Criminology & Virtual Reality:


Virtual Worlds in the Making


by Professor Dr. Jacob van der Westhuizen

Pretoria, South Africa


Professor Dr. Jacob van der Westhuizen is a noted criminologist and the former director of a major South African criminology research institute; he currently serves as a Research Consultant to the University of South Africa where he directs the work of postgraduate students of criminal justice and the science of asset protection and security control. Dr. van der Westhuizen received his Bachelor of Arts degree, Bachelor of Arts with honors, Master of Arts cum laude as well as his Ph.D. degree from the University of South Africa. He is a member of the International Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, the International Police Association, and an Associate Member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.



1.0   The relation between virtual reality and virtual worlds


Virtual reality is a concept coined by information technologists to define and explain their attempts at imitating real world images (structural and functional characteristics of things) and environments that resemble the real world after a fashion. Once accepted as an escape route from the real world, the ‘image or environment that appears real to the senses’ is the first humble inception of a ripple effect that would be expected to spread like wildfire over the ravenous imagination of our first generation of cybernet explorers, And so it does, if one cares to watch a child at play, totally immersed in a make-belief environment brought about by a computer game. May be he or she would proudly tell you that they are actually participating in the raging battle, being fought between the Aliens and the Home guard and that one of them is in charge of the resistance force.


Thus one can define virtual reality as the generation of computer software of an image or environment that appears real to the senses and accepted as a satisfactory substitute for the real world, one that allows the visitor to enter the simulated reality and affords him the time-space freedom to join in the activities being offered inside the simulated time-space domain. (1        


In the present context virtual worlds are directly linked to the creation of virtual reality. On the one hand ‘virtual worlds in the making’ is a logical extension of the virtual reality concept – attempts by man to create worlds that are escape niches for those that feel the urge to experience improved environments and conditions. On the other hand man has within him a natural drive and desire to propagate his specie and to survive in his inherited or acquired real world that features simply too many hazards, dangers, and threats for ease and comfort. Take for example the invasion of homes by branded criminals in the Far East; and the recent invasion of homes and living space by developers of high-rise buildings, backed by the Police and a host of government officials, ready and eager to forcibly oust the home owners and dwellers from their abodes.   


Since time immemorial mankind has created different types of virtual worlds to serve as escape havens, some of which were tried out and abandoned, or some of which were lost by default. Many others failed the test of time, while quite a number have remained part and parcel of mankind’s personal defense and protection mechanisms.







2.0   Some known fly-away types of escapees to virtual worlds


Some of the known types of escapees that have taken flight in order to find or create virtual worlds into which they could hide from harsh reality, albeit for only a short period of time to catch their breaths or a protracted time to escape into oblivion, include the following: recusants, rebels, drug addicts, alcoholics, ascetics, criminals, psychotics, daydreamers, hypnotized subjects, fanatics, retirers, hermits, lone wolves, monks, nuns, migrants, vagrants, tramps, nomads, gypsies, drifters, zealots, castaways, wannabes, plea-bargain criminals, and suicides.


3.0   A very brief stay in paradise


Others, according to historical sources(2 were given an opportunity to live, thrive and be blessed within a secure and safe environment, but could not live up to the defaults imposed by God, and were summarily ousted from a place that would qualify as the best of the best and at least thousands of cuts above the rest. This, however, have not deterred or discouraged humankind to create a future heaven (to be populated by chosen ones after they have passed away). This final virtual sanctuary would outshine the lost paradise in all respects and one that would serve as a powerful objective and engine of liberation from sin for all generations to come. 


