Minecraft, for those who are blissfully unaware and probably without kids, is one of the most popular video games played by children. It began as an independent game, put out without a studio, or wide-scale advertising. Microsoft eventually purchased the game, and it has become nearly inescapable. The LA Times reports that children under the age of 15 are the biggest demographic.
Nearly just as popular as the game itself, are the YouTube personalities who post videos of the game, along with their own commentary or reactions to the game's events. In fact, "minecraft" is the second most searched for term on YouTube, with only "music" being ahead. It's also the most watched game of all time on YouTube. As Bec Oakley, founder of MineMum, a blog intended to help mystified parents navigate the world that is Minecraft, says:
YouTube is this generation's television. It's how [children] entertain themselves, learn, share. Watching others play Minecraft allows them to extend their experience of the game, to share it with others and to learn more from each other.
The personalities who create and promote those videos have a celebrity status in the eyes of their fans, who spend almost as much time watching them as playing the game itself. This makes the news that at least one popular YouTube personality was using the game to prey on his young fans especially disturbing.
LionMaker, whose real name is Marcus Wilton, is a 27 year old Minecraft YouTuber from Belgium whose primary audience consists of underage pre-teens and children, and who boasts over 600,000 YouTube subscribers. He spent most of his time playing Minecraft and in group chats, talking with his many young fans. With the near-celebrity status and the fact that the majority of his fans are younger, parents weren't initially concerned. Suzie Wiseman, whose 12-year old daughter was preyed upon by Wilton, said that she thought he was "safe". She said that "if he was maybe making some youngster's dream come true [by personally engaging in conversation with them], good on him, how sweet."
The conversations he had with several of his young, underage, fans didn't stay innocent, safe, or sweet for long. Vice reports that on June 12, 2015, Wilton attempted to obtain nude photos of Wiseman's 12 year old daughter. The incident began with a series of direct messages sent over Twitter, followed by the 27 year old asking if the two could Skype. Wiseman says that her kids are "well trained about online safety" and that the request was unnerving enough that her daughter immediately informed her. Wiseman then took charge, messaging Wilton and identifying herself as the mother of the young girl. Wilton doubted the fact, and asked for nudes regardless. Wiseman began sharing the story over social media, hoping to reach out. Most of Wilton's fans believed he had to have been hacked, which would be the only way to explain such strange and disgusting behaviour.
Eventually, Wilton issued a statement about the incident, claiming to have spent that particular night in jail, and saying that he had been hacked. His fans believed his story, as the fans of celebrities are wont to do, with a few even accusing Wiseman's daughter of faking the messages.
That same night, June 12, when Wilton was supposedly in jail and being hacked, another young boy was offered $500 for a full-frontal nude image. He had started chatting with Wilton, and the two bonded over the same depressive feelings. As with Wiseman's daughter, these conversations weren't always appropriate. The boy, who was 16 at the time of the request, said that Wilton would "constantly say inappropriate things, that he was going to barge into my house and rape me." The boy says that he was "creeped out" but "didn't think anything too much of it" until Wilton asked for the photos. The boy refused, but at that point Wilton had already transferred the money, which was apparently confirmed by a PayPal representative.
Wilton also preyed upon another 16-year old, this time obtaining nude and nearly nude photos of the girl. On December 21, 2015, Wilton posted these photos on Twitter, along with several posts threatening his own life, and threatening to share more photos of the young girl. These tweets have since been deleted, but can easily be found through web archives. The police are involved, with the family of the young girl saying "you have no idea how badly she has been affected".
Two weeks later, Wilton posted a response video, claiming that it's legal for a 27 year old to date a 16 year old in both Belgium and Britain, where the girl lives. He continued to claim there is nothing wrong with that type of relationship, because in other countries "the consent age goes all the way down to 14, and so be it". It's worth pointing out that regardless of the age of consent, in both Belgium and Britain, possession of a photograph depicting a naked 16 year old is still considered child pornography. He also claims to have been hacked on each occasion.
When stories like this break, the inclination is to always warn parents to keep an eye on what their kids are doing online. The reality is that, as involved as parents can be in their children's online activities, nothing short of helicopter parenting is going to be 100 percent effective. There is no easy solution to the problem of online predators, but hopefully with stories like this spreading, and with people believing the victims, things can one day improve.