Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I’ve been playing this online game called MapleStory (MS for short) since 2006. A friend introduced me to MS when I was still living in the nursing home. I was big into gaming before my accident & it stinks that I can no longer play 95% of my console games. At the time of my accident I had Nintendo Gameboy SP, Gamecube & Xbox. Since I can’t use my hands I’m limited to hitting one key at a time with my mouth stick. Most modern games require multiple button combos to play, so when I found MS it was awesome to be able to adapt the controls and be able to play with my mouth.
For those of you that aren’t gamers, MS is what you call a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game). MMORPGs consist of thousands to millions of players. You create a character and name and you can play with and interact with other real life people. Most MMORPG have loose open ended storylines that allow you to choose from a variety of things to do and allow you to customize your experience. The game worlds are online social communities which allow you to meet new people, play with friends and work as a team, to meet objectives, win achievements and/or complete quests. Typically there are specific class types, which you choose from early on such as; warrior, mage, archer, bowman, ninja and pirate. Some games offer subclasses as well. Your class determines what kind of equips, weapons and items you’ll need and which skills you’ll acquire. You advance in level and skills through gaining experience, which is usually given in points that correlate to the monsters you kill or as rewards for completing quests. Each subsequent level requires more experience points than the last level and special abilities and skills are usually increased with each level. Some MMORPGs charge subscription fees to play (like World of War Craft), while others offer free access. Although MS is free to play, there are tons of optional items you can buy to enhance your game play. In both types of MMORPG you gain an in-game currency, which you need to buy equips, weapons and items. In MS the game currency is called “meso.” In a free access game like MS it becomes increasingly harder to rely solely on game currency alone, so many people buy the optional currency to take advantage of the specialty items. In MS the cash shop items are purchased with “NX” which you can buy on the company game site or in gift card form.
Maple Story is unique in that it is a 2D side scrolling format; similar to the old 16bit systems, like SNES and Sega Genesis. Its cute anime inspired look and overall game design make it a family friendly game. The monsters and environments are adorable (most) and although you kill monsters, there isn’t the guts, gore and realism of other contemporary games. For the most part teamwork is promoted over competition, as there is little player versus player game play.
As I mentioned before, I was still living in the nursing home when I started playing MS. My time spent at the nursing home was the hardest and darkest period of my life. I was extremely depressed. Maple Story provided me with a much needed escape from reality. As corny as it sounds, MS played a huge role in helping me retain my sanity that first year post accident. It was a distraction from my sad situation. It gave me the opportunity to meet new people and hang out with friends, without ever leaving my room. In Maple Story I am the same as everyone else; no one can tell I play with a mouth stick unless I choose to tell them. Given my situation, it’s a good feeling to be able to fit in and feel equal to everyone else. MS gave me a few hours every day where I could escape reality and not focus so much on my sadness.
Gaming can be very addictive and there was a time when I played MS at least five or six hours every day. I don’t play nearly as much now, but it is still an enjoyable part of my life and I often use my time online to simply socialize. I’ve met some wonderful friends through MS, from all over the country (as well as a few other countries) that I would’ve never met otherwise. I have a lot of free time, being unemployed. Since I’ve been back in my own apartment I’ve become more involved with advocacy work, for finding a cure to paralysis. I’ve had opportunities to exhibit my art and have to split my time in the chair between work & play, so to speak. Overall, if I were to calculate all the time I’ve spent playing MS this past 3 ½ years, I’m sure I’ve easily invested several weeks of my life online. That probably seems excessive, but you have to keep in mind that I have way more free time than the average person and the first year I played I used MS as an escape. Being newly paralyzed and living in a nursing facility is a reality I’m sure anyone would like to escape.
