An innocent father was accidentally shot and killed by police after a ‘swatting’ incident. Yes, that’s right. A man died because of a delinquent gamer’s actions.
Before I launch into my rant, here is a rough breakdown of what happened. On Thursday night, local police in Wichita surround Andrew Finch’s house. They’re responding to what they don’t know to be a prank call about a hostage situation. Andrew comes out of his house, obviously confused as to why there are police surrounding it and gets shot in the head, and dies on the scene. There are so many things wrong with this situation, but I don’t want to talk about trigger happy police now. That’s an entirely different 2000 word article. Ultimately, the police shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
The police were there because of a case of ‘swatting‘. Swatting is an unbelievably stupid act, where people prank call emergency services, in efforts to get law enforcement to show up at the target’s home. An act that’s equal parts inconsiderate and dangerous, it’s done by extremely unbalanced people as part of an argument, or as part of harassment, or stalking. In this case, it was done because of a disagreement over a $2 bet on a Call of Duty game. The perpetrator is 25 year old Tyler Barriss, who was asked to do this by a group of Call of Duty gamers. This is not his first rodeo either. He was actually arrested when he pulled this stunt in 2015. It’s bad enough that this criminal is ‘swatting’ in the first place, but to make matters worse, the imbecile got given the wrong address and sent the police to a completely innocent stranger.
Were it not for the actions of Tyler Barriss and the cretins who asked him to swat in the first place, Andrew Finch would still be alive and his two children would still have a father. Out of respect to the family, I’m not going to post the video of the shooting or dignify Barriss by showing his face. My heart goes out to the family and they’ve got a go-fund-me page up here to support the family and pay for his funeral. I’d encourage you to give what you can. I’m not sure to what extent this is punishable by law, but as far as I’m concerned, Barriss should be trialed for manslaughter at the very least.
So that’s some of the facts. I’m now going to do Palpatine proud and let the hate flow through me. Be warned, there will be profanity.
This whole situation makes me very angry. First off, a man is dead. His children no longer have a father… and because of what? Because of fucking what. A prank? A grudge? There is no excuse for the needless loss of life, no matter the intention. By extension, any form of online harassment, abuse, revenge, or trolling is unacceptable. Tyler Barriss and anyone else that engages in this sort of activity, you disgust me.
Second, the mentality here is very similar to prank subculture, where people with terrible upbringings do toxic, dangerous things with no thought about the consequences of their actions and when things go wrong, try to avoid blame by shouting, “it’s just a prank bro”, thinking they’ve done no wrong.
Lastly, because of the link to games, many will attribute this senseless act to gamers. As a gamer this hits me right in the feels. I don’t want to be associated with this man, or the people that asked him to do this. I also don’t want parents or people outside the community to have a narrow minded view of gaming or gamers. When I was a kid and went through difficult times at home, the gaming community was an important escape that I needed. My World of Warcraft guild consisted of slightly older, welcoming and positive people who went on to become good friends. I don’t want other children not to have the chance to be a part of that because of the actions of a few.
That said, we might not have much of a choice. Much like when a teen commits a mass shooting (which happens far too regularly in the US), the media will latch on to the fact that the perpetrator owns a console and/or plays shooting games and portray this as the reason behind their actions. This portrays all gamers as gun wielding, socially stunted, violent young men, which leads to a very negative view on games and gamers. In reality, these offenders would be as dangerous if they were knitters.
What the media doesn’t write about is the fact that 84% of male and 59% of female teenagers play games, or the fact that it isn’t 1995 anymore and that the world has changed. In 2017, gamers are both men and women, and the average age of a gamer in Australia is 34. Yes, that’s right, adults, with jobs, lives and children. Yet all these other gamers aren’t out there murdering or doing toxic things.
So let’s talk about this. How does this happen?
Clearly I don’t subscribe to the idea that games or gaming culture are dangerous and lead people to commit violent acts. I believe it’s a combination of other factors.
Firstly, the world has changed. Before the rise of the internet in the 90’s, horrible people would need to communicate by word of mouth. They’d have to congregate in dark basements, like vampires, hiding from society. There was little way for an adult, let alone a child to be affected en masse. Unfortunately, times have changed, and it’s much too easy for people to spread their vile messages online or through social media where they’re afforded a soapbox with anonymity, and/or detachment from the direct consequences of their actions. It’s also equally as easy for someone impressionable to access that information. You definitely do not need a games console.
