The CBC News website has published a new “in-depth” examination of “the obsessive world of gaming and its young stars,” a story that follows up on the death of Brandon Crisp, the Barrie, Ontario teenager who was killed when he fell out of a tree. What does that have to do with videogames? The link is easy to follow, if not exactly causative: He’d climbed the tree to blow off steam over an argument he’d had with his parents about the amount of time he spent playing Call of Duty 4 on his Xbox 360. And then he fell and was killed. Sad but simple stuff.
What isn’t simple is the appalling hatchet job done by the CBC in portraying videogames as not only dangerously close to responsible for Crisp’s death but also for turning the impressionable youth of today into an obsessive herd of stupid useless tits bedazzled by the prospect of living the easy high life of a professional gamer. Brandon’s gaming habits are presented less like unsupervised button-mashing and more like some kind of underground bloodsport in which competitors wrap their controllers in tape and then rub them in crushed glass.
The article begins on a decidedly dramatic note: “Little did they know the Barrie, Ont., teen was making his way to the top tier of the gaming world, where all that time in front of the gaming console might start to pay off with big wins and recognition in an alternate online gaming universe.” I don’t know what the hell “alternate online gaming universe” even means but it sure sounds great as thick, pandering bullshit and reaction among the great unwashed was predictable. Some rational debate in the CBC message forums could be found but words and phrases like “scary,” “eye-opener” and “psychological dangers” were far more common than they should be.
The story is actually one piece of a two-part report on Crisp, and on videogaming in general, published in conjunction with the most recent episode of the CBC television program the fifth estate. The episode is entitled “Top Gun: When a Videogaming Obsession Turns to Addiction and Tragedy,” billed by a deep-voiced announcer as “the story that shocked the country.”
It was clear how things were going to go from the very beginning of the show, a montage of violent videogame footage interspersed with closeups of a fixed, unblinking eye, presumably belonging to some mesmerized kid. After establishing that videogames are essentially modern-day gladiatorial contests for crazed teenagers, the show switched to an appropriately concerned-looking host who promptly informed her audience of the existence of “a professional videogaming circuit” that offers prize money “to rival just about any professional sport.”
Is that a lie, or gross ignorance? Or does her definition of “just about any professional sport” mean organizations like the National Lacrosse League or the International Federation of Competitive Eating? Hard to tell, but there wasn’t much time to think about it: She was just getting warmed up.
“But what happens when all that marketing money reaches into our children’s bedrooms, hands them a sniper rifle and an assassin’s mission, and promises fame and fortune to those who kill their way to the top?” she continued. “The family of Brandon Crisp found out the hard way.”
It wasn’t easy but I watched the entire show and you should, too. Not because there’s an ounce of journalistic value to it but because this sort of damaging nonsense is being fed to a viewing public that in many cases will swallow it whole unless other people take the initiative to counter the half-truths and misleading statements with facts. Calling this show biased is like calling water wet; the interviewer is eager to swallow the facts as offered by some of her guests, like Crisp’s supposed “best friend” (who oddly keeps referring to him as a “nice kid”), a self-professed former gaming addict or National Institute on Media and the Family founder Dr. David Walsh, but her interviews with industry representatives don’t go quite as smoothly.
For example, when she claimed retailers don’t have signs warning that many videogames are inappropriate for young children, Entertainment Software Association of Canada Director Danielle LaBossiere pointed out that all games sold in Canada are plainly labeled with ESRB stickers, which anyone who’s ever actually looked at a game box will know include not only age ratings but descriptions of the game’s potentially inappropriate content. But the facts are apparently irrelevant; the interviewer, having obviously already made up her mind, reiterated her claim that these aren’t really “warnings,” then quickly moved on to another subject. And while she grudgingly accepted that Major League Gaming tournaments require signed parental consent forms for competitors under the age of 16, MLG CEO Matthew Bromberg’s suggestion that parents, rather than himself, would be more appropriate for determining what kids are allowed to play is treated like a cheap excuse for the industry’s irresponsibility.
Where is this kind of Enquirer-level garbage journalism coming from? My guess is that it’s the same sort of thickheadedness that led to the Fox News/Mass Effect debacle in early 2008: A belief that demonizing videogames is not only good for ratings but also the sort of indiscriminate headline-grabbing attack that can be made with impunity because videogamers are either kids or weirdos. We don’t matter.
I’d like to demonstrate that we do matter. I’d like the fifth estate to hear from gamers, not just Canadian gamers but anyone from any country who feels insulted by this investigative bottom-feeding. Comments can be sent to the show at the CBC’s fifth estate website, so drop them a line. Leave the bad language at home but be firm and be clear: The videogame industry has been more active and more successful in keeping inappropriate content out of the hands of children than any other entertainment medium in history. Claiming that some kind of Joe Camel-style campaign is underway to hook kids on the brainsmack of horrifically violent videogames is not just wrong but deceitful, and no longer something that gamers – job-holding, tax-paying, socially well-adjusted and all-around dreadfully normal gamers – are willing to quietly tolerate.
Andy Chalk wonders why the fifth estate didn’t do an in-depth report about parents who let their young teenage children play M-rated videogames unsupervised in their bedrooms.