Last week thieves broke into our house while we were sleeping, entering through an unlocked window in our living room. According to the detective assigned to our case, they knew what they wanted. They took my PS3 and Xbox 360 (and corresponding controllers), my Macbook computer, and approximately fifty games.
They ignored our flat-screen TV, stereo system, a 3DS in a case sitting next to the Macbook, and my Wii with controllers nearby. Feel free to joke about 'left-behind hardware' in the comments section. I'm ready for some levity. :-)
The detective called this a "crime of opportunity," which he explained as a crime committed without planning or premeditation. A perpetrator discovers he has a chance to act and seizes it, in most cases taking advantage of the owner's carelessness.
Word to the wise: a Beatles Rock Band drum set in clear view just inside an unlocked window has 'crime of opportunity' written all over it.
We assume such things don't happen in small-town Indiana where I live, but they do. After a couple of sleepless nights wondering if they might return, I began to focus on something far more positive and, it turns out, longlasting.
When I tweeted that we'd been robbed, I received well over a hundred responses - replies, direct messages and emails from online friends - nearly all of whom I've never met, expressing concern and offering me and my family encouragement. Several shared their own theft stories and reminded me that our safety far outweighs a list of missing stuff.
Gamers (and I use that term broadly to include anyone who enjoys games) are routinely depicted in our culture as antisocial, self-absorbed indviduals who lack empathic impulses. Violent games have desensitized us to the pain and suffering of others, and we simply don't take time to reach out to one another like our parents and grandparents learned to do. We start flamewars and issue homophobic epithets to strangers through our headsets. Gamers aren't very nice, and we prove it in all sorts of ugly ways.
Except when we don't. I've walked away from this unnerving experience with an unexpected feeling of hope - a reinvigorated sense of faith in the community of gamers I'm part of here and elsewhere. Kindness and generosity aren't difficult to find in these parts, especially when you're in a tough situation and need a little support.
The next time you hear somebody paint this community with a broad ugly brush, consider mentioning a few more nuanced portraits:
- Somebody asked me for a list of games I lost to see if she could send me a replacement or two. "I can't afford to buy you new ones, but I have a few games on my shelf I'd happily send if you need them."
- Somebody sent me a detailed set of instructions for tracking my PS3 through Sony's theft response system.
- Somebody shared his own experience with a break-in while his family slept upstairs. He cautioned me that such an event can be more traumatizing than we might expect, and he was right.
- Somebody reminded me to feel compassion for the people who did this. They are likely suffering in ways we often neglect to consider, and he was right.
- Somebody offered to organize a collection to raise money to replace the games I lost.
- Dozens of people went out of their ways to simply say they were sorry to hear what happened. I read every one and shared them all with my wife. Wonderful and welcome gestures for which we're grateful.
One more related and lovely anecdote. Last night I turned on a PS3 from school and logged onto PSN. Within seconds a text message arrived on my phone from a dear friend: "You get a new ps3? Bc yr online and i want to make sure its not yr burglar."
I think 'crime of opportunity' describes what happened to us perfectly. The break-in provided an ironic opportunity for me to experience something good and pure about another community I inhabit. Both places have their dark sides, but I live in both, buoyed by people with gentle spirits and kind hearts.