In the case of Tyler Barriss, he lived with his grandmother and didn’t appear to be raised by his parents. His interest in swatting seems largely attention driven and in a way I actually pity him. For the people that asked him to do this, I can only think that they too have had a bad upbringing. I didn’t have the easiest childhood, but I had loving parents, who reared me with equal doses of carrot and stick. I may not have enjoyed being lectured or scolded, but that taught me right from wrong. They taught me that actions have consequences, they taught me compassion and they taught me where the line is. I’m not going to veer too far down the psychological debate of nature vs nurture, but I would argue that a parent raising their child properly greatly reduces the risk of shitty behavior like this later on in life.
While I lay a fair bit of blame at the feet of the parents, there’s also a responsibility with those that moderate and make up these online communities. The burden falls on both parties to stamp out anti-social behaviour, in much the same way that we would if it was a small village. In that environment individuals that are anti-social would be chastised, publicly shamed and cast out from the community. Bring on tribal justice.
I specifically use the the words online communities, because this isn’t limited to gaming. The cesspit that is YouTube or Facebook comments are a great example. It’s easier for little Timmy to access social media that in is to access games, so social media platforms should stringently control any form of hate speech, or anti-social behaviour like swatting or trolling. Have an artificial intelligence algorithm that goes around hunting for and deleting horrible comments, then flagging those user profiles for deletion. It’s 2017, not 1917, so surely this can be done.
In the case of the video games community, I’d like to see the gaming giants like Activision take a stand and do the same. I don’t think it’s feasible to stop children sharing a space with adults, so especially when a game like Call of Duty is known for its toxicity, it’s time to encourage a healthy environment and punish those that are anti-social. You’re not going to lose the throng of teenage boys if you stamp out toxic behaviour. People often know where the line is, but push the boundaries and then and tow the line when you slap them on the wrist. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be part of the community to begin with. Hit them with the ban hammer and ban their accounts if you want them to learn.
In addition to managing negative behaviour, the gaming community has changed over the years and isn’t one dimensional anymore. It’s a melting pot of men, women, straight, gay, black, white and everything in between. It’s time for everything, from marketing, to game design, and user experience to catch up with that. I’d like to see more diversity in everything from characters in games, to marketing campaigns. You’re also not going to lose the teenage boys if the protagonist in the game is black, female or even a sentient vacuum cleaner. (Go play Rumu, it’s an amazing, emotional rollercoaster.)
If you think it can’t happen, go and watch any successful Twitch streamer. It’s an open, inclusive environment and if someone is anti-social or disruptive in the chat, they will get removed, immediately. While it’s a bit more difficult to moderate en masse, if the practice of cutting out negative individuals works for a Twitch streamer, it will work for a gaming company.
The same is true for our community. If someone is anti-social, we should take them to task and sort the situation out. Let’s grow that mentality beyond Twitch and have it present in everything from CS:GO, to Overwatch and of course, Call of Duty. The community and streamers like Dr Disrespect have the power to and do have great positive impact. They often talk about and deal with important issues like suicide and mental health, like Dr Disrespect does here. This is a fantastic example of the good this community does. Let’s do more of this.
So with all said and done, what do we do about this? Well, I have a few ideas…
Teenage boys… don’t be a dick. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. Put that e-penis back in your pocket. You’ll thank me later when you don’t take things to far by accident, only for there to be very serious consequences like going to jail. Don’t believe me? Ask Tyler Barriss and his cronies.
Older gamers… remember that you share this space with children that are still learning to socialise. Take the high road and set a good example. This means not getting into a fight with a child, it means behaving the way you would like them to behave in the future and it definitely means not being an asshole yourself. If you’ve ever pulled some stupid shit or treated people badly, take this as a wake up call to change your ways.
Parents… parent your bloody children and raise them to be decent human beings. Teach them to say please and thank you. Teach them to respect others, especially women. Reward them when they do right and discipline them when they do wrong. It’s not my responsibility to teach your child basic manners or right from wrong. This is on you.
Gaming companies… moderate your communities. Spend less time making loot boxes and more time creating a warm, inclusive and safe environment. Break out the banhammer and punish anti-social behaviour. Your community and game will flourish and so will your bank balance. Either way, it’s your responsibility and if you don’t do it, parents will stop buying little Timmy your games soon enough.
This is a senseless tragedy, but hopefully it can be used as a catalyst to fix some of the issues that exist in our constantly changing community. I am proud to be a gamer. I am proud of all the amazing people that there are in this community and I’m proud of a lot of the good that this community does, but in the words of Filthy Frank, it’s time to stop.
Let’s band together to show the world what the majority of gamers are like by supporting Andrew Finch’s family and stamping out this toxic part of our community.