It's easy for parents to write off video game consoles as just another toy to take away from kids when they misbehave, neglect their studies, or just seem too hooked.
The story of missing 15-year-old Brandon Crisp, however, who ran away from home after his dad took away his Microsoft Xbox console, shows how video games can become far more than playtime possessions. In some cases, they end up intertwined with a teenager's sense of self, particularly when fed by a larger online community.
"This had become his identity, and I didn't realize how in-depth this was until I took his Xbox away," Brandon's father, Steve Crisp, told the Globe and Mail. "That's like cutting his legs off."
The younger Crisp disappeared from his Ontario home on October 13, Canada's Thanksgiving holiday, after having an argument with his parents, according to the police in Barrie, Ontario. He was last seen riding his mountain bike away from the family home along an old rail line, police said.
Exhaustive searches have proved fruitless except for the discovery of his bike found with a flat tire. A local newspaper, the family's Internet service provider, and Child Find have offered 25,000 Canadian dollars ($20,556) for information leading to his return. And Microsoft Canada matched that with another 25,000 Canadian dollars.
Microsoft is also fully cooperating with police on the case, a spokesman said. He declined to comment on the specifics of that cooperation because the investigation is ongoing.
"Like everyone, we are deeply worried about the disappearance of Brandon Crisp," the company said in a statement.
Steve Crisp told local media that he had taken away his son's Xbox after noticing changes in behavior such as skipping school, stealing money, and ignoring his studies. Brandon had recently started playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, according to reports.
"This is such an issue that hits every parent out there, with video games that are starting to control our kids' lives," Steve Crisp said in the Globe and Mail interview.
"I just took away his identity, so I can understand why he got so mad and took off," he said. "Before, I couldn't understand why he was taking off for taking his game away."
Of course, the whole thing could turn out to have very little to do with online gaming--save the fact that it may have led to Brandon's running away. But some are reportedly wondering whether the teen ran off to join his fellow gamers.
Click here for a site that offers more information on the case, but is reportedly not affiliated with the family or the police.