On June 8, 14-year-old Eduardo Fernández was gunned down as he stepped from a taxi near his Garden Grove home. Within hours, local police had four suspects under arrest; about the same time, The Orange County Register named an accomplice: the computer game Counterstrike.
Counterstrike is a first-person shooter game in which people fight in teams online. Combatants join either a terrorist or counter-terrorist group, load up on ammo and weapons that would make Ted Nugent salivate, and deploy to massacre their enemies backed by a soundtrack of dramatic arias.
On June 9, the Register noted that Fernández died two miles from Garden Grove's ICE Café where, reporters Greg Hardesty and Zaheera Wahid speculated, he and friends played "such popular 3-D combat games as Counterstrike." Two days later, Register reporter Katherine Nguyen confirmed that the group had indeed played Counterstrike. But the real scoop was Nguyen's June 14 follow-up: a confession by one murder suspect that he and his buddies played Counterstrike "almost daily."
The Register's hard-on for Counterstrike—and the cybercafés where the game is popular—didn't arise with Fernández's murder. In the seven months before June 8, the Register and its community weeklies ran 17 articles about cybercafés, nine of which mentioned Counterstrike. In the seven articles after the murder, Counterstrike is mentioned four times. And when it mentions the game, the Reg can't help but get breathless, describing Counterstrike as "graphically violent" and even "addictive."
The counter-Counterstrike campaign started with the Register's Nov. 1 report on the rise of cybercafés in Orange County. Reporters Nguyen and Binh Ha Hong launched that story with retro sound effects ("'Boom! Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat!') and the play-by-play observation that "a virtual terrorist has just killed another terrorist in the latest online game, Counterstrike."
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A Jan. 2 piece about the Dec. 30 murder of Phoung Huu Ly outside Garden Grove's PC Café mentioned Counterstrike again, as did Nguyen's Jan. 23 piece detailing Garden Grove's new restrictions on cafés in the wake of that murder.
After Nguyen's piece, the Register took it easy for four months, running just one piece on cybercafés. The recess ended with Fernández's murder.
The Register and its weeklies have produced 24 stories on cybercafés, just once—in Karen Robes' Feb. 21 Placentia News-Times article—identifying other computer games.
But even a broader understanding of computer gaming wouldn't stop the Reg from its apparent war on youth culture. Like New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia—who in the early 1940s declared pinball a "scourge of the city's children" and enacted a ban that lasted into the 1970s—the Reg assumes a sensational connection between violence, computer games and the children who enjoy them. All that's missing is facts.