Gaming culture has for many years been dominated by stereotypical imagery of thirteen year old children, screaming profanity and racial slurs into headset microphones at complete strangers.
There are also caricatures of overweight, mid-30s wastoids living in their mother’s basements and playing World of Warcraft day in and day out; or the crass, neo-misogynist who cannot believe that any female would ever play video games (and when he encounters them, he berates them and tells them they shouldn’t have ever picked up a controller); or the trolls who lurk in every single popular title just waiting for the perfect opportunity to ruin someone’s experience. These depictions of gamers exist because they are real, to some degree, and there are real-world examples of every one.
Today, sadly, we add a new character to the list: The sore loser who, as a result of becoming so agitated with another person while playing a video game, gets an innocent man killed.
On December 28th in Wichita, Kansas, a man opened his front door and was immediately shot by police. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital, but was later pronounced dead. The tragic part about this story is that this man (identified as Andrew Finch, 28 year old father of two) did not have any idea why the police might be showing up to his door that night; the Wichita police were responding to a homicide/hostage situation call they had anonymously received at Finch’s address.
What had actually transpired to set this chain of events in motion is quite possibly one of the most enraging, utterly preventable tragedies to come out of 2017, and unfortunately has been a long time coming.
For years now, “Swatting” has been a despicable prank played by gamers on one another when their anger over interactions in the digital world boils over into reality. Common practice is to report a fraudulent crime at the offending player’s address which is just heinous enough to merit a massive, tactical response from law enforcement; bomb threats, hostage situations, homicides, and so forth. The average result of this is, shockingly, a good scare and an odd YouTube video account of what happened when streamer A was swatted by streamer B. One of this site’s first articles was about Swatting, and offered as an example the incident which occurred during a broadcast by Alexander Wachs, AKA Whiteboy7thst, which was captured by his face cam; essentially, you see the streamer leave his chair after hearing something in his front room, then minutes later, a female police officer in full tactical gear with a German Shepherd can be seen searching the room. Whiteboy7thst Swatted Live On Stream
Alexander Wachs, AKA Whiteboy7thst (photo courtesy of the Chicago Tribune).
In that particular situation, it was reported to local law enforcement that there was an “armed and suicidal individual” at Wachs’ address, and the police responded according to their established protocols for such a situation. While they did manage to find at least 30 grams of marijuana in his house, Wachs did not face any drug charges according to an article from the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/bolingbrook-plainfield/chi-whiteboy7thst-marijuana-charge-dropped-20140911-story.html). This example is one of many that has somehow ended peacefully over the last eight years or so, but Andrew Finch was not so lucky.
The worst part of this most recent Swatting horror story is that Andrew Finch did not even play video games, according to his mother, and he certainly had no idea what the police would be doing at his front door that night. In fact, the only two parties involved in this situation who could have possibly known why the police were at the Finch residence that night were in different states altogether.
Two gamers involved in a private Call of Duty match were having an argument after the match’s conclusion, over the embarrassing sum of $1.50 which had been the match wager.
Screencap from the match in question (courtesy of umggaming.com).
One player threatened to (and subsequently did) contact another player with an established history of Swatting, known online as SWAuTistic, in order to threaten the other player.
25 year old Swatter Tyler Raj Barris, AKA SWAuTistic.
For one reason or another, the player being threatened offered up an address, purportedly his own, as a destination for the Swatter to hit; it was obviously not his own address, but rather the address of the Finch residence in Wichita, Kansas. When SWAuTistic made good on his threats, calling local law enforcement and telling them that a man at Finch’s address had not only shot his father in the head, but was also holding his mother, brother, and sister hostage, a law enforcement response team was dispatched to the Finch residence. Moments after they arrived on scene, Andrew Finch opened his front door for the last time.
This story should not only infuriate us as members of the worldwide community of video game enthusiasts who, at any point in time could be subjected to the anger-fueled whims of a childish poor sport; it should also concern each and every person who is not part of the gaming community. It is baffling to even attempt to rationalize how this sort of action could be seen as a “joke” or “prank” under any circumstances. Personally, as a gamer and a gaming journalist, I cannot help but feel a modicum of responsibility for Andrew Finch’s death. We have all known about this horrific practice for years, and yet we have done little or nothing to combat its practice, or at the very least raise awareness so that these nightmare scenarios might be prevented.
Then again, how are we to stop the testosterone-driven rage of adolescent gamers whose parents would rather they sit in front of a glowing screen all day than actually be forced to spend time with their children? What measures can be taken to prevent the mind of a maladjusted, sore loser from thinking that something like Swatting is a viable and acceptable method of venting their frustrations, apart from raising them to utilize other outlets for their aggression from an early age? And even then, can we guarantee that they will listen?
At this point, I don’t believe that anyone has viable answers to any of these questions. I am sadly amazed that it took this long for something of this nature to come out of the Swatting trend. I wish that the gaming community as a whole could be a little less petty about everything in general…we are at times the most entitled, snotty little hobbyists on the face of the fucking planet, and this time, that mentality cost an innocent man his life. I hope that reflection on this incident and positive change can come from such an emotionally stagnant culture, but I’m certainly not going to hold my breath waiting.
All we can do now as a community is self-police, take personal responsibility for our own actions and emotions, try to move forward, and never forget the first man to lose his life to the whims of a guy who lost a dollar fucking fifty playing a video game. It’s stories like this one that make it harder and harder to rationalize video games as the “harmless” hobby we all know they can and should be, and I hate that my first article in months has to be about a totally avoidable tragedy that should have never happened. However, I will gladly play the part of the grim stenographer, and hope that anyone who reads this will take steps to ensure that, at least in their own existences, tragedies like this one are avoided in the future.
Stay safe out there, be excellent to one another, and ring in 2018 with an unwavering resolve to be a better human in all aspects of your life. We are only incapable of altering our pasts.
*As of the writing of this article, the Swatter known as SWAuTistic (real name Tyler Raj Barris of Los Angeles, California) has been taken into police custody in L.A. County on a fugitive warrant, though the actual charges Barris faces are unknown at this time.
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