Here are the facts as best I can discern them– as best as they have been presented by the mainstream media to the public. I am now attempting to interpret these stories from the position of an educated games “journalist.” My views may be bias in support of the games industry subconsciously, but that is not my forthright intent to provide critique from a one-sided viewpoint.
The Brandon Crisp tradgady eventually spawned the Canadian Tire Jumpstart program, as well as the Brandon Crisp Endowment fund.
Brandon Crisp was a 15 year old growing up in Canada's 21st largest city, Barrie, Ontario. As a child, Crisp enjoyed sports, but by the time he was becoming a teenager, he began to see the bench more and more. It wasn't because he lacked talent; he was a hockey goalie, and speaking from experience, goaltenders can take the job more seriously than anyone else.
Brandon Crisp loved sports, unfortunately, it was his size that held him back. Brandon was only 5 feet 3 inches tall, and weighed in at just over 100 lbs. Seeing as how he continued to loose ice time to larger and stronger netminders, Brandon became distraught, though it was his parents who eventually pulled him away from his then past time.
Around the time he had hockey taken away from him, Brandon's parents bought him an Xbox 360. Immediately, the child dove into a world that was, at the time, more obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare than anything else conceivable. The game, of course, focused on high-octane thrill rides meant to simulate real-life wartime scenarios. Once the single player aspect of the game is removed, however, we begin to see the multi-player facets– a world that can drag you in, and just when you think it's done, dig a little deeper. For roughly 2 years, Modern Warfare (CoD4) was a console gamers heroine.
Eventually, Brandon began to skip school. He had formed a squad or clan with some of his local friends, and together, they had begun to flash bang the Xbox Live community. In fact, Brandon became so good and such a team leader that he honestly and openly discussed the eventuality's of turning professional.
His parents did not support this behaviour, or maybe Brandon never really expressed his feelings in a way they might be able to comprehend.
Firstly, they did not appreciate their young boy skipping out on school to play games. Brandon's parents were not gamers, so it was a realm totally unknown to them. From what I understand, yes, they knew games were more than simple beeps and bloops, but they still viewed them as games. I mean, I used to play Yahtzee as a kid 15 years ago. We had a good time every now and then, but we didn't obsess over it. When my friends left for the night, it was done.
Crisp's parents were detached from the medium, and perhaps even a little out of the times. While it might not be out of the norm for people under 30 to go home and shut themselves off to the real world for 8 hours straight, it certainly was not in their own itinerary. They wondered why their son wasn't outside, playing ball and doing other things kids might have been up to back in their own day. Perhaps the times of yesterday were still alive today in their minds eye.
Eventually, the Crisp's had had it with the situation and confiscated the Xbox from Brandon. This seemed to push Brandon over the edge, and he showed it. Perhaps his parents and family didn't understand that he wanted to take his skills to the pro level; a world where there are $100,000 banks and prizes for the most skilled players and teams. Maybe if he honed his skills enough, he could have even managed some sponsors. He could have been rolling on easy street.
Understand that we still live in a society that doesn't quite understand video games, which although some 40-odd years into their life cycle, appear to still be in their infancy. A multi-billion dollar industry that continually rakes in more revenue than its nearest competitor, cinema. More profitable, yes, but less recognizable? An oxymoron.
Brandon wasn't big enough to play hockey anymore, but online, the only thing that mattered was sheer ability. It doesn't matter if you can bench press 200 lbs., as long as you can see your target before he sees you. What he lacked in size in real life, he more than made up for digitally. He was a big gun.
In a fit of rage, Brandon eventually, though rashly, decided to run away from home. You often hear about this, but you rarely ever see this situation happen.
While his exact motives are unclear, Brandon had left his home and family. It had been theorized that he had ran to one of his fellow squad mates homes, or to other random strangers he might have shared a game of CoD4 with earlier. Both of these assumptions proved to be un-true.
A nation wide search was issued a short time later, but sadly, on November 5, 2008, Brandon Crisp's body was found by a group of hunters 6 days after the police had stopped sweeping the area themselves. The location police had to search was enormous, and they had most likely figured that if he hadn't been found in the vicinity yet, he just wasn't going to be. He had moved on elsewhere.
The autopsy report suggested that Brandon had sustained "injuries to the chest area that are consistent with a fall from a tree."
During this crisis, many companies seemed to feel that they were somewhat responsible for the teen's disappearance, or at least felt that it would somehow affect their bottom line negatively. In total, a $50,000 reward was posted pending the discovery of Brandon Crisp. $25,000 was from Microsoft's own bank account.
One of the many Missing Persons ads posted throughout Ontario in late 2008.
Post-mortem, this case has been used as a key example of addiction to video games. I suggest that this case is remarkably different, because it is said that Brandon wasn't just another dolt playing a game; he was a young kid willing to do what it took to turn his hobby– his passion– into a viable career opportunity. If it weren't something as “obscure” as video games, would his parents had of reacted differently? What if instead of playing CoD4, Brandon was out back playing ping pong in an effort to increase his reaction time for goal tending? Would his parents have thought nothing of it?
