The Chicago Syndicate: New Method for Mob to Recruit and Train Teenagers?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

New Method for Mob to Recruit and Train Teenagers?

The Sims Online is a very popular video game, and it may be getting even more popular. Trouble is, it has been almost completely overrun by an occasionally subtle, occasionally out version of the Mob.

The Mafia may be using The Sims Online as a chat room and indoctrinating teenage kids into it. Sort of a Neo Mafia, similar to the Neo Nazis. Not sure. I do not know what you will think of this, but it is your business.

Several people on the game agreed rationally that the Mafia may be using TSO as a chat room to lure teenage kids into the very real Mafia. Some, in defense of the game, said no, it is a bunch of teenage kids having whoopies and do not get worried. Those people are often game addicts and love TSO a lot. They say they do not get into trouble. And some people said, Maxis, Mafia, who knows. Maybe Maxis is just making money from the woes of those who play TSO and then leave.

I have blown quite a few people away with this story (pun intended.) Also, this is not a fiction story, and finally, I am an ocasionally investigative journalist who has won a few awards. You have probably never heard of me.

If I told you this, would you believe me? Try doing so, because it is the truth. And also, in this strange and perverse world, young people are busy killing each other at an alarming rate. Do we really need something like a pseudo Mafia causing the same sorts of problems? Gangsterism, in other words, on the beloved video games of our children?

According to Wikipedia, the foremost Web online encyclopedia, ever since 9/11 the FBI has not had much in time or resources to handle organized crime, and there has been a sudden resurgence in its activities.

Right now, the online game The Sims Online - which is labeled a T for Teens game - has been overrun by several obviously Mafia named families. These people do not seem to have enough imagination to be Mexican Mafia, Chinese Mafia or Japanese Mafia (yet), which also exist in real life. They are both very aggressive and very obvious.

Whether or not they are the real Mafia is a question which I cannot answer. They may be a bunch of errant teenage boys and girls – but ones with some very eclectic adult tastes and also many violent and weird high tech tendencies. You should see the Playboy style icons they paste on top of their houses from certain views of the TSO video game.

I cannot tell who is to blame for that, adults or kids. And that sort of thing is not something you can ordinarily get as a regular player of that particular video game. Something is up with that, something way too mysterious. And one thing these kids, if they are kids, really do, even though it is to virtual and not real houses: they trash the paid-for beautiful properties of their fellow gameplayers. The kinds of properties that people would like to build, taking a lifetime to achieve. Gorgeous, sprawling mansions you cannot own in real life, the kind that are totally out of reach for the vast majority of people.

Some people have been playing The Sims Online for years. Maybe you think they are weird, maybe you think they are no one to feel sorry for. Maybe you are even rooting for the pseudo Mafia. But not me. I had real friends going on that game, and slowly but surely somebody began destroying our Sims houses, and all of our prized possessions on that game. To the point where no one could tell if it was part of the game, or something far worse.

I happen to have another friend (an entirely different situation) who was screwed over for $15,000 real life dollars when he tried to sell some photographs and they were more or less taken from him. Is that a good thing to do to someone? And is it a good thing to interrupt a high tech, presumably decent enough game involving minor adult activity and corrupt it still further? So far as I can tell, some money is going out that way on TSO too — in real life.

I am so tired, I do not know. Values are very hard to gauge in life, anyway.

To green up on The Sims Online at all, or to keep your simulated character alive and kicking, it forces you to do interactions that are rather similar to bestiality (wrestle with your dog, but you should see what it looks like if you really see it) and that is bad enough, but rather bearable. Sigmund Freud would have told us that such behavior is relatively normal, that having an orgy session involving heavy petting with your own puppy where it loves you and licks your face and you are all over each other is fun. Also, there is sexy dancing, heavy kissing and hugging, and so forth, which works for most people - including twelve year old kids.

