• Dusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 34 - Murder in Boston Blamed on Sega's Virtua Cop Video Game, with Lee Caraher

Did a shooter train for his revenge rampage by playing a hands-on arcade game? A public relations true crime investigation. Also featuring Clinton "Paperthin" Bader and Dr. Myriam Miedzian.


On a busy evening in Boston's financial district in 1995, gunshots ring out. When the smoke clears, a prominent divorce attorney is dead and a police officer is wounded.


And Lee Caraher, then the Vice President of Corporate and Consumer Communications for the Sega Corporation, doesn't know it yet...


...but she's about to have a public relations crisis on her hands.

Police would eventually uncover evidence that shooter John T. Lin "trained" for his revenge rampage by spending hours playing Virtua Cop, an arcade-style video game that puts a plastic replica pistol directly in the player's hands as they blast bad guys on a screen.


And media coverage of the shooting would add fuel to the fire in the growing debate over video game violence that played out in the mid-90s.


So in this episode, we rehash the story with Lee and parse the PR takeaways.


And, since video games have been blamed for dozens of other heinous acts in the years since the shooting, we'll explore the relationship between violent media and violent behavior with two experts whose opposing views yield some surprising common ground.


Clinton "Paperthin" Bader is an Esports commentator in Seoul, South Korea who provides expert play-by-play on professional video game competitions, which is a major form of entertainment in Southeast Asia.


And Dr. Myriam Miedzian is a prominent critic of video games who served on President Bill Clinton’s Violence Prevention Task Force and worked on faculty at Rutgers and Barnard. She also wrote a 1991 book called Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence.

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Transcript:


Dusty Weis:

Sega Corporation in the mid '90s was a dominant force in the up-and-coming field of video game entertainment, capturing 65% of next generation video game console market share in 1992, the Sega Genesis system was on every '90s, kid's Christmas wishlist.


Dusty Weis:

So as they pinned the Sega brand on the G-rated, family friendly antics of a little blue hedgehog named Sonic. How is it that the Sega Corporation got tied up in a 1995 Boston murder investigation, and the media firestorm that ensued.


Lee Caraher:

How did this guy do that? That was the cop, I mean we just wanted to know how he did it because it was an incredibly accurate shot for someone who just got a gun.


Dusty Weis:

Lee Caraher was the vice president of corporate and consumer communications for Sega in the mid '90s and as police investigators followed in unconventional trail of evidence that loosely tied to the shooting to Sega's Virtua Cop arcade game, it would fall to lead to guide the company's response to a public relations threat, that was made for the fledgling 24 hour news format.


Dusty Weis:

It was among the first but far from the last time that video game violence would stoke controversy in America, and we'll also look at the history of how that debate has played out from a PR perspective. I'm Dusty Weis, and this is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR marketing and branding nightmares and the well-meaning communications professionals who lived them.


Dusty Weis:

Thank you for tuning in. You're taking the time to listen to these PR and marketing stories I collect, is the greatest compliment that you can pay me. But if you really want to help me out, open up your podcast app right now, find the Lead Balloon page and leave a comment to tell me what you like about the show. I have been dying to land on the apple podcast main page, and every comment that you leave, gets me a little bit closer.


Dusty Weis:

So our story this month comes courtesy of Lee Caraher, the president and CEO of Double Forte, a PR firm with offices in San Francisco, New York and Wisconsin. She's led the firm for 20 years, and prior to that served in two different executive roles at Weber Shandwick.


Dusty Weis:

But the story we're going to tell today, centers on her time as a communications executive in what was at the time, still a fledgling field, certainly just a sprout compared to the $250 billion industry it is today, the world of video games. So Lee Caraher, thank you for joining us on the Lead Balloon podcast.


Lee Caraher:

I'm so happy to be here. Thanks for asking me.


Dusty Weis:

So Lee, you served as the vice president of corporate and consumer communications for the Sega Corporation from 1995 to 1998. It's a company that, for me is always going to be inextricably linked to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise.


Lee Caraher:

Sonic, he just turned 31.


Dusty Weis:

He just turned 31 and there's a movie series now that's still around today. Live action, CG mash up, Jim Carey's in it, Idris Elba. Did you ever have any inkling at the time that he would come? You did. You knew it, that video games were as big a business as they are today.


Lee Caraher:

You know, when I was at Sega it was a $1.5 billion company in the United States. Right? That didn't count anywhere else in the world, and we are absolutely convinced. This was when people were talking about Sili-wood. Right? Silicon Hollywood, and all the deals were being made between LA and basically the Bay Area, in the industry and we all knew it was coming.


Dusty Weis:

Lee started her career at the Weber Group in Boston, which would eventually become the agency Weber Shandwick, and she was working in deep technology accounts there in the '80s. She found, she had a knack for translating the language of MIT techies, into something a little more coherent to the layman, that is a skill that's plenty rare today and it was even harder to find in the '80s.


Dusty Weis:

And so before too long, she found herself in California, working her agency's account for Sega Corporation and spending more time at their office than her own. From there well, you know the story, one day the client says, "You know, you're here all the time, so why don't we just put you on the payroll?" And that is how she became Sega's vice president of corporate and consumer communications.


Lee Caraher:

It's very different. It's a very different job I have to say, when I was external, I was just doing external relations and they hired me to do communications, which is very different job. The day is very different than when you're external.


Lee Caraher:

So my time at Sega was amazing, it was an incredibly challenging time for the company Sega, and I actually left the company December 30th, 98.


Dusty Weis:

But the story of how Sega would come to be blamed for the murder of a well-known divorce attorney and how Lee would manage the PR response to it, also starts in Boston.