After realizing he could no longer compete with other teenagers his own age, Brandon took a hold of gaming, and refused to let go. He lost interest in something that was once dear to him, like so many people, especially children, are prone to do. He grew out of it. Hockey wasn't his game anymore. Headshots were.
Enter Canadian Tire. Enter the Jumpstart program. What is that, exactly?
Jumpstart is a program erected by super store Canadian Tire with the goal of collecting donations from generous people like you and your friends, and divvying them out among children who wanted to play sports, but could not afford to. It's a very, very noble cause which promotes, according to the website, a healthier lifestyle, increased self-esteem and confidence, the opportunity to learn important leadership skills, improved school performance and future education expectations, more positive relationships and strengthened support networks.
All of this is of course true, however, it should once again be noted that Brandon didn't appear to have an interest in traditional sports anymore. The program, apparently created by Brandon's own parents, seems to promote things that the teen himself no longer had interest in. Yes, at one point they were important when he was 12, but at 15, and from what we can discern, it was a distant memory.
The facts are on the table, painted by almost every media outlet available who covered the story. They all say again and again that Brandon didn't fancy sports much because of his drive and convictions pulling him elsewhere.
Brandon's parents, even in death, even after watching and reading every little tid-bit that even mentioned the name Brandon Crisp, I'm sure, have ignored what their offspring was really, truly interested in. Instead, they chose to cling to the last memories where they could connect with their son, perhaps.
And that isn't unheard of. How often have you heard on TV in a drama or elsewhere that “So-and-so was such a lovely girl… Before she was hooked on the junk.” This is a memory to preserve. How they were, how they are, sans a mind-altering intoxication.
Are games a mind-altering drug of sorts? They can be. The recent global economic crisis and the following layoffs showed us that a lot of people used their new found free time to reconnect with gaming to an extent that wasn't previously possible for them. Gamerscores climbed exponentially as many people did nothing but inhale gaming's finest fumes.
Everyone becomes “addicted” to something. Maybe it's Law and Order, energy drinks, or knitting. Everyone has their hobbies and everyone has their interests. Once again, what if Brandon was taller, stronger, heavier, and instead of playing games to the extent he did, was on the verge of becoming a pro hockey player. Clearly, the drive to succeed was hard wired into the boys DNA, so who's to say he wouldn't have developed similar tendencies with hockey as he did with video games? I'm not qualified to hypothesize, clearly, but hockey had it's chance, and when it wasn't a viable option, he went to something that wasn't as reliant on physical attributes as it was on mental attributes.
It is hard to find fault with Jumpstart. It helps children or teens who might not otherwise play sports and bond and so forth the opportunity to experience a particularly normal childhood. Questions arise, however, when we wonder if it is just Canadian Tire using a gross tragedy as a marketing ploy. Certainly, one would assume that the greatest concentration of stores is in Ontario, the province impacted the most by the disappearance (estimate based on population), so one could guess that this is an almost “no brainer” advertising device.
Maybe me and my comrades have interpreted all the information incorrectly. It wouldn't have been the first time, after all. It seems like that even two years later, parents and people out of touch with the times are failing to realize what exactly it was that might have made young Crisp so special. He loved gaming. He loved Call of Duty. Maybe he would have preferred his name being used for Penny Arcade's own Child's Play Charity, or something similar.
To me and gamesordames.com, it feels like his parents and his community are afraid to remember the teen for what he was, and instead, are trying to mold his memory into what they wanted it to be. Jumpstart, using Brandon Crisp as a mascot, seems to promote the message that games were the problem from day one, and not a myriad of other issues. If only Brandon was big enough to play sports, maybe he would still be here today. To me, it screams of ignorance and naivety.
Which begs the question, are the children who are receiving the supposed benefits of this program really getting what they want, or what their parents themselves want?
Instead of Jumpstart, which on paper is a fine, fine program, I might have recommended that this money could have been better off starting a group that had the intentions of educating parents and anyone else interested about video games and the potential dangers of such products. Indeed, the ESRB and other whattheyplay.com do an admirable job of getting the word out, but neither of these two information sources have a strong flow of advertising, outside of the internet, magazines, or other sources that cater to the more traditional or dedicated game player.
Admitting that, how is mom and dad supposed to know what's happening? How are they supposed to know these sites exist without marketing targeted specifically at them. Taking out advertisements in gamer-centric magazines is not the way to do this, and I hate to paint a stereotype of our parents, but placing spots during prime time TV and the news are the perfect places to do this. Sure, advertising is incredibly expensive, but if some of the money was diverted away from Jumpstart and into education programs, future cases similar to Brandon Crisp's might be avoided.
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