The Root of All Evil

 By Shamus Feb 11, 2008 54 comments

Let’s see:

  • A Marine goes off to war.
  • He is injured in an explosion. He spends 13 weeks in the hospital recovering.
  • In the explosion, he personally witnesses his best friend’s decapitation.
  • His injuries are extensive enough that he is granted medical retirement.
  • He returns home to the states, where he begins hallucinating and having flashbacks.
  • Sitting at home playing Call of Duty 4, he suddenly gets up, leaves the house, goes on a motorcycle ride and disappears. His motorcycle is found along the side of the road sometime later.

So what headline is the story under?

Missing Ex-Marine’s Family Says Video Game May Have Sparked Disappearance

Yeah. The videogame. I’m sure that was the problem.

LATER: I’d closed comments because I was just sure there would be that one guy who couldn’t resist using this post as a launching post for talking about The War. I’ve reconsidered, but please do observe the no politics policy.

LATER STILL: Link fixed. Duh.

20201454 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. Avaz says:

    The link seems to not be working properly. i.e., no hotlinking allowed, seems.

  2. Allan says:

    The game may have acted as some sort of trigger, but the damage was done long before he picked up the controller, it’s probably just as likely to have happened if he watched a war film, saw a particularly harrowing news report, saw some children playing soldiers, or maybe even it would have just happened anyway. There’s just no way you can really tell.

    I hope they find him.

  3. Coldstone says:

    And of course it was absolutley brilliant for folks to let the battle scarred Marine play a modern warfare based FPS. One good explosive death scene, and the memories come flooding back.
    On the other hand, this might have been theraputic for him. If he’d repressed the memories, this might have acted as a release and forced him to deal with those memories. Classic PTS.
    Regardless of the reason, I hope they find the guy and get him the help he needs. Anyone who’s been injured in the line of duty deserves better than what he’s going through.

  4. ReluctantDM says:

    And I bet that he was receiving all of the help he needed from the government. They have such a bad track record of dumping “used up” servicemen. It’s a shame if you ask me. Worse yet, the video game becomes the scapegoat. :( Lose-Lose

  5. Mark says:

    You have a “No Politics” policy? This is the best blog ever.

  6. Bob says:

    Well, look at the source… Fox News sensationalism at it’s best.

  7. Dev Null says:

    Well duh. Personally experiencing your best friends decapitation is a learning experience; video games are EVIL.

    Got it now?

  8. roxysteve says:

    Not wanting to be seen to be a dick, but if you post this story, opine that the problem is not the Video Game In Question and then forbid discussion of The Topic That must Not Be Mentioned, why bother opening the comments at all? Moreover, why bother posting the story in the first place?

    Not turning on a flamethrower, and understanding that you can of course delete this any time you want, but I’m seriously confused over what you expect to achieve. If all you want is to get people saying “videogames are not the root cause of any of society’s ills“, it would probably be easier and less likely to incite trouble if you posted that prefixed with “Who thinks that…” and kept specifics out of it.

    No discussion is possible here. You might as well save yourself the bandwidth and go with your first instinct.

    Steve.

  9. Martin says:

    Considering the fact that in the game

    *spoiler*
    the Marine character dies in a blast

    /*spoiler*

    I can see why he freaked out a bit. COD4 is intense, probably a bit too much like Iraq for someone who came home broken physically and mentally, and probably without any counseling offered. It’s not the game’s fault, it’s just a sad part of reality that these guys need therapy for PTSD.

  10. siliconscout says:

    Roxysteve.

    It’s not that you can’t debate if the game was the issue or not, Shamus doesn’t want people to start talking about “he never should have been over there in the first place” or “another victim of Bush’s illegal blah blah blah”

    The topic is “should the video game be blamed for this marines disappearance”.

    I of course say it’s hogwash.

    I am sure the horrors he experienced have something to do with him taking off. I have seen stuff I sure as hell wish I could forget, if I could “unexperience” it I would. I know I did what I could as good as I could and that gets me through the night. The first couple of weeks and months were by far the hardest but now it’s over with and dealt with it never goes away but it also doesn’t keep me up anymore.

    He needs therapy and obviously someone to talk to, I hope they find him safe and sound but my guess is they won’t.