I know a couple of people that play MS without spending money on NX, but on a whole, I’d say the vast majority of players invest in NX. It is near impossible to keep up with friends (level and skill) without NX. When I first started playing in ’06 the game environment was much smaller and most NX items were just covers for in game equips and weapons that didn’t have a functional purpose; purely cosmetic. As the game has grown, so has the cash shop. There are now certain aspects of the game that can only be accessed with NX (such as Amoria party quest). Most NX items expire in 90 days, so if it’s something you feel you need you basically end up spending what you might spend on subscription to other games. Since I can only hit one key at a time with my stick it has become increasingly more difficult to play without NX. There are certain items which I buy regularly to be able to play on par with traditional players (people that play with 10 working fingers). I rely heavily on my pet and pet equips to pick up items, mesos and use potions. If I had to pick up items myself or heal myself it would be too frustrating to play once I reach a certain point. Fighting monsters gets harder with each level and I can’t hit two keys at a time, so without NX items I’d have to constantly switch between attacking and healing. Not only would it slow me down, it would force me to waste tons of mesos on extra potions. Without a pet, I’d die very often, which is frustrating and wastes time and experience points. I keep a regular stock of safety charms; in the event I do die my charm saves me from losing experience. At high levels (120+ out of 200) it can take hours, if not days to gain a level, so if you die without a charm you waste a significant amount of time. There are special tickets which double points and drops. I buy double experience regularly. I level much slower than most players as is, so 2xs experience helps me to keep up with friends. On average, I spend $40-$60 every 90 days, which is comparable to subscription fees. There are times where I’ve been playing more often and I tend to spend even more during those periods. I like NX items; they make the game more enjoyable for me. On a whole, I don’t mind buying NX. I look at buying NX like buying console games, which I used to spend just as much on, if not more.
You gain game currency (mesos in MapleStory) by killing monsters, doing quests and selling rare game items. Many people (including me) make tons of mesos selling equips, scrolls and rare items. Some rare items are monster drops, while others are won in gachapon (a lottery type game feature which requires NX tickets to play); both methods rely solely on luck. Rare items and good equips (give high status boosts) can cost several hundred million mesos! Since the prices are set by players the prices/value of items fluctuates. You also use mesos to buy potions to heal or boost stats, as well as use certain in-game services, such as; transportation between areas and item creation. I’ve easily made and spent billions of meso over the past several years. I’ve had a few lucky sales (most recently I sold an elemental wand for close to 900mil meso) which in turn, allowed me to buy really good equips and rare collector items like chairs. My account consists of a 4th job level hero (133/200), 3rd job level priest (114/200), two 2nd job characters and a low level character for storage.
The difference in buying a game outright versus subscribing to game access or buying digital items is that there is a much higher risk of losing your investment with online games. I can hold a Gameboy DS game in my hands. I know my console games are here, safe in my home, available to use at anytime and only cost me a onetime fee. Since I started playing MS I’ve easily invested hundreds (maybe even over one thousand) of dollars over the past 3-4 years. Again, that might seem exorbitant to a non-gamer, but keep in mind that console game systems cost $200-400 for the system and $20-60 per game. The good news with console game systems is that you can trade them in for a little cash towards a newer model and short of a burglary on my home, my investment is safe and sound.
Maple Story is the first and only MMORPG I’ve ever played. It is also the first online game I’ve invested real money in (buying NX). In terms of overall investment, I’ve dedicated almost 4 years of time and had built up an impressive collection of equips and items. I’ve always known that hackers existed in MS. In fact, they were everywhere when I first started playing. You could see them fighting with no damage, vacking all the monsters and items off of map, botting or stealing drops. My second year playing there was a massive hack of most guilds, in which most guilds in my server (Windia) were disbanded. Since the guild hack I’ve been paranoid to accept trade requests, I avoid hanging out in the free market and I disable my chat and trade abilities. MapleStory security has improved a lot since I began playing and I actively take my own precautions. At least six months to a year ago I switched from using Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox because I read about hack threats and a few friends suggested the switch as well. I’ve changed my password and pin over time and I stay away from sketchy websites. I seldom use instant messages & when I do it’s with people I know. I don’t add random buddy requests. I have a pop-up blocker and subscribe to Trend Micro antivirus software, which in theory, gives me my own firewall and protection.
