Virtual Conflict Ends in Real Death


A Ukrainian online gamer is facing up to 15 years in prison for stomping a fellow gamer to death in central Moscow after bad blood in a virtual world spilled over into the real one, prosecutors said.
Alexander Ponamorenko, a Ukrainian citizen known for his prowess in the popular online role-playing game Lineage II, has been arrested and charged with the beating death of Alexander Blyoskin, 22, who had tried to break-up a real-life argument between Ponamorenko and his online nemesis, said Olga Tatarinova, a senior investigator with the Basmanny District Prosecutor's Office.

Between 20 and 30 hard-core players of Lineage II, in which players create characters and form clans that inhabit a virtual medieval world, met up on the evening of Jan. 12 at a cafe in central Moscow, Tatarinova said.

"Ponamorenko showed up, as did a member of a rival clan with whom he had developed a virtual enmity," Tatarinova said.

An article posted on the Internet industry web site identifies Ponamorenko, who plays under the nickname "DVP," as one of the strongest Lineage II players in Europe. He is a member of a clan called "RedSquad."

Tatarinova declined to name Ponamorenko's rival, but identified him by his first name -- Kirill -- and said he plays under the nickname "Shtai." The article posted on said the two often quarreled in Internet forums dedicated to Lineage II.

Ponamorenko, an independent businessman, had traveled from Ukraine to meet up with fellow gamers, Tatarinova said.

"Everybody in the room noticed how the expression on DVP's face changed when he saw Shtai," a witness and fellow gamer, identified only as Pavel, told Rossia television on Saturday.

Ponamorenko and Kirill took things outside, and after the two came to blows, Blyoskin, a student at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute and a friend of Kirill's, tried to calm Ponamorenko down, Tatarinova said.

Accounts differ as to what happened next. Some witnesses say Ponamorenko punched Blyoskin, who played Lineage II under the nickname "Sverkh," and that the student fell and hit his head on the asphalt, Rossia television reported.

Tatarinova, however, said Ponamorenko stomped on Blyoskin's head while he lay on the ground.

Ponamorenko was detained by police at the scene, she said. Blyoskin was subsequently hospitalized and died four days later as a result of his injuries, Tatarinova said. Blyoskin was buried at Moscow's Domodedovskoye cemetery Jan. 19, the student news portal Studencheskaya Pravda reported.

Ponamorenko was formally charged with deadly aggravated assault Jan. 23, Tatarinova said.

Lineage II is an extremely popular game worldwide in the genre known as MMORPG, or massively multiplayer online role-playing game, in which players interact with one another in virtual worlds.

NCsoft, the South Korean company that produces the game, said in November that the game had 14 million subscribers worldwide.

While there have been few widely known incidents of violence by Russian gamers connected, if only tangentially, to their online passion, they are not unheard of.

At the 2003 World Cyber Games in South Korea, the Russian Counter-Strike team scrapped with the French team at the hotel where they were both staying, Profil reported this week.

In one of the more bizarre crime stories related to online gaming, a Chinese gamer was sentenced to life in prison in 2005 after stabbing to death a rival "Legend of Mir 3" player.

Chinese media reported that the attacker, Qiu Chengwei, stabbed Zhu Caoyun in the chest several times because Zhu had sold their "dragon saber," a virtual weapon the two had shared, to a third player for $870.

Before killing Zhu, Caoyun tried to file a theft report, but police told him the dragon saber was not actual property and therefore could not be stolen.