  11. Shamus says:

    roxysteve: You are right, this is kind of a dick move on my part. I’m pretty much throwing down an opinion and making it very difficult for someone to take up a contrary position without breaking the no-politics rule.

    I wouldn’t be doing this if The War wasn’t the king-hell hot button topic issue and flame war starter of the new millenium.

    As to why I bother posting at all? Pointing at things and saying “that is stupid” is an amazing way to relieve stress. :)

  12. Shamus says:

    siliconscout is right. That’s exactly the sort of post I was afraid of. We can all pretty much predict the response, and the counter-response, the pile-on, and the snarky asides, all the way down to comment #157 where someone gets called a Nazi and I wonder what the hell happened to my blog. We’ve seen that thread before.

  13. I think it’s possible that Call of Duty was the trigger that caused him to disappear. However, one should no more blame Call of Duty than you should blame any trigger for someone who needed mental help. It could have been Saving Private Ryan. It could have been walking through the mall and seeing a man of Arab descent behaving unusually but innocently. It could have been a particularly popular car in the Middle East that happens to part in front of his home.

    Like most of the “video games / role-playing games / rock music made them do it” stories, there is a deeper story about someone with serious mental problems. It seems likely they would have snapped eventually, possibly because of another trigger. Instead of blaming the pop culture of the moment, we should try to find and help these people before it gets this far.

    Best wishes for this guy. I hope he’s found and gets the help he needs.

  14. I can guarantee you one thing: if I was put through the experiences those guys go through every day over there, I would NEVER touch FPSs again. And I am a HUGE ‘modern combat’ FPS fan. Ghost Recon (all of ‘em); Battlefield by EA (all of ‘em); Call Of Duty series; Medal of Honor series; and I’m sure there’s a few I missed. But I can tell you right now that my own psyche is such that if I ever experienced in Real Life anything close to that level of tension, I’d go mental. Maybe I’m a wuss, but after I watched “Saving Private Ryan” I had to take a week-long break from FPSs to recover. Yikes!

  15. Jeff says:

    CoD4 is kind of depressing, what with the ending.

    All the movies and video games about WWII just makes me appreciate all that much more what the soldiers, most likely younger than the majority of us now, sacrificed.

  16. Simulated Knave says:

    Honestly, yes, the game may have triggered his wandering off. But like Alan said – so might Saving Private Ryan.

    He obviously needed rather more help than he was getting.

  17. EKKM says:

    I don’t think the title is misleading, the game likely did spark the flashback. However, as stated above,that’s like blaming a bullet for killing someone rather than the shooter.

    I hope Mr. Hall is ok and gets the help he needs.

  18. Chris says:

    I think we’re probably looking at this all wrong. I don’t think the game was a “trigger” the way we’re thinking. I’ve read some accounts from people who have come back from Iraq and one thing many of them say is that lousy as being over there was, they got used to the constant pressure and alertness, and that it was tough to adjust to everyday life. They constantly look around for an ambush when sitting in a McDonalds and watch for bombs in trash along the roadside. Playing a very realistic shooter might have been his way of trying to get back to something familiar, as messed up as that seems. It looks as though he needed some serious help and just wasn’t getting it. If anything, the game was more a symptom than a cause.

  19. pioneer46 says:

    I can tell you, from first hand experience, that the game probably triggered the reaction. It wasn’t the game’s fault, or the government’s fault.

    When my unit (244 Engineer Battalion) returned in 2004, we went through many reunion briefs, attempting to prepare us for the adjustment back to life in the world. The Army gave us the information we needed to get any help required. Our chain of command, as well as it could for a Reserve unit, was on the lookout for any difficulty in adjusting.

    When I first got back, it took me about 6 months or so to adjust back to civilian life, and I never experienced anything close to what this Marine went through. I still don’t watch war movies, because I end up getting too frustrated to enjoy them. The “fight or flight” feeling becomes very ingrained, even if you are never involved in a firefight, and difficult to overcome. Once you are back here, you typically can’t choose the fight option, realize it, and so choose the flight option. For those six months, I would typically walk away rather than even ask someone politely to move, because I wasn’t sure how I would say it.

