Over the weekend, two men sent me two very different messages regarding last Friday's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
One was from Antwand Pearman, an up-and-coming gamer/reporter/event-organizer who runs a small outfit called GamerFitNation. He was flagging my attention to what he calls a proposed "demonstration of peace." He calls it Day of Ceasefire For Online Shooters. On December 21, for 24 hours, he is calling on his fellow gamers to cease playing online shooters. "It's to show that we as gamers give a damn," he says in an emotional eight-minute video posted on Saturday morning.
The other note I got was from the publicity-loving anti-gaming ex-lawyer Jack Thompson, a guy who only makes it into the news when they are violent deaths (or when he's being dis-barred). He believes games train kids to kill. He hadn't e-mailed me since October, when he was trying to shame Best Buy into no longer selling Mature-rated video games to children. [Clarification: An earlier version of this article did not incude the "to children" phrase, implying Thompson was trying to get Best Buy to drop M-rated games altogether; his communication to Best Buy was intended to alert them to what he deemed their illegal selling of adult content to kids.]
Thompson wrote: "You people at Kotaku have blood on your hands. You have facilitated the infestation of an entire generation of young men who have now come of age, like this sociopath in Connecticut, who were raised on violent video games and who see the killing scenarios therein as a means of solving their problems.
"I warned you at Kotaku that a day like this would come, and now it has come. Congratulations. Hand sanitizers won't ever room the blood on your greedy little hands. Jack Thompson, Miami"
Antwand Pearman's voice quivers in his Saturday-morning video. He talks about growing up around guns. "I grew up in a really bad neighborhood," he said. "And I grew up with gun violence in my life. It got to a point where, to me, it got numb. I was used to it. When I heard somebody got killed to me it was just another story, but as I got older and became a man, I started realizing I just didn't want to hear the stories no more." He trembles with the sense of wanting to do something about this latest, extraordinary act of gun violence.
Thompson had trouble figuring out which of our e-mails to send his note to and eventually dug up my personal e-mail and sent me this: "Actually, Adam Lanza [, the killer,] is the one who is the computer geek and hardcore gamer. Epic fail by you Stephen. Of course he trained on the violent games you pimp for. "
I asked him for more information about Lanza's past with video games. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that Lanza was obsessed with violent games. It's certainly a possibility that they were part of his cultural diet. Despite what mental illness he may have suffered, despite the familiarity he had with guns through his mother (who he allegedly murdered), maybe games did further his zeal for shooting. Possible, right?
I asked Thompson: "Where are you seeing that he trained to kill little children by playing video games?
He replied: "You are such an idiotic tool. The New York Times is reporting that he was an avid gamer. He shows up in body armor. What games do you think he played, you moron?"
The New York Times didn't report that Lanza was an avid gamer. Other outlets made passing references to him playing in LAN parties, which blew up into top news at the massively-popular news aggregator, The Drudge Report.
I wrote: "I understand that you're angry about the murder of innocent people. But calling me an "idiotic tool" isn't going to make things better. Which New York Times article are you referring to? The Adam Lanza profile I read makes no mention of video games.
"It's entirely possible that shooter video games helped desensitize Lanza to violence or served as some sort of very crude training simulator. It's also entirely possible they had nothing to do with it. You're interested in the law. I'm a reporter. We both care about evidence. So if you see some, feel free to share it and make your case. Otherwise, if all you've got is insults, you're wasting my time and yours."
He replied: "I understand you are a moron"
The exchange went on, but you get the gist.
Some Facebook users have questioned the wisdom of Antwand Pearman's call for a ceasefire. They think that he's actually drawing a connection between the killings and the act of playing online shooters. Not really, he told me:
"When I thought of this cease fire I saw it as a means for gamers to come together and show their love and support the families. The one thing we can't get in this world is peace. War will always rage on but in the virtual world we have an opportunity to be better. This isn't something for the media it's for the families and us.
"So what if people stop playing shooters for a day? It will be forgotten the next day. The point is that in that silence you'll have time to listen to something you haven't heard in a long time. Something you have been too busy to hear. Too social to notice and that's...your Heart."
I think Thompson and Pearman's approaches both will rankle some gamers. These two very different men—one who hates video games and one who loves them—may both be accused of trying to get publicity or channeling the hurt we feel when we hear about these kinds of killings into actions that don't seem to fit perfectly.
In all of our hearts we wish for a solution. We wish for something to be done. Thompson would stamp out violent video games. Pearman would have #OSCEASEFIRE become a day of reflection.
All of us many wonder what, if anything, will make a difference.