Dusty Weis:

Late, one cold November evening in the city's financial district, a 25 year old grad student named John Lin, waited in his car with a gun outside a law office. He was waiting for the divorce attorney who had represented his ex-wife in their divorce case a year prior, and investigators say Lin had of fixation with 48 year old attorney William Kahn.


Dusty Weis:

He was obsessed with him, hated him, even stalked him. And when he saw Kahn on the crowded sidewalk, Lin confronted him, demanding that he'd get in the car and come along for a ride. With masses coming and going from banks and insurance companies, restaurants and nightclubs, Kahn spotted a police officer and ran to get help, and that officer radioed for backup on an attempted kidnapping in progress, it was then that John Lin emerged from the crowd of people, leveled his 45 caliber handgun and all hell, broke loose.


Dusty Weis:

The officer dove for cover and William Kahn, duck through the crowd trying to escape but John Lin fired seven shots, as people scattered, hitting Kahn in the torso with three of those seven, without even injuring any bystanders. Investigators would later comment that his marksmanship was remarkable for a conventionally untrained shooter.


Lee Caraher:

How did this guy do that? That was the cop, who I talked to. I mean we just wanted to know how he did it because it was an incredibly accurate shot for someone who just got a gun.


Dusty Weis:

John Lin took off around the corner now pursued by two police officers. He turned and shot one of them twice and stopped in an alley and shot himself in the head.


Dusty Weis:

The officer who was shot, survived, but attorney William Kahn didn't stand a chance without a bulletproof vest. The initial media coverage of this story centered on the divorce attorney connection, and the fact that John Lin had equipped his handgun with a laser sight, that allowed him to aim more precisely. And Lee Caraher says that in that moment, there was no connection drawn between the horrible crime and the Sega Corporation's video game.


Lee Caraher:

They didn't figure it out in time, for that first story. Right? They hadn't even looked at his car because they... Someone dies that's on the radio, someone in the police department has a briefing on the topic.


Dusty Weis:

It wasn't until more than a month later, the Boston Herald ran a story with the headline, Video Game Taught Killer How To Aim, cops claimed, dated new year's day, 1996. The story leads with John T. Lin, trained for a shooting spree that killed a lawyer and wounded a police officer by blowing away video screen, bad guys with a plastic gun in a high tech Fenway arcade.


Dusty Weis:

Investigators theorized yesterday, quote, "By playing these games over and over, he was able to turn virtual reality into actual reality." Said lieutenant detective Timothy Murray. And Lee Caraher says in the days that followed this story, she reached out to talk to the investigators and find out how they developed this theory.


Lee Caraher:

We look at his car, all these tokens on his floor.


Dusty Weis:

Investigators found more than 50 video game tokens in Lin's car and even in his pockets, and traced them to an arcade called Jillian's Billiard Club. Employees there said Lin was a regular and then Lee says, the cops told her it was pretty obvious to them where Lin had been spending his money.


Lee Caraher:

And we started putting the tokens into different games and we started playing all of them. There were probably three or four, at that time there was probably three or four shooter games at every arcade, and then we realized it had to be Virtua Cop because it was so realistic.


Dusty Weis:

Realistic, of course is a term relative to the day because by modern standards, Virtua Cops 1994 graphics are laughably cartoony, even retro, there's no blood, no gore.


Lee Caraher:

That's the first person shooter, you can play one or two players and that's an arcade version, but we also had it on the platforms as well.


Dusty Weis:

Players in the game assume the role of Virtua city police officers who uncover a terrible conspiracy at an Evil Corporation, literally dubbed the E-V-I-L incorporated, and they blast their way through a series of scenarios where bad guys pop out of urban surroundings, while civilians run for cover.


Lee Caraher:

And you were the good guys and the different scenarios as you moved through the game, were situations that were bad guys that you had to take down, but as you got better, you got harder situations.


Dusty Weis:

It was this twitch reflex sharpening set of challenges that police investigators and later, the media latched onto in blaming Virtua Cop for the murder of William Kahn and the shooting of officer Jonathan Stratton. The Boston Herald story notes, quote, "In Virtua Cop, the targets pop up at random at varying distances and sometimes on the run like Kahn and Stratton, even the backdrop in Virtua Cop's expert level, nighttime at the glass and steel headquarters of the E-V-I-L Corp. is similar to Boston's Financial District after dusk."


Dusty Weis:

And lieutenant detective Timothy Murray is quoted describing the environment in which John Lin carried out his crime, quote "It's nighttime, in urban setting, there are pedestrians in the street, headlights, streetlights are running, moving target. All those things work against him, so it's absolutely phenomenal shooting." End quote.


Dusty Weis:

Media coverage would note that Lin only owned his gun for two months before the crime, and spent only about two and a half hours at a firing range with it. But the most important factor that investigators say linked Virtua Cop to the shooting, was that unlike many other games at the time, it put a life sized replica of a 45 handgun directly into player's hands.


Dusty Weis:

Now, '80s and '90s kids will likely be familiar with the technology, originally pioneered by the Duck Hunt game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The hardware is referred to as a light gun, but it doesn't actually shoot anything at the screen, instead when you pull the trigger, it snaps a picture of where on the screen it's pointed, allowing the game to determine whether you scored a hit or a miss.


Dusty Weis:

Sega's Virtua Cop was one of the first games to adapt the technology to an arcade game format. And the arcade tokens in John Lin's possession, infuriated Boston police, when the gunman wounded one of their own, in his November 30th shooting spree, according to Dr. Myriam Miedzian.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

The police who were so angry that as they put it, that these people like Lin were given the opportunity to rehearse pulling on their gun, the trigger.


