I know a lot of people are going to be clamoring all over this case regarding a teen who killed his parents over the confiscation of his video game, calling for the immediate and permanent destruction of every “violent” (good luck defining this concretely) game on the market, but before that happens, I would like to say a word on this topic.
Violence in video games and its (apparent) effect on those who enjoy gaming has been an issue for quite awhile, thanks in particular to the brilliant work of one Jack Thompson, who – thank God – has been disbarred permanently from practicing law. Nevertheless, there are plenty to take up his mantle, and I’m sure this story in particular will jumpstart their position.
The judge who heard this case had a few parting words regarding the teen. Essentially, he saw the insanity plea the teen’s lawyers utilized as utterly without water, but still advocated that Halo 3 had some sort of effect on the teen’s decision-making abilities.
I will begin by saying this: of course gaming has a biochemical effect on people. Of course the type of the game someone is playing creates detectably different biochemical effects on people. But here is where I stop.
Let me be absolutely clear: violent video games do not cause violent acts. Period.
Playing video games does produce a biochemical change in the people playing them. Hell, that’s why we enjoy gaming. But just about every other life experience has an effect as well – watching movies, driving cars, doing homework, sleeping…every action has a discernible chemical effect that can influence our subsequent actions.
Here’s the crux of my argument: if the person commits a violent act, they are in need of help. With that comes the following: they shouldn’t be watching movies, they shouldn’t be driving, they shouldn’t be playing video games. They should be getting help, seeking medical attention, undergoing therapy, and being treated for their condition. If they are unable to tell the difference between the virtual reality of Halo 3 and the honest-to-goodness universe around us, then Halo 3 should not even be in the picture. Nor should there be weapons in the house, or violent movies readily available, or unsupervised driving outings, and so on.
Do you see my point? It’s not that violent video games cause violent behavior, or that they are in any way different from other stimuli that can alter our moods and perceptions. They are simply – yes, simply – another endeavor to be made aware of and approach rationally. Everyone knows getting behind the wheel when exceptionally pissed off is a bad idea; so is playing violent video games when one mentally and emotionally cannot handle it.
Me and countless friends and acquaintances should have been wanted for mass murder years and years ago if violent video games really caused violent behavior, given the quantity and quality of games we have played for more than a decade.
Oh, and as for empirical evidence: the advocates against violent video games are very aware of the fact that graphics and realism of video games have improved enormously in the last few years. What they seem to be omitting is the fact that the number of violent crimes within the primary gaming demographic – ages 12 through young adulthood – has decreased in the last several years.
For a personal anecdote, I knew someone many years ago (ancient history for some) who would play Mario Kart 64 with me, but would refuse to play Super Smash Brothers on the grounds that it was a violent game. I have a few things to say about this:
- Doing something on principle in concordance with your beliefs is fine. I have no issue there.
- If we want to compare the two games, it’s night and day. I fail to see how, if playing SSB causes me to want to beat someone to a pulp with my bare hands, playing Mario Kart would not have a similar effect in making me want to drive around as if friction didn’t exist, power sliding around the turns and swerving everywhere to avoid the obstacles and any red shells on my tail. What’s the difference? Why is SSB so much more dangerous than Mario Kart?
- Anyone who has even an average amount of gaming experience will agree that SSB is like Barbie Goes to the Mall when compared to games that are supposedly in its genre – say, Halo 3. No comparison at all. In fact, SSB is downright funny to play (turn off all items except for bob-ombs and remote bombs, and set their frequencies to “very high”. holy crap on a stick).
- What’s nonviolent about dropping bombs, firing shells, and generally using any means necessary to ensure you defeat everyone else on the race track? Is it just because everything’s brightly colored and painted with smiles?
The judge made the right call in saying that this teen was suffering from an addiction. Just make sure, gentle reader, that you don’t associate this addiction any differently from a drug addiction. The biochemical effects of an addiction are exactly the same, regardless of what the substance is that the addict desperately wants.
In closing, I’d have to say that this quote from a Slashdot reader regarding the case sums it up pretty well (as the defense lawyers argued Halo 3 caused the teen to believe his parents would simply respawn):
“Clearly Halo 3 is at fault. If they had some non-respawning game types this would never have happened…”
If you haven’t had your dose of stupidity yet, I’d invite you to check out this other Slashdot article regarding South Carolina’s recent decision to pursue a bill that would make the use of profanity a felony.
I even have a story from Facebook about gun control…but I think that’s another story for another time. Instead, here’s something to brighten the general mood:
(Edit: Here’s yet another study that shows absolutely no correlation between violent video games and subsequent violent behavior. I particularly like the bits about “moral panic” and politicians using violent video games to feign progress at their posts)