Fatal Fantasy: Gamers Trigger Police Shooting

This is a remarkable story that you will be reading about for some time because it concerns the clash of two immensely newsworthy components: video games and police shooting.

In this case, the 28-year-old victim,  Andrew Finch, Wichita, was not a gamer. He did not play “Call to Duty” or other video games. He may not even have heard of the term “swatting,” contacting emergency services with a false 911 call. (More about that later in this post.) Rather, he was a father of two children and loved his family.

In other words, he could have been anyone. He could have been you.

Here’s how the incident purportedly happened. Tyler Barriss, a 25-year-old gamer in Los Angeles, now under arrest, had a dispute with another player on “Call of Duty,” a popular World War II online game. Barriss made the swat call from California to Wichita, telling dispatch that he had shot his father and was holding his mother and little brother hostage in the closet. He said he had poured gasoline in the house and might just like a match.

You can hear the chilling 911 call by clicking here.

Barriss lit a gaming match that Interpersonal Divide has warned against since 2004 when the first edition was published by Oxford University Press.

Barriss reportedly had an online argument over a bet with a gamer. His online adversary gave a false address in Wichita, leading police to Finch’s home and the shooting.

We’re dealing with multiple factors discussed in the second edition of Interpersonal Divide, namely:

  • Loss of reality due to time spent in virtual reality.
  • Lies, exaggeration and incivility in online communities.
  • Disrespect for morality.
  • Virtual violence leading to actual violence in real life.

Here’s an excerpt from the new book, Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine:

Users steeped in virtual environments become immune to the dangers of the real world. … Accidents of all sorts seem to be on the rise perhaps because of the false sense of security provided by the virtual world. Arcade characters simply re-spawn when killed; people do not. There is a general feeling that someone somewhere else is responsible for reporting dangers. 

In this case, Barriss allegedly reported a horrific crime–shooting his father in the head–which, of course, was false. He thought he had procured an address in real place, Wichita, hoping to cause havoc via a swat to police. The ultimate stupidity here is believing that a gaming adversary would provide a correct address. Instead, it provided the location of an innocent victim, someone who died because of what was occurring in a video game in the cloud.

Swatting is difficult to defeat as emergency services are obligated to respond to 911 calls. In response, the federal government has warned authorities about swatting, which can turn deadly in various ways. If emergency services are sent to a hoax address, someone in actual need of them may be deprived.

Click here to read the government bulletin so that you know about the ramifications of swatting.

In this particular case, there are multiple victims from Finch, the innocent slain man, to the Wichita police. In a sense, we are all victims of the widening Interpersonal Divide. We may apprehend the dangers of the online world and take precautions to minimize risk. But in the end, we are all living in blended communities, real and virtual ones, with nothing in place as yet to prevent one from bleeding into the other, literally, as in this tragic incident.

To learn more about Internet risks that afflict community life, read the new edition of Interpersonal Divide, available from Oxford University Press or Amazon.com.

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