This is all done with your fellow characters, real life people in the game whom you can become acquainted with, work with, and even marry. The marriages are not legal of course, and tend to dissolve fairly quickly. I also found out that you can pay, with real money, for virtual acts of prostitution on that game - a T for Teens game. Recently I have found out that what they call kiddy porn has definitely become involved in that game, too. There are children selling kissing and hugging sexual favors there, and they have access to nude skins on the naked characters. Somehow, this doesn't seem like proper "fun" for teenage kids to me.

And it is not fun, also, to come home one day to having your hard won, worked for skills, games, store or money house trashed by unknown people - while your town is crawling with De Corleoni Territori, the Italian Mafia Empire, The Vito Family Territory and so forth. I am not talking Anti-Italian Defamation. I had several Italian friends on the game, whom I now am stuck missing in my daily life. I am talking about a bunch of people either acting like the Mafia, or worse yet, actually being connected with them somehow and taking over a kiddy teen video game. Possibly, several teenage version video games. Or were they involved in the first place, and is Maxis a Mafia held game company? Look at the names. Maxis, Mafia.

When will Electronic Arts do something about the house trashing problem, for example, even though people have repeatedly complained about it? What is it exactly that they are trying to hide? Apparently not much; you can easily find the Mob everywhere on that game. And the Sims version of the cops does absolutely nothing but dress up in uniforms and occasionally threaten people. Their police threaten you if you do not cooperate with them, such as by kissing them or letting them become your roommates, but cannot do anything real to you. It has also been found that their police station involves nothing but lollygagging around and having fun. There is no attempt to stop the Mob at all. Maxis did crack down on one "house of prostitution" and kids selling sexual favors on the game once, but not very hard. I've heard there has been resurgences of such clearly illegal game activities.

It is also true that while the game is labeled T for Teens, it is connected with what appears at first to be some harmless fake gambling. The money being exchanged seems to be Simoleans at first. Fake money, which you get by working at odd jobs on the game, and you may also acquire skills so you can make more of the fake money. But there are payoffs, and you can also buy blocks of the money on EBay, roughly $15-25 for 1 million Simoleans. And you can buy rares, which people barter and pay for, such as Mystic Trees, tigers and cheetahs. The nature of the game makes it looks like you are not spending anything, like the gambling is harmless. Yet it swiftly begins to catch up with you that you are indeed spending your own very real money.

Is this what you want your teenager to be doing? For 6-10 hours a day, five-seven days a week? Eventually, obviously, after I spent about a month on the game, it was so that the money was swiftly turning real. It took about one month for me to blow about $200 in real life dollars on that game. I was getting seriously addicted.

Okay, video addiction is bad enough, but we are talking about Organized Crime here as well. Remember a little place called Columbine High School? What if there is some sort of eerie connection to that sort of business? I had to join this game to find out, kind of as a lark, but I did some real exploring too. The "Mafia" is in and roughly controlling every town that I have visited on The Sims Online, and I have reasonably checked them all over. Dans Grove, Jolly Pines, Blazing Falls, Alphaville. The Mafia is...everywhere.

I have talked to these Mafia gentlemen and ladies, and visited their houses. They do not have very much to do at them but the usual Sims stuff. I am afraid they have discovered game cheats, and being bored, they are using them to destroy other game player properties. And yes, I have evidence, not hard unfortunately, that they have watched people play the game from a distance. One of them knew about something he should not have known. And another friend of mine who regularly plays video games has noticed these tendencies toward having strange game powers that other players do not have in yet other video games. He says it is pretty common. Hackers, he calls it, but in the TSO case, it is hitting a little too close to home.

For example, a very realistic gay bashing was set up right in front of me. I rode it out, but I had to comfort the gay being bashed. Of course, it was his simulated character, not he/she who was hurt. TSO is real people playing games. I am not gay, but it was getting a little peculiar that such stuff is allowable on a T for Teens video game. I was more than a little confused, embarassed and hurt. There had been a threat to bash me as well, which was at least not carried out. I somehow escaped it.

