It's a picture that's all too familiar: shots fired at Arapahoe High School in Colorado, as 18-year-old Karl Pierson went on a manhunt for a teacher, leaving two students wounded, with the shooter turning the gun on himself. Compounding the familiarity of the scene: It happened almost to the same day as the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut one year prior, and Arapahoe High sits only eight miles away from Columbine High School, and a short drive away from the Century 16 movie theaters at Town Center in the city of Aurora.
Frequently, political lobbying groups, for whatever reason, use these opportunities to shift the blame off whatever they represent and cast it on to the gamers. Most recently, Aaron Alexis, the perpetrator of the Washington Navy Yard shootings, was cast by certain news outlets as a nice guy but "obsessed with violent video games."
Antwand Pearman wants to change that misconception while honoring the memories of those lost to gun violence.
On Saturday, December 21, the website GamerFitNation will have its second annual Online Shooter Ceasefire, in which gamers have pledged to put down their virtual guns in a symbolic gesture of remembrance for the victims of gun violence. Antwand Pearman, doing nothing was simply not an option.
“I wanted to do something to show our support for the victims in Sandy Hook but I didn't know how,” said Pearman, who also is the OS Ceasefire's event organizer. “Then I had this idea of the OS Ceasefire, like, 'Let's show gamers putting down their virtual guns in solidarity.' I never did this to start controversy or be popular, I did it to show support.”
In its second year, the OS Ceasefire picked up national endorsements from various outlets such as CNN's Piers Morgan. “We even got support from the hacker group Anonymous, which shocked the hell out of me,” admits Pearman, who says the support from gamers and non-gamers alike has been “awesome.” “I mean, so many profound people, and people who took it to their gamer groups and said, 'I have this many people, and we're going to all back the ceasefire.'”
Nia Pierce, of sheattack.com, is one of those supporters, and at the time of the Sandy Hook killings worked in child care. “As a gamer and a person who advocates for children and others, [backing OS Ceasefire] just felt like the right thing to do. Two of the things that I am passionate about are in a position to make a positive impression.”
The shooting cut extra deep for Pierce. “My students were always so excited when it was time to go home at the end of the day. The Sandy Hook kids were robbed of that feeling.”
Tony Polanco, senior editor of stfuandplay.com, sees the OS Ceasefire and other events not only as positive for drawing awareness to the issues surrounding events such as Sandy Hook, Columbine, and most recently Arapahoe, but also positive for changing the negative perception of the gamer. "The problem is that perception is reality in the eyes of many," says Polanco, "If enough people believe a lie, it becomes true."
“Games and gamers get blamed for these events,” continues Polanco. “That's one thing that OS Ceasefire is trying to change; how games and gamers are perceived. Things like OS Ceasefire just bring more awareness to this topic even though as a society we should all be very aware already. Haven't we been killing each other for centuries with guns?”
Not everyone, however, agrees with events like OS Ceasefire, and the majority of opposition stems from an unlikely source: gamers themselves. “For the about 3000 confirmed gamers, there were about 100 against it,” says Pearman, “but the few that disagreed have the bigger mouths. There's been pushback and it's come in two groups: people who understand but respectfully don't support it, and people who don't understand, who don't figure things out, and just see a title and fill in their own thoughts. They're arrogant. It's like they don't want to understand. They argue just to argue, just to win a point.”
Those points, however, do warrant inspection, as many gamers I spoke with regarding the event feel that it serves no purpose other than to make one feel good about oneself. In fact, some believe events such as OS Ceasefire could prove to be “ultimately potentially damaging to the gaming community,” says Sean Kreycik of Simi Valley, CA. “It's not going to help people see a different side to our community; it may only make people think that we believe our pastime is to blame.”
Jerel Hight, of Idaho, believes it adds to the already-negative perception gamers endure. “It assumes [gamers] all are non-caring people because we are playing shooting games, and thus we are ignoring the tragedy,” he says.
The perception is one Polanco himself had to grapple with before showing his support. “My hesitation came from the fact that this was kind of saying, 'Yeah, video games are violent so let's stop playing games with guns for a day.' Something about that still bothers me. It's like admitting guilt where there is none. But like I said, I support the spirit of this, for people to remember those who have been lost on that day or any other due to gun violence.
“Now that OS Ceasefire is becoming more popular,” he continued, “I believe that the movement may get support from people who could really help make change happen.”
Some gamers would prefer something more active than just a “virtual event.” John Curry, a columnist for GotGame.com, suggests that events “focus on the [issue of] mental health awareness, and how many things are linked to it. How video games provide an escape, but also support when done right.” Kreycik recommends following in the footsteps of Extra Life, a gaming event that raises funds for children's medical programs in the Children's Miracle Network of hospitals, bringing good, tangible results to the issues surrounding mental health. A common trait amongst those who perpetuate mass shootings can be found in their unchecked mental disorders; focusing on the issues surrounding mental health research, treatment, and fighting against the stigma of seeking treatment for these issues focuses on the bigger picture, and takes the heat off of responsible firearm owners.
Supporters of the event, however, state that while it may merely be symbolic, it still can be a striking blow. “It's no different than a sit in from the civil rights movement, in my opinion,” Pierce contends. “This is the beginning of breathing life into an important topic that many people should be aware of.”
“It does nothing if you don't understand its purpose,” adds Pierce. “Symbolism, even when it's quiet, brings awareness.”
It's an awareness, supporters hope, can keep gun violence in the make-believe worlds found in gaming, and not on our real-life schoolyards.
For more information on the OS Ceasefire, Mr. Pearman invites discussion on Twitter at @GamerFitNation using the hashtag #OSCeasefire. You can also view the event page on Facebook.
Author's Note: All interviews were conducted prior to the December 13th shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado.