Late last week an eight year old boy shot his elderly grandmother in the head, an unknown length of time after he reportedly played Grand Theft Auto IV. News outlets across the world picked up the tragic story and immediately began to draw a connection between the video game and the death, blaming the tragedy solely on GTA. With that, Daily Reaction’s Sebastian Moss and Dan Oravasaari discuss the press, video games, and violence.
Seb: It’s always hard to do articles about incidences like this, not only because it’s an awful turn of events, but because it’s all too easy to trivialize what happened. Unfortunately, that’s already what has happened.
Major mainstream news outlets who claim to be impartial, unbiased, and all about the truth have used a horrible moment to continue their fear-mongering campaign to show video games in a negative light.
There’s a lot of debate over the question of whether violent video games have an impact on mental health, lead to a propensity for violence, or at least glamorize criminal culture, but the honest answer is ‘we don’t know’. Some studies are unable to show a correlation, while others have said that video games are beneficial to our mental well being, such as this one published this week, and different studies have said that yes, games could be bad. But we don’t know. This isn’t 95%-of-scientists-sure global warming studies, or the almost universally-accepted-by-scientists Theory of Evolution. This is unknown territory.
As Daily Reaction is an opinion piece, it makes sense for me to share my opinion – I believe that video games are unlikely to cause any real increase in violence, and may sometimes affect a small group of people who were violent to begin with and simply have something to use as an excuse. However, if this was a news article, like those that covered the shooting were, mixing in an opinion as fact is downright immoral journalism.
What we’re seeing here is the usual suspects – Fox News, CNN and the UK’s Daily Mail – add their own prejudices into articles and try to pass it off as news. We don’t know what exactly happened to lead to this death (and we may never), and at the time the news broke details were even more murky. Most outlets couldn’t agree on the age of a victim, and were reporting that the killing was intentional, based on second hand intonations of an unnamed official. At no point did any official announce that they believed there was any correlation between the child having played GTA IV and having shot his grandmother. Yet the news ran headlines that highlighted that the killing happened “after playing Grand Theft Auto”, clearly suggesting a strong correlation.
Investigators now think that the shooting was down to the child believing the gun was a toy. So that obviously begs a far more important question – why did an eight year old have access to a loaded gun? It’s horrifying to think that journalists who hear about a child playing a 17+ game and having a gun and think that the game is the most important point.
The mainstream media’s attacks on the video game industry are clear and undeniable, but the reason why this hatred exists is less clear. The leader of the anti-games pack is Fox News, who is openly pro-gun, and seem to only care about the Second Amendment. Focusing the cause of the violence on games, rather than shedding any light on any problems with guns, easily distracts readers/viewers from the important information.
We discussed this before on Daily Reaction, where we talked about an NRA-funded Senator who would immediately attack games whenever he was asked about stricter gun regulation. This is exactly the tactic Fox News, and similar outlets, have embraced. What we’re seeing is ‘the news’ telling us wrong information to stop any important debate over gun issues.
Now another issue that leads to the media’s anti-game focus is simply a lack of understanding of the games industry, with CNN talking about the “Play Station III”, and most news organizations mischaracterizing the gameplay of GTA. If the writers don’t comprehend the topic, it’s easy for them to draw the wrong conclusion.
And, finally, another reason is that fear drives sales. Publications like The Daily Mail have made their riches by declaring that most things cause cancer, that immigrants will destroy society, and that video games are perverting our kids.
The mixture of political motives, stupidity and financial interests has led to a truly sad story that highlights possible flaws in gun control, or at the very least problems with a parent/guardian’s approach to guns, being used to push a broken, dangerous agenda.
Dan: Precisely, as various media outlets want to portray the damnation of our world being brought on from the corruption of our youth through the use of video games, they in turn are destroying the sensibilities of the general public. Much like Seb had just said, these outlets are preying on the fears of parents and the population as a whole, instead of looking for the real culprit who committed such atrocious acts.
This latest incident involving an 8 year old child is a horrendous event in history, but personal responsibility needs to fall on everyone involved – including the child. Our current culture looks to reduce the responsibility of anyone we simply cannot comprehend committing such events, but this ideology that we are free to treat our world how we want without repercussions is causing everyone to look for excuses and nothing more.
No lyric in a song, nor pixel on a screen has ever committed murder, No gun has ever sought out and shot someone, those are only the actions of a person not of an object. While debating on ‘the right to bare arms’ is probably too much to try and do on a website focused on video games (I am pro, by the way), I don’t think anyone can argue that the human involved is ever devoid of responsibility.
In response to the situation, a Rockstar official said in a statement:
It is about access to guns not video games. Ascribing a connection to entertainment, a theory that has been disproven repeatedly by multiple independent studies both minimizes this moment and sidesteps the real issues at hand.
This is a true statement, it really is about the ‘access to guns not video games’ but it again would be too easy to say we need more gun control because it is the obvious culprit, not the parenting or mental prowess of the child. Should his elderly grandmother have been watching him? Why was a weapon accessible? These questions cannot be answered, simply because we are now having to have to put out fires produced by the mainstream media about the ‘correlation’ between video games and violence.
This is where we start to see the real issue and problem that the mainstream media’s fear-mongering has on the world in general – we look for relationships to justify the world around us without ever looking for the real answers. Pop-psychologists or any psychologists that usually runs into the limelight with any form of statistics to ‘correlate’ two variables is the bane of most real psychologists. The reason is really that correlation and causation are completely two different things, and depending on what factors you compare can determine your findings.
The example is simple: if you compare people who have sexual tendencies towards farm animals and those that have a high interest in becoming a farmer, you will see a correlation. Does this mean that all farmers engage in bestiality? No. This means that you are a poor psychologist that is looking for results and are failing to abide by the rules of ethical research, that are, in short – if you are hoping to find something, you will find it only because you are looking for it, not because it exists.
The general population doesn’t have the time or energy to swim through all of the bits of information that gets misrepresented as facts, and if you combine this with the general attraction to tabloid style headlines, we end up with a population that becomes stupider after being ‘informed’ than they were before.
Looking at all of the news that has been released surrounding this incident I just can’t help but feel so depressed at the mentality of the world around me. An elderly woman is dead and an 8 year old is responsible for it, perhaps intentionally, perhaps by accident, but instead of admitting to the horror of the human condition or lack of personal and parental responsibility, we point to an object and say you, you are the problem.
What do you think about the way crimes and deaths are blamed on video games in the media? Have you ever felt like a video game was making you a worse person? Share your thoughts in the comments below, email us at [email protected], or follow us on Twitter at Seb and Dan.