Brandon Crisp deserved better than the situation which was created by his death. I stayed silent for a while because I did not want to make any more of a spectacle out his passing than was already made by the rabid media cycle.
This was Brandon Crisp
Though I did a bit of light research, a lot of what I say stems from my memory of the situation.
The story does not resonate with me simply because I am a gamer or he hailed from the same country that I do. He and I grew up a decade apart and an hour away from each other. I am familiar with his neck of the woods and I may have even seen him, been in front of his family at a coffee shop or played hockey with any one of his family members. Maybe not, but this hit close to home on many levels.
The story of Brandon Crisp is usually summarized in this way;
“Brandon Crisp ran away from home after his parents took away his Xbox 360. He climbed a tree, fell and died. Tragic.”
Brandon was obsessed with Call of Duty 4. Brandon was 15. Brandon probably did not buy this game. I was in my 20s and got carded for Dead Space, so I can only imagine his parents had to buy one of these M rated games. Right now, gamers reading this all rolled their eyes. I bet you are thinking “Was the console in his bedroom too?” YOU BET! However, 15 is not an unreasonable age to play M rated games as it is only 2 years behind the age gate.
So let me lay out the circumstances of Brandon’s disappearance as a gamer saw it:
Brandon was playing a game his parents decided he could play, by himself, on a box his parents have no interest in or even functional knowledge of. What I mean by that is they bought him a “toy”, had no clue of what it did or let you do and bought him material meant for an older crowd knowing nothing about the ESRB. When noting his different behavior, the console was blamed and removed from his room.
Upon the removal, Brandon threatened to run away from home. On October 13th 2008, that is exactly what he did.
He did it with his father packing his backpack which allegedly looked like this one. [Updated 10/30/2014 – 6:55pm EDT: Brandon’s father did not pack the backpack. Brandon did. His father’s involvement in it was suggesting to bring warm clothes.]
Initially his father called his bluff and advised Brandon to bring warm clothing. Brandon then set off on his bike in sub-zero temperature. Barrie is not a city or a suburb, it is a town surrounded by nothing but dirt, farmland and all sorts of uneven forest terrain. There are probably only street lights in the areas the locals would refer to as “uptown” or “downtown” which is usually a strip mall and a few diner type places to eat. It is a safe bet that the roads Brandon travelled along at some point looked similar but not identical to this:
But considering how fast it gets dark in Canada during the middle of October, it very quickly looked like this to Brandon:
One wrong turn and you are lost. On a bike, you can cover more ground so even travelling ten minutes can put you way off course. Again, Brandon was doing this in sub-zero temperature in the dark.
It is never entirely clear when Brandon’s parents knew something was up but shortly after his disappearance, his picture was everywhere.
The search continued for a few weeks and continued through October 21st. The police questioned a witness a few kilometers from Brandon’s home, but other than that there was nothing to go on. The media had been following this story daily, thirsty for more information. Some belongings were found along with chips and crackers. This was news. The celebrity, “Mantracker” even joined the search. By this point, the average temperature in Barrie was around -15 degrees celsius. The community held out hope that Brandon was still alive or that he was held against his will. They hoped for any scenario which would deliver Brandon back alive whether it was ideal or not. However, nothing more would be found. It was reported on October 29th, 2008 that the police’s ground search would be called off. The weather had become a problem. With the temperatures falling more and with fresh snow on the ground, hope was fading fast.
The police checked all the leads they could possibly check. They monitored his gamertag just in case it popped up online. They questioned witnesses and even had Microsoft boost the reward for any information leading to finding Brandon. Nothing more significant would materialize. However, on November 5th, news broke that Brandon Crisp was indeed found dead.
These are the details. You may have noticed I did not spend as much time discussing his obsession with Call of Duty. As gamers, we know what this entails. But for those who are not clear on what I mean by “obsessed”. Brandon became increasingly withdrawn from social life and instead focused on playing Call of Duty. He became less interested in school and athletics and more interested in getting to the next prestige level in Call of Duty. According to friends of Brandon, he was very good at the game. Good enough to be a pro. Going pro was something his parents did not support, being clueless about the entire activity. The idea of a pro gamer probably sounded silly to his parents.
After the autopsy showed the cause of death was most likely falling from a tree, people could only speculate why he was up in a tree. Many believe he was trying to find his way back home. This is not unreasonable.
Now that you know the situation that caused his death, if you had to blame something, what would you blame? The parents? Brandon? The Xbox?
Guess who the media decided was at fault?
The CBC decided to do some “investigative journalism” and produced a piece called “Top Gun”. It is about an hour long and I recommend watching it. Click here to watch in Canada and here to watch if you are not in Canada.
It was decided that the game, the developer, the publisher and even the ESRB should have to shoulder the blame. In the eyes of the media, the game or the industry played a role in Brandon’s death. It should be noted that the piece the CBC ran on Brandon does not blame games, but heavily implied they are to blame for … something.
This is much akin to suing the maker of golf clubs after hitting yourself in the face because you have no idea how to swing it. Yes the golf club played a factor in you getting your tooth chipped but the dude swinging it had no clue what he was doing. Yes, a video game and a console played a role in the situation but it was not the cause of it. Gaming is almost passive. Being a parent is much more active. You may as well blame Catcher in the Rye for people getting murdered while you’re at it.
Much like most of the hate that is launched at Anita Sarkeesian, instead of observing the bigger picture, there were those that decided a dead 15 year old was to blame for their first world problems.
In a moment where Game Nation could have mourned and defended the realm from those who seek to destroy it by looking for a scapegoat, the nation became fragmented. There were those that stood up and called out the media for playing the blame game and misleading the public but those voices were quickly muted by memes about respawning and going for a bike ride.
The Crisp family created the Brandon Crisp Endowment Fund which is dedicated to giving families with financial issues a chance to have their children play recreational sports and activities. I’m not knocking them for trying to do something good in Brandon’s name. He apparently enjoyed sports and maybe this is fitting.
There is still a part of me that thinks we as gamers failed Brandon. We, as a group, intimidate developers and journalists to the point where the former will retroactively change their game and the latter carefully choose their words as to not enrage gamers.
For the most part, gamers are the only ones who really know games had very little to do with Brandon Crisp’s fate, yet they let the media chew the story up and grind it out as “Boy runs away after parents take away his Xbox”. A more accurate headline would be “Parents let child run away in sub-zero temperature.”
Brandon Crisp deserved a better send off than what the media gave him. He deserved a better tribute than the gaming community gave him. Brandon was a bad-ass gamer who was probably better than you. With guidance, who knows what he would have accomplished. We never will. All we can do is what we have been doing this entire time, speculating.
Let us remember him for being a gamer. Because that is who he was. That is who he still is in my mind and I hope these words will keep his legacy floating around in your minds on a positive note.
The Jaded Gamer
PS. Game Nation, we need to stick together. We don’t have to all like each other or get along but we all play in the same league, playing the same sport. We have the same interests. While we fight with each other and vainly against the Anita Sarkeesians of the world, we give more ammunition to those who wish to brand us delinquents or potential dangers.