Abandoning every ounce of common sense and any trace of doubt, you lunge onto a stage of narrowing landscapes and veiled abysses. Your new environment rejects you. Legions of foes surround you. Your purpose is unknown. Well, no - actually, you know what your purpose is, and it's to shoot down anything that moves and make a lot of money doing it.
The power and allure of role-playing Internet games comes from the player's ability to create alternative identities, say industry experts. Networked games serve as a fertile landscape for the young and imaginative, and allow people to transcend their surroundings and foster the creation of an ethereal reality. The nuances born from the players' own daydreams wield more sway than the game's actual graphic details, said Amy Jo Kim, an associate professor at Stanford University who studies virtual communities.
The darkened apartment conveys all the warmth of a cave. No furniture, an empty refrigerator, a musty bathroom where the last shredded square of toilet paper clings to the roll. The 18-year-old hacker who lives here, in Irvine, Calif., says he doesn't need much, only a fictional world within the glow of his computer screen. He goes by the name Vengeance. Or Mr. Vengeance to strangers. He is a digital bounty hunter, a for-hire computer game player who punishes bullies on the Internet.