Dusty Weis:

Dr. Miedzian has written in lectured extensively about violent entertainment and violent behavior. She served on President Bill Clinton's Violence Prevention Task Force, was on faculty at Rutgers and Barnard, and in the case of this story was actually quoted in yet another Boston Herald article, exploring the cause and effect relationship, between John Lin's video game habits and his violent behavior.


Dusty Weis:

From the early days of video gaming, she was concerned about its potential effects, but the addition of light guns to the armory, she says, heightened her alarm.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

So at the very beginning, the player didn't get to kill people by pulling the trigger, they pushed a button or you know what? Whatever, but then when it got sophisticated, they were pulling the trigger and the cops felt you're teaching people how to kill us or how to kill other people.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

And they of course pointed to the military, because the military used these same kinds of video games to train their military people, both in terms of desensitization, because the more you do these kinds of things, the more it's not that big a deal, and of course just training.


Dusty Weis:

But from Lee Caraher's perspective, she says, they were very intentional about how they approached the Virtua Cop franchise at Sega.


Lee Caraher:

In the arcade, and also in the home games, the guns were red and blue, not black, which is really important.


Dusty Weis:

Why was that?


Lee Caraher:

Because they were toys, not real.


Dusty Weis:

That was something that the company decided that it wanted to drive home.


Lee Caraher:

Yes, absolutely, conscious decision. These are toys, not real.


Dusty Weis:

And the gameplay itself, I seem to recall, the bad guys would pop out and you'd have to get them, but then innocent civilians would pop out too.


Lee Caraher:

And you couldn't hit them.


Dusty Weis:

Don't shoot the good guys, only shoot the bad guys.


Lee Caraher:

It was like a real world find and take down concept with civilians. Every once in a while a mom would walk around, with the baby to throw her, that kind of stuff. There are lots of different kinds of video games. Right? That one was trying to be as real world as possible, in a shoot him up kind of way, in a first person shooter.


Dusty Weis:

And while critics like in Virtua Cop to law enforcement training simulations, which reinforced twitch reflexes, shooting accuracy and split second decision making, Lee points to one key difference that she says was overlooked in the media criticism that followed.


Lee Caraher:

The game is different from any simulation, in that the justice shot to the highest points.


Dusty Weis:

What is the justice shot?


Lee Caraher:

The justice shot is hits you on the wrist.


Dusty Weis:

So shooting the gun out of the bad guy's hand essentially.


Lee Caraher:

Yeah. Would get you the most points, that's how we get you up the ladder. In arcade, you could see who's winning. Right? Who's got the most points, and you could see someone's rising up, all that kind of stuff. Killing a person, got you the least points.


Dusty Weis:

Prioritized that accuracy over just spray and pray, let's just shoot as many shots as possible and get the bad guys.


Lee Caraher:

Correct. So accuracy and this. Right? Not the heart or the head, it was the wrist, in that game. So I'm not sure I don't think they ever figured it out how, where this guy was in the rankings but if he was actually training on this game, he would've not scored as high as people who were wanted to be a high scorer.


Dusty Weis:

Still, when the story tying Virtua Cop to John Lins shooting rampage broke, Lee recognized that she had a PR situation on her hands that needed to be dealt with.


Lee Caraher:

The reporter from the Boston Herald called me and said, "The Boston police are saying that this guy trained on your game, Virtua Cop. What do you have to say, about that?" "Let me get back to you. Let me find out what you're talking about and I'll get back to you." So in any of those situations, because it is clearly, it wasn't the only crisis we dealt with at Sega by, and he's stretched the imagination.


Lee Caraher:

But the first piece is, "Okay, let me get back to you, Sean. What's your deadline? What are you doing? Da, da, da, da." He's in Boston, we were in San Francisco or the Bay Are, so we're three hours behind and Sega of America's actually not the arcade division, but I helped all of the divisions of Sega. There are a lot of divisions of Sega.


Lee Caraher:

So I had to, one, find out what the heck happened, what a story you're talking about? So this is the process then. The process today would be very different but the process then was, I got my assistant to do the news search on this topic to find out what the heck happened. I then, I'm sure I either went to Ribero or I... Depending on the year. Ribero or Kalinske and I said, "This is what's going on."


Lee Caraher:

Then with my director of PR, Dan Stevens, who you might know. We set down to key messages, what's our game? What is the point of the game? Let's make sure we know all the facts, about how you score well, where did it come from? All that kind of stuff. And then we had to connect with the arcade people as well, because Sega of America, the platform company, the game company was the major spokesperson for all the Sega properties in the United States.


Lee Caraher:

So we find out what happened, and then we called the police. I remember talking to the police eventually, because they don't let us know that they had let this information out. Right? And got our ducks in a row and then called them back.


Dusty Weis:

And what did you tell them? What was your strategy for messaging, about this?


Lee Caraher:

I think the strategy is always, what are the facts? Right? This was not something that we were aware of, this game is at that arcade, we had to make sure we called that arcade to make sure that the game was at that arcade, and then what questions do you have about the game? Always the strategy in a crisis is not to volunteer anything, until you know what they want. Right?


Lee Caraher:

And then to have the facts, ready to answer questions if you can and there's some questions you can never answer, but I'm sure that's what we did. This story that you sent, I mean, I think there are a lot more stories. Right? So this story then created a huge, I mean this created a huge balloon.


Dusty Weis:

I was going to say, what sort of coverage did it get? Did it get outside of the sphere of Boston? There was it a national story at that point?


Lee Caraher:

Oh, it was a national story. I mean first then the television in Boston picked it up and then the New York and then everybody. So always in that kind of situation is, "We're not going on television, I'll provide you a statement in writing if you want it." And that's what ended up happening. You know how on 60 minutes, they get a piece of paper and it's crinkled on top and statement from the... We did that.