A lady in fun did fire a game Civil War cannon at me, in private, and this Mafia guy named Riccardo knew that it had happened. I do not think she told him about it. How did he know? She did it for laughs, and it was a harmless game event (I peed my pants as the game character, and it seemed okay), but it is not very funny that he knew about it. I did not exactly care, and it was sort of humorous. He could not have known about it unless he had seen it happen, in all probability. And he was not anywhere on the property or onscreen at the time. He had an obvious private view of it going on. The lady was a friend of mine and I did not mind the harmless cannon. But I certainly minded that invisible people knew all about what was going on.

That meant Riccardo there could probably observe sex acts with kids characters on the game, either. But I seriously doubt that he had any interest at all in stopping them. As to policing them, I suppose there would be problems with that, too. The same Mafia dude, who kept denying he was Mafia - while dressed in an obvious game-style Mafia suit and with the name Riccardo - also told me you cannot trash houses unless you are a roommate or the home owner. This should indeed be the case; it involves building permissions. But one of the house trashing victims had no roommates whatsoever. And she was not motivated to trash her house, as no insurance money is involved.

The game definitely has its better aspects, though. Game players on this game can be quite friendly. I made a lot of good friends doing things like making pizzas, opening up my own skills house business, doing minor gambling (legal for adults and I am over 40) and in general - partying. You can play high tech, beautiful looking musical instruments and feel like you are there. It is a great game. You should see some of the wild and crazy characters on this game! Or should you?

Well, I can not play it myself anymore. I quit the game solely because of the extremely heavy Mafia presence that was starting to visit my house and breathe hotly down my neck. That, and the game was cutting into my work routine as a full-time writer quite a little bit, too.

First, Riccardo showed up. Out of nowhere, after I had used the usual Maxis device to screen all apparent Mafia members out of my house. He showed up at my house. The same day the house of my friend was trashed. It was the second such trashing since I had started playing there. Obvious Mafia guy, obviously scouting me. For membership, or for house bashing? He denied everything completely. This was after two such houses had been trashed.

Want to know anything about terrorism? Now I know what it is. A little too thoroughly for my tastes. The Mob was making it obvious that I could be next. Why is that exactly? And what sort of next would it be, real, or simulated game activity? These people looked capable of tracking down my actual home computer IP address, my ISP - and finally, my real life house. They seem to have the technology... ...yeah, they are just a bunch of teenagers who like to trash houses...they are not the real Mafia, they are just kids...I heard a lot of that from people both on and off the game, even my fellow writers. Harmless kids. With Playboy symbols on the roofs of their game houses, very obviously the kind adults use. Mere "kids."

Like the ones at Columbine? That bunch called themselves The Trenchcoat Mafia. What is it with teenage kids and the Mob nowadays? Bad influence from gangsta rap? Perhaps boredom with what the Sims had to offer, or a lack of desire to wait for the further events? We had chat rooms going, and Eminem (might be the real one from rap music, somebody on the game claimed it actually is the rapper dude, who knows) was there, helping to build a SimBall stadium. So people could play SimBall on the game. Some guy called Eminem, and he wanted to build us a ball stadium. What if the pseudo Mafia decides to trash that, too? Em there might have been trying to do something real and good for a change. Dunno. And I heard about the house of a man also being trashed in Jolly Pines, so it is obvious they do not do it only to women or just to my own coincidental female friends. But all I could finally do was flee. The game was cutting too deeply into my own personal life anyway, as sour grapes as that sounds. I quit playing the game for good. I do not feel much like a grownup after that. I feel rather like an inebriated cipher. I learned later that it is a major punishment in the Sims Mafia to get a member to erase their character or all of their characters and property - that is, if you are already a Mob member. I was only glad to get our of there before I was "erased" by someone else. And my daughter was equally glad to stop playing the game, as she found it was getting boring anyway trying to elude the Mob.