4.0   Attempts to create heavenly peace on earth


As can be expected the recorded loss of paradise, the very first virtual world (whether factional or fictional) as a result of human frailty and disobedience to rules, regulations, and laws, and the brief opportunity of experiencing a virtual place that smacks of absolute perfection and peace, has prompted man over the centuries to come up with a myriad of methods, strategies, and techniques to establish virtual environments, time-space enclaves, and make-belief conditions that are supposed to pre-empt heaven-after-death, and to  allow those who have faith to savor the benefits of the angels. Some of the worse methodologies introduced over the centuries, include cruel attempts at purging the world of so-called witches, sinners, and unacceptable ethnic populations; the waging of religious wars; ethnic cleansing undertaken to get rid of fair people; and atrocious wars made to bring nations to heel for the sake of land, sea, air, and scarce resources control, The hollow sound of the maxim make war to bring on peace is one that can be heard year after year and century after century. It makes a mockery of all our so-called holy attempts to establish heavenly peace on earth.


Another feature of these quick attempts at creating one’s own safe haven, albeit only for a very short time, is witnessed when one’s knowledge, skill, or insight allows one to manipulate people, rules, and regulations to one’s advantage. Thus a plea-bargaining killer (A) may succeed in swapping a prison sentence with a suspended sentence on condition that he could act as an eye-witness in convicting his three accomplices as well as revealing their participation in other crimes; and ensuring that he comes up with corroborative and conclusive evidence against his co-accused and others involved in alleged criminal violence.(3


The ‘virtual amnesty’ (forgiveness granted to leaders and authorities who gave the orders to kill during an earlier regime in South Africa), is seen in a different perspective by Kevin John Woods, former South African double agent and political prisoner, who defines the court exercise  as a waste of time, money and justice. He sees it as a can of worms that serves no one. He reiterates that former security policeman, Eugene de Kock, and others from across the political spectrum (those who took over after the freedom struggle), should also be taken a chance to participate in ‘virtual amnesty’.{4 


5.0   ‘Let slavery do the trick’


One of the biggest blights on the history books of mankind seems to be man’s propensity and meanness to enslave others. The best demonstration of this vile characteristic stems from the beginning of time when man started to treat women folk as inferior human beings, mostly by husbands; and as morally deficient creatures by the authorities in leadership capacities. Last but not least of all, churches of almost all denominations started to function as absolute representatives of the Heavenly Powers, subtly maneuvering their subjects into inferior positions, and expecting them to bring on sacrifices and offers to their deity; this, despite, for example, in the Christian Faith where Jesus Christ’s exhortation that he had brought us the ultimate sacrifice and offer, his life, and that his followers were not expected to either follow his example or to heap money upon others in order to rid themselves of sin. On the one hand the enslaved people had to hear, Sunday after Sunday, how lucky they are to now walk with God, and to savor the virtual heaven they are erecting on earth, and how blessed they are to be counted as the chosen ones.


Mankind was not contend to stop right there. The next step, planned and executed with neat precision, was to enslave the members of other nations, with a view to letting them do all the dirty work at about no cost to the owner of the slave. Thus, man’s virtual world in the making improved with leaps and bounds; but eventually man learned that every man-made structure, how well thought out and put together, is forever bound to fail because it obeys the law of built-in obsolescence, which dictates that every man-made structure has within its composition and function a predisposed destructive mode which inexorably leads to the demise and collapse of the structure. This phenomenon is graphically visible where the growth and ultimate decline of a structure is depicted as a normal distribution of scores on a straight-line continuum, a structure known as a Gaussian distribution.






Normal distribution of growth and decline values(5








                      a + b = positive growth;   c = negative growth

                            d = negative decline;      e + f = rapid decline

The top of the diagram (the summit of c and d) is known as a plateau



6.0  Man has inherited and acquired through experience, learning and conditioning, several escape routes, called ego-defense mechanisms


One of the remarkable traits of all members of mankind is that he or she wields the knowledge, skill, and know-how to either hunt for or build his/her own getaway niche; or make use of a wide variety of rationales to help one through a painful night or lend one adequate daily support to face the hefty trial and tribulations of the real world. Some of the escape routes chosen by personal design include the following:  


6.1              Sleep

Sleep is a condition of body and mind such as that which normally recurs for several hours every night, in which the nervous system is inactive; the eyes closed; the postural muscles relaxed; and consciousness practically suspended. In an imaginary sense sleep can be likened to a short stay in paradise, a brief time-space sojourn where and when the weary traveler is afforded an opportunity to recharge his batteries.