    Sorry for the long post, but I’ve seen the “blame the military for PTSD” on a lot of other sites, and, in my experience, the military prepared us as best it could for the challenges of redeployment. While my experiences building bases and roads never reached the level that this Marine’s did, it was this training that helped me through it.

  20. pioneer46 says:

    As I was typing my long-winded comment, Chris #18 pretty much nailed it. I spent those six months looking for IEDs on the side of the road, not because I thought there were any there, but because it helped calm me down about driving.

  21. Dirty Dan says:

    In my semi-professional opinion (i.e. I get paid to tell people things like this on a part-time basis), it’s *really* bad writing to posit something in the title like that and then not even bother to provide any support for it in the body. We have here a story that lists a number of circumstances, opening with a statement that the family faults the video game. Headline: “Family Says Video Game Caused X.” Body: “Family says video game caused X. A happened. B happened. C happened. Etc. Nothing else about the video game.” Either the writer doesn’t know what he’s doing or he has an agenda to push. And the original article Fox News had paraphrased doesn’t even include the game in the headline. Way to go, Fox News. F-.

  22. Zaghadka says:

    COD 4 is a pretty damned amazing game.

    It’s rather sick that they could now market it as “WARNING: So realistic it may trigger a PTSD flashback.”

    I hope the guy is safe. There’s little that can make anything in his life “all right” at this point. And yeah, a loud noise could have triggered a problem, let alone a fairly realistic wargame. War often leaves it’s participants broken to pieces.

  23. Scott says:

    The ABC news article doesn’t even mention the game.

    It looks like even the mainstream media won’t pick up on such a tenuous agenda-pushing connection as that.

  24. Great. It’s “Mazes and Monsters” all over again.

    And is it just me, or does Faux News seem to be pursuing a very specific vendetta against video games? Defensive much? They want to maintain a monopoly on fantasy?

  25. Jansolo says:

    It is not related with logical but ignorance.

    Let me tell you two crimes that happened in Spain a few years ago:

    1.- A universitary kill a bus driver pretending to play a RPG. In fact, the assassin invented the rules for that “game”. Suddenly, RPGs become dangerous here, in Spain. Among the inventory requisiton by the police was the dice and character sheets. Very dangerous indeed.

    2.- A 17 years old boy kill all his family with a Katana. His mother, his father, and his retarded sister was slain because he though he was like Squall, the main character in Final Fantasy VIII. The video games was dangerous for a while (well, video game industry is more powerfull than RPG one)

    So, people fears things that ignore. We assume that there are wars, always. So wee need to blame on the strange thing in the equation (RPGs, video games, science and something like that)

    Just imagine what would say the family if the soldier were playing MASS EFFECT, for instance (a First-Person-Shooter-Role-Playing-video-Game)

    Regarding the POST, I think it is necessary. Each tiem a voice raise against video games or the like without real arguments, it’s necessarty to nothe that it is a wrong attitude.

    My best wishes for the person (formerly a soldier)

  26. pioneer46 says:

    Martin-

    The pride thing is an issue in the Army as well. Most leaders do their best to get their subordinates help if required, but it doesn’t always work. The article gives one side of the story very well. If the First Sergeant really said that, the chain of command failed that Marine, and bears a heavy responsibility. I would have liked to see the official Marine response at least mentioned in the article, though.

  27. Ozy says:

    Regardless of the correctness of the war itself, the failure of the military to adequately provide for the psychological well-being of its soldiers is disgraceful. If people weren’t coming back from Iraq like this, they’d still be coming back like this from Afghanistan, and just about everyone agrees with that invasion.

    I can’t find the link for this, but there is a drug in development that blocks the formation of psychological trauma that can be administered after the traumatic event, though the window is fairly narrow. Apparently, something extra is required to make a memory traumatic besides the memory itself, which this drug blocks, as people who have been treated with this drug still remember the event itself as well as they would have otherwise, but don’t find it painful to recall, or develop PTSD.

