Thursday, October 23, 2008

Virtual Murder, Tibetan Cannibalism

A [presumably Buddhist Japanese] woman whose "[virtual] husband" divorced her in an online game is jailed for killing his avatar. Tibetan scholar reveals gruesome practice of spiritually-motivated [and of course misguided] cannibalism.

Woman jailed after "killing" virtual husband
Mari Yamaguchi (AP)

TOKYO – A 43-year-old player in a virtual game world became so angry about her sudden divorce from her online husband that she logged on with his password and killed his digital persona, police said Thursday. The woman, who has been jailed on suspicion of illegally accessing a computer and manipulating electronic data, used his ID and password to log onto the popular interactive game "Maple Story" to carry out the virtual murder in May, a police official in the northern city of Sapporo said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of department policy.

"I was suddenly divorced, without a word of warning. That made me so angry," the official quoted her as telling investigators and admitting the allegations. The woman, a piano teacher, had not plotted any revenge in the real world, the official said.

She has not yet been formally charged. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison or a fine up to $5,000. Players in "Maple Story" create and manipulate digital images called "avatars" that represent themselves, while engaging in relationships, social activities and fighting monsters and other obstacles.

In virtual worlds, players often abandon their inhibitions, engaging in activity online that they would never do in the real world. For instance, sex with strangers is a common activity. The woman used login information she got from the 33-year-old office worker when their characters were happily married to kill the character. The man complained to police when he discovered that his online avatar was dead.

The woman was arrested Wednesday and taken 620 miles from her home in southern Miyazaki to be detained in Sapporo, where the man lives, the official said. The police official said he did not know if she was married in the real world. Bad online behavior is usually handled within the rules set up by online worlds, which can ban miscreants or take away their virtual possessions.
In recent years, virtual lives have had consequences in the real world.

When bad deeds lead to criminal charges, prosecutors have found a real-world activity to cite — as in this case, in which the woman was charged with inappropriate computer access.

In August, a woman was charged in Delaware with plotting the real-life abduction of a boyfriend she met through the virtual reality Web site "Second Life." In Tokyo, a 16-year-old boy was charged with stealing the ID and password from a fellow player of an online game in order to swindle virtual currency worth $360,000. Virtual games are popular in Japan, and "Second Life" has drawn a fair number of Japanese participants. They rank third by nationality among users, after Americans and Brazilians.

Considering Anthropophagy in Tibet
Frances Garrett (Univ. of Toronto, speaking at UC Berkeley)

Prof. Garrett's presentation examined "cannibalism" as a locus of connection between religious, medical, and occult traditions in Tibet.

Surveying examples of the consumption of human body parts as articulated in Tibetan contemplative, ritual, occult, and medical literature, and in myth, iconography, and narrative, this talk considered how anthropophagy has been controversial not only for Buddhologists and European visitors to Tibet, but also for Tibetans themselves.

Prof. Garrett draws in particular from the Nectar Tantras canon and its writings on the contemplative and ritual practice called "Accomplishing Medicine" (sman sgrub), an esoteric exercise that involves the creation and use of "nectar" recipes using human products. She concludes that in Tibet anthropophagous practices and narratives are acts of transgression, generosity, and incorporation that are simultaneously savage and civilized.

Frances Garrett is Assistant Professor of Tibetan Buddhism in the Department for the Study of Religion. She received her PhD. from the University of Virginia in 2004. She is intrigued by how Buddhist voices command a growing literary, ideological, social, and political presence in the formative twelfth-fifteenth centuries in Tibet.

A history of ideas that weaves across sectarian and disciplinary boundaries, her book, Religion, Medicine, and the Human Embryo in Tibet (Routledge, 2008) links aspects of Tibetan medicine to expressions of culture, religion, art, and literature through a study of embryology in Tibetan literature. Current projects consider the intersections between tantric practice, ritual and occult knowledge, and medical theory, and what these say about the processes of institutional and ideological change in "renaissance" Tibet.

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