Dusty Weis:

Oh I know. I've been both the person reading that sheet of paper on the news and I have been the person writing it, so it-


Lee Caraher:

So we did that, and then there was always pressure to kill a bad story. I was like this, "We can't kill this one." Which is ironic, the word you use. Right? But we just have to live through it. And how do you live through it? You go through it by making it as short as possible.


Lee Caraher:

And how do you make a story as short as possible? Is by telling the truth, providing the response and then limiting further discussion. We have no more to say, that's what we have to say.


Dusty Weis:

Here are the facts.


Lee Caraher:

Kind of stuff. Here are the facts. I think there was one story who got it wrong that we corrected, but the rest of them, it's never what exactly what you want. Right? And then as you see what happens, then you have to decide if it's worth it to try to correct it or not, because a correction makes another story happen, and we see that today in a much faster world. Right?


Lee Caraher:

In the internet world, it's crazy talk between Twitter, instead of days and weeks. Right? So you have to be really quick. You had to be quick then, but you have to really quick now. Be ready for all those kinds of things and have a philosophy about crisis, that allows you to not perpetuate the story.


Dusty Weis:

For Lee and much of the video game industry, the shooting came at the tail end of a period where gaming had just recently faced intense public scrutiny, games like Doom and Mortal Kombat.


Sen. Joe Lieberman:

Which is a martial arts contest involving digitized characters.


Dusty Weis:

Had raised the ire of church and parents groups, and had been the subject of a series of high profile congressional hearings, spearheaded by then Senator Joe Lieberman.


Sen. Joe Lieberman:

When a player wins, the so-called death sequence begins, the player may then choose a method of murder ranging from ripping a heart out to pulling off the head of the opponent was spinal cord attached.


Dusty Weis:

As a result of the backlash, the software industry agreed in 1994 to regulate itself with the creation of the entertainment software rating board or ESRB. Much like the Motion Picture Association of America rates movies, the ESRB reviews video game titles and issues ratings to help guide parents in determining which games were appropriate for their kids.


Dusty Weis:

Also, like the MPAA, the rating system was adopted by the industry voluntarily as a means of heading off potential government regulation. The compromise came at the end of a long in bruising PR and regulatory battle for the video game industry. And Lee Caraher says that by the time of the John Lin shooting spree, violence and video games is an issue had finally been starting to slide out of her top PR priorities.


Lee Caraher:

That was actually wasn't our biggest problem at the time. Our biggest problem at the time was epilepsy by games, because we had been through all the congressional testimony, the creation of the ESRB and then the rating system, and then a lot of controversy on how you rated games, but it was always an important topic, but it wasn't our most pressing at the time, because we weren't getting them an inquiries on it.


Dusty Weis:

Did this incident, did this sort of spike that up in the conversation that was taking place in the national discourse?


Lee Caraher:

It renewed it, because Virtua Cop, you're the good guy, not the bad guy. And because the scenarios are such that for Virtua Cop, this is not true for all those games at the time, but the scenarios were about protecting civilians and how people scored in Virtua Cop was by having the best accuracy against a bad guy and not killing him.


Lee Caraher:

But there was other games in the industry that did not hold those parameters, so we were actually be able to deflect like "Oh, well, at least we're not this game," And I forget all the names of them. "... maybe you should go talk to so-and-so over here about their approach to it." Not shy about that, for sure.


Dusty Weis:

How long was this on your radar, as a professional communicator? A week, a month, many months?


Lee Caraher:

Probably two or three weeks. I mean, we monitored that topic every single day. We would get reports every single day on the topic on media, across the country, in the world. At that time, the United States was the biggest market for video games, so we monitored the world on that, every single day we get reports. Our team was divided on the different topics, so we could all own a couple of things.


Lee Caraher:

So violence and video games was always on the radar, but this topic probably spiked. It went away in a week and a half, which was, I mean that was fast and then didn't supplant itself with another story about Sega, so that was even better. Right?


Dusty Weis:

What would you say are some of the professional lessons that other strategic communicators can take away from your experience in the Virtua Cop saga at Sega.


Lee Caraher:

First, you got to know your products, you have to know your products and where do they sit in the world. At Sega I launched over 2000 software titles, between first and third party and we only focused on our first party titles, but still it was over 200, 300 titles in five years, easy. You have to know your product. What is it?


Lee Caraher:

Today, Double Forte works with interactive entertainment companies, but also food and wine and I mean, a lot of different kind of companies because how was I going to top my, say experience? I didn't want to just do two video games. Right? So you got to know what you're talking about. You have to know what your company does. Right?


Lee Caraher:

And then you have to scenario plan. Like in the food business, you worry about mislabeling something because if you mislabel a peanut product, someone might die. That is real. So on a scale of one to 10, you got to rate everything that you might worry about and you got to plan for it.


Lee Caraher:

Number two is you need a protocol, which is, what's your philosophy on crisis? My philosophy on crisis is don't hide from it, you don't have to feed it, but don't hide from it, and you have to also rate that. So one, death and potential death. Number one, drop every freaking thing, that's the most important thing, no one, nothing's more important. Right? Than death or potential death.


Lee Caraher:

And that can happen from lots of different things. Right? It could be peanuts where they don't belong, or salmonella, or it could be someone uses a video game to train, to kill somebody or it could be a tornado, whatever it is. Death or potential death, number one.


Lee Caraher:

And then what are your scenarios and who has to be involved? So that you can get a good answer, a fast answer because in today's world, if nothing's really changed, and my philosophy on that is you need to be ready as soon as someone calls, and if you can get ahead of it even better. Put out an announcement, "We're aware of this issue, we're working on it, we'll be back to you in an hour." Kind of stuff.


