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A boy and his Xbox: the death of Brandon Crisp

Brandon Crisp Cp 250 572482Sometimes I look back on my son’s teen years and wonder how we ever got through. It’s not that we had a hell-raiser on our hands, just that there’s a multitude of ways for a promising, likeable, headstrong kid to fall from the precipice of adolescence. A kid like Brandon Crisp, age 15. His funeral tomorrow in Barrie, Ontario, is expected to draw 1,000 mourners who loved him, searched high and low for him or simply know in their hearts that what happened to him could happen to their own child.

Brandon had a consuming obsession: his Xbox. In his competitive zeal for a real-time game against other players, he gave up sleep, school work and time with his family. His parents argued and punished. At last, in desperation, they did what any good parents would have done: they confiscated the Xbox. They took their stand on Thanksgiving Monday, when families celebrate the joy of being together. Next thing they knew, Brandon had vanished.

I find it almost unspeakably poignant that the Crisps thought they knew what had become of their son. Another gamer must have lured him away, they told the press. A child being held against his will is a child who can be rescued. But it was Brandon’s own formidable will, magnified by the single-mindedness of youth, that determined his fate.

Setting reasonable limits is every parent’s burden. Rebelling against limits is every adolescent’s defining mission—a healthy one, for the most part. If teens didn’t goad us, argue with us and otherwise drive us crazy, they couldn’t determine who they are and what they believe. My son, at 16, could debate his curfew with the newfound vigour of a trial lawyer on a tear. I saw him revel in the powers of his own developing mind. In the midst of my frustration, I shared his pride. I smile at the memory. But that’s because my family was lucky.

After Brandon ran away, he climbed a tree. He must have felt invincible, as adolescents do. Perhaps the sheer pleasure of the climb distracted him, briefly, from the loss of his Xbox and the fight with his parents. A teenager can swing, in a matter of minutes, from numbing despair to transports of delight, (this is one of the underrated charms of having a teen in the family). But we’ll never know what Brandon was thinking. He fell from the tree and died of his injuries. 

Brandon’s story has been cast as a cautionary tale about the dangers of online gaming. Any 12-stepper would call him an addict: he was powerless over the Xbox, and his life had become unmanageable. But as I read the news reports, I see glimmers of the boy he was and the man he might have become. He was funny, people say. And competitive: he loved to win. Hockey was his first passion, but he had the bad fortune to be small. At 12, he found himself benched in favour of bigger teammates. On Xbox, a short boy can be a star.

Brandon didn’t die for his Xbox. He died because, with the tunnel vision of adolescence, he could conceive of no other focus for his gifts. His parents must have told him that his time would come, as all loving parents do when setbacks crush their children’s spirits. But dismissing the parental world view is the prerogative of all adolescents.

I remember the danger zones that used to tempt my son in the 80s. The road (even if he didn’t drink and drive, would he step into the car with a tipsy friend at the wheel?). Our house while his father and I were away (please, not another party crashed by hordes of belligerent strangers). The late-night walks he took to clear his head (would someone mug him?). Now in addition to the real-world hazards, parents have to brace themselves for the virtual ones, with their shiny promises of power that can so quickly become an enslavement.

That most kids and their families will get through is as close as life ever comes to a miracle.

I’ve written here about the plus side of parenting a teen, and here about Holden Caulfield, literature’s most famous teen. In my own stormy adolescence, I loved what I took to be his wisdom. Now I see him as a boy who can’t leave childhood behind.


Posted by Rona

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