Though the media portrays the archetypal gamer as some lonely schmuck living in his mother’s basement while barely interacting with the outside world, I would argue that the virtual community as a whole is actually rather quite social. With multiplayer games, marketplaces, forums, and live streaming, controller jockeys develop fruitful connections through the virtual universe, and it’s typically beneficial. The more friends you have, the more games you’re invited to, while the more viewers who follow you, the more you rake in through advertisements. Yes, the gaming world is far from lonely, but as in every sample population, you’re bound to have a few outliers, a few crazies.
Now, being a child from the glorious 1990s, the only way I got to play with other people was to split that screen right down the middle and play with whoever was in the same room. It was the good ol’ days, when punching your brother in the arm to soil his chances of using the red shell was a legitimate strategy, and trash talk was done in person. If you relate to this era, then surely you had that one friend who couldn’t stand losing. We’ve all been there; you’re about to rip his spine out with a wicked Fatality, and as he stands up to grab a handful of chips, he “trips” over the power cord and the game blacks out, all before you can seal the deal on his sweet, sweet death. Sure it’s poor sportsmanship, but it never went further than that. Well, just as the gaming community evolved into online play, so must sore losers evolve into sociopathic felons, but instead of disconnecting your controller, they’re (by proxy) pointing a gun to your head. It’s called “Swatting”, and it goes too fucking far.
Let’s pretend for a minute that you’re popular (don’t lie to me), and your dedicated Twitch channel is simply teeming with people waiting to watch you kick virtual ass in League of Legends. With 200,000 viewers at the ready, you log in and start clearing house. As you lock down your third Pentakill of the match, you suddenly hear your front door being smashed in, followed by a chorus of yells and a face full of pepper spray. As you’re lying on the carpet, hands cuffed to your back, a bulletproof vest-laden SWAT member hauls you up and demands you tell him where the hostages are. As your vision clears, you see your team losing and your Twitch viewers multiplying. Congratulations, you’ve just become a victim of Swatting.
Swatting (or, “being a little asshole”, in my native tongue) is the act of prank calling an emergency service, such as the local police department or SWAT team, and claiming that someone at such-and-such residence has done something worth their attention. The point of the entire operation is to have the target’s home invaded by law enforcement in some misguided attempt at a practical joke or revenge, and it’s bled over from focusing solely on celebrities (though no tears were shed for Justin Beaver’s plight) straight into the gaming community. Something as simple as beating someone in Counter-strike or hosting a live Minecraft Let’s Play is now an event that can target you as the victim of lawful home invasion.
The beauty (for the knuckle draggers orchestrating the whole shindig) of the entire process is that the caller is usually completely anonymous. Using call ID and social engineering, these little shits can literally swat someone from anywhere in the world, provided there’s a working phone service and attentive police force. By getting hold of their victim’s email address or name, which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly brain science in the current day and age, the prankster can comfortably dial up the local 5-O and claim that insert name just shot his three kids and is now holding his neighbors hostage, all because he wiped the floor with you in Call of Duty. It’s the simplicity behind such a heavy action that makes this whole thing seem so scary. If some spoiled little kid can do it from his living room, how the hell is anyone supposed to feel safe?
At this point, some of you may have it in your heads to just shrug this off. Hell, I’m not really harboring a dirty bomb taped to a passel of orphans, as the caller suggested, so what do I have to fear? The cops will come, cuff me, question me, and be on their way, right? Wrong. Take Alexander Wachs, for example. This poor fool was swatted while playing Day Z, and though he didn’t have the bomb police were told to expect, he did have a wee bit of marijuana, which was just enough to have him arrested for realsies. For those of you thinking that was his fault, I want you to stop, shut your mouths, and look around your room. Now look me in the eye (I’ve really only got one that works) and tell me there isn’t something in there that could get you into trouble with the feds. My point here is that swatting can draw attention to someone (let’s face it, the grand majority) who is otherwise harmless, and subsequently get them pegged for something previously under the radar.
So far I’ve been playing best case scenario. Sure, getting sent to the slammer for something the police find in your room may suck, but you’ll still wake up the next morning without a case of shot-in-the-face-itis, which is truly ideal. Though it hasn’t happened in the gaming community yet, how long will it be until some Mountain Dew fueled teen freaks out as the SWAT team bursts through his window, only to be shot on sight by a (probably equally hyped up) trigger friendly officer? Through the actions of some butthurt gamer possibly miles away, you just got super-murdered by the local law, all for being too damn good at no-scoping.
Swatting is far from harmless, and I can’t see a situation where it’s done without malicious intent. There should never be a point in a gamer’s career where they’re afraid to win simply because they don’t want their door kicked down. How to-the-core rotten does someone have to be to purposefully fuck with a fellow gamer to this degree, where the hell did the comradery go? What kind of childish immaturity does it take to reach this level, and how far is this trend going to go (please not Ice-Bucket proportions, I pray)? Though the feds are working to track down and persecute swatters, the truly dedicated will seemingly find a way to stay hidden, all the while wreaking havoc in the lives of people more adept than them at World of Warcraft. So be careful out there, and watch who you beat, or that knock on your door may end up being the fuzz instead of the pizza.
*Author’s Note: John truly enjoys the presence of each and every one of his readers, but if a single one of you thinks that it would be super-duper ironic to swat him, please note that he’s moving to Antarctica, where there is currently spotty phone service at best and no effective police force present to break down his door.*
**Author’s Second Note: that should not be interpreted as a challenge…please.**