On the 31st July, UK tabloid newspaper The Daily Mirror led with a front-page story on recent video game phenomenon Fortnite, with a headline which read "Fortnite made me a suicidal drug addict". The page goes on to describe the story as a "teen's video game hell", saying "a boy's obsession with video game Fortnite ruined his life and drove him to a suicide bid".
The story continues further with a double-page spread inside the newspaper; the 17-year-old son describes his "addiction" to the game - and how this led him to attempt taking his own life - while his parents express their belief that Fortnite is to blame for their son's troubles, their shame at not spotting these problems, and the fact that they had called in Lancashire-based counsellor Steve Pope (whose website is later promoted in the article, we feel compelled to add) to help their son to overcome them.
The headline sparked immediate outrage among those in the gaming media, industry, and video game fans in general on social media, not only because - in their eyes - a video game had once again become subject to what appears to be a sensationalist and potentially damaging headline, but also because of the story's apparent lack of sympathy, understanding, or care towards the true nature of addiction, depression, and mental health as a whole.
Exploring how the story came into being further, Eurogamer has posted a report detailing how its author, Matthew Barbour, conducted the piece, and how dedicated gaming press and mainstream tabloid media have a clear, unsettling divide. The report mentions how "mainstream media often report on case studies such as these - when normal lives go wrong, essentially," going on to explain that these stories are often "bought by newspapers and the journalists who work for them from news agencies who in turn have paid people for their stories".
It turns out that Barbour has a history of paying members of the public for stories of negativity surrounding video games. Two years ago, Barbour offered £100 to anyone who could provide any negative information surrounding the use of Pokémon GO, even offering to plug an organisation or charity in return. In an online request, he said that he was "urgently trying to speak to anyone who plays [Pokémon GO] who can describe any potential negative effects - maybe it's affecting their sleep, their relationship, their work etc".
Eurogamer explains that video games aren't the only area that Barbour has preyed on in the past, saying that "Barbour took to NetMums to 'desperately' request updates from victims of the Manchester bombings. 'We can pay a good fee...' Barbour wrote".
Ryan Brown, a games writer for the Daily Mirror, took to Twitter to say that the newspaper's print team have no contact with the gaming specialists employed by the publication. He describes his frustration at the story being run by the newspaper, claiming that "there's no point in having games coverage" when stories like this appear on the front page.
These events all come together to form one large cause for concern; with a drive for sales, internet clicks, and wider attention, certain outlets within the mainstream media are much more concerned with generating sensationalist headlines than covering topics with the care and attention they need. The Daily Mirror has dedicated games journalists who specialise in the area, but they weren't consulted. The topic itself surrounds the vitally important and sensitive topic of mental health, but the story disregards its complexity for the sake of a parent-scaring headline.
Eurogamer went on to ask the article's author for a response to questions around his process. His response? "Am I being paid to provide these answers?"