Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Muddling gaming with reality: The Hungerford Massacre

This is quite a long time ago now so possibly not many people remember it. But I think there are parallels between recent events in the Eve community and the tragic story of Michael Ryan. One day he just snapped and killed 16 people (including his mother) and wounded 15 more.

At the time I was working for a play by mail (PBM) game. It was basically the same as an online game except actions were delivered by a postman rather than a near-instantaneous internet connection.

One of the other PBM companies had had Michael Ryan as a client. It was an immersive role-playing game and he was a keen player. In his last communication with the game before he snapped he was told to go out and kill.

The people running the PBM company were never charged but they felt devastated and gave up running their business entirely. I felt very sorry for them because I very much doubt there were any clues that they could have picked up on.

Did the game influence Ryan? We'll never know. It may have.

But Ryan's actions had huge consequences for the games masters who had been innocently involved. Everyone I knew who worked in the industry felt chilled.

Even when unforeseeable if, with hindsight, you find yourself in a position to wonder whether you contributed to something evil and horrific it will change you. It's not your fault but it will change you, that's just human psychology.

It's worth remembering that the people we play our games with are real people and that their lives and safety matters. If we get caught up in the narrative flow of our games to the point we lose sight of this we risk damage not only to other people but to ourselves.


  1. I don't remember the details too well, but didn't Ryan possess a large arsenal of weapons, designed for killing people, such as semi-automatic rifles? That would rather suggest that he entertained fantasies about killing over a long period.

    If someone enjoys standing on the very edge of a cliff, many things might randomly occur that finally tip them over the edge; so it's perhaps unfair to blame any one influence, even if it was actually the one that precipitated the action. Maybe, Ryan's mentality was such that he was just an accident waiting to happen.

  2. Oh sure. He was fascinated with the military from childhood and articles have talked about his childhood obsession with Action Man which developed into an adult obsession with military paraphernalia.

    The point I wished to make was how damaging even involvement with a tragedy can be even if someone's innocent. The GMs who ran that PBM will never 100% know that they didn't trigger the event. They were at the time utterly devastated. As, I'm sure, would Alex have been if the miner had committed suicide.