Lee Caraher:

And that's the third thing would be, to manage the expectation of when you'll be available, because if you're not available, you're just going to get more calls and more tweets and more everything. But if you manage the expectation of "We're aware of the situation, we're working on it now, we'll be back to you at one o'clock." Then people and particularly reporters and that's who are most... I'm worried about consumers, but I'm also worried about reporters because in general reporters have more pull. They can syndicate faster than anybody else.


Lee Caraher:

Meet that expectation and that, even if at one o'clock you have nothing new to say, go and say, "We have no new update, we're working on it. Hopefully we'll have something else in an hour." And then on the protocol internally is who needs to be involved?


Lee Caraher:

In my job at VP for communications, I would have to get someone else to agree to what I, my strategy was. Right? I couldn't just go rogue. So, but who is around? Who is the highest ranking person? When do I need to break vacations? If you're a CCO or VP of comms, you need to know all those things on the different topics and being prepared and then having a philosophy. So my philosophy is like I said, don't hide from it, manage expectations and then limit risk.


Lee Caraher:

If you're taking a job and particularly as a spokesperson, you should know what you're getting into. You should know what the company stands for. You should know what you're going to be asked to do, because it is you have to stand up. I mean, I always felt that at Sega.


Lee Caraher:

My colleagues were like, "Lee, Lee, Lee you are Sega." I'm like, "I'm not Sega. I don't make any games but I believe in the games, I believe in the company, I believe what we're doing." Are we perfect? Absolutely not. Do we make mistakes? Uh-huh, but I believe in the attention and I believe in the incredible genius of all these developers from Japan and from the United States and from Europe.


Lee Caraher:

If you can't believe, don't take that job in the strategic communications because you're going to be attached to whatever the company does. No matter if you believe it or not, you are attached to whatever you have to say. And you don't always get to say what you want to say, but you're attached to it for your whole career.


Lee Caraher:

Because when people look you up, they'll go, "You said what? You prob... Wait, that was a lie." "I didn't know it was a lie." "It doesn't matter, you should have known." And you're right, a VP of Corp. Comm, a CCO should know.


Dusty Weis:

I did want to ask, were there any long lasting impacts of this story on the company or even as you as a communications executive going forward?


Lee Caraher:

I am not a subscriber to any media, is good media and a PR is good PR. I really do not believe that, but I know that people started playing that game more in Boston, in the arcades.


Dusty Weis:

Just from it being in the news so much. That is not what I would've expected.


Lee Caraher:

But I think even the cops said it was such a good game. Right? I mean, he says it, he can't believe how great it is and yeah so...


Dusty Weis:

Yeah, the police statements they're really, when you look at it under that context, they read almost as an advertorial.


Lee Caraher:

And Virtua Cop was one of the most... When we launched Saturn, that was one of the most popular games.


Dusty Weis:

So yes, the horrific killing of attorney William Kahn and the shooting of officer Jonathan Stratton by John Lin created a crisis comm situation for Sega Corporation. But no, it doesn't appear to have had any long term repercussions for Sega, nor the video game industry more generally.


Dusty Weis:

But it seems we're stuck in this cycle where this gets litigated in the media every couple of years in America, often prompted by a terribly senseless act of violence.


Dusty Weis:

And so coming up after the break, are video game's the problem here? It's a societal question that is far beyond the scope of a little old marketing and PR podcast, and so of course I have to pick at it.


Dusty Weis:

We will continue our conversation with Dr. Myriam Miedzian and introduce someone else, whose industry perspective from a society where video games are as influential as NBA basketball, might surprise you.


Clinton Bader:

This is generally considered one of the safest countries in the world. There's very, very little violent crime here in any sense of the word.


Dusty Weis:

That's coming up in a minute here on Lead Balloon.


Dusty Weis:

This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. We started the show talking about one particular instance, where a video game was blamed for enabling John Lin's act of violence in the real world and how the Sega Corporation navigated that from a PR perspective, but how should we go about navigating it as a society? Because this keeps happening in America.


Dusty Weis:

Violent acts keep occurring here, and video games get blamed for a John Glenn or a Columbine or a Virginia Tech or a Uvalde. As a 37 year old man who grew up playing video games, some of them quite violent. How am I supposed to feel about that? And is there a connection between media violence and real world violence? That's a sort of question that goes way beyond my pay grade.


Dusty Weis:

So I'm bringing in a ringer, two of them in fact, from different sides of this argument, but I think you'll be surprised by how much they wind up agreeing on here. And the first one is actually a guy that I have known for about 30 years.


Clinton Bader:

So my name is Clinton Bader, but most people would know me by the nickname Paperthin, which is a game ID. So, I'm a professional Esports broadcaster so that means, think of me as a Al Michaels or a John Madden. Right? Of video game competition.


Clinton Bader:

So I do the casting during the games, I do analysis desks in between the matches, all that kind of stuff and of course I moonlight doing some other side gigs, but primarily my main focus is on what we call Esports casting.


Dusty Weis:

But to be clear, you get paid to talk about video games.


Clinton Bader:

That's correct. I get paid to yell at video games. It's pretty amazing.


Dusty Weis:

Now that's something that you did for free, for decades.


Clinton Bader:

Yeah. In the privacy of my home.


Dusty Weis:

It might seem unbelievable to us here in the US. So a few years back, I had to go see for myself. I visited Clinton in Seoul and even tagged along when he went to cast a PUBG match in an arena packed with 5,000 screaming, Koreans.


Dusty Weis:

PUBG fans showed up in costume, or in the colors of their favorite team and watched from the edge of their seats, as 64 players on a stage played a video game against one another. It was surreal. But that puts you in a cool spot now because it is becoming as big as professional sports.


Dusty Weis:

The money, the sponsorships, everything is pouring into it right now, and that gives you as someone whose boots on the ground right now, a chance to really help shape this growing space in these sports marketing field.


