Two recent gaming related deaths [trigger warnings]

Memorial for Kimberly Proctor, whose murder was plotted online and confessed in World of Warcraft.

Memorial for Kimberly Proctor, whose murder was plotted online and confessed in World of Warcraft.

Every so often, a gaming-related death makes the news and there is a public outcry vs. gamers defending their hobby.  There were two in the news this week.

A 22-year-old woman from Jacksonville, Florida, recently pleaded guilty to killing her baby because its crying interrupted Farmville.  She shook baby Dylan to death.  Read more on Kotaku or Jacksonville.com.  Be warned, the comments are (as you might expect), offensive.  They range from classist jokes suggesting mandatory birth control to blaming the woman, Alexandra Tobias, for being an unwed mother.  On Kotaku, readers know better than to blame the videogame, but they are quick to blame Tobias for failing to confirm to the ideals of middle class white motherhood.  Certainly Tobias ultimately responsible for murdering a baby, but I am sure that being stigmatized for her lifestyle choices did not help manage her stress levels.

What’s worst is that 114,972 people and counting “like” this story on Facebook.  You can share stuff on FB without clicking “like,” so why would people “like” that this woman killed her child?

Then yesterday, CTV reports that two teenage boys in Vancouver, BC, admitted to raping and murdering 18-year-old Kimberly Proctor in March.  Apparently they planned her murder online, and then one of the boys admitted it in World of Warcraft.  CTV reports that “experts say it’s likely the line between fantasy and reality became blurred” and quote University of British Columbia psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater: “You don’t know which aggressive kid is going to take the fantasies of video games and try them out in reality. You just can’t predict those very rare occurrences.”

My initial reaction is to scoff and say these experts don’t know anything about videogames, but on the other hand, I do believe that fantasy worlds have an impact on reality.  Take the phenomenon of gold farming, for example, which is a multimillion dollar economy, making what happens in a virtual world have a material impact on people’s real lives.  Is it so farfetched that violence enacted in a virtual world would inform real world violence?  The rationale “it’s just a game” doesn’t fly for me.

While I agree with most gamers who know videogames are not to blame for violence, videogames are not innocent toys, either.  Games exist in the same culture that demonizes single moms or treats women as rapable objects.  I’m not going to quit violent games anytime soon because I can’t divorce myself from every problematic piece of media that represents the fucked up values of my culture at large.  But I will continue to game with diligence, denounce offensive portrayals of women and other marginalized people, and confront rape culture online and off.

About Lake Desire

Lake Desire, real name Ariel Wetzel, has been blogging about feminism and videogames since 2005 at her blog New Game Plus. Lake also writes at Feminist SF - The Blog! Lake Desire is an English graduate student at University of Washington, studying science fiction, feminism, and cyberculture. At work, Lake participates in rank and file labor organizing and the anti-budget cuts struggle. Lake believes in direct democracy, queer liberation, and opposes white supremacy, patriarchy, and imperialism. Lake is white, queer, feminist, anarchist, and of course a cyborg. Lake may not sound like your typical gamer, but has been gaming since a toddler and never managed to quit.
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18 Responses to Two recent gaming related deaths [trigger warnings]

  1. wererogue says:

    NIce summary, thanks!

    I don’t think it’s fair to criticize people for hitting the ‘like’ button. Facebook doesn’t have any context to its ‘like’ button – there’s no ‘dislike’ or anything like that. It uses the ‘like’ button to control what you see on the magic-sorted feed, so if you want to see other things like the one you just read, you click ‘like’. It’s really just a registering of interest, and can probably be better expressed as “I like that you shared that with me.”

  2. Katie says:

    From what I recall, the kids didn’t actually plan the murder IN WoW; it just happened to be where one of them confessed to the murder to a (real life) friend, probably because he felt it’d be easier to get his post-murder feelings out there than face-to-face. Besides the confession, I honestly don’t see any link between the murder and WoW. Unfortunately, the mainstream media took the cheap and easy route of blaming a game, and it looks like Border House are kind of following suit :/

  3. Lake Desire says:

    @wererogue: For me, with Facebook, I see a difference between clicking “like” and clicking “share.” If you “like” a link on Gawker media sites like Kotaku, it shows up in a one line blurb on your profile. If you share a link, the whole article is reposted with an image and a chance for you to comment. I worry people clicked like because they think it is funny a single mom they’re coding as “white trash” killed her baby over Farmville. I think if they genuinely wanted to share they story, they’d click “share.”

    When I wrote this article on Friday, only 200 people had clicked “like” on Kotaku’s reporting on the murder for Proctor because they were more sensitive than that. Maybe the Proctor story just hadn’t gone viral, but my interpretation is that folks thought the infant’s murder was funny.

    @Katie: If you want to debate with me, I’d be happy to, but first please read what I actually wrote. I wrote that the murder was planned online: “Apparently they planned her murder online, and then one of the boys admitted it in World of Warcraft.”

    Let me emphasis: I blaming WoW. I’m arguing that videogames, like the rest of popular culture, exist in a violent and patriarchal culture and reflect that culture’s values, so I won’t go the route most gamers go and say there is no correlation between online violence and offline violence.

