Video Game Store Swatting Victims Tricked Into Making Things Worse
Swatting hoaxes are already bad enough, but what happened at this privately owned video game store in New Jersey is just a sign that things are getting worse.
CBS 2 reports that the Digital Press Video Game store in Clifton NJ (a store I have personally shopped at in the past), which was previously used in filming episodes of Impractical Jokers and The Angry Video Game Nerd, was the site of a massive swatting hoax during its latest NAVA Gamers' Gathering event. This monthly meeting of the North Atlantic Video Game Aficionados are open to the gaming community and filled with tournaments, contests, retro games, trades and more, usually going until the midnight hours. This past weekend's event was met with a near fatal incident due to the actions of a nefarious and anonymous coward.
The harmless attendees noticed a growing police presence on the streets outside of the store, to which they ignored, thinking that it was related to something else going on down the street. The store received a phone call from someone claiming to be the Clifton Fire Department, ordering them to lock down the store and close their blinds due to the event outside. The people inside complied, closing the store off, and inadvertently escalating the situation to the police outside, since it looked like someone had something to hide inside the building in question. The caller then tried to incite someone to run outside and yell warnings to the police about a gun, which would likely result in that person being shot. In response to this, the people inside realized they were the center of this horrible hoax and dialed 911 to explain everything to the police.
Here's what Digital Press Video Games' web admin Frankie Viturello said to Kotaku about the incident:
The store is owned/operated by Joe Santulli, one of the curators of the upcoming Videogame History Museum in Frisco Texas. Joe is always present at these events and is a gracious and fun host to all. He gives back to the classic gaming community in every conceivable way.
Our "NAVA" events are monthly, open to all and run from about 2PM to midnight. It's an incredibly friendly atmosphere filled with swap-meet style sales and trading of classic game merchandise, high score contests, tournaments and classic console and arcade free-play sessions.
Everything seemed normal to everybody up until the 8 PM hour when we noticed that Clifton police were converging on the streets outside of the store. We speculated that there was some type of armed conflict going on in one of the other businesses on the street, so we told the attendees to lock and stay as far away from the front entrance as possible and/or to converge in the basement of the store (where several of us were already hanging out and chatting about game-related things).
After the police didn't disperse we started listening to local police bands on our smartphones (what a wonderful age of digital technology when you can literally just download an app and start listening in to police radio). We noticed that there was some chatter about the ongoing incident but they weren't mentioning what business on the street it was happening at. (Turns out since it was reported as happening in Digital Press they likely didn't want to raise any awareness to the potential "shooter" inside).
This went on for the better part of an hour as the police shut down the street and slowly SLOWLY converged on the establishment. At one point during that time an individual called the store claiming to be a representative of Clifton's Fire Department and instructed an unsuspecting employee to close the store's front window blinds. They willingly complied with the first request, which wasn't too out of the ordinary (and, really, what do we know about protocol in these situations). Only when the caller then attempted to instruct the employee to go outside and shout something to the effect of:
"Clear the area, somebody has a gun!"
did they realize that something wasn't right and that they were being coaxed into doing things to escalate the potential for police violence against each and every one of the innocent bystanders at the event.
As we listened on via the police scanners in the basement we heard this all playing out in parts still generally ignorant of what was going on outside or that it was actually us that was the target of a swatting prank.
After the mystery caller made his "big play", Joe Santulli called the Clifton Police to explain and ask what was going on. He explained to them that this was a regular gathering/party atmosphere of friendly individuals and that there was certainly no shooting, gunman or hostage situation.
All that taken into account by the Police on hand, police protocol still dictated that they needed to enter the building to asses the threat in full riot gear with assault weapons, address each of us individually, take each person out individually, handcuff each of us, and sit us down in the business next door to Digital Press for approximately 20 minutes where we waited for them to clear the store, do a sweep, confirm that it was a hoax and then remove our cuffs and take our personal information down.
While it was certainly a very dangerous situation with a motivated individual who attempted to do everything possible to cause the potential for physical harm, I feel that the Clifton Police acted appropriately, were professional throughout and when the event was over some of them even hung around NAVA (which restarted immediately after the event) probably because they wanted to make sure that we were safe ... but we could tell that they were interested in the crates of Atari and NES merchandise out for sale/trade.
The classic gaming community is a very tightly knit one and as much as some of us were momentarily rattled by the swatting, we were back to discussing potential themes for next month's events within an hour of it happening.
We're thinking all "law-enforcement" themed games and tournaments for next month's event (NARC, Lethal Enforcers, Virtua Cop, etc.).
We can't publicly speculate on the individual responsible or their motivations during any police investigation into the matter, however the police are looking into the cause and individual(s) responsible.
We here at Arcade Sushi are against all forms of harassment, especially when it comes to anything related to video games, and swatting is one of the worst possible forms of harassment there are in our community. Swatting not only wastes the precious time of law enforcement officers and emergency service workers, it wastes taxes, as these kinds of events cost money to properly and swiftly address. Also, the threat of bombs, guns or any other potentially dangerous situation raises the likelihood that an innocent person, whether involved with the swatting or not, could be shot by accident. We hope that every swatter out there gets caught and faces the full extent of the law. More importantly, we implore all of our readers to never become involved with anything as nefarious as swatting.