All that said, I sign in to play MS today, only to discover I’ve somehow been hacked. Needless to say, I’m devastated. I could see if I was completely naïve and didn’t take any proactive steps to protect myself; the fact that I do and yet I still got hacked makes me furious as well as crushed. How much more do I have to do to protect myself? What is my antivirus doing? It’s designed to provide me with “internet security,” but given this incident, clearly my information is not secure. Putting the time factor aside, the hacker stripped my account clean off any/all equips worth meso, including (off the top of my head because 1- I didn’t keep a running inventory of my things, 2-I’m too flustered at the moment to try and make a comprehensive list & 3- It’s highly doubtful Nexon will reimburse or return anything); two devil sunrise swords (mine being 116attack), toy maker equips, round pink chair, Olivia chair, countless scrolls, all the inner tubes, another 100+ sword, all the holiday even equips I collected (which is almost all of them since Halloween ’06), priest equips that gave me +50int stat boost and the 700mil mesos I had in my storage. So in essence, I was robbed of at least $300 in permanent NX items/modifications, easily 1-2bil mesos worth of equips and 700mil in fluid mesos.
I sit here scratching my head at how I was hacked and whether or not the theft will only include my MS account. Should I be panicking because I paid bills online today? Are my bank accounts next? I feel overloaded of mixed emotions and many questions. Most importantly, is the invasion over? Although they might seem like pointless pixels to some, I was robbed of items that were rightfully mine. Unlike a house robbery or mugging, there is no insurance to cover my virtual property. I feel just as violated. It doesn’t matter that the stolen goods were virtual. They were my equips, my items, my account; paid for with actual time and money. What if anything can be done? I’m going to report it to Nexon (company that owns MS), but what will they do about it? Given how easy it is to trade, drop or sell items, is there any way to trace my things? Even if they could find all my things, what happens to the person that buys them thinking the seller is a legit player? Will they return my 700mil mesos, if nothing else? How can I prove what I lost? Then of course there’s the bigger concern of all the other potential info and virtual things I own. Why is it that I use a paid antivirus program and hackers still broke through?
I was on MS just last week and all was well. Whenever the account was hacked has got to be in the last 10 days (at most). In terms of my actions, the only thing I can come up with is the fact that I used Internet Explorer this past week. The Trend Micro software and a couple other programs use it as a default browser and a couple of flash games I like work better. I did a manual scan (right after I discovered I’d been hacked) & sure enough, it found a bunch of cookies; thanks to Explorer. Why is it that threatening things are blocked on Mozilla and get through on Explorer? I’d gladly take Explorer off my computer, but I tried that once in the past & Windows did not react kindly. Besides, the damage is done.
This whole experience has left me angry & feeling vulnerable. It saddens me to quit playing MapleStory. I’ve had a lot of fun playing. I’ve seen dozens of players come and go these past four years. If my buddy list, guilds and general experience are representative of the MS community, I’d say I’m one of the few (out of millions) that have stayed relatively active for that long. Nexon will be losing a reliable, dedicated customer; whether or not they care is questionable. I’m wondering what to do next. Regardless that it’s a bunch of pixels, it was a collection of things I worked hard to get (Hard in terms of gaming; I realize it seems trivial in terms of life and importance in general.). Legally speaking, I paid for quite a bit of it with real money. With everything I’ve been through in my life; divorced parents, the death of my sister, my accident and subsequent paralysis, this doesn’t rate as super high in terms of trauma. It is the principle. MapleStory has played an important role in my life post accident and everything taken represents a collection of things that has given me a bit of happiness, despite my lowest times. It’s not the first time important things have been stolen from me. Lord knows, my accident robbed me of an entirely different life.
The computer empowers me and gives me freedoms to control my personal info, shopping, banking, socializing, advocacy and bill payment. If I can’t trust “secure” sites like Facebook, Yahoo, Best Buy, Bank of America or Internet Explorer at all, how can I safely use the internet? I’m shaken, disappointed and confused on where to go from here, in terms of my virtual life.

1 comment:

  1. WHEN WAS THIS! The day I check to see your website from home is the same day I see this!
    I haven't logged on MS for quite some time because I'm in the middle of Graduate projects and papers all due very soon. I can only say I'm sad this has happened but I'll help ya out as soon as I'm back from my studies after the 21st. Do you know how it happened? Keylogger? Bad website? Let me know =(