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Alastair Starke/the Gauntlet

the fifth estate investigates the death of Brandon Crisp

It's not what fans of games want to hear

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Hindsight is 20/20. In the case of the tragic story of Brandon Crisp, hard lessons have been learned and those we must now take it upon ourselves to learn are more important than ever. It is easy under such terribly tragic circumstances as the death of Crisp to have an intense desire to answer unanswerable questions. In the case of a recent episode of CBC's the fifth estate, the first place in which to find answers, and thus to shoulder the blame, are video games themselves.

Fifteen-year-old Crisp ran away from home Oct. 13, 2008 after his parents took away his Xbox 360 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare game. Three weeks later, a party of hunters discovered Crisp's body in a field. He had died from chest injuries consistent with falling out of a tree.

In the fifth estate's hour-long report on Crisp entitled "Top Gun," there was, of course, a degree of bias. There were no constructive suggestions for parents to inform themselves about what is in the games they allow their children to play, nor suggestions for how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again in the future. Instead, the fifth estate stopped just short of condemning the entire video game industry for the death of Crisp, while at the same time alluding to the powerful allure and mystique of the professional video gaming circuit as another contributing factor. Regardless of opinion as to whether or not video games are to blame in this situation, we find ourselves at a crossroads.

No longer can we deny the powerful nature of the video game medium. Games have quickly become the premiere form of escapist entertainment, as they facilitate our desire for new experiences in poignant ways. By design, video games fulfill just that: the opportunity to enter into an alternate reality, oftentimes different, but sometimes similar to our own. We can experience enriching narratives or simply cut loose and de-stress. Either way, the influence that this medium has is undeniable and in no uncertain terms this has been proven through the tragedy of Brandon Crisp.

But where do we go from here?

There needs to be a greater emphasis placed on understanding the content of video games and, as a result, the rating system that is in place. The rating system for video games is a safeguard in much the same way as the rating system is for film and they translate in nearly identical ways. It is more important than ever to understand that certain games do have questionable content and some younger individuals will not have the coping mechanisms to deal with it. Careful consideration must be given to video games, especially ones rated mature, not just because it is a good thing to do, but because the medium demands it. Uncertainty surrounds the content of video games and there is concern about the effects of video games on the children, teenagers and even adults who play them. However, despite this uncertainty there still remains a large gap between the perception of what video games are and what they have become. Video games are no longer simply Mario trying to save the princess. They are a powerful and important media form whose complexity has reached staggering heights; not only in the design, look and feel of the game itself, but in the messages and narratives that are conveyed. They must be respected as such or else we run the risk of abusing their intention.

If anything, the lesson is that video games are complex, influential and can be compelling when consumed in large amounts. We should not be quick to blame them whenever we get the chance, but we should reflect upon the actions of ourselves and others in regard to video games to make inroads into understanding just how consequential this medium has become. By doing so, we will not allow Brandon Crisp to die in vain.

Such is the power of hindsight.

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