The Day the Secret Service Raided a Role-Playing Game CompanyS

Steve Jackson Games is a company well known for its tabletop RPGs and card games. An innocent enough trade, then, so why in 1990 were its offices raided by the United States Secret Service?

It wasn't because SJG's products were somehow illegal, or that the company was peddling counterfeit currency. It was because, at the time, it had employed a man by the name of Loyd Blankenship to write a game for them. And Blakenship was a hacker.

Loyd Blankenship, aka The Mentor, has been hacking since the 1970s, and was a member of the infamous Legion of Doom, one of the most famous hacker groups of all time. At the time of the raids, he was writing an RPG toolkit for SJG called GURPS Cyberpunk, which has become a classic in the field.

He became a target of the Secret Service when a zine he helped distribute, Phrack (which is still being released to this day), published information lifted illegally from telecommunications provider BellSouth that contained some basic contact information for people involved in the administration of the emergency 911 system.

While seemingly harmless, ignorant government officials at the time believed these details could be used to teach people how to hack the emergency phone system, and for years during the 1990s targeted people like Blankenship in an attempt at curtailing their efforts.

The Day the Secret Service Raided a Role-Playing Game Company

Anyway, when in 1990 SJG's offices were raided, despite no arrests being made and no employees being questioned, agents confiscated a number of items, including the manuscript for GURPS Cyberpunk, which the Secret Service hilariously believed was a "handbook for computer crime". The entire company, and not just Blankenship, were thus slated to appear in court, in the case Steve Jackson Games vs. The Secret Service.

The case finally went to trial in 1993, and was a disaster for the Secret Service. Not only were SJG awarded over $300,000 in fees and damages, but the Secret Service got a stern talking to from the Judge, who accused them of not knowing statutes, no grounds to accuse the entire company SJG of anything and of being "sloppy" in their procurement of warrants.

So how is this important to video games? Well, the raid led directly to the creation of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (Jackson vs Secret Service is cited as the chief motivator behind its formation), an advocacy group that to this day fights tooth and nail for better education amongst the uninformed as to the rights and benefits of those working with computers and the art and products they create.

That includes video games, which is reflected in hacker George Hotz's donations to the EFF following his court case, along with the money that's sent their way every time a Humble Indie Bundle is sold.