When Journalism Becomes Destructive: The Sandy Hook Tragedy & Gaming

I explain why I believe gaming journalists are being irresponsible in regards to the recent "news" about the Sandy Hook shootings and the latest accusation that video games was the cause.

I explain why I believe gaming journalists are being irresponsible in regards to the recent "news" about the Sandy Hook shootings and the latest accusation that video games was the cause.
Recommended Videos

I hate hearing about the Sandy Hook shootings. I really do. Before you take that in any other way than I mean, I simply mean that it breaks my heart to remember it and all those families that are still grieving. Still, I see the point in not allowing us to forget and move on, not just yet. We shouldn’t just sit by and say “that’s a tragedy” and move on without some major changes as we’ve done so many unfortunate times before. We need to try and do our very best to prevent these kinds of things, to find some solutions. But sacrificing a scapegoat to make people’s minds feel at ease won’t help anyone.

As you are probably well aware, video games are America’s latest scapegoat (before then it was comic books and rock music, and probably everything that young people ever enjoyed). No matter the research that goes into combating the myths and fears surrounding gaming, it all goes out the window if someone can prove in any way that a disturbed individual was a gamer.

You may have also heard of the recent so-called report by a newspaper and website called the New York Daily News. I first saw it on Gamespot and read through the article in disbelief as baseless and desperate claims were made on shaky information. Though Gamespot journalist Eddie Makuch was just reporting what the so-called newspaper was saying, the comments below the article were angry, disbelieving, exasperated and frustrated. Some were angry for it even being published at all, as they felt as if their time had been wasted. To be fair, Kotaku published the article as a report as well. 

Upon further research, I learned that the New York Daily News is a tabloid newspaper, and that the writer Mike Lupica is normally a columnist. I find this apparent in his article, as Mike Lupica cites only one nameless source that allegedly took part in a police conference in New Orleans and then starts focusing on his opinions. He states that police found a large spreadsheet with kill counts from past mass murderers in the shooter, Adam Lanza’s home. He then begins talking about what the Connecticut police “believe”.

They don’t believe this was just a spreadsheet,” Lupica writes. “They believe it was a score sheet … 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.

At this point, Lupica goes on and totally drops the “they believe”.

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. 

Lupica concludes,

In the end, it was just a perfect storm: 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.

I don’t think I have to tell anyone who is reading this what is wrong with that article. It’s pretty clear that Lupica is clueless to the world of gamers and has ignored all statistics (like the fact that there’s millions of gamers but not millions of mass murders). This “code of the gamer” that makes you lose your “points” when you are killed eludes me as much as logic and fact seem to elude Mike Lupica. There is countless theories as to what went through Adam Lanza’s head – so I won’t get into that, as there are plenty of articles on the Internet – but I seriously doubt Lupica’s got it right.

News website The Atlantic Wire also wrote an article critiquing Lupica’s, in which they remind us of the following:

Just for the record, “disturbed” and “mentally ill” did not appear in the digital version of Lupica’s 1,075-word article or in any of his source’s quotes, although “insane” popped up once, “deranged” once, and “game” or “gamer” was in there 12 times. Also for the record: The story doesn’t mention any efforts to confirm anything with Connecticut State Police, or the specific connections between violence and video games.

While Lupica is wrong to use the Sandy Hook tragedy as a soapbox for his apparent dislike of video games (jumping from the fact that Lanza allegedly had a spreadsheet, to comparing gamers to rapists), I myself am more upset that major gaming news outlets would bring attention to this at all. When I saw the report, as a freelancer myself I decided not to write an article about it. Rather than being an actual report, it appears to be at best a rumor and at worst a lie, as there are no facts and no one else to back up such a damning accusation.

We cannot verify Lupica’s source, and the Connecticut police have officially said no such thing. We can’t even verify the integrity of the newspaper as it is a tabloid and especially not the so-called journalist. Or that Lanza was even a gamer. Even so, the article that claims to be a report reads like an editorial soaked in speculation and personal bias – against video games.

So why on Earth would websites that gain their money through gaming publish what appears to be a smear job on games – one based on one man’s word and theory – as a report? I want to be clear here; I am not saying that we should not publish anything negative about gaming. But if you want to be a respectable site, fact check and don’t present one journalist’s vague facts and opinions as an official report, which read to people as if the Connecticut police had publicly damned video games as cause of the tragedy.

Everyone in media, particularly the biggest newspapers, news stations and websites have a lot of power. It’s our job to use it responsibly and to be responsible readers. I have to say I was disgusted to see that photos were taken of parents who had just gotten the news about their child, though I am aware that this happens often in tragedies – but anything for views, right?

As such, one can possibly even speculate that it is our manic coverage of such violent acts that in turn sometimes spurs other potential murderers to actually go through with their own ambitions, as at the very least infamy in death awaits them. So we must be careful not to glorify immoral acts, not to misinform, mislead and certainly not to cycle around speculation and present it in a manner which leads readers to believe this is fact.

If gaming news outlets wanted to give attention to this deluded journalist, then they should have done it in such a way as to inform readers that they might soon hear of another accusation against video games, not present it as a report.

But, in all, since media has so much influence, they empower those topics and the people they discuss as a result. This can only encourage some people, for good or ill, to continue to act in a manner that makes headlines. To quote that line from Spiderman that everyone knows, “with great power comes great responsibility.” And I sincerely hope that gaming news sites and journalists will try to remember that in the future.

About the author