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"There is a concern for people who become obsessively involved with cyber gaming." While there are some who believe that real-life dangers lurk in the virtual gaming world, others say that just the opposite is true because the games are complex, requiring smarts and quick, sharp thinking.

"The majority of people who play these games don't fall victim to this sort of thing," said Ross.

The age discrepancy, he notes in the study, is easily explained: Younger people adopted social media more quickly, and tend to have a wider network of friends online.

Presumably, this cohort spends enough time online to feel that “friends-of-friends” on Facebook are just as worthwhile romantic pursuits as “friends-of-friends” offline.

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Massively multiplayer online games — or MMOGs, as they're called — can foster more vulnerability than there might be on other virtual meeting spaces such as dating and social networking sites, where participants are inclined to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior from the start.

"When you're in a social situation like that — playing a game, having fun — you're comfortable with the people you're playing with," said cyber-stalking victim Jayne Hitchcock, president of Working to Halt Online Abuse (WHOA). They lose all sense of reality and themselves." Such conditions can lead participants to be more trusting of each other and less cautious.

Players tend to be focused not on meeting each other, finding a love connection or promoting themselves, but on getting through the game, working as a team and concocting strategies to win.

"You observe people playing these games — it draws out a kind of aggressiveness and competitiveness in their behavior," he said.

"They're either savvy, or they're very rule-bound." Furthermore, most of those who participate are primarily interested in devising ways to advance, defeat the enemy and win, not prey on unsuspecting fellow gamers.

"The goal is not specifically to meet friends but to play a game," said Michael Goodman, a director at digital entertainment research firm Yankee Group.

"I would argue that it is a little more difficult to mislead.

You know coming in that the person is not who that character is.