Parents, watch the video games your teenagers are playing. You might turn around and suddenly find you have a genuine Neo Mafiosi for a teenage daughter or son, in your Real Life. I know that now. You might think I am crazy, but I am not. A man told me recently he has been finding kids that stay all day on those games. I am not the only nutty parent here who is getting worried. I think something like Columbine could swallow our kids alive, alarmist as that may sound, through video games.

The Sims Online is conceivably the haven for a slinking beast with no better name than the Neo Mafia: My New Family. And for the last time, if you are Italian, I am not picking on you. I am worried about you instead. And do you need to be affiliated with these mysterious strangers, who maybe think all organized crime is still from Italy? Are you, like me, a parent? Ma fia? Neo ma fia? Oy gevaldt, as the Jews say, on such a New Family!

Yes, parents, that is what it means in Italian-American. My new family. Still feel comfortable with the concept?

Those guys were lying to me. If so, then they are Neo Mafia. What would that mean exactly, if they have the technology to get past the normal defenses in the game and tear the houses of other players down? I was told by several people, even Riccardo, that it is not easy to do that.

"Trust me. I am only Italian. I am not a Mafia member. You must be a bigot. It is because my skin is brown. Yadayadayaday," Riccardo said. You can be whatever skin color you want to be on TSO, and either sex for that matter. Everybody kept going, it is only kids, calm down, it is only kids. Yeah, some pretty old kids with Playboy banners and slogans who like to indulge in kiddy sex trades.

First town on The Sims map: Dans Grove. First thing you see when you enter there: Italian Mafia Empire. It was a little hidden, but not very. Sort of to the South. It is obviously their beachhead, the place they originally hit.

Then they simply moved out from there. And they can hide. When you go there, to Dans Grove, you do not find very many Mafia. They seemingly moved out from there. Trouble is, they can move right back there at lightning speed. That is not doable by any regular game player without having more than one paid account on the game. How many paid accounts do these guys have? Dans Grove seems to be the seat of the Hidden Mafia Empire, altogether. Sounds exciting in a way, I guess, but no fun.

That is where they trashed the two or three houses. Or...whatever. Yes dear, it is all twelve year old kids. And my name is Uncle Auntie Em. Maybe I was a fool for ever playing it. I assumed it was just a game, and someone was being silly.

I was wrong. That game smells to the skies of actual real life payoffs, and everyone I talked to genuinely seemed to know that, one way or another. And if they chase almost everyone who is not Mafia off of the game, who is left talking to each other while presumably playing a T for Teens video game - as a chat room?

I hope the FBI does something, but God help anybody, I do not know what. They would have to join the game to infiltrate it and actually, er, gather evidence. Gosh, that would be so going overboard for them. Maybe they could eat donuts, drink coffee, and pretend to look for terrorists instead, like the cops on the Sims do, more or less? Or maybe go bug half-crazed Black people and Native Americans from the sixties?

Sorry, I have got to admit I am finally feeling a little nuts here.
I know bloody well that if this story is ever run or promoted, people will join The Sims Online (TSO) after having read it. It is an extremely easy game to join, a free two week trial, $10 per month and bam, you are in it. This story itself works out to promoting them. Well, if you want to join the Mafia very easily, there you go.

The last I read, however, sales on the game have been slipping, and are not as high as Maxis would like them to be. Their overall projections were much higher than their actual results. But their other non-interactive Sims games, which are played mostly offline, are selling so well that Maxis can claim that The Sims 2 is the Number One selling video game worldwide. At least that is what they are claiming.

News items like riots over the War in Iraq or tales of actual real life child prostitution belittle all of this pretty much. Nonetheless, I believe that the Federal Bureau of Investigation should be looking into at least some of these teenage and kiddy video games. You can buy money on EBay to sell on that TSO game, very young kids are on that game, and they are being threatened into being recruited for the, I would assume, mostly "Sicilian" Mafia...right now...since they all keep mentioning the Italian one so much...

...the real one or the virtual one?

Who knows?

Thanks to Karen Peralta

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