UK tabloids point the finger at Call of Duty, GTA in coverage of 15-year-old TalkTalk hacker

Papers zero in on "violent video game addict" who wanted to be a pro COD player.

The UK tabloids this morning report the 15-year-old arrested for hacking TalkTalk was a "violent video game addict" who wanted to be a professional Call of Duty player.

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The front page of this morning's Daily Mail.

The Daily Mail's front page called the boy "a baby-faced loner who rarely leaves his bedroom".

The paper looked at the boy's blog and used it to accuse him of being "obsessed with violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto".

The boy, from Ballymena in Northern Ireland, "spent hours playing violent video games such as Call of Duty, Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto" from the age of 10, the Mail claims.

The Mail also picked up on the boy's aspiration to become a professional Call of Duty player, and printed pictures of Call of Duty ("killing"), GTA ("criminal mayhem") and Resident Evil ("ghoulish violence").

The Mail's narrative portrays the boy as a loner who is "addicted" to violent video games. It then describes Call of Duty gameplay, mentioning a scene in which the player causes a Tube train to derail and explode.

It also mentions Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik claimed he had "trained himself" to kill his 77 victims by playing Call of Duty.

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The Daily Mail's report continues.

The Mail then goes on to discuss eSports, which, it says, sees games "played in competitions watched by thousands in arenas and broadcast to millions online".

There's also a description of Grand Theft Auto, with the expected reference to picking up prostitutes, having sex with them before beating them to death.

Resident Evil also comes under fire. The Mail says Capcom's horror series was a favourite for Aaron Alexis, the US gunman who killed 12 in 2013 at a Washington naval base.

The Daily Mail does not mention it has asked Activision, Rockstar or Capcom for comment on the story. Eurogamer has approached the publishers to see if they wish to respond. Capcom declined, but their community manager, Neil Gorton, took to Twitter to express his personal opinion:

The Sun also goes with the story of the "reclusive" TalkTalk hacker on its front page, but waits until page five before mentioning he wanted to become a professional Call of Duty player.

"He told web pals he wants to be a professional gamer playing violent war game Call of Duty - despite losing 26 of his 28 battles," The Sun reports.

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The Sun also mentions the teenager's love of Call of Duty.

Both reports relegate claims the boy suffered from learning disabilities, ADHD and behavioural problems to background paragraphs. Neither report highlights the issue of parental responsibility.

The broadsheets are more reserved in their coverage, but The Daily Telegraph also runs with the gamer angle, both in a small story at the foot of its front page, and in a larger report on page 13, which carries the headline: "Gaming-obsessed teenager held over TalkTalk hack". The Telegraph also mentions the teenager wanted to become a professional Call of Duty player.

The Independent and The Guardian downplay the gamer angle further. The Independent mentions in passing the teenager "described himself as a keen video game player". The Guardian fails to mention video games at all.

The TalkTalk hacker story is yet another example of the UK tabloids pushing the "loner violent video game addict" angle in its reporting of real world crime.

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The broadsheets are more reserved in their coverage of the TalkTalk hacker. Here's The Daily Telegraph's front page, with its story relegated to a news in brief item.

In 2014 The Daily Mail linked the stabbing of a Leeds teacher to Dark Souls - a report that was disputed by the Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE).

In the second paragraph of the report, the Daily Mail described the schoolboy as "a depressed loner who spent long periods online playing ultra-violent video games".

And in 2012 UK tabloids The Sun and The Daily Express blamed video games for a tragic US school massacre.

The Sun carried the front page splash: "KILLER'S CALL OF DUTY OBSESSION", saying Adam Lanza, who took his own life after murdering 20 children at Sandy Hook, was "addicted to controversial vid game".

Then, in a double page spread inside the paper, titled "BLACK OPS BUNKER", The Sun alleged 20-year-old Lanza spent hours playing "bloodthirsty computer games such as Call of Duty" in the basement of his mother's house.

UKIE CEO Dr Jo Twist told Eurogamer:

"There is no link between addiction or antisocial behaviour and playing games as part of a balanced diet of entertainment. Games are played by millions of people safely and sensibly every day and the games industry takes its responsibility towards players, especially younger ones, seriously.

"Just like any other mature medium, games deal with adult themes, but the PEGI age ratings are robust and there to guide parents and children around what content is appropriate for different ages."

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About the author

Wesley Yin-Poole

Wesley Yin-Poole

Deputy Editor

Wesley is Eurogamer's deputy editor. He likes news, interviews, and more news. He also likes Street Fighter more than anyone can get him to shut up about it.

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