  4. Katie says:

    Hey there,
    Just so you know, I wasn’t trying to argue with you. I’m not saying that games have no influence on anybody whatsoever (whether they’re murderers or not). Honestly, I agree with you there.

    What I’m trying to say is, in this particular case, I don’t think the murder was inspired by games. The CTV article you linked to seems to tie the murder in with the fact these boys were gamers, pulling some random psychologist quote out of nowhere to try and strengthen its argument (a quote clearly engineered for a certain response).

    I found this article a little less sensationalist, and after reading it, I didn’t see how this murder was at all related to games: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/teenage+boys+used+texting+online+chats+plot+brutal+assault+murder/3735225/story.html

  5. Lake Desire says:

    Ah, I follow you. Yes, I agree the news coverage is really sensationalist, and they do the annoying thing of quoting an “expert” who says something common-sense that reveals no understanding of gaming.

  6. Blue says:

    I confess to being rather disappointed to see a Border House blogger making a rather tenuous argument that the murder of the young woman was connected to World of Warcraft. As the linked article describes it, World of Warcraft was a medium through which the boys talked and eventually confessed. Arguing that World of Warcraft was connected to the murder is like claiming that anything used to plot a murder leads to murder: paper, phones, cellphones, telegraphs, newspapers.

    “[Fantasy] worlds have an impact on reality. Take the phenomenon of gold farming, for example, which is a multimillion dollar economy, making what happens in a virtual world have a material impact on people’s real lives.”

    Your previous argument is that violence committed in video games leads to/influences violence in real life. Aka what one perpetrates in fantasy one perpetrates in reality. I’m not sure how you’re drawing a similarity between this and gold farming. In order for your analogy to work, you’d have to be arguing that gold farming players start running around national parks killing wildlife and ripping up boulders while ripping up dandelions in the quest for cash. Since that’s not what you’re claiming, I’m not sure how the reality of gold farming is relevant to these two incidents.

    The gold farming statement reads like a rather weak argument in an attempt to justify your claim that World of Warcraft was responsible/influenced the murder of the young woman.

  7. tossca says:

    I think it’s disturbing that so many people clicked “like” too, even if it does just mean they wish to see more articles of the same type or that they find it interesting or whatever. Maybe it just goes to show how shocking it is to people that there are mothers that don’t personify perfection (to say the least).

    Also, I agree that video games, just like any other type of media, do have affects on the individual as well as society as a whole. The atrociousness of these crimes makes it seem ridiculous to point at a game and say “look, the video game made them do it!” And I’m not saying that either. But depictions of violence against women in the media are not innocent and the video game industry is just as guilty of showing women as “rapable objects” as you put it.

  8. melponeme_k says:

    The hatred of women this game fosters made the confessor comfortable enough to confess about murder.

    The atmosphere in WoW is toxic.

    I refuse to support it anymore.

  9. Maverynthia says:

    I wonder if the culture of WoW and other videogames is to be blamed. Certainly killing boars wouldn’t have lead to the rape and murder, however that atmosphere of the woman hating raid groups and the fact that it’s common to see someone say they “raped” your character or they are “going to rape” (as in one of the shots on a former article here) certainly isn’t conductive to someone thinking rape is not OK. If anything it says it’s OK and why haven’t you done it in real life yet. :/

    Though the Farmville one, I wonder if it was really about the game and not that she didn’t want to deal with the kid and wasn’t experienced and patient enough to try different methods to try to quiet the child and she felt blaming the game would avert some blame from her.

  10. Tim says:

    I actually talked about both of these cases as part of my presentation on how the media portray games, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t want to say that games are the direct cause of real life violence, but then I read news like these or how a trash talker in WoW got brutalized in real life (also in B.C.), and I can’t help but think that games and its culture is at least partly responsible.

    Reading and thinking about this is making me want the supreme court to rule in favour of California.

  11. Lake Desire says:

    @Blue: What tossca and Maverynthia said. I don’t blame WoW in my post, I say it’s another piece of culturally-situated media that perpetuates violence against women. As for gold-farmers, let me be more explicit. Gold-farming and virtual economies have an impact on the real world, including the living conditions of gold-farmers in sweatshops and the economic impact of an economy moving hundreds millions of dollars. It’s simply an example of how what happens online isn’t a separate world, although I suppose one could analyze how economic impact is gendered. (Online, people pay more to buy a male avatar of the same specs as a female avatar, offline women are more likely to live in poverty, etc.)

    In short, I believe other things that occur in virtual space have tangible impacts on the real world. It is naive to think they exist separately or that games are as apolitical of a tool as a telephone. World of Warcraft is more than a medium.

  12. Neo Romantic says:

    At a glance they both look like good cases of terrible reporting and anti-gaming slant in media as well as anti-woman… As best I remember from when I first read the baby-shaking case, she ADMITTED guilt and was not “blaming” the game in any way… it was simply that the baby annoyed her while she was doing something else and she reacted very wrongly. It could have been anything, it wasn’t because it was Farmville. A lot of the comments on the article I saw were talking about how stupid people are today for putting the blame on everything but themselves, blah blah blah. But the story didn’t suggest she was trying to offload responsibility at all, that was just the slant the comenters were choosing to put on the story.

