On the 18th of January, 17-year-old Christian Kwee was shot and killed in the corner of the ProGamer’s Internet Café in Coquitlam, a suburb of Vancouver. The shooting is allegedly the result of an increasing series of taunts arising from Kwee’s skill at the game Counter-Strike.
Although there have been several Internet Café deaths reported in the news over the past year, they’ve all been related to marathon gaming sessions. This most recent death is the first Counter-Strike related killing and is the first killing, that I’m aware of, that can be linked directly to in-game anger. Police believe that the assailant and his friends were angered at Kwee’s apparently exceptional skill, as well as his tendency to gloat over his wins, and began insulting him over the in-game chat system. Mr. Kwee responded in kind and the situation escalated.
The assailant and his friends came over to physically attack Mr. Kwee, but were rebuffed and chased out of the store by intervening onlookers. A few moments later the assailants returned and immediately attacked Mr. Kwee, forcing him into a corner and beating him. It was then that a gunshot was heard and the Café emptied, leaving a mortally wounded Kwee in the corner.
All this over a Counter-Strike game.
We’re all gamers here, and I’m willing to bet that most XPD8.net readers have played their fair share of Counter-Strike, undoubtedly one of the most popular on-line games ever. We’ve all seen the players who, on a winning streak, get mouthy and brag about their victories. We’ve also seen the way those on the receiving end can lose their cool and begin to verbally abuse the victor. It generally degenerates into a shouting match of obscenities until either an admin starts kicking or one of the parties leaves the server. Yet no matter how intense the yelling gets, it’s all virtual anger. There is no threat of actual physical harm, because, chances are, the person you’re arguing with is on the other side of the planet.
Take the above online-gaming scenario and put the two people face to face and what happens? The theory from police is that the perpetrators got lost between the game-world and reality. “’It seems that something from the imagination has been taken to the next level and made into reality,’ Cpl. LeMaitre said. The young men who were defeated by Mr. Kwee may have been so wound up that they crossed the threshold between imagination and reality, he said.”
I’m not so sure that any break from reality occurred. I’m of the belief that these kids insulted each other so fiercely that one group felt the only recourse was physical violence. This speaks more to how the kids have been taught handle arguments and the values that have been instilled in them by their parents and the culture with which they were raised. I’d be willing to bet that many LAN parties and Cafés have had their share of bluster and bravado, but I don’t recall ever hearing or it escalating to murder.
It was, in my opinion, only a matter of time.
Let me clarify that statement. By seeing this act as inevitable, I’m not coming down on the side of those people who believe that violent video games propagate violent behavior. I fully believe that had these particular people been involved in a passionate game of soccer and the same series of events unfolded, the results could very well have been the same. Soccer is not a violent sport, but look at all the violence associated with the game worldwide.
Instead, I see this act as inevitable due to the callousness with which we treat one another online. Because it is all virtual, many of us seem to pull out all the stops when it comes to socially acceptable behavior. It’s as though all the rules your parents taught you, or you learned in school, seem to have gone right out the window as soon as you realize you can verbally pummel another person with no fear of retribution. But that’s not how it works in the real world. In a setting where you’re next to your opponent, the need for some sort of sportsmanship is obvious. It was exactly this lack of sportsmanship that began the ball rolling on this tragedy.
Add into this already volatile mix some people with less-than-generous natures (it was reported that Kwee “ran with the wrong crowd”, and one can only assume that the murderer’s also had their own bad reputations), and what should have been a evening’s gaming turned into a dead teenager and the end of several other’s freedom.
To modify a line from gun-rights activists: it’s not the video games that cause violence; it’s the people who play them. The emotions that arose from the competition of the game were the trigger this particular night, but it could have been any kind of competition that caused these events to unfold. Instead of the knee-jerk reaction that many will have (violence in the games causes violent behavior), let’s all stand back and look at the real causes of this murder.
And the next time you start ranting and insulting others on a server, take a moment and think about 17-year-old Christian Kwee and his family. It is, after all, only a game.
You can find the news article about Mr. Kwee's murder here.