Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Swatting and the Dark Side of Being a Gamer

A Swat Raid appears on the stream of Jordan "Kootra" Mathewson
Being a "gamer" used to be a simple thing. You'd log into your various online persona, play for a few hours, gloat as victor and inevitably bitch when you lost. Yet we have come upon complicated times, in this day of live streaming matches via Twitch, YouTube, and other venues has brought about a troubling incident. I speak of the rise in the trend of players "swatting" other players. The most recent incident, involved the swatting of  "koopatroopa787" better known as  Joshua Peters of Minnesota. Peters was live streaming a session of Runescape when ten police officers raided the home where Peters, his little brother, and mother all live. Peters is a Air Force veteran who is also an avid gamer and known for his broadcasts via Twitch. Thankfully the officers were well disciplined and after Peters explained that he was live-streaming a game and was probably being "swatted" the attending officer's attitudes quickly changed and no one was hurt. However since the incident it has been reported that Peter's 10 year old brother has since been suffering from nightmares and has frequent migraines.

According to the an article from 2009 on the FBI's website, the phenomena started in 2008 with phone hackers obtaining personal information and then calling the police attempting to convince them to send out a SWAT team, or some kind of armed response team to a innocent home. More recently swatting events have been targeted at specific players or live streamers. The usual reason, especially if the game involves a first person shooter, has to do with frustration directed at a particular player.

In one incident in Colorado in 2014, Jordan "Kootra" Mathewson was also swatted. Mathewson started the streaming group called The Creatures, and was detained while streaming Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Kootra was waiting for a match to begin when he heard loud voices and bangs coming down the hall from where he was playing. In a video captured via his stream he announced that he might be at the receiving end of a swatting attack. Several police officers enter the room moments later and detain Kootra. After being searched and asked whats going on, he explains that he is streaming a video game match. The officers then realize that they are being filmed and shut down the feed. Adding insult to injury the schools near the building police raided were also evacuated. While no one was hurt during this raid, there was still a massive waste of police resources as well as dangerous for all involved.

Kotaku (the source for the previous story) posted a swatting related article on January 13th of this year. This article was a recounting of the swatting of a couple who streamed game sessions together. The couples names are Max and Victoria Zeisberg, they have three kids and they live in Tennessee. The event occurred on on a Friday night while couple were streaming their Call Of Duty sessions to a particularly large audience. This is not to say that the Zeisberg's are a popular streaming personality, rather a few dozen people. That particular evening the chat room was livelier than normal, beginning with Mr. Zeisberg being called a Nazi by one viewer resulting in a ban. Comments in this vein continued and then references to Mr. Zeisberg's previous residency in Germany.  As these comments continued more ban's were being handed out. While this is going on, someone had found Mrs. Zeisberg's realty website was found and malicious calls were being made to the house. At some point someone had called the local police department. According to the police report the sergeant in charge at the scene.reported that a man identifying them self as "Max Ziegler" had called a non emergency line of police dispatch and had claimed to have killed his wife with an AR-15. SWAT and other police officers had been dispatched to the house and set up a perimeter while dispatch tried to keep "Ziegler" on the line and talk him down. To make matters worse, the caller claimed he knew where the police officers were stationed outside the house and said he would shoot anyone who entered his house.

Parallel to these events, the Zeisberg's were getting ready to call an end to the evening and put their kids to bed at 11:00 pm when viewers began to offer them money to keep streaming. Then one of their kids came downstairs and told them that the Police were outside. When they realized they had been swatted they managed to keep their cool but were still decidedly worried. Mrs. Zeisberg had the presence of mind to call 911 and inform dispatch who she and her husband were and that they believe that someone was pulling a prank, while Mr. Zeisberg told his kids to follow any instructions they were given if someone came upstairs. Thankfully, the event ended peacefully with the Zeisbergs leaving the house voluntarily, being handcuffed, having the house searched, guns being pointed at children and the police coming to the realization that the whole event was a hoax. The Zeisbergs still have no idea as to why they were singled out to be swatted but their ordeal has not stopped them streaming gaming sessions. After a brief halt to their sessions they began to stream again without acknowledging the previous event, claiming that they will continue to stream for the people who like watching them play and not be bothered by the "trolls" of the gaming world.

Thankfully, as this trend of pranks grows, policy makers are starting to take notice. In October, NBC 10 of Philadelphia posted an article with video to their website concerning a local swatting incident. This incident was similar to most and also was resolved with no injuries to the victims of the prank. New Jersey State Senator Paul Moriarty called for for harsh penalties for instigators of swatting incidents. Senator Moriarty planned on introducing a local law that would call for mandatory jail time as well a financial penalties. In the senator's mind "The penalty should be more severe and they should be required to pay for every dollar that was spent by the municipality to send these people out here."

I'm at a loss to understand this behavior. Perhaps I'm too mild a gamer, that I am not angered by defeat in digital combat. I never really complained when playing DOTA or DOTA 2 when I'd get my ass handed to me. Nor did I take any real offense when I got beaten by better Call of Duty players than myself. To me, if there is no life/death struggle or money on the line I'm not going to get terribly bent out of shape. It baffles the mind as to why people go around doxing and swatting people for what ever whim suits them. What seems like a harmless prank could turn dangerous and harmful to the target should the police over react; which seems more and more possible these days. That these "trolls" wreak with their pranks is a reflection of darkness hidden within our generation. Are we so driven to "win at all costs in all things" that we feel the need to punish those we scorn with grievous danger to fill some void in the soul? Sadly I have no answers to this question for the behavior is beyond my understanding. I ask those who read this to look inside themselves and seek their own answer to this question: Is it worth putting lives at risk for a prank?

David is a local historian, techie, home brewer, stage hand, gamer, and geek. He loves Star Wars and Shakespeare with equal passions and is prone to quoting it at random!


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