6.2              Daydreaming

Daydreaming is defined as reverie, fantasy, fancy, dream, musing, building castles in the air, fantasizing.


6.3              Drug-taking and alcohol abuse

Nowadays this escape route lies wide open to youth and adults alike and it seems that the demand for these virtual-induced potions remains on a very high level, indeed, or is increasing qualitatively and quantitatively by leaps and bounds.


6.4              Electronic instruments and gadgets 


Television, video, and computer images and games have taken the world by storm, enabling everyone who has access to it and those who are eager to participate in losing themselves in the quasi-virtual worlds, to enter at will. The computer and internet have opened up many grand paths to help the escapee temporally to ignore and forget about his worries and suffering. He or she can surf and explore the internet/cybernet at will and investigate even tabooed issues and places. Then there are chat rooms, facebooks, and blogs to visit, exciting new things to experience and new friendships to be forged.


Nowadays a host of ‘odd, unpredictable ideas about virtual reality’ are bandied about, for example, professor Willie Esterhuizen’s opinion, expressed as a business philosopher, to the effect that the world needs a new morality, new rules to guide freedom of speech, religion, and corporate management; because the cyber world has left the old regime trailing far behind its current progress, to wit new concepts like virtual morality, virtual communities, virtual propagation of violence and hate speech, and bodiless congregations, have to be confronted by those of the real world. He is also of the opinion that the conflict between virtual morality and the rule of law will escalate out of control if nothing drastically is done to put an end to the free-flow of dissident ideas. One of the imminent impacts of this development, has turned the USA in the forefront to trace and investigate cyber criminals, cyber terrorists, cyber reputation saboteurs, cyber corrupted businessmen, and cyber cheaters. Cyber corruption is directly related to power, because knowledge is power. Another thing to be understood in business transactions is that the person who receives any anonymous e-mail must handle it with great circumspection and care and must take full accountability and responsibility for its deviation to anyone else. Codes of conduct should make ample provision for rules and regulations in this regard.(6


6.5              Books

A most astonishing phenomenon is presently witnessed by people all over the world. Harry Potter’s strange life adventures, smartly and fascinatingly portrayed by JK Rowling in a series of books: have created without a doubt a violent disturbance of the established order in human affairs. Millions of books have been sold and all records in regard to book sales have been broken. 


6.6              Suicide

Suicide, which is the intentional killing of oneself, or a self-destructive act committed to escape from the hazards of the real world, symbolizes a final, ultimate black-out solution for those who want to opt out of misery and pain.


6.7              Make-belief in multiple personalities

In a recently heard trial in the South African courts of law, Theunis Olivier was convicted for the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of six-year-old Steven Siebert. During the sitting he also admitted to sexually molested and assaulting more than 200 boys over the past 30 years. The pedophile and child killer pleaded not  guilty and alleged that he is possessed by five different people and that one of them, Theo, molested and strangled the boy with an electrical chord. This argument was rejected as baseless by the court and the killer was convicted to life imprisonment. After thorough examination by psychologists he was found to be capable and sane enough to take the wrap for his murderous tendencies and sentenced to life imprisonment.(7



    7.0   Computerized virtual reality  


Some of the world’s top software experts are hard at work to create an ambience in which their objective to showcase a complete virtual world may be accomplished some day. Even at this early stage they have succeeded in developing ways and means to allow a game player to ‘enter’ and ‘participate’ in the proceedings of the wars being waged between two or more parties. Participants are emphatic in believing that they have been allowed to enter the war theater and drawn in to play an active part in designing the battle plans and ruining the enemy’s chances to be victorious.


