I’m not an up-in-arms-over-every-little-thing sort of person, but when it comes to people blaming video games for everything wrong with society, that prompts me to search for my soap box. Lucky for you, I found it.
If you haven’t heard by now, Brandon Crisp, a 15 year-old from Barrie, ON, went missing a couple of weeks ago. He ran away from home after his parents took his Xbox 360 away because they felt he had been spending too much time playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You can read all about it.
The media are blaming video games and their supposed addictive nature, citing them as the likely reason for Brandon’s disappearance. Like I’m sure that Pac-Man inspired many a person to gobble magic pills while listening to horrible repetitive music. Oh wait, I guess that’s what raves are for. But that’s besides the point. What the media, and specifically the writers who probably don’t have first-hand experience with gaming culture (yeah, I said “culture”), don’t realise is that gaming is (and always has been) an activity chock-full of social interaction. Back in my younger days, I frequented arcades where people would pump quarters into wooden cabinets and compete for the right to post their initials (or three-letter dirty words like “FUK”, “ASS” and “POO”) in the games’ high score rankings. We’d gather around the machines where someone was playing exceedingly awesomely, alternating between cheers and boos. The sights, sounds and smells might have been different, but it was totally not unlike a hockey arena or baseball diamond.
With the power of today’s computers and video game consoles, arcades are a relic of the past. However, the social interactions are now online. Xbox Live allows gamers to play with/against friends/strangers, which is essentially the same as the arcade experience without actually being there.
So when Brandon’s parents took away his Xbox 360, they took away one of his means to socialise. I don’t see how that is the fault of the video games. Even that, I don’t think, would be the underlying reason why Brandon would run away. I think the XBox 360 could be interchangeable with a cell phone or TV privileges and the result could possibly be the same. That being said, perhaps the blame heaped on video gaming is covering for inter-family reasons, and honestly, it’s really not our business. However, pointing the finger at video games is a lazy attempt to find a reason for Brandon’s disappearance when the problem might simply be of the human variety.
As an aside, Call of Duty 4 is rated M by the ESRB, which means that it should not be sold to those under the age of 17 without parental consent. Brandon’s 15 now, but CoD4 was released in 2007, when he was 14. Much like music, movies, TV, books and so on, I believe a parent should be informed about the type of media that their children consume and help them to be able to put it all in perspective.
All in all, hopefully Brandon returns home safely.
Update 11/6/2008: Brandon’s body was found in a field near his home: link