Everything you wanted to know about gaming, and less

by Jamison DeLorenzo

Pay attention to enough news stories and you can see pattern with the media extolling the negative qualities of the Internet and what they refer to as the gaming subculture. It’s not that I am any different – I do what I can to provide negative comments every week for parts of the industry that are negative influences. Today, however, things are going to be different. Oh yes, they will be different.

Within the past month there was a proud owner of an Xbox 360, laptop, and a few other possessions, who had his house broken into and items stolen. In what feels like nothing more than a transparent attempt to land a spot on America’s Dumbest Criminals, the thief messaged a thread through Xbox Live a ransom demand for the stolen 360. Anyone who has ever watched even one episode of any crime drama, or has an ounce of common sense, can probably guess what happened next.

Only, you probably can’t. The police involved in the case worked more slowly than people on the Internet. After the person who had his possessions stolen was not receiving the desired help from the police he posted his grievance up on the Internet. Many members of the networked gaming community sprung into action, found detailed information on the person who was connected to the account from with the ransom demand was initiated, and soon afterwards property was recovered. The police finally helped out after this happened.

From this there were several interesting responses. Let’s start with the fact that Fox News managed to squeeze in a story covering this saga. I found the timing of this amusing because the first thought that popped into my head was that they felt guilty about their Mass Effect story and thought this was a great opportunity to endear themselves to the gaming community. Sorry, you didn’t sucker me in! In the story the kid who had his stuff stolen was mention to be an aspiring Guitar Hero legend, or something to that effect. I’m saying this kid is going to grow up to be a rocket scientist, but it picking that header for him was funny. It’s almost like a smack in the face. Was that the most notable thing in his life so far? Guitar Hero is the pinnacle achievement to date? Really?

(I do not mean to imply that I have any better things to do than write about or play video games – that would just be insane)

Another miss in this situation was the fact that Microsoft missed this message completely. In my paranoid little world where all digital communication is monitored I seriously expected there to be some built-in monitoring of all communication, or at least the text-based communication, so that when something criminal were sent over the wires, say, for example, a ransom note about stolen property made by Microsoft, that the monitoring software would see it and disable any offending party’s account. I want this to be bad news, but maybe the fact that this did not happen is good news.

While the Big Brother justice system is not quite in place yet on Live, this does make me wonder a little more about the technical proficiency in the standard Law and Order segments of our society. In modern times a controlled Internet account handle is just as good as a mailing address. You would think that if the police were notified of an address in a ransom situation that the case would be solved in a matter of hours. Technically you could throw the term “vigilante justice” around here. How can you just skip over using inflammatory comments in topics related to gaming? The news outlets missed an opportunity here.

Seriously though, this ties in to my main point – that there has been a steady stream of negative stories about video games for a long time. Video games cause obesity in kids, they make people shoot each other, they’re killing simulators, they are too sexually explicit, they have no redeeming qualities, and so on. We’ve been seeing these stories for years. We now have a story about how a community rallied around a theft that was largely being ignored by the police (or, at least, ineptly handled) and the community was able to get the person most, if not all, of his belongings back.

We praise the neighborhood watch for their efforts, do we not? Look, I can’t sit here and claim that perhaps some of this information should not have been obtainable by average citizens (i.e. Xbox Live account info), but this information was used to get stolen property back. I am never one to ignore exceptions to rules. In the scenario dealing with the what the road to hell is paved with, I have no issues with whatever non-physically threatening tactics were used to get the property back (keeping in mind that I am not someone who’s opinion regarding moral tactics you should necessarily listen to).

The lesson in all this, aside from needing to be a smarter individual when attempting to extort money from someone, is that we are still living in a world that predominantly is incapable of understanding technology. Things that seem simple to many people simply do not translate to people in an older demographic. Naturally, this isn’t a new trend. It’s going to happen to us too. A lesson that I took from this, which I feel may benefit many people, is that until a changing of the guard occurs in the media, we are going to have to continue dealing with gaming stories in the media being constantly mishandled. Anyone who is unable to grasp this will eventually go insane when the next Mass Effect controversy hits front and center on the 6 o’clock news.