  28. Greg says:

    It can be hard to tell which soldiers will have issues at times and which ones won’t. I pick up incoming casualties at Andrew’s and bring them back to Bethesda, occasionally Walter Reed if the Army doesn’t have enough bodies. Most seem to be coping fairly well, and they tend to get released. Part of it is that many marines are very stubborn, and will do anything to be “fixed” and “normal”. Every wounded marine I’ve met has wanted two things: To not feel broken anymore, and to get back to their unit. This marine had seen some pretty scary stuff, and probably was trying to normalize his life. In retrospect, it’s easy to say that he needed more treatment. However, at the time of his discharge from the hospital, his physical wounds were probably about as healed as they were going to get, and his mental trauma was probably getting followed up on. It’s not always easy to know what’s going on in someone’s mind, especially in someone as stubborn as a marine. I hope he is surviving his own personal hell, and that he is able to normalize his life at some point.

    Just as a note to the above: I’ve never heard any mention of any such drug that could be administered to prevent PTSD. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, however I’ve heard no mention of it’s use for any sort of combat stress, rape, or domestic violence reaction. To the best of my own knowledge, the current method of treatment is counseling and group therapy.

    (As an addition to the second paragraph: Sorry, missed that you said “in development”. Just recall, there are lots of treatments for various ailments of society “in development”.)

  29. mrboffo says:

    Can anyone say Bink Pulling? (Props to anyone who’s old enough to know the reference).

  30. ArchU says:

    Clearly the fellow chose to play the game. He could have played something different. The game is not to blame. Similarly, the game may have triggered his reaction or it may not have – who is to say that playing another game or doing some other activity entirely may not have caused a similar response had he instead been doing it at the exact time?

    News blows.

  31. Aaron says:

    This is VERY reminicient of the “48 Hours” episode that investigated the death of a young man addicted to Everquest. In that, the man’s mother blamed the game for her son’s suicide. The deceased had a record of mental instability, but the that fact got a bit glossed over in the show.

    People in the 80′s claimed Dungeons & Dragons was the cause behind some deaths also. Again, psychological issues were noted in almost all cases, but the “news” glossed that over for sensationalism. I have yet to figure out how a video game or dice and paper have killed anyone.

    I do hope that Marine is ok. If there is any justice out there he’ll get the help he needs, and quickly.

  32. ArchU says:

    #32 Aaron: “If there is any justice out there…” Hah! Wishful thinking! [/cynicism]

    Heheh, I’m so jaded =p Still, it would be nice if things take a turn for the better in his case.

  33. Davesnot says:

    I still have the pamphlet that tells me that D&D leads people to kill themselves.. etc.. I got the pamphlet from the 700 club.. there are so many people that have to find something to blame their pain on..

    Ya know.. it sucks to have someone you care about lose it in one way or another.. And certainly you wouldn’t want to blame anything that actually involves real emotions.. It is soooo much easier to blame an object.. a tool.. a pastime.. not something of any weight??

    Why?? because then we’d have to look at our own guilt in the situation.. and lord knows that I’m not guilty.. are you?? .. nope?? yup.. must be the video game.

    People who are sick (and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is real).. people who are ill.. are ill.. games are games.. maybe it’s electricity that caused his problems.. without Ben Franklin flying that kite maybe we wouldn’t have electricity.. and then no computers.. then no Halo.. then this Marine would still be happily sitting at home telling his family how lovely the world is… I think we should stop teaching how good Ben Franklin was!! Take him off whatever money he’s on.. Erase him from the history books!!

    No?? Am I over reacting??

    hmmm.. maybe it isn’t electricity.. maybe it’s the water.

    ..oh.. a drug?? yeah.. let’s get a drug.. well that drug is one to erase memories.. nice.. ya thought it was Sci-Fi? .. what a messed up animal we are.

    It’s hard to provide service to those that wont take it.. Pschological problems have a stigma.. and I guaren-damn-tee it that any soldier going through his exit interview knows that some Shrink is looking through the two-way mirror or at the transcripts ready to pounce on his words and keep him even longer..

    Surely they know what to say to get free of the people that want to poke and prod them… they’re soldiers.. thus.. the Psych crew gets to shake theire heads and say, “He seemed ok to us.”

