Death Because Of Gaming: A History

In the United States, it seems like gun deaths and violence is an everyday occurrence. Same could be said for physical disputes between sports fans as those that fail to curb their anger and disappointment with their own teams and opposition irrationally explode upon others. Sometimes it’s just a scrape, other times there is a body count. 

You may assume that I am referring to the incident at a video game tournament for EA’s Madden NFL in Jacksonville, Florida where a 24 year old man from Maryland injured eleven people and killed two before killing himself with a hand gun during an event. He lost his qualifying round, left, and came back with a gun. Was it a temper tantrum because he fell from his perch as a Madden pro? Was it his way of wanting to ultimately “win”? Was it the “heat of the moment” pressure in his decision to shoot victims? The reasons don’t matter why he did it because there is no excuse for his actions.

This is the first mass shooting ascribed to video games, and it should scare you because of how amazingly simple it is for gamers and gaming to get deadly. I want to say that this shooting is the sole focus of this article, but the sad truth is this is not the first death in relation to video games whether intentional or not. In noway is this about politics. But it’s hard to ignore how many people have lost their lives over something we all love yet seems trivial compared to life: gaming. 

Like yesterday’s shooting, many deaths are attributed to an individual’s outrage. A few examples: A teenager in Ohio chose to kill his parents over the fact that his father would not allow him to play Halo 3. In 1989, an eleven year old boy shot a seven year old girl after she beat him at Spy Hunter. 10 year old Anthony Maldonado met a similar fate after being stabbed to death by his uncle’s flat mate after beating the man at Tony Hawk Pro Skater. A twenty eight year old man shot his sixty eight year old mother over a broken headset. And who could forget the attempted murder of a twelve year old Wisconsin girl by two of her classmates who believed in the cult of the Slender Man from the Slender series of games. The reasons for the murders and the mental states of the offenders involved vary, but they all share the common factor of unbridled rage.

Not all deaths are out of infuriating circumstances, but also of inconvenience to the offender. In 2010, Alexandra Tobias killed her three year old baby by shaking the crying, hungry infant to death. What was more important than meeting the needs of her son? Farmville. An addiction to the game crippled her judgment and sense of reality.  It is, by no means, the games fault. She abandoned her and her child’s priorities and took actions to feed her desires that she wrongly perceived as needs. In this case, the need to continue playing the computer game uninterrupted. The consequence was sentence to 50 years in prison for the 22 year old. Same goes for Rebecca Christie, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for neglecting her three year old daughter to play World of Warcraft to the point of starvation. Child neglect over video games may sound extreme, but it’s easy to find cases similar to these both on US soil and internationally.

And then there are trolls; those that can’t help themselves in out sourcing their anger or cruelty. This somewhat unavoidable force of ugly in the social and lively gaming and online world has also proven deadly. I’m sure you’ve heard of “Swatting” and how popular it became to send cops to opponent’s homes with false urgent claims; a crime that can be charged with heavy fines and even jail time. It may be intended as a prank or an act of aggression from a rival gamer. And it may seem funny to those watching on Twitch channels or those making the calls. But then the inevitable happened.  In 2017, Andrew Finch of Kansas was shot by a police officer responding to a call that happened to be phoned in from California by Tyler Barriss, who argued with Finch on an online session of Call of Duty.  Because of one gamers anger against another, two children now live without a father and many questions.

There are also deaths due to stupidity. You’ve probably heard of people dying of exhaustion or heart attacks for binging games for days on end (one instance was 24 hours of gaming for charity). In fact, the earliest known accredited to playing video games is attributed to Peter Burkowski who suffered a heart attack while achieving extremely high score on the Atari’s arcade title Berzerk in 1982 at age 18. Or for radio contests like the woman who died during the infamous “Hold Your Wee for a Wii” challenge. Those, of course, are easily prevented with the personal choices we make and taking care of ourselves. Those that died, though tragic, chose poorly in neglecting their body’s needs. It’s not the fault of games, or energy drinks, but in the choices we make as to whether or not we care more for our bodies than our entertainment. Some instances are freak accidents due to unknown conditions like Tim Eves, who died playing on a Wii Fit program and didn’t know he had a rare heart condition that was later revealed in the autopsy. But those that are not, is your life really worth that risk? It’s not a question of toughness or endurance; no one is questioning your “manliness” or skills. As fun as games can be, brains and bodies need a break so we can come back and play with a refreshed state of mine and self. The nice thing about games these days is that you can save your progress and set the controller down. We are not in the dark ages of console gaming; it’s been a long time since 1979.

Now, I get the whole “a few bad bunch give the rest of us respectable gamers a bad name” arguments. I hear similar arguments each time the NRA wants to pretend to be the real victim instead of those that died because of gun violence. I hear it every time a person gets defensive over sexist behavior or sexual abuse. I hear it every time a parent group with a lack of understanding blames this violent behavior on the very thing that makes us: video games.  But the one pattern I am seeing here is something simple yet can be the hardest difficulty mode in life: responsibility. We, as gamers and as individual human beings, need to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions and hold ourselves accountable first and foremost. In doing so, we set an example and hold a standard for protocols and etiquette for others as well. Without it, we are no better than people like the parents who threaten little league umpires to death for calls made against their team or kids. They make the game unbearable and joyless. Instead, we should be the parent that points out the umpire is doing their job, that they are just kids, that it’s just a game. Frustration is tough to deal with, but there is no excuse for acting out because of it. We need to be the reminder for others and ourselves that there are more important things than coming first or high scores, things more important than being right and having the last word or “zinger”. Is it worth killing ourselves or others over? Only you can answer that, but I’m guessing the majority of you agree that no, it’s not. When it comes to health and self care, death via gaming is highly preventable.

When it comes to tragedies like the one in Jacksonville, the best we can do is be the better person instead of the better player. If the expectations to win and be a brutishly bullying dominant force blurring the lines of decency where we’ve created a toxic culture within gaming, then we need to be the antitoxin. We can always blame mental health, bad upbringings, or lack of discipline and morals whether true or false. But what was once considered a quiet fact is now showing its loud and proud dark colors; our culture has a problem not with what we consume but the ways we can use it as an outlet for ill intent. Should we want to continue enjoying the art and fun of video games for ourselves and others, we have to look inward and battle such negativeness with a firm but positive counter. You have a right to be upset at trolls, sore losers, or even yourself at the thought of losing to others or losing your temper. You do not have the entitlement to inflict violence. You have no excuse to lose your humanity over undemanding entertainment. Find a way to confront them without sinking to their level. Help communities by reporting incidents and offer proof of misconduct. Do what you can within reason. Either that, or continue to have gaming be the media’s scapegoats for every single violent crime featuring a game loving perpetrator. We can improve our culture. I have faith in us. Do you?

Dany Best

Dany Best

Dany Best is a content contributor to The Hyrule Herald and one of the founding managers.

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