Swatting: The Underdressed Gaming Controversy

Playable female characters and GamerGate are contentious topics in gaming culture, but swatting could potentially become deadly if undressed by parents and the video game industry.

Several controversial gaming topics, such as female playable characters and GamerGate, which also involves females in game development and journalism roles, are contentious issues that heated up this year. But a third controversy could potentially become deadly if undressed.

A new trend in online multiplayer conduct has gone far beyond actions such as rage quitting. Gamers are now convincing law enforcement such as SWAT to deploy and arrest other players as a form of retaliation. This type of harassment is called swatting. A gamer can swat after discovering the IP address of another player, which allows them access to their real name and physical address. Once the gamer has that information, an anonymous call is placed to 911 that the swatting victim has committed a serious crime at their residence.

The prank is taken seriously in court, where it is viewed as a federal crime. 22-year-old Nathan Hanshaw of Athol, Mass., plead guilty to federal charges relating to the prank and received a 30 month sentence. Because he posed as the intended victim, Hanshaw was charged as if he made the threats.  His charges include interstate threats and making threats to use a firearm, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. His third count, making threats to use an explosive, carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Not only is swatting a crime, but it also costs money. According to the FBI, who started coning the term in 2008, the deployment of SWAT can result in up to $250,000 in taxpayer money. If the swatter is convicted, they (or their parents) could be held responsible for any amount of that cost.

This trend in serious pranks not only speaks to the accelerated growth in innovation of video games, but the responsibility of proper conduct that must also keep up with the trend. This type of responsibility is somewhat unfamiliar to previous generations. While they learned good sportsmanship while playing outdoor sports, they also grew up playing coin-operated arcade games and Nintendo Entertainment Systems, machines without the capability to pair the world competitively against each other with leveling up as a stake.

Millennials, on the other hand, are spending more time competing and interacting indoors across cyberspace. According to the Annual Gadgets Survey, 76 percent of all teens play games online. Of those gamers, 79 percent play games online.

The adolescent years are a critical period during a person’s life where they are still developing social skills, good behavior, and learning about responsibility. Some parents may genuinely try to teach their children to responsibly play video games, but it is a hard job when they do not understand just how vast and competitive the online multiplying cyber world is.  With the rewards of being successful at online gaming now including sponsorships, growth in YouTube channel traffic, eSports opportunities, and even scholarships, internet gaming is not an innocent activity. The incentives are now closer than ever to teenagers who are looking for easy ways to money and opportunity, but at what cost? 

According to an article published in an academic journal by Princeton University, four psychologists from UCLA and Carnegie Mellon University who study child psychology and computer-human interaction noted how internet communication may help produce adverse social effects on children. Specifically, their study found a correlation between internet usage and depression. They also found that using the internet in itself caused declines in social well-being.

Parents do not need to be educated on how to effectively dominate in an online multiplayer match, but they do need to be familiar with the online gaming culture before deciding if their children should be exposed to it. In the cyber world, there are no playgrounds set aside for children and nightclubs made specifically for adults. The virtual world is a sandbox where everyone shares the same toys, but not everyone can be trusted as a responsible user.

Regardless of their decision, it is important that the machine not take on the role of parenting. The ESRB includes this statement on all games with online multiplayer capability: “Online Interactions Not Rated by the ESRB.”The only event that is keeping the video gaming community from falling into a state of uncertainty in regards to personal safety and data collection security is that no swatting call has resulted in a tragic death. It is up to parents and the industry to help protect children and IP addresses to prevent an entire culture from morning the unfortunate loss of a gamer.

Featured Correspondent

University of South Florida radio broadcaster and newspaper correspondent. Critically consuming the mass media.

Published Sep. 25th 2014
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    SWATting is not just a gamer issue. I wrote my own piece on this saying Swatting may turn deadly.

    It has in Beavercreek OH.

    John Crawford was killed by police as he walked around in Wal-Mart store carrying a BB gun he had picked up off the shelves and intended to purchase.