  34. Yunt says:

    Isn’t it a bit disingenuous to say “No politics” with the parenthetical “Unless it’s an issue we mostly agree on”? All the discussion of censorship in games, Jack Thompson, how should public policy regarding game content and imitation be formed, etcetera is politics too.

    Where’s the line?
    “Such and such political party supports this bill that censors games!” (Banned for politics)
    “Somebody who shall remain nameless introduced this bill that censors games!” (Oooo… discuss!)

    Without a larger context the story you cite is only sad; lacking political/social context or actionable information it’s a sad story that only serves to make people sad. Given something like “This case is being used by X to support Y…” or “This is an example of a larger phenomenon which might need further investigation…” we’re left with a lot more meaning and a direction perhaps other than a simple political free for all.

    I admire the “let’s not start needless fights” ethic but I really can’t agree with the introduction of a contentious topic and then what is effectively a ban on topical dissent.

  35. J says:

    Greg:

    I believe Ozy is referring to a hypothetical new treatment that essentially interferes with the brain’s ability to remember things. Refer to this article from last December:

    http://www.popsci.com/scitech/article/2007-12/can-fear-be-forgotten

  36. Shamus says:

    Yunt: I said as much back in comment #11.

    Looking back, what I REALLY didn’t want was for this to degenerate into a fight about The War, which would have certainly happened without my warning.

  37. tussock says:

    Dude, great blog and all, but you can’t be posting about how some normal thing didn’t mess up a soldier boy and expect people not to talk about how it’s really going to war which does that.

    Is it so bad in the US that people can’t just say that? You know, war is bad, it messes people up; some soldiers just aren’t right afterward, ever, not even to mention the common people living there.

  38. Wonderduck says:

    Tussock, no, it’s not that bad at all. You can say whatever you want here in the US. However, Shamus doesn’t want the thread to turn into the usual snarkfest around “Chimpy McBushHitler” (or whatever the hip denigration for our President is these days).

    If you want to talk about how a “soldier boy” (nice term, that… insulting without being flat-out disrespectful) suffered due to his time at war, you certainly can. There’s a whole wide world out there, both on the ‘net and in real life, where you can do exactly that.

    But if it doesn’t pertain to gaming, which is Shamus’ thing, then maybe, just maybe, you might want to think about if your comment is appropriate for the location. It’s called “courtesy”, and a remarkable amount of people these days seem to lack it.

  39. ngthagg says:

    This is a pretty clear example of the popular understanding of ’cause and affect: as in, he did it ’cause the game affected him.

  40. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    You know,Im half serious about publishing a study that links gaming with global warming and cancer,just to see how many id…I mean people will jump to support it.

  41. Christian Groff says:

    This is why I personally don’t like FPS, and specifically games based around real wars. However, I read one article about a man who saved a family who had suffered a car crash thanks to medical training from America’s Army, so not all army-based games are evil IMHO. I just don’t like anything military-related.

    I think it comes back to the whole debacle about “video games being evil” – first it was video games seducing kids into shooting people for real, then stuff like this. The media loves to sensualize bad crap like this, and they can just stick it where the sun don’t shine, IMHO again. :(

  42. Bruce says:

    If the title doesn’t grab your attention, the story doesn’t get read. Technically the game seems to have triggered the flashback, or whatever it was, but it was already there waiting to be triggered. Anything else could have done it too.

    You can argue that everything is politics, but keeping politics off the site is Seamus’s choice and it is his site. It’s not a case of agreeing or disagreeing with his views, just not discussing either POV. War, “just” or “unjust” caused the condition, which was then triggered by playing the game. Discussion about the justness of the war is irrelevent to the topic.

  43. Eric says:

    I think that article just proves how tremendously realistic and awesome the programers made the game. If Call of Duty 4: modern warfare can induce PTSD Im gonna buy it right away, money well spent.

  44. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    It has nothing to do with realism.Even a simple thing such as a car horn can trigger the vietnam syndrome flashbacks.

  45. tussock says:

    Wonderduck: Cheers, I was as kind and courteous as I could manage given the subject matter, in other forums I’d have said what I feel.

    And I suppose I can put up with someone trying to be apolitical, even when they plainly shouldn’t be given the topic at hand.