Dusty Weis:

And so that's super cool. That's super relevant, but it also gives you a unique perspective on the story that we're talking about today, which is this weird story from 1995, when John Lin, the shooter commits this crime on the street. And so the narrative becomes that he trained for committing this crime by playing this game. Is this a game? Is this a title that you've played that you're familiar with?


Clinton Bader:

Oh yeah.


Dusty Weis:

How does it stack up in terms of realism and violence then, to some of the other titles that are out there?


Clinton Bader:

In terms of realism? Not really. Even back then, there's no blood in the game, it's very sort of stylistic in the flashiness of it. It's very sort of like cartoony almost, it's sort of old school Batman cartoons with the explosions that look like they were made in Microsoft paint. Right? With these big, bright colors of oranges and yellows and stuff when you hit a target with your gun.


Dusty Weis:

And so you're using this gun, this plastic thing that you hold in your hands and treat like it's an actual firearm in the game, but it's not very violent, it's still not very realistic.


Dusty Weis:

I know that you were partial for a long time in your career as a game player to light shooters. In fact, I think that you were pretty obsessed for a little while with a game called Time Crisis.


Clinton Bader:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

You played the hell out of Time Crisis. Did it make you a better shooter in real life when it came to handling real firearms?


Clinton Bader:

I mean, you've seen me shoot guns. I don't think so.


Dusty Weis:

I have.


Clinton Bader:

I'm not good. I am not a marksman by any stretch of the imagination.


Dusty Weis:

This in a lot of ways is not just a media debate, it's a philosophical debate. And knowing you for a long time, I know that you also enjoy philosophical debates.


Dusty Weis:

And so, at the risk of opening up a can of worms here, where do you personally draw the line between violence in real life and violence in the media, TV, movies, music, and certainly video games as well? Where is the connection between those two things?


Clinton Bader:

I've always been typically more of a proponent, that most are tends to reflect society more than it does the other way around. So I don't think that they necessarily intermingle other than you see them in our society, they're kind of, especially in a lot of shooters are based around war or saving the human race or doing these kind of things. Right? Or your counter terrorists or something like that.


Clinton Bader:

So a lot of it's based in military, so that has to also reflect on the military culture where people want to be the good guys. They want to save the world, they want to save the day, and do those kind of things. And you see people of course have, especially in America like heavy recruitment drives.


Clinton Bader:

They'll use old war footage as propaganda and things like this. So I don't know if there's a line so much as it's just, well, it's a part of human culture, so therefore we're going to make media about it.


Dusty Weis:

Right. We have a violent society ergo, our media are also violent.


Clinton Bader:

And it's everywhere. Right? Everybody has a military. Every country has a military. So even at the very least, you're looking at something that young men in particular are maybe going to be interested in, young women too.


Dusty Weis:

It would be fair to point out at this point, that as a video game professional and a video game enthusiast, Clinton and I probably skew a little bit more in favor of video games in this discussion.


Dusty Weis:

So I also wanted to hear more from Dr. Myriam Miedzian. Who you'll recall served on President Bill Clinton's Violence Prevention Task Force and was faculty at Rutgers and Barnard. She also wrote a 1991 book on the topic called Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link Between Masculinity and Violence.


Dusty Weis:

And so, when we saw her quoted in one of those Boston Herald articles from 1996, we looked her up, and it turns out she doesn't really love the way that her research was interpreted in a lot of the media coverage of the John Lin shooting, or any of the other violent acts about which she was interviewed over the years.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

When the first edition of my book was published in 1990, there had already been 235 studies on TV violence basically, a vast majority of the studies done concluded, that viewing violence increases the odds of violence. Now, of course, that does not mean that everyone who's going to view the violence or play video games is going to turn violent. That's ridiculous.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

I mean, I often have men say to me, "Oh, I played VCR games. I watch these movies, look at me, I'm a pacifist." Or something like that. And of course, a vast majority are not affected. They don't become murderers. Well, let me put it this way. There's no way that watching videos, TV, or violent films, alone is going to turn anyone into anything serious. It's always an interaction and it makes absolutely no sense.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

I mean, the media people try to sound as if those of us who make the points that I make, are saying that, "Oh, watching violent videos or playing violent video games, all of that leads people to act violently." No, we're not saying that, we're saying that it interacts with other at risk factors to encourage violent behavior. That's very, very different.


Dusty Weis:

I think it's interesting that you bring up the media coverage aspect of this, because particularly when we're looking at news stories from this era before social media was even a factor, every piece of mass media information that we consumed at the time was coming through that filter of the mass media, the 24 hour news networks, which were just starting to really cement their footholds at that time.


Dusty Weis:

And speaking as a former member of the media myself, I know that there is a predilection to try to dumb down, very nuanced arguments and make them essentially sound bite worthy.


Dusty Weis:

Something that can snag somebody's attention and communicate a point to them, in just a matter of seconds, whether or not that point is a full distillation of the argument that's being made or not. So from your perspective, how well did the media handle its coverage of this story and stories like it in the mid to late '90s?


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

I didn't cover them well, you pointed to making things simple and easy to focus on and all that. That's the media, and they really haven't focused on the complex things that are being said about this.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

I had one experience, which I think was really pretty extraordinary. I was giving a lecture, and as soon as I'm done with this, a woman jumps up and says, "How can you say, that violence on the screen causes any of this there's poverty, there's racism, there's injustice." Da, da, da, da. She goes on and on.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

So I said, "Well, I do think that I, at least three times I believe said that it was one of many factors that interacted with other variables." Well, after the lecture was completely over, this man comes up to me and he says, "Well, I have to tell you did not say that three times." And I said, "I didn't?" He says, "No, you said it nine times." And he said, "I said, I started counting after the third time. I said, why is this woman repeating herself all the time?" And then he said, "Now I understand."


