“We may be doubtful about certain identities of ours if these identity categories are controversial, stigmatized or unaccepted in society,” (Cheung 59).
New York, often a social and political leader in the United States, has initiated a program titled “Operation Game Over” through its Electronic Securing and Targeting of Online Predators (e-STOP) law, which requires convicted sex offenders to register all of their online aliases, addresses and other identities with the state. The attorney general’s office has shut down over 2,100 profiles of registered sex offenders on online gaming sites before last Christmas, backed by various game firms, in an effort to protect unsuspecting children. This is in addition to the 3,500 profiles removed in early 2012 by private companies.
Doubtless, sex offenders are “controversial, stigmatized [and] unaccepted in society” and many would argue that it’s for good reason. However, crimes requiring registration as a sex offender in New York include: patronizing and promoting prostitution, multiple misdemeanors and low-level felonies unrelated to children and even unlawful surveillance, a crime which may have no sexual motive.
For instance, a young man may become inebriated with a group of friends one night, friends who decide to hire a prostitute for him. The young man gets caught, arrested, and registered as a sex offender, a label he can never remove from his physical identity. Now, according to New York law, he may be removed from an online game he has been playing since his teenage years, a game that helped him establish his social identity, create a network of diverse friends, and blow off steam after the double shifts he works to pay for his college tuition.
“In order to reestablish a stable sense of identity, we have to reflexively reappraise and revise our ‘disrupted’ self-narrative until its sense of coherence is restored,” (Cheung 60).
It is likely that the attorney general’s office is first and foremost targeting those sex offenders whose crime(s) were committed against children for the removal of their online profiles. This new type of cyber-security certainly has the potential to create positive change in the realm of online gaming. But, how much will it infringe upon the lives of the wrongfully convicted or others who have no compulsion pertaining to children? The social and professional reestablishment of one-time, out-of-character offenders is already a large mountain to scale. Now that government is stepping into the digital realm, what will it mean for these men and women who cannot escape their stigma, even in their online havens?