How to Frame any Story to Make it About Video Games

NY Daily News sportswriter Mike Lupica seemed intent on beating the high score for framing a tragic story entirely around video games with his cringeworthy profile of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza on Monday.

The article was based on few anonymous sources, like “a tough career cop who did not wish to see his name in the newspaper.” This is a pro strat for hack journalists, since it allows the writer to draw conclusions based solely on their own speculation and the speculation of their anonymous sources.

Another key strat was in how he chose to identify Lanza:

“It has been reported previously that law enforcement found research about previous mass murderers at the Newtown, Conn., home the shooter, video gamer Adam Lanza, shared with his mother, the first victim of Dec. 14.”

Lupica makes “video gamer” the defining characteristic of Lanza. This is a time-tested strat for fear-mongering, honed throughout history to associate race, ethnicity, legal status, gender, religious affiliation, etc. with crime or negative behavior.

“But it wasn’t just a spreadsheet. It was a score sheet.” Lupica’s anonymous source strat begins to play out here. This statement is speculation framed in the language of gaming.

“They don’t believe this was just a spreadsheet. They believe it was a score sheet,” he continued. “This was the work of a video gamer, and that it was his intent to put his own name at the very top of that list. They believe that he picked an elementary school because he felt it was a point of least resistance, where he could rack up the greatest number of kills. That’s what (the Connecticut police) believe.”

With this logic, any spreadsheet with numerical date that could be ranked is “the work of a video gamer.” This is an especially interesting conclusion, since earlier in the article another anonymous source claimed the spreadsheet “sounded like a doctoral thesis, that was the quality of the research.” I was under the impression that hardcore gamers focused their time on video games, not years of graduate-level research on mass shootings. Note to Mike Lupica: Microsoft Excel is not a video game. This behavior seems more like the work of a mentally unstable sociopath, not a video gamer. Unless, of course, ‘mentally unstable sociopath’ and ‘video gamer’ are synonymous…ah, I see what you did there, Lupica.

The man paused and said, “They believe that (Lanza) believed that it was the way to pick up the easiest points. It’s why he didn’t want to be killed by law enforcement. In the code of a gamer, even a deranged gamer like this little bastard, if somebody else kills you, they get your points. They believe that’s why he killed himself.

This is a bolder speculation. This anonymous source knows exactly why Lanza didn’t want to be killed by law enforcement: video games. Honestly, it’s true. The only reason I don’t want to be killed is because of video games. There’s a problem here, though: the anonymous source is clearly unfamiliar with the games in question. In games like Call of Duty, which has been the focus of the fear-mongering, a person does not get your ‘points’ for killing you. They get a ‘point’ for killing you, you don’t lose any ‘points.’ You know the only way you lose ‘points’ in a Call of Duty deathmatch? Committing suicide. It’s strange someone who is so familiar with the “code of a gamer” would make this mistake.

“These guns, one of them an AR-15, in the hands of a violent, insane gamer. It was like porn to a rapist. They feed on it until they go out and say, enough of the video screen. Now I’m actually going to be a hunter.”

Here we have a reiteration of the gamer-as-identity strat with somewhat of an implication about gamers being violent and insane. The comparison with “porn to a rapist” is interesting, since the obverse using the logic of this article would mean that porn turns people into rapists (trust me, that conclusion has been made by many hacks in the past). However, notice how rapist is the identity, not the porn consumption. The analogy this source seems to use is ‘porn is to rapist’ as ‘violent games are to gamer.’ I would hate to see that source’s SAT scores on the analogies section. For the analogy to be logically valid, it would have to read ‘porn is to rapist’ as ‘violent games are to mentally-unstable sociopath.’ That would get in the way of the speculation about games and gamers, so it gets ignored.

“It really was like he was lost in one of his own sick games.” Again, the framing makes the shooting about video games. Here, it’s the games that are sick.

The article the goes on to talk about how he learned about tactical reload and other tactics: “Classic police training. Or something you learn playing kill games.” This may seem familiar to those who remember back when people tried to blame 9/11 on Microsoft Flight Simulator. The thing about “classic police training” and most military training of this type is that you can learn all of it on the internet. Someone who spends years doing graduate-level research on mass shootings certainly didn’t need video games to teach him what tactical reloading was. The source and the author ignore the fact that his research into mass-shootings wasn’t to create a video game-like scoreboard–that wouldn’t have taken years, it would have taken less than an hour on Wikipedia–it was to study tactics and create mass-shooting best practices.

At this point we are almost entirely through the article, and so far it has entirely focused on video games. At the end:

“The police in Connecticut believe that Lanza’s mother, a gun lover herself, was an enabler of her son’s increasing obsession with guns, that she was making straw purchases of guns for him all along, and ignoring the fact that he was getting more and more fixated on them.”

This is essentially burying-the-lede on steroids. The vast majority of the article is about video games, and buried near the bottom is something about his mother being “an enabler of her son’s increasing obsession with guns.” His mother buys him a bunch of guns, including an AR-15, and she is just an enabler of his gun obsession, not even an enabler to mass murder. Video games were the real problem.

This article, which just as easily could have been a National Rifle Association op-ed, is just the latest effort in the history of shifting the focus of gun violence from the guns to youth culture.

Is it really possible to frame most stories to make them about video games?

Here is the story of a valedictorian who was suspended for saying “fuck” in a performance of Cabaret rewritten to be about video games:

Ocean County Vocational Technical School District officials gave 17-year-old gamer Brian Eckert two days of in-school suspension and banned him from a solo performance after the Performing Arts Academy student used the f-word in a February performance of “Cabaret.” In addition, Eckert, who is also the school’s valedictorian, may be banned from giving his valedictory address.

I spoke with a man who attended the February performance and did not want his name to appear in this article:

“It’s clear that this gamer has been desensitized to this kind of foul language through the sick video games and a gamer culture of cursing at opponents online during competitive kill games.”

Eckert, an avid gamer, used a strategy RPG video gamers call min-maxing to climb to the top of his school’s GPA leaderboards.

“Through gaming he learned to minimize unweighted courses and maximize weighted ones, building his class schedule like a character in an RPG video game. His desire to be Valedictorian was a manifestation of his desire to be the strongest character in one of his online fantasy games. However, gamer code told him that he couldn’t just settle for being the strongest character. He also had to verbally gloat using foul language in order to be considered ‘leet.’ These gamers are trained to use offensive language as a way to maintain gamer status.”

The word Eckert used in the performance was in the original script and may have enabled Eckert to use his foul gamer language.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: The example above was based on a story that I found from Google. Like the NY Daily News article, it doesn’t portray reality.