Dusty Weis:

So even Dr Miedzian, feels it's disingenuous to lay the blame for society's violence, solely at the feet of video games in media. Things like poverty, institutional racism, child rearing support, and of course, easy access to firearms.


Dusty Weis:

These are all factors she says, contribute to violent crime. How much so? Well for that, it would help to compare American society to some of its pure nations, where some of those other factors aren't as ubiquitous. Thankfully our pal Clinton Bader, happens to live in such a place.


Dusty Weis:

You now live in Seoul, South Korea and for people who aren't familiar with it, Seoul is considered the Mecca of Esports in a lot of ways. This is the center of the video game universe, for a good portion of the world, and you're in the thick of it. What can you tell me about the role of video games in South Korean society?


Clinton Bader:

It's pretty huge. It's definitely sort of almost everyone I know that's my age, or younger in Korea plays video games and not just people that I work with, obviously, of course, they're excluded from what I'm talking about here, because they're directly involved with Esports.


Clinton Bader:

But a lot of the friends I made outside of Esports, most of them play video games to some level and oftentimes quite frequently. So this is a country that has a rich history with video games, has a loving history with video games and it very much embraces it as part of its culture.


Dusty Weis:

I guess, liking it to something in American society. If you were looking at things that Americans watch and consume for entertainment, is this World Series of Poker, is this NBA, is this National Football League? What are we looking at here?


Clinton Bader:

Probably not quite NFL levels. For example, soccer is a little bit more popular than Esports for the most part here in Korea. I wouldn't say it's NFL levels then, but maybe NBA, baseball levels of popularity where it's like kind of second tier to the most popular sport.


Dusty Weis:

But millions of people are watching it and getting excited about it and talking about it around the water cooler.


Clinton Bader:

Oh, totally. Millions of people watch Esports every year in Korea.


Dusty Weis:

Safe to say that video games definitely play a larger role in Korean society, than they do here in America, even in 2022. So if violent video games cause violent behavior, we can then draw the conclusion that Korean society must be even more violent than American society. Right?


Clinton Bader:

Yeah. Well, that's starkly not true. I mean, it's just not a very violent society at all. This is generally considered one of the safest countries in the world. It's a country where you can go out at 3:00, 4:00 AM and wander the streets of Seoul, go to a park and there's no fear at all, that anything's going to happen to you. There's very, very little violent crime here, in any sense of the word, I don't think I've ever felt in danger here since I've moved here.


Dusty Weis:

I came out and I visited you, almost three years ago now. We spent a week, we roamed around, I got to follow you to an event that you called, but we went out to a bar a couple nights later and you got up to use the bathroom and left your $600 smartphone sitting on the bar unattended, while you went to use the bathroom and you came back and sat down, I'm like, "Dude, you just left your cell phone sitting there. Anybody could have grabbed it and walked away." And you're like, "No, they wouldn't have done that."


Clinton Bader:

Yeah, that doesn't happen here. It's extremely rare, even theft, even petty theft is extremely rare.


Dusty Weis:

We're talking about a society here, with more video game use. We're talking about a society, that I would argue has more alcohol use.


Clinton Bader:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

And yet none of the violence. Can you quantify exactly how much less violent crime there is in Korea than the United States?


Clinton Bader:

Absolutely. I can give you at least intentional homicide. I think that's probably one of the easiest statistics to quantify in terms of violent crime. So in Korea, in 2020, there were 308 murders total, for intentional homicides. Just to give you a baseline, Korea's a population of about 50 million people.


Clinton Bader:

So in terms of deaths per 100,000 people, you're talking at 0.6, 0.6 deaths per 100,000 people by intentional homicide in Korea in 2020. In the United States, you had 20,982 intentional homicides. So same year, and that is per 100,000 people, 6.3 died via intentionally homicide. And so that's about 10 and a half times more, in terms of the percentage per capita.


Dusty Weis:

Now you wind up traveling the world quite a bit, to do Esports play by play and commentary. You've been to Russia, to China, to Germany, to England, to all of these other places where video games also play a much larger role in society. What is the violent crime like in those places?


Clinton Bader:

It's less everywhere than the United States. Let's start that at every other country that I've been to. I think the way I want to frame this, is I want to look at the countries where people think of first person shooter games, particular in Esports as being really popular. So this is the regions that take these games very, very seriously, they play them maybe more hours than anywhere else. So start with Germany, since you mentioned that one.


Clinton Bader:

Germany in 2020, 782 deaths. So that's a 0.8 per 100,000 people, intentional homicide rate, so just a little bit more than South Korea, still significantly less. Let's look at maybe the UK, the UK is 809 deaths, this was 2018 though, but the numbers don't change too much in most of these countries, year to year, so that's 1.2 per 100,000 people, so a little bit more than Germany, still pretty high.


Clinton Bader:

Let's look at Sweden, a country that is well-known for their shooting game prowess. Let's put it that way. Similar stats to the UK, 124 total intentional homicides, so 1.2, they get the same rate as the UK, basically. So European countries, you're seeing significantly less compared to the United States.


Clinton Bader:

So, okay, let's look at Southeast Asia, for example, a region that is, let's just be honest in terms of GDP, less than the United States, less than all these countries I just talk about. So Thailand, a big time player in FPS Esports, FPS games, you're talking 1,787 deaths, so about 2.6 per 100,000 people. So more than Sweden and the United Kingdom, but still about a third of what you had in the United States.


Clinton Bader:

The Philippines, a country that does struggle with violence. That is, I think a well-known thing and especially with President Duterte and stuff, there's been some kind of issues, 4.4 per 100,000 people, so still less than the United States.


