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At weekly gathering, Baltimore-area gaming community reflects on Jacksonville tragedy

At a weekly happy hour held at GAME, a sports bar near M&T Bank Stadium, members of Baltimore's gaming community are disturbed by the mass shooting at a "Madden 19" tournament in Jacksonville, Fla.
At a weekly happy hour held at GAME, a sports bar near M&T Bank Stadium, members of Baltimore's gaming community are disturbed by the mass shooting at a "Madden 19" tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. (Christina Tkacik / Baltimore Sun photo)

After a long day of staring at spreadsheets in his office, Joseph Davis, 28, loves nothing more than to unwind with a few video games.

They’re “a stress reliever, an escape from reality,” Davis said, after completing a game of “Dance Dance Revolution.”

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This made him especially disturbed to hear about Sunday’s mass shooting at a “Madden 19” tournament in Jacksonville, Fla. Two people were killed and 10 others injured when alleged gunman David Katz of Maryland opened fire. The shooting brought in “the excesses of life to a place that’s supposed to be free from that,” Davis said.

He spoke Wednesday at a weekly happy hour held at GAME, a sports bar near M&T Bank Stadium. The event, called HiScore, brings together gaming aficionados and newbies to play video games and sometimes board games.

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David Katz's history of mental health troubles, from stints at Sheppard Pratt, prescribed anti-psychotic medication, fall below a legal threshold that would have prohibited him from buying a gun in Maryland.

Katz had reportedly attended the same happy hour in the past — a creepy revelation for those attending.

“Everyone’s a little freaked out,” said Alex Rabat, 28, who organizes the weekly event.

Though Rabat and Davis didn’t remember seeing Katz before, Amber Affeldt, 30, said the man’s face had looked familiar. News of the shooting, she said, had shocked her. At the bar nights, she said, “No one even throws a controller. If they have any type of aggression, they’re getting it out in the game.”

Affeldt says the weekly game nights are a perfect outlet for introverts like her, allowing them to “hang out while being alone,” she said. “If you have social anxiety you can be like, ‘I’m gonna play 1-player,’ ” she said.

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With a multitude of games set up before couches and chairs, and the lighting low, “It kind of has the living room feel,” Davis said of the place.

In the wake of a deadly shooting at a video game tournament in Florida, here are some questions and answers about the competitions and the larger world of esports.

A few seats over, 22-year-old Jazlyn McFarland has picked up the controllers to start a game of “Dragon Ball FighterZ.” Davis starts to rib her over her color selection. He can do that because they’re friends, he says.

“Friendship is magical,” McFarland says.

“Are you really quoting ‘My Little Pony’ right now?” Davis asks.

“Maybe,” she says, laughing.

McFarland, too, was troubled to learn that Katz was from the area, and had bought guns in Baltimore. “That’s also pretty scary,” she said.

Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, organizers said, the bleeps and blurps of different video games — from “Dance Dance Revolution” to “Fortnite” to “Dragon Ball FighterZ” would grow quiet. The bar will have a moment of silence for the shooting victims.

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