Editorial: Discussing the Jacksonville Shooting

Robert weighs in with his thoughts on the tragic mass shooting at a Madden tournament.

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 08/29/2018 13:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

It was surreal seeing the news flash across the screen of my phone stating that multiple people had been shot in Jacksonville, Florida during a Madden Championship Tournament. The shooter, 24-year-old David Katz, apparently became enraged following the loss of an intense match, which allegedly compelled him to open fire at the throng of players around him. His actions caused the deaths of two people and injured at least eleven others. In the end, Katz took his own life. All of this, over a game of Madden.

I write about video games. I consider it a privilege. Gaming is one of the passions of my life and I take a lot of pride in sharing that passion with the people who are willing to read what I have to say. One aspect of the industry that’s always rubbed me wrong is the stereotype that gamers are a gaggle of socially awkward misfits living in basements and squandering their lives away. That by virtue of their choice of entertainment, they’re somehow inferior malcontents suffering from arrested development.

It’s a prejudiced assessment of an entire community of people that smacks of ignorance and intolerance. After all, people who binge entire seasons of TV shows on Netflix aren’t unilaterally dismissed as trolls the way those who can pass hours traipsing through the Mushroom Kingdom are. What is it about our choices as gamers that elicit such fear and confusion from those who don’t play? While it’s hard to peg down exact reasons, one thing is clear— Katz’s actions on Sunday have made manifest many of the paranoid delusions that have been pushed by pundits, attorneys, and politicians alike for decades.

Part of the aftermath of this tragedy has been a reigniting of the debate as to whether or not violent video games breed violence and the call for gun sales to be more strictly regulated. People of all walks of life are weighing in, from athletes like Roy Hibbert to Florida’s own Attorney General Pam Bondi. As has become the norm, no one wants to answer the hard questions that a shooting like this raises, with people instead trying to use video games and guns as patsies for the more pertinent systemic issues that are plaguing this country. It’s easier to cling to the same tired, canned responses than trying to say something new.

I’m here to say something new.

Taylor “SpotmePlzzz” Robinson

I don’t want to talk about guns or the influence of video games on people. What I want to talk about is neglect. Neglect and hate and festering resentment. Look around at the world we’re living in. Spend any amount of time on Twitter and it reveals just how putrid and revolting humanity can be at its worst. A simple Tweet can devolve into a string of dozens if not hundreds of responses from countless angry people. Yes, there are positive interactions to be found, but overwhelmingly social media platforms have demonstrated that there are a lot more folks with contrary opinions and a burning desire to voice their thoughts in the most inflammatory, loud, and provocative ways possible.

Civil discourse isn’t dead, but I’d argue it’s on life support. There’s a tendency now for people to try and simplify complicated issues into terms of black and white, or “good” and “bad” in order to avoid acknowledging that some topics truly exist in the gray, or the middle. It’s asinine. It’s damaging. It’s dangerous. Perspective is a powerful thing, as it will lend views to one person that another won’t have by virtue of her upbringing, her morals, her religion, her sexual orientation, and a million other factors. What she sees as “good” someone else will see as “bad” based on a myriad of different, irreconcilable views borne of life experiences that will never overlap. How can anyone look at a person from a place like Dahlonega, Georgia, with its 6,000 residents, and honestly expect them to have the same opinions as someone who grew up in a place like Oakland, California?

We’re all living in the same country but within its borders there are a million unique worlds to be found. I refuse to try and condense the different problems we’re all having seeing eye-to-eye down to designations of villains and heroes just for the sake of simplification. This dumbing down has been turning important topics like gun control, racism, and sexism into little more than buzzwords and hashtags, with uninformed commentary trumping facts and deep thought for the sake of getting more “likes” and “clicks.” I applaud that many people are genuinely trying to contribute to the larger conversation, but more often than not attempts are misguided or misinformed. Good intentions aren’t a substitute for reality.