    This is a Swatting issue because the young man who called 9-1-1 has admitted that he lied to the operator about what he witnessed. In the original call, he indicated that a man with an assault weapon was in Wal-Mart and pointing it at people. He also told the operator that he saw the young man load the gun. The operator even questioned him as the Beavercreek Police rushed to the scene.

    Now, there is debate that the police upon entering made little if any attempt to subdue or even alert Mr. Crawford that he needed to put the gun down. Indeed the video shows them rush up behind him while he spoke on his phone and practically shot him in the back.

    The entire incident also caused a woman to have a heart attack and die on the scene.

    Two deaths. Two people dead because a guy lied to the police and created an incident. Sadly, the Grand Jury will not prosecute the officers for their negligence and the SWAT call is the primary reason why they are being allowed to return to duty. Their blood is on the Swatter's hands.
  • Chris_Lemus
    Featured Correspondent
  • Si_W
    "According to the Annual Gadgets Survey, 76 percent of all teens play games online. Of those gamers, 79 percent play games online."

    Did you mean to write this? Surely 100% of the 76% of teens who play games online actually play games online, or am I missing something?
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Just so we're clear, GamerGate doesn't have anything to do with females in development and journalism. It has no gender bias, it's about integrity, it's about collusive relationships, regardless of gender.

    Now that that is out of the way, I completely agree. Swatting is one of the worst pranks possible, so many negatives from every facet, it's ridiculous. But one distinction, it's not a problem specific to gamers. It's been happening for decades, it's only recently that frequency has increased by some and the news is all over it to paint gamers as the culprit, when assholes are the culprit.
  • Si_W
    I was reading something in the English press today about GamerGate and it's the first I've seen of it. Has GameSkinny done any articles on it?
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    It is one of those subjects that it seems we've stayed clear of. I contemplated writing an article but it's just become a misinformed flame war and I don't really want anything to do with anymore. Those who support the real GamerGate are those that expect integrity from their gaming news sources and there is increasing evidence that games journalism, on a pretty large scale, has collusion involved. That's why I love being here at GameSkinny, because this is only real gamers saying what they really feel about the games.

    The opposing side of GamerGate want to belittle it to "misogyny" when gender had literally nothing to do with it from the start.
  • Chris_Lemus
    Featured Correspondent
    It goes against my personal belief of journalism to address any thoughts in the comment section without a good cause beyond a reasonable doubt, but here we go since both readers and writers are publicly weighing in on this. My GamerGate reference is correct. Despite it not having origins in misogyny, It definitely now is incorporated with gender biases in development and journalism. That's why I wrote "include." Look at Zoe Quinn. And for the record, we were practically told not to write about Zoe Quinn because of potential hacking attacks, which I think is a reasonable wish despite the request.
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    Those who troll and issue threats and harassment towards any gender do not have anything to do with GamerGate. There are really terrible people out there doing really terrible things to both genders in video games. We just hear more about those targeted towards females. I do not condone the harassment of anyone, I wish it could be a thing of the past, but it can't because there is anonymity that trolls hide behind. These trolls, these harassments, have absolutely no correlation to GamerGate.

    Edit: I should clarify, no correlation to the original intent of GamerGate. I will agree that the intent of GamerGate has been tainted and used incorrectly, misinforming the general public.
  • Si_W
    Appreciate both the comments. I was just curious as to the lack of any coverage that I'd seen and understand both your viewpoints on this.
  • Rhys Bjornsen
    "Not only is swatting a crime"

    This sub-sentence should be highlighted, repeated, and highlighted again. SWATting is not a prank. Never was.

    (Though I admit that I am now waiting for apologists claiming "If you don't want to get SWATted, just don't make yourself public on the Internet.")
  • Si_W
    To be fair, it should be "Swatting is a crime full stop/period." (the latter interchangeable for either US or British audiences).

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