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How The Daily Mail Uses Tragedy To Spread Gaming Fear

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The Daily Mail has again tried to prove that playing games is deadly. The tragic story of a 14 year old who killed himself has been twisted by the national newspaper, in a attempt to profit from his death by propagandising the cause of his suicide. This is too sad.

For those unaware, the Daily Mail is a long-running UK national newspaper, owned by Associated Media, that is well known for its far-right-wing stance and its extremist views. Today the paper is infamous for carrying unevidenced scare stories on many matters, frequently targeting gaming, as well as suggesting that almost everything in the world causes and simultaneously prevents cancer.

In today’s piece the paper has spun a very sad story about a 14 year old boy who hanged himself into more of their fear-mongering about the dangers of games. I’m not identifying him or his family any further than that, because it’s hideous that this kid’s life is being used for point-scoring, and I’m not going to do the same. But I do believe it is always worth countering when stories like this appear, if anything to just provide a link for people to share with Mail readers for an alternative perspective.

This young man, about whom not much is revealed in the piece, was seemingly having a tough time. It was revealed that he had plans to run away from home with his 13 year old girlfriend, with the intention of their having a child together.

What the paper leapt on was a quote from the coroner, who for unexplained reasons decried the game that this teenager had played with his stepfather, declaring he couldn’t see why anyone would want to play it. Well, I can’t say I entirely disagree, but I’m not sure his criticism was perhaps based in first-hand experience. And while we absolutely endorse the sentiment that 18 certificated games should of course not be played by people under the age of 18, to claim that a clearly troubled teenager would kill himself with a school tie as a consequence of playing is entirely without evidence. In fact, the coroner goes on to say, “For whatever reason and it is I’m afraid somewhat mysterious [his name] just decided that he was going to put the tie around his neck and suspend himself from the bunk beds.” So apparently (according to the Mail’s report) after implicating the game, he then makes it clear that they have no idea why he did it.

This is just too sad. It is far too tragic a story to be treated so callously and so stupidly. The Mail piece instantly insinuates that this is in some way therefore associated with the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik (as well as French terrorist Mohammed Merah), because they both played the game. This is somewhat ignoring that Breivik stated clearly in his gut-churning manifesto that the game did not influence his decision to kill anyone, and omitting to mention that the majority of his ‘diary entries’ in the document were about legally and illegally acquiring real world weapons. They also ignored that the other 99,999,997 players of the game haven’t gone on to kill anyone, nor themselves, as a consequence, despite quoting the sales figures a line earlier. They then go on to include pictures of Breivik as if the two stories are linked in any way, and repeatedly insinuate that the game itself was involved in both cases, despite no evidence being presented to support this.

To repeat myself, I want to be abundantly clear that RPS entirely endorses the enforcing of age ratings on games – we want under 18s to be protected from adult imagery and violence, and we want over 18s to be protected from censorship. The coroner raised this point in the courts too, and we take no issue with that at all. Unfortunately, it’s then discoloured by his condemning the game and insinuating its connection to the death.

Of more concern to me is the way the Mail story is crafted, designed to instil fear rather than information. For instance, these two paragraphs are carefully placed to be ambiguous reading:

Before he died at his family home near Stockport in March last year, [he] had been upstairs in his bedroom playing on the computer, though his family said he was probably using Facebook and Youtube.

But the hearing was told he had been a fan of playing Call Of Duty, where players are ‘soldiers’ fighting in current wars and played frequently with stepdad.

It’s a technique where the truth is told in both cases, but arranged in such a way to ensure conflation by the reader. The reality is, as testified in court, that he was on Facebook or YouTube before he killed himself, but he also sometimes played CoD with his stepdad. When it’s put in the article this way, it creates the implication that the family was wrong to think he was on social media, and must have of course been playing the killer game.

Even more interestingly, the story goes on to reveal that his mother took quite a hard line in policing the games he played, and for how long he played them. Call Of Duty was allowed, but other more overtly violent games were not. And frankly, the Modern Warfare games really don’t feature much that wouldn’t make it into a 12A film. What’s perhaps most distressing is the impression you get from the included quotes where it seems to be implied that the death was the mother’s fault for allowing him to play this game.

The article then goes on to finally list the order in which statements were made in court, but only when squeezed into a narrower column by an adjacent boxout explaining “the controversy” of Call Of Duty. Here we learn that the boy shared with his girlfriend that he was not happy at home. But then as soon as we’re past that blue box, another ludicrous conflation switcheroo appears. In fact, it’s one of the most egregious examples I have ever seen, slipping in a completely irrelevant statement in the most inappropriate place:

Head of year [removed] said the school had looked into issues of bullying but that they could find no evidence of any bullying and that [he] had seemed mostly settled at school.

MPs have called for new restrictions on violent video games with Labour backbencher Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee leading calls for new powers to ban material rather than only apply age classification.

A spokesman for Audenshaw High School said: ‘It was with the greatest sadness that the school learnt of the sudden death of [removed].

It’s very easy to assume ourselves above being affected by such blatant attempts at not-even-subliminal coercion, but it’s a mistake. It colours what we read, no matter how much we may be aware of it. And it of course sows doubt in all who do not have specialist knowledge about the subjects. And that is the intent.

Were there to be any real evidence that playing a PC game could lead to suicide, we would want to know about it straight away. And were there any real evidence to suggest this kid’s death was directly associated to his gaming, we would want to report it. But it seems there is no evidence for either, and pretending there is is dangerous and stupid. Sadly, the Mail’s motivation for doing so is to make money at the expense of the dignity of the boy and his family. My motivation for writing this is to be an opposing voice to such awful actions. The Mail then finishes things off with an embedded trailer for Black Ops 2, because that makes sense.

I firmly believe it’s not good enough to say, “Meh, it’s just the Daily Mail, what do you expect?” I expect better. And I believe we should constantly demand better, no matter how frequently they or others may behave this way. At the very best, they are spreading misinformation in a dangerous and stupefying fashion. At the very worst, they are implicating Activision in a murder. No interpretation of it is acceptable.

Something the Mail certain gets right is to end their piece with details for the Samaritans, and I shall do the same. In the UK their number is 08457 90 90 90, and they’re online here.

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Who am I?

John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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