    Similarly, there are no “stalk, rape, and kill” quests in WoW. Suggesting this has anything to do with the game confusing lines between reality and fantasy is extremely misguided. Studying the role of toxic cultures within the game would be far more interesting.

  13. XIV says:

    Neo Romantic, the last part of your comment comes across as mere nitpicking and reveals that you really didn’t even read the other comments at all before posting. No one said there were any stalk, rape, and kill quests in WoW did they? So why frame it as if they did? It doesn’t really change the fact that WoW, and plenty of other games, have been shown to have a deeply misogynistic atmosphere around them, one that is excused often and treated as normal and that definitely adds to the over all mistreatment of women. The game is not entirely innocent either, it indulges in this as well, one example being how much equipment puts female NPCs and characters alike in skimpy bikini ‘armor’.

    There are a lot of other issues the game has with how it presents it’s female characters as I’ve read as well, so it’s pretty dismissive to pretend as if these things aren’t important either.

    And don’t you think it’s a /bit/ misguided of you tell people what they ‘should’ be studying and what’s ‘most important’ here? You’re sounding pretty offensive. Why not study both, since there could be the possibility that one could definitely be influencing or reinforcing the other?

  14. Neo Romantic says:

    I recognise you’re feeling upset; please read my comment again as well as the others to the post and recognise that my ‘nitpicking’ was aimed at the terrible journalists who’ve been reporting these things, NOT the borderhouse post.

    It’s a clear symptom of terrible journalism and massaging the facts to fit into their preconceived notions about women, class, videogames, and a host of other things.

    Of course there is a misogynistic atmosphere in WoW. That’s… kinda exactly what I said, and that it’s a shame the reporters have no interest in studying the toxic anti-woman culture within the game. The reporters don’t want to look for deeper causes, they just find someone they can get to spit out a quote about fantasy and reality so that they can suggest that people are acting out the part of their video game characters. Then everyone reading feels terribly superior, knowing that THEY would never do that, and don’t recognise themselves as part of anything problematic at all.

    It’s the same thing with their urge to misreport that the woman “blamed Farmville” – it makes the readers feel smug about how “stupid” and “purely evil” she is.

  15. XIV says:

    Hm, I see, I apologize then. I misunderstood where you were directing your post then, Neo Romantic. My bad. Though I do still think, beside the playerbase, the developers at Blizzard have plenty of issues they really need to address with the way they handle their female characters and players too. Because that really only serves to bolster the horrendous behavior aimed at women I think in some places.

  16. Mantheos says:

    My thoughts on this are mixed. The thing about the mother who killed her baby because he wouldn’t stop crying while she was trying to play Farmville is that Farmville is not a violent game at all. I don’t play it, but my impression of it is that it is non-violent. I think that Facebook games such as Farmville are addictive, though, and addictions that parents have can be harmful to their children. If a parent is addicted to alcohol or drugs, the child will suffer. I am NOT saying that being addicted to Farmville and being addicted to drugs are the same. But I am saying that addictive personalities in general have the potential to be harmful to the children of a family. I think in this case Farmville was a symptom of the mother’s destructive personality, rather than the cause.

    As for the boys murdering Kimberly Proctor, they confessed over WoW, but I do not think Wow inspired her murder. To do so implies that other activities those boys did also inspired her murder and one would have to scrutinize their history to find the complete cause. But I do agree that it is an absoutely sad commentary that they felt comfortable enough to talk about raping and murdering her on WoW. I agree that WoW can represent the worst of our society, but I have also met some great people on there in the time I played it. I think you’ll find both the best and the worst of humanity on WoW. But unfortunately the sexism and homophobia are the dominant view. :(

  17. Blub says:

    I know that it’s useless but from time to time I give in to the urge to criticize logic I consider weak.
    So here I go: Your say that because gold farming is a real world impact it isn’t far fetched to say that ingame violence and real violence are connected. Now I wouldn’t call it far fetched (virtual violence causing violence sounds plausible like some parts of popular evo psych), but I think your comparsion is weak. That impacts the real world in way A doesn’t mean that it can influence the world in way B, if A and B are similiar. But I would say that gold farming and violence are quite different. A connection between games and violence requires psychological changes, but gold farming just requires quite normal behavior: Namely being willing to pay money for a hobby + somebody recognizing the chance to make money. Comparing gold farming and violence is spurious. Psychological impact and willingness to pay money for something are different things.

  18. Lake Desire says:

    As a followup, there is another game related child killing that Kotaku reported: http://kotaku.com/5694312/man-jailed-for-life-over-murder-of-xbox+interrupting-child

    This time, a many killed his girlfriend’s kid for interrupting his X-box time. The comments, as you might expect, are disturbing. People are blaming the woman for failing as a mother, celebrating that the man may be raped in prison, or trying to explain the death through evolutionary psychology. Ick.

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