Jordan “Kootra” Mathewson, founder of the gaming group The Creatures, was arrested by a group of police officers while playing Counter-Strike on a live stream. Before they entered his room, Kootra speculated he was about to be “SWATted.” It’s a phenomenon that is gaining familiarity, as hackers sometimes conjure false threats to inconvenience their opponents or streamers. The former head of security for Xbox Live was a victim, and he found that prosecutors weren’t interested in pursuing criminal charges of the juvenile perpetrators.
“Even the swatting thing, only now that Justin Bieber gets swatted, do prosecutors go, ‘Oh, we should probably do something about this’,” he said to Polygon.com. “I couldn’t get the Seattle police interested to save their lives, in prosecuting the kids who were doing this. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys, they’re sending your SWAT team out. What if you shot somebody. Don’t you have an interest in going after these kids?’ And they’re like, ‘No, because they are kids and at the end of the day it will be a juvenile sentence in juvenile court and that doesn’t give prosecutors headlines.'”
Four days before Kootra’s ordeal, a hacker communicated a bomb threat about American Airlines flight 362 via Twitter. Sony Online Entertainment President John Smedley was onboard. The flight was diverted from its intended San Diego destination for security reasons.
Kootra’s SWAT involved an actual police raid. And it was especially distasteful, because his studio is located in Littleton, Colorado, the location of a prior school shooting. It is also the town where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stole tools and equipment one year before the Columbine High School massacre. According to the Littleton webpage, Police received a 911 call at 11:27 a.m. reporting a shooting and hostages at 1221 W. Mineral Avenue, where Kootra was located. The prank resulted in Littleton public schools being locked down.
Not only was the Littleton community forced to contemplate old wounds, the larger trend is troubling because of the potential that it will lead to the collateral loss of an innocent life. The risk seems heightened in the case of online gaming, where officers may hear the sounds of simulated gunfire inside a room before they enter. In the case of Kootra, the police came in with guns drawn.
“Don’t you fucking move, you hear me boy?” one officer said.
Kootra laughed as he was being held. “What about this is funny to you?” an officer asked. “I’m not doing anything that’s funny,” Kootra answered.
But that’s one of the problems. SWATting is perceived as humerous by the perpetrators and sometimes even their victims. Because it is an absurd stunt, a proper subject for epic online storytelling, and a direct road to media infamy. Those are the sorts of things that sometimes appeal to computer studio adventurers, and they are the sorts of things that can fuel an amateur online entertainment enterprise.
Some gamers appear to lose sight of the difference between hours of simulated combat and real-life risk. And until someone is successfully prosecuted or harmed in a profound way, select players will undoubtedly continue respawning these hoaxes and playing the game.