Right now, reports are streaming in about the police investigation into the shooting. Katz’s life is under a microscope as the authorities try to piece together what compelled this young man to do what he did. The New York Post is reporting that Katz has had previous stays at mental health facilities. In the article, there’s a photo that seems to be Katz’s senior portrait from high school. I look at his face and I see a kid who I wouldn’t have given a second glance walking past on the street. Who could have known when that photo was taken that the eyes of a killer were staring into the lens of the camera? Who could have known that he’d steal the lives of two other young men, men who’d barely begun to experience the world around them?

As a society, we’ve become fixated on trying to ignore our own complicity when things go sour. It’s the gun’s fault, it’s the government’s fault, it’s the video game’s fault, it’s the community’s fault, it’s someone else’s fault. Fingers point out but never inward. Who knew David Katz? Who called him friend? Who called him a classmate, a son, a brother, a cousin? Where and with whom did the ball get dropped? I’m not suggesting that any of them pulled the trigger. At the end of the day, Katz did that. What I’m saying is that as people, we can be too reactionary. We have a propensity to want to assign guilt to external forces, when in reality the actions we choose to make or not make are ultimately the ones that have the biggest impact on one another.

I knew someone who once spoke to me about being suicidal. He talked about it in the past tense, stating it was something he’d been thinking about but then listed all the reasons why he’d decided not to do it. In my youth, or my negligence, or maybe both, I didn’t do enough to make sure he was okay after he’d said that. I didn’t go visit more, or just stop by to check how things were going at home. A month later, he’d tried to kill himself. It was by the grace of god or universal discretion that he didn’t die that night. All I could think about as I was told what happened was how he’d told me he wasn’t going to do it, that he’d decided against it. Yet, there he was in a hospital bed recovering.

I always debate whether or not I could have made a difference if I’d made even the smallest of changes. If I’d swung by on a Sunday afternoon to say “hi” and show my love and support. As much as I hate the stereotype of the misfit gamer, Katz is clearly someone who, on some level, was exactly that. Maybe gaming offered some solace to him in an otherwise unremarkable or insufferable life. Maybe he’d gotten lost in a sea of debt and the winnings from that tournament were, in his mind, the only way to get his life back on track. No one knows and may never know. What’s clear, however, is that there are lost souls wandering this earth who lack something that we, as a community, aren’t providing.

The sort of darkness that creeps into a mind like Katz’s that compels violence towards others isn’t always the result of inherent cruelty and maliciousness. Sometimes it comes from the rust and cobwebs that set in from isolation and loneliness. From rejection and indifference. Take away the guns and a Katz goes and 3D prints one. Or maybe he brings a knife or builds a bomb. Take away his video games and maybe a Katz fixates on other forms of competition. What doesn’t change is who he is inside. What doesn’t change is the confluence of events that led him to become the person he was.

Elijah “TrueBoy” Clayton

Don’t mistake what I’m saying as an attempt to excuse Katz, because what also doesn’t change here is the absence of Elijah “TrueBoy” Clayton and Taylor “SpotMePlzzz” Robertson in their friends’ and families’ lives. Katz killed them and by his actions has unfairly cast a dark cloud over an entire community. A community that’s perpetually at odds with unjust misconceptions and accusations. Yet, as tragedies like 9-11 and the Boston Marathon Bombing have shown, Americans know how to take darkness and turn it into light. We’re often never more united than we are in the wake of violence and mayhem. As I type this, people are joining together to honor the fallen and remind the world that gamers are more than the stereotypes they’re so often portrayed as.

I guess what I’m hoping is that someone reading this walks away understanding that incidents like the Jacksonville shooting should elicit a resolve to find out what the real problems are. The basic debates of gun control and how violent video games impact people are worthy of discussion, but I argue that what lies beyond the pale is of equal importance. There’s too much hate right now. There’s too much “bad” versus “evil” being inserted into situations that are just about plain, old people. There’s no supervillain waiting in the wings, just the unbalanced, the unhinged, the weak, the scared, and yes, also the hateful. Stop Tweeting and start talking. Stop thinking everything is okay when you don’t really know for sure. Take that extra step to connect, to watch, to listen, to help. There might be one less Katz in the world if you do.

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