    To clarify a little though; blaming the behaviour of war veterans on computer games, it’s the essence of where politics and gamers interact. Blaming [messed up person] for doing [messed up thing] on [largely harmless pastime], or have your lot gotten over that, and it’s just a press thing now?

  46. Wonderduck says:

    Tussock sez: “I was as kind and courteous as I could manage given the subject matter, in other forums I’d have said what I feel…(snip for length) …or have your lot gotten over that, and it’s just a press thing now?”

    Just remember, Tussock, there’s always the option of not commenting.

    And as far as I’m aware, it’s a press hysteria thing. Most people have the capacity to reason over here… why, don’t they where you’re at?

  47. kmc says:

    pioneer46-
    (assuming you’re still around,) as someone who’s gone or is going through the process of returning, i’d be interested to hear what you think about the minnesota national guard’s 30/60/90 day reintegration training. i’ve heard some stuff on the radio, and i don’t know if you know any more than i do, but i’d love to hear some reactions if you’ve got any.
    anyone else who’s had first-hand or close experience with this kind of thing is welcome to respond, also.
    most of my interest is simply curiosity and sympathy, but i’ll admit there’s also a managerial/logistical aspect for me as a former air force officer.

  48. Alex says:

    The url is from Fox News. Which should say just about all that needs to be said. Of course THEY’RE going to twist it around to make a video game look like it was sent by the devil. Their last foray into reporting on video games in society basically amounted to spreading the nonsensical rantings of a man who believed Mass Effect(a dialogue driven sci-fi game with one very tame love scene)was a product devoted solely to “virtual orgasmic rape”. And selecting breast shapes and sizes.

    Even Jack Thompson called BS on that. And then Adam Sessler of G4 made a well-thought out, well-presented counter-argument on his show. Making either of those two look like reasonable, rational-thinking human beings is no small feat.

    So you’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical.

  49. Garwulf the Skald says:

    “This is VERY reminicient of the “48 Hours” episode that investigated the death of a young man addicted to Everquest. In that, the man’s mother blamed the game for her son’s suicide. The deceased had a record of mental instability, but the that fact got a bit glossed over in the show.”

    You’ve got to be careful dealing with news programs – they tend to edit things to make them look more alarmist.

    The woman you’re talking about is named Liz Woolley (I think I spelled it right), and I actually interviewed her about her son when I wrote my book on EverQuest (It’s titled “The EverQuest Companion,” and no, it is NOT a strategy guide). The story she told me was a lot different than anything in the news, and one of her complaints was that they always got it wrong.

    Basically, her son was fine until he was mistreated very badly at work (he had what was called a Grand Seizure, and his boss wouldn’t let him go home or take a rest), and that caused him to retreat into the game as a coping mechanism. He became more and more unstable, and his family spent over a year trying to get him help, but nobody would even begin to think that somebody could develop a psychological addiction to a computer game, and so he wasn’t treated. It was at the end of all of this that he took his own life.

    That’s the actual story there – the media would have it look like Shawn Woolley took one look at the game and it sucked his soul away, or something silly like that, but it was a very long, drawn out affair. Frankly, I took a great deal of glee in taking the mental health industry to task for not helping him.

    Robert B. Marks

  50. tussock says:

    Wonderduck: Just remember, Tussock, there’s always the option of not commenting.

    To me, it’s more the option of removing the bookmark, but I rather like this one.

    And as far as I’m aware, it’s a press hysteria thing. Most people have the capacity to reason over here… why, don’t they where you’re at?

    I am continually astounded at the reactionary political response to this sort of press the world over, despite the efforts of more rational minds.

  51. Shamus says:

    Tussock: You’ve been spoiling for a fight since your first comment, and you’ve managed to toss disrespect around.

    Do be nice.

  52. PhoenixUltima says:

    Old rant is old, but I just couldn’t help but point out that, at least on “veteran” difficulty, the enemies in CoD4 all throw enough grenades to blow New York City to the ground. I’m serious, if the real life Taliban had access to that many grenades we’d all be speaking arabic and covering the women in veils right now. Not to mention all the rocket launcher fuckers on the rooftops. Not really the kind of game I’d hand to someone who’s been having severe mental problems due to living through an explosion that killed his best friend in a war.

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