Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teen loved 'violent' video games, police say

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
(screenshot from MobyGames)

I was struck by this headline, "New Mexico teen accused of family slaughter loved 'violent' video games, police say."

Apparently, this 15-year-old 'video-game fanatic' killed his parents and three younger siblings. Not only that, he "contemplated shooting up a local Walmart and killing his 12-year-old girlfriend's parents," too, and the sheriff solemnly explains how this young killer loved violent video games.

I don't know anything about this kid, or about the crimes he's accused of committing, but this is certainly a tragedy. Don't get me wrong about that. However, I have to wonder how many 15-year-old boys don't like 'violent' video games. What does this really tell us, that he's just like every other kid in that respect?

I'm no kid, but I certainly love computer games. I own hundreds of games, myself, since I've been playing them for decades. And all but two or three could probably be described as "violent." Sure, you can play card games on the computer, I suppose. Even I play Free Cell.

But I like role-playing and strategy games, and they're almost always violent. Of course, it's not always graphical violence,... but often, it is. And I guess I can't see 15-year-old boys being big fans of solitaire on the computer. So how is the fact that this kid loves violent video games even relevant? Wouldn't it be far more unusual if he didn't?

This article mentions two specific titles as examples: "Modern Warfare" and "Grand Theft Auto."  The first, I'm sure, refers to the popular Call of Duty series of games, of which, according to Wikipedia, 100 million copies have been sold, so far. (Actually, that's as of November, 2011, so it's probably a lot more than that now.)

Grand Theft Auto is another admittedly-violent game series - one which professional worriers love to hate - and it has even higher sales figures. Again from Wikipedia, it has sold 114 million copies, as of September, 2011 (and, again, it's likely to be far higher than that now, in 2013).

Now, I've never played either of these particular games, but I know they're violent. Still, when you've got more than a hundred million people playing these games, and one of them commits a violent crime, why would you even bring it up? Why would you imagine that this kid's enjoyment of video games is even relevant?

Now, true, I would imagine that nearly every 15-year-old boy who commits a crime - a crime of any kind - probably likes 'violent' video games. The odds are certainly good, I'll give you that. But the odds are equally good that 15-year-old boys who are perfectly law-abiding also like these games. I pointed out the sales totals for two specific game series, but there are far more games out there than just those two - and there's violence in nearly all of them.

So what does that tell us? It doesn't tell us that 15-year-old killers tend to like violent video games, but that 15-year-old boys tend to like violent video games (just like some of us who aren't 15).

Suppose the headline had read, "New Mexico teen accused of family slaughter was a Christian, police say." It's true. In fact, his father was a former pastor (and a former "jailhouse chaplain"). Actually, if you look at these mass killings in America, they're almost all perpetrated by Christians. Shouldn't we be looking into that?

Is there something about being raised Christian which makes you more likely to go on a killing spree? Or should we expect that most of these young killers are Christian just because most Americans are Christian? You might have thought that headline was reasonable, but would you have thought that my version of it was reasonable, too? If not, what's the difference?

I should point out that this kid had ready access to four guns, including an AR-15 assault rifle, a weapon whose only purpose is to kill large numbers of people quickly. I don't know which gun he used in these killings (I know which gun he would have used, if he'd gone through with his plans to "shoot up" a local Walmart), because that's not even mentioned in the article.

Apparently, that's not important. Indeed, they don't mention the guns at all until two-thirds of the way down the page. And even then, it's just one line.

Well, guns don't kill people, right? No, Christianity video games kill people, I guess (or pixels, at least).


Jim Harris said...

Violent video game players are like gun owners, most don't go out and kill people. So, do we ban guns and violent video games because some people that love them end up killing people?

There is a difference. You can't actually kill someone with a video game. What we have to find out if our society is promoting violence overall that push some crazy people to start shooting. I can only assume a crazy person will become a mass murderer. Even in societies with few guns, some people go nuts and start killing other people.

My worry is violent video games educate those people to think of guns instead of knives or fists. We are a gun obsessed society. Even the people who don't own guns love video games with guns, or movie heroes with guns.

WCG said...

"My worry is violent video games educate those people to think of guns instead of knives or fists."

Jim, if it's spur-of-the-moment violence, unpremeditated, people are going to use whatever's readily available. If they've got a gun handy, they'll use a gun. (And since guns are much deadlier than fists, or even knives, more people will die.)

If it's planned, if it's one of these mass murder events, people will use whatever's deadliest, whatever works to kill the most people quickly and easily,... provided that it's available to them. So they won't use a knife if they can get a gun. And they won't use just any gun, if they can get an assault rifle or machine pistol.

After all, military weapons are designed to kill people quickly and efficiently (there's really no other use for them), so they're popular with mass murders if they're readily available.

They'd probably use a nuke, if they could get a nuke. But they can't, so they use those military weapons which are easily available in America. (Or maybe they wouldn't, I don't know. Maybe a nuke wouldn't be personal enough for them - and wouldn't let them enjoy their destruction before they died. I really don't know.)

You seem to think that only Americans play violent video games, but you're wrong about that. They're popular world-wide. We're a gun-obsessed country, but we aren't the only nation which plays video games. Far from it, in fact.

Would you blame Christianity because most of these people are Christians (and because there's so much violence in the Bible)? Would you blame Coca-Cola, because most of these people like soft drinks? Correlation doesn't mean causation, and there's no indication that violent video games have any effect at all on real murders.

This is like blaming pornography for rape, in the absence of any studies showing a connection. Sure, rapists often like pornography, but so do non-rapists. I'm not sure I want to compare video games to pornography, but both are subject to a lot of unjustified hysteria.

Jim Harris said...

I'm sure these mad killers would use nukes if they could get them.

For most people violent video games or porn do not lead to actual violence and rape. But I do feel that for a small percentage of people violent video games and porn do inspire them to violence and rape. I don't know how small that percentage is. I'd guess it's about the same as people who misuse guns. If you listen to rap music and it's attitude towards women, I can't help but believe that porn contributes to that. I was listening to an Eminem song the other day that was truly demeaning to women. The funny thing was a very educated woman recommended it to me. It was very catchy. It's accepted, and shouldn't be.

Some of societies problems are very subtle, and I think the acceptance of violence in video games and porn lead to subtle acceptances that do impact society for the worse.

I just read a book Half the Sky about the oppression of women around the world. In many countries they have sex slaves, and in some places very young girls are popular. I'm talking under 12. In our society we see that has horrible evil. In other societies businessmen think its okay, and in other countries their religion even endorses it. The differences between the different societies is an attitude. I think violent video games, movies and porn provide a justifying attitude for some people.

WCG said...

Jim, you're certainly free to think that, but do you have any evidence backing it up? What's the consensus among scientific researchers?

I don't think I've seen any research about computer games, but there's been a lot of research into pornography, hasn't there? And from what I've heard, it hasn't backed up your contention.

I'm evidence-based, not faith-based, so I'll accept - tentatively, of course - the scientific consensus. (Obviously, you can probably find individual researchers who'll agree with whatever you want. But what's the consensus?)

I noticed just the other day that a murderer wrote a confession blaming a movie for giving him the idea. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't. Certainly, the idea that movies cause such things is widespread, and even killers are likely to believe it (and want to excuse their actions that way).

But I'm a skeptic. I need evidence, not just belief.