In another vein, but still harping on the same strings, Ferdi Greyling, a sub-editor of Beeld newspaper, reports that the first plague has occurred on the cyber net, and it has proven to be so realistic that plague control officials in the USA have decided to use the control procedure as a model to study and investigate highly contagious diseases. According to the author of ‘Virtual play perhaps used as model for reality’ this happened on a worldwide net work where 9 million people have access to, and where people team up in gangs to fight each other against the play’s soldiers, or against each with virtual weapons and forces. The manner in which the disease has spread among the population and some remedial steps that were taken to stop it from spreading uncontrolled, is the focus of attention and concern at the present moment.(8 



8.0                  Do virtual worlds pose a threat to the creation of a globalized reality?


The smart answer to this harrowing question would be simply that it’s early days. Yet we are aware of the rapid, overwhelming technological pace being sustained by thousands of entrepreneurs all over the world and their capacity to break new ground in establishing the unexpected and seemingly impossible improvement of every gadget, instrument, or image they wish to alter or change.


When pitted against each other in a bid to decide which way to go or what route to follow, it is not hard to imagine what the ultimate result would be, especially when we consider to choose between the lines of least resistance and the route teeming with catch-22 potholes, and one that features a world devoid of harassment, allowing the visitor to be in charge of the definition of the situation and authorizing him/her to alter and arrange the set-up to suit themselves. 


There is quite enough evidence to show that those adults who practically run the real world are united in their goal-attainment resolve to keep the world real and free from make-belief notions and practices that would inevitably lead to total ruin and stagnation of economic and market forces, and also eventually to the global destruction of civilization. Witness for instance how the entertainment world now hosted ‘reality shows’ where participants are expected to survive somewhere on an island on their own; or where they are expected to gobble up worms or any other types of rubbish in order to win a prize. Also keep in mind the realities of war, strive, drought, floods, illnesses like malaria, tuberculosis, AIDS, as well as other natural disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, monsoon rains, and tsunamis that act as powerful forces to bring people down to earth and back to the realities of life.


In the final analysis and in hindsight of the world’s real reaction to virtual worlds in the making, one can come to the conclusion that any virtual world presents no threat to the establishment and maintenance of a real global world. Not yet. As a set of relaxation and escape havens, they have proved to be nothing more than empty threats, except when their hypnotic ambience succeeds in warping the mindsets of their loyal supporters to such an extent that they try to overthrow the ruling global world by means of violent force.    


The threats of the mass escape of people to flee from reality have prompted many corporations to come up with stern warnings and distress signals to remind the real world of real values and real means. One such a reminder is sounded in a prestige magazine by a prestige corporation as follows :(9


Dreams are good, but realities are better.


What if today were Someday? 

The day you got to take your company global.

The day you got to start your own business.

Or the day you got to buy your dream house.


Well, today is Someday.   

Because no matter what you dream is or how seemingly impossible, we have the resources to help you succeed: financial guidance, capital, loans, credit cards, innovative ideas and services.


Together, these resources add up to one City, with one great goal – turning your dreams into realities.





    9.0   References  


1)      See Sara Tulloch, Editor.  1993.  Reader’s Digest – Oxford - Complete Wordfinder


2)      Christian Bible


3)      Pretoria News. August 17, 2007. page 1   


4)      Sunday Times. August 26, 2007. page  23 ; Sunday Times. August 27, 2007. page 9 in a letter to the Editor


5)      Van der Westhuizen, Jacob. An introduction to criminological research.

           University of South Africa: Pretoria, 1982


6)      Esterhuizen, Willie. ‘Cyber crime – we need ‘virtual morality’. By. Saturday,

     September 8, 2007. p. 13


7)      Rapport.  August 12, 2007. pages 1 and 22


8)      Ferdi Greyling.  ‘Virtual play perhaps a model for reality. Naweek-Beeld,

     September 8, 2007 , p. 16  


9)      Fortune. August 27, 2007 /No 14, p. 82




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