No, that is not a sensationalist headline, nor a joke. According to yet more documents released by Edward Snowden, the NSA has been sending real life agents into online RPG's and other games to pose as players to monitor for and root out potential terror threats. Yup. According to The Guardian, Xbox Live was the second biggest service to be targeted. According to James Ball of The Guardian, "The agencies (the NSA and its UK sister agency GCHQ), the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which boasts more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users." The 2008 documents, titled Exploiting Terrorist Use of Games & Virtual Environments, describe gaming communities as "target-rich communications network" where intelligence targets could "hide in plain sight". Xbox Live was an obvious choice for the agencies. Of puzzling rationale, the security agencies reasoned that games could yield vast amounts of intelligence, giving agencies a door to commit hacking attacks through. This would give them access to "buddylists and interaction", and to collect target identifiers like profile photos, geolocation, and to collect communications.
According to the NSA, a key necessity of the program was communications monitoring, because of "the potential for them to be used to communicate anonymously: Second Life was enabling anonymous texts and planning to introduce voice calls, while game noticeboards could, it states, be used to share information on the web addresses of terrorism forums."
Interestingly and not surprising though, the documents show that the surveillance never actually foiled an plots, nor were they able to even establish that ANY terror group had used gaming and virtual communities within to communicate as the intelligence agencies confidently predicted.
Blizzard Entertainment, makers of World of Warcraft, said that neither security agency had ever asked for it's permission to gather intelligence inside their game, while Microsoft, simply declined to comment.