Clinton Bader:

So every country that you can look at in terms of, if you want to look at probably the most relevant statistic to this conversation, which is killing people, and I'm not even talking about guns here, when you start getting into that conversation, it's wildly less. It's crazy. There's only a few gun deaths, intentional homicides in Korea every year for example.


Clinton Bader:

Another country that we should look at. Let's look at Japan where Virtua Cop was made. Virtua Cop 2, let's focus on that one in particular because that was the one that came out in 1995. It sold 7,000 arcade cabinets or units. Right? 4,000 of those were in Japan, 3,000 globally. So most of those units were sold in Japan and in Japan and that year there was 47 intentional homicides by gun, total was 300 some.


Clinton Bader:

So still way less, and of course now in modern days, it's about 300 intentional homicides every year in Japan, and they average one gun death per year. So even looking at the country where this game was made, where it was the most popular, it's still significantly less than America.


Dusty Weis:

So are we led to conclude then, that violent crime is just a uniquely American phenomenon?


Clinton Bader:

I'd say in predominantly democratic countries, let's say modern first world countries. Yeah. I mean, there are countries that do have similar levels of violence like Brazil and Mexico, but that's often a product of different things going on. Right? Than it is anything else, so I think yeah, absolutely.


Clinton Bader:

You can't look at the countries where violent video games are the most popular, particularly Europe and East Asia, and they all have lower rates of intentional homicide. Let's just take big picture, let's take global. I think we can all say that over the last 20 years, violent video games have skyrocketed in popularity. That's just a fact.


Clinton Bader:

The copies sold have skyrocketed because of the spread of internet and cheaper computers and all these things. So the rate of overall homicide, intentional homicide globally, for everything, for everywhere, with how much video games are just a pervasive part of most societies now, the global homicide rate has slightly declined in the last 20 years.


Clinton Bader:

So it's impossible to find any correlation here, with the data, with the raw data. You just can't say that there's an increase of violence with the increase of video games, the opposite has happened.


Dusty Weis:

So what makes America so special that we have a murder rate, that's five to 10 times that of comparable nations in Europe and East Asia? Well, Dr. Miedzian says, for starters, there's our substandard support net for working families.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

A country like France has a daycare system where from the age of four months, parents who need to work at that so early, they can bring their children to the daycare. The women who work there have three years of training, in child psychology, child physiology, et cetera, et cetera.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

It's the highest imaginable quality. These teachers are respected, they're well paid. In this country a lot of kids are either in terrible daycare. I went through that, when I was looking for daycare for my children, I was horrified by some of the stuff. And also a lot of people can't even afford daycare, so their kids come home from school and they're home for three, four hours until their parents come home.


Dr. Myriam Miedzian:

It's no, they're without any care, so all of this we already have a bad situation in this country and then it's fed by the violence entertainment. So it's all these factors interact and these other countries have much, much better conditions for children.


Dusty Weis:

And then there's the factor that is so glaringly obvious, I left a tilt of bitter end. And I know this as a gun owner, it is easier to purchase a gun in America than it is in almost any other nation on the planet. Here's Lee Caraher, the former comms VP at Sega, again.


Lee Caraher:

I don't mean this to be political, but if you think about how most death by guns happens by 18 to 21 year old men, who have access to guns, if you don't have access to guns, you can't do it. Right?


Lee Caraher:

But 18 to 20 year old men, which you would imagine is straight dumb smacked in the middle of video game. That's when they're playing video games, well we know today that the 36, 37 year old is the average age of a video game player, so you can't equate the two.


Lee Caraher:

If you looked at the straight numbers, the numbers don't track if you don't have the laws for gun control. When the gun control laws change, access changes, that's when the numbers change, when you don't have access, you don't get it.


Dusty Weis:

So let's recap then. Given 30 years of context, the Boston Police theory that playing Virtua Cop turned John Lin into a trained killing machine, ages poorly. Sure, playing a game like Virtua Cop might improve your hand-eye coordination, your twitch reflexes, your ability to make quick calculated decisions, but so does playing ping pong.


Dusty Weis:

And when a meathead punches out another meathead at the bar, nobody blames the CrossFit Gym where he lifts weights. Right? As to the broader question about whether violent video games or movies or TV, make a person more likely to commit acts of violence? Folks like Dr. Miedzian will tell you that there are some data to back that up, but it's almost always in combination with other factors that are much more likely to correlate with violent behavior.


Dusty Weis:

Lack of access to mental health services, lack of support for working families, poverty, institutional racism, and ease of access to guns. That's a uniquely American cocktail of societal problems, that is to blame for our uniquely violent society. And so if there's a public relations takeaway from this story, maybe it's this, that when a public official, a politician or a member of the media blame of video games for an act of violence, it's probably just because they'd rather not address any of those other issues.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks once again, to Lee Caraher, Dr. Myriam Miedzian and Clinton "Paperthin" Bader for sharing their insights for this episode. Stick around after the credits for a little more with Clinton, by the way, because we have an ongoing project with him, here at Podcamp Media that we are dying to tell you about.


Dusty Weis:

If you enjoyed the show, subscribe, tell your friends and follow Podcamp Media on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, or TikTok. Hilariously, we had a TikTok video go viral recently that had, nothing to do with podcasts, and now I'm in licensing talks about using the clip for cable TV shows. So I don't know, the internet is weird guys.


Dusty Weis:

Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production services for businesses. Our podcast studios are located in the heart of beautiful downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, but we work with brands all over North America.


Dusty Weis:

Check out our website, podcampmedia.com. Larry Kilgore III helped out with dialogue editing for this episode. Beatrice Lawrence, our production assistant and intern. Until the next time folks, thanks for listening, I'm Dusty Weis.



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