables allows someone to do the following:

  • Walk around a three-dimensional building
  • Perform a virtual operation
  • Play a multi-user game
  • Take part in a theater of war
  • Interact with an artwork, e.g. installation

Plus, the fact that they can do this in a 3D environment means that they replicate an experience like that in the real world but without many of the dangers.

This is preferable to trying to simulate these experiences in a two-dimensional setting, e.g. a computer desktop.

Problem-solving with virtual reality

Virtual reality also acts as a problem-solving device in that it enables us to explore various options as a means of finding an answer to a problem.

For example, an engineering company will use virtual reality to produce a prototype which is then tested and the results fed back to the design team. The advantage of this is that it enables the designers to make alterations to their design but at far less time and cost.

This is a preferred option to building a physical prototype which is expensive to build and make changes to especially if it undergoes several alterations as part of the design process.” (source:

With any technology that provides virtual worlds for users to engage in fantasy lives, ethical issues are going to surface.  When it is online and real people are interacting in these worlds they may encounter children dressed as adult avatars and adults dressed as children.  These imaginary relationships can evolve into something that may become a cause for concern.  Even though they are imaginary, the can become real.  As with all children playing on the internet, parents should be closely monitoring.  The VR gaming companies can only go so far to protect children.  Parents are the true gatekeepers. 

More ethical issues were addressed in the VR Society that sparked my interest regarding virtual environments. “These are related to human behavior and motivations and are also a concern for the gaming industry.

They include:

  • The problem of ‘desensitization’
  • Virtual criminality

The desensitization of virtual reality
“Concerns have been raised about a possible relationship between virtual reality and desensitization. This refers to virtual reality games in which there are high levels of violence or training exercises for the military in which soldiers engage in simulated combat scenarios which include killing.

Desensitization means that the person is no longer affected by extreme acts of behavior such as violence and fails to show empathy or compassion as a result. In some situations, they actively seek out this type of scenario for the adrenaline rush and sense of power.

This has been noticed with gamers, especially those who play first person shooters or role playing games which involve a high degree of immersion.

Another issue related to this is ‘cyber-addiction’. There are people who become addicted to virtual reality games and therefore, start to blur the boundary between real and virtual life. They spend increasing amounts of time in the virtual environment which has a detrimental effect on their real-world life.”(source:

The result of desensitization caused by violent gaming is a controversially loaded subject.  Much more goes into whether a person that can become desensitized.  They may be battling other psychological issues that caused them to act out violently after becoming highly immersed in violent gaming.  The same is true for ‘cyber-addiction’.  If someone is vulnerable to becoming addicted then studies have shown that it is more associated with their personal state of mind and my flow over to other aspects of their life.

More about Virtual Reality

“Virtual reality has been used for more than the fun of gaming over many years.  Virtual reality GIS (VRGIS) is decades old. It has been around since the 1990s (One may also add mixed reality “GIS [MRGIS] and augmented reality GIS [ARGIS] as closely related terms and concepts.) But more recent developments in technologies, such as big data, augmented reality, graphic processing units (GPUs) and the Internet of Things (IoT), have helped provide superior implementations, higher performance and better human–computer interactive modes for VRGIS, which enabled its use in solving more complex, practical and real-world problems.

VRGIS technology is a combination of virtual reality (VR) and GIS technologies, integrating three-dimensional GIS (3D GIS) and Internet-oriented GIS (Web GIS). VRGIS technology adopts different human–computer interaction devices [1]. It establishes a three-dimensional (3D) model in a virtual environment and operates via personal computers, mobile devices, and smart glasses. Newer generations of low-cost hardware technologies and ubiquitous devices are significantly reducing the threshold of VRGIS adoption and acceptance by various research communities and user groups” (source:

The legal question of people defrauding others using Virtual Reality

“In the money laundering world, anything of value can be laundered. A player/resident may use his actual credit or debit card to purchase online money and then redeem those credits for actual money with another player in another country and in that country's unit of currency. Additionally, another question that will ultimately arise will be the issue of taxation or the lack thereof.

To create an account is just a matter of providing a name and email address. There is no verification of this information. To make a purchase a credit card may be used or a PayPal account. This is where there may be some form of investigative tracking, however, if fictitious information was used to establish those accounts a dead end will quickly be encountered.  A launderer opens numerous separate virtual accounts, all using fictitious id. The accounts are all funded with the proceeds of an organized crime sports betting operation. The launderer can make purchases in the virtual world to and from himself by using those accounts as if he were purchasing assets from other residents. Subsequently, he may direct all his proceeds to an account that he maintains. He can then withdraw those funds either from the bank or using an ATM. It would be nearly impossible to trace the source of those funds.

Areas of Concern:

Can virtual money be counterfeited?
Is there any trail to follow the money?
Who has access to the computer systems used to fund the system?
Using the ruse of "improving functions," hackers have already been able to install keystroke loggers and malicious codes onto the computers of those playing the game. Players already have had their accounts hijacked and their in-game assets and values sold off.
Can criminals use the system to perpetuate their crimes?

  • Money laundering
  • Fraud
  • Gambling/Betting payoffs
  • Extortion
  • Ransom Demands
  • Private internal message capabilities

How does law enforcement investigate?
Loading cash from pre-paid cards to purchase online cash thereby increasing the layering aspect of money laundering. ” (source:

In come the regulators… 

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) treats dealers in foreign exchange, providers and sellers of prepaid access, and money transmitters as “money services businesses” (MSBs).  An MSB must maintain an anti-money laundering (AML) program, and comply with registration, reporting and recordkeeping requirements. Money transmitters are also subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA), as implemented by FinCEN regulations. The Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (Patriot Act) makes it a crime to operate an unlicensed money transmission business. Licensing such businesses is primarily intended to protect consumers. (source:


The subject of compliance, regulations, and rules protecting consumers when money is changing hands internationally is huge and complicated.  Nevertheless, it is only going to grow and transform as technology becomes ever more complex and the criminals find new and more crafty ways to inject themselves into these systems for their personal gain.  Be safe out there and have fun!