In Plymouth, England, a 46-year-old man, Mark Bradford, grabbed a 13-year-old boy by the neck over a video game. Bradford was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops with a 13-year-old family acquaintance when, according to Bradford, the young boy began using taunts and calling Bradford names. Eventually, when the boy killed Bradford in the game, he “lost it” and went to the boy’s house and grabbed him by the neck.
The easy explanations to this odd event are that Bradford is crazy or that video games cause violent behavior. IGN calls Bradford a “nut” while readers make fun of him for being a 46-year-old gamer. Meanwhile, opportunists are marking this as win in the “video games cause violent behavior” debate. Framing Bradford’s actions in this way is naïve and oversimplified.
This story is all over the Internet and is highly visible, even the Drudge Report picked it up. Why? Because it is easy to reduce the incident to a juicy headline. Kotaku is currently running the headline “Grown Man Hunts, Strangles Boy Over Call of Duty Game.” Great headline but bad reporting. To me, “hunts” misrepresents and sensationalizes the story. The heart of this issue, ignored by news outlets, is bullying, not a man losing his cool and hunting a boy.
Any online gamer has been through bullying similar to what Bradford describes; some punk kid decides to single you out and mercilessly insult you. The insults tend to be worse if you’re an identifiable, non-stereotypical gamer (female, non-white, elderly), like Bradford. Bullying is a major problem in online gaming and is much more common than acts of violence provoked by video games. However, news stories rarely address video game bullying. While Bradford did attack a young boy, news outlets, particularly gaming news sites, have squandered an opportunity to spark a meaningful discussion about bullying in video games. Bradford may have emotional issues and his actions are inexcusable but I am sympathetic towards him and I advocate a more welcoming gaming environment.