Grizzly Gaming

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Video games - the constant scapegoat

Police: 8-year-old shoots, kills elderly caregiver after playing video game

It’s an unfortunate story but one that has been told many times, too many times, just with the names and places changed – the media at large places the blame for a murder on video games.

In a trailer park in Slaughter, Louisiana, it was reported that an 8-year-old boy shot and killed his grandmother after playing “Grand Theft Auto 4.” According to police, the young boy was playing the game just minutes before picking up a loaded weapon and shooting his grandmother in the back of the head. The child claims it was an accident but the large news outlets which picked up the story, saw things differently –the young boy deliberately killed his grandmother because he had been playing “GTA 4.”

Now, I usually don’t like commenting on serious, tragic stories like this. The world is full of enough horror and awfulness that recounting it on a blog that focuses on a fun hobby doesn’t really help anyone. But the way this story has been presented to the public just does not sit well with me. Rather than focusing on, “How did this child have access to a loaded firearm,” the story seems to be revolving around, “He was playing a violent video game before he murdered his grandmother.”

The entire way this story has been presented smacks of the media at large looking to put an alarmist spin on what appears to be a tragic accident. In the CNN story linked above, it’s stated that there is no known motive for the crime at the moment but the sheriff’s department “implied” that because the boy was playing “GTA 4” sometime before the incident, that the video games must have been what prompted the boy to kill his grandmother. Despite the fact that there has never been one valid study which can scientifically say for sure whether or not video games influence behavior, the focus of this story is squarely on the fact that this child was playing video games before, somehow, acquiring a loaded gun and killed his grandmother.

Considering the high profile of the gun control issue in America today, it baffles me that people are not more concerned with the fact that this kid had access to a loaded firearm than the fact that he was playing video games. I know I might be alone on this but I’m gonna put it out there – 8-year-olds should not have access to loaded weapons. I know, that might be a controversial statement but it’s one I stand by (ok, ending the generous helping of sarcasm).

But seriously, how did this story become about “video games made him kill his grandmom” and not, “Why and how did this kid have a gun?” “Where did he get the gun?” “Why wasn’t his grandmother paying attention to what he was doing and supervising him?” or even, to a lesser extent, “Why was an 8-year-old allowed to play GTA 4 in the first place?”

From the way the article is written – from the very first line – a careful reader can tell that CNN (and most other outlets covering this story) are using the tired old “video games cause violence” theory to troll for as many hits as they could get – skewing the real issue (why did a child have access to a loaded gun) into something more simple (playing video games makes you a murderer).

“What! An 8-year-old intentionally shot and killed his grandmother after playing video games!?!” an easily outraged reader probably saw, without taking into account there isn’t one shred of evidence that proves the boy murdered his grandmother on purpose. The article goes on to quote the sheriff’s department’s fundamental misunderstanding of how “GTA” works, saying players are “awarded points” for killing people.

It’s an unfortunate side-effect of the 24-hour news cycle but sometimes, too often depending on who you ask, the media will present stories in a way that ensures they get the most the views and rile up the most attention rather than delving into what caused the issue and how it can be changed for the better. And, for some reason, the issue of “whether or not video games cause violent tendencies” is always sure to get attention – turning a tragic accident in a small town in Lousiana into an issue over whether a portion of our pop culture turns people into violent, killing machines.

There’s no question at all that some video games aren’t meant for children, in the same way that some movies and TV shows aren’t meant for children. But all too often, parents and caregivers seem to view video games as something universally meant for children, allowing them to play games that are on par with films like “Full Metal Jacket” or “Goodfellas.” Parents need to be the ones who moderate what their children are exposed to and an incident like this should only prove that point further.

Recently, I was in a local GameStop, coincidentally, reserving a copy of “Grand Theft Auto V.” There was a woman with a child in front of me, an older woman (I’m assuming the child’s grandmother), talking to the store clerk about a video game aimed at children called “Skylanders.” It’s actually an ingenious property – to unlock new characters in the game, physical action figures must be purchased, then scanned into the game – but that’s beside the point. My point is that while a few Skylander figures were being rung up, the grandmom asked the boy with her if he wanted the new “Call of Duty” game as well. (If you don’t know, the “COD” series is a violent, military-based first-person-shooter.)

Now, I’m not the kind of person who sticks my nose into business that isn’t mine in the first place. I wasn’t about to tap the woman on the shoulder and say she shouldn’t buy that game for her grandson, nor was I going to mention to the clerk that the kid was way too young to be playing “Call of Duty” games. All I could do was sigh and shake my head (while sending out a disappointed tweet) and wonder how she could think that a violent game like “Call of Duty: Ghosts” could be appropriate for a child who couldn’t have been out of elementary school.

Then it hit me – she probably doesn’t know a thing about “COD.” Maybe she doesn’t even know about the self-enforced rating system the video game industry has in place that clearly states what age group a game is appropriate for. And that is the heart of the problem – that too often today, parents and caregivers aren’t as aware as they could/should be of what their children are watching or playing. It’s one thing to understand whether your child is mature enough for certain content, but it’s a completely different story when you don’t know a thing about the games, movies or shows your kids are watching but allow them access anyway.

Parents and the media can be upset about the violence they see in video games all they want, but until more parents actually take an interest in what their children are spending time on or with, incidents like the story of the child in Lousiana will continue to occur and video games will continue to be an easy scapegoat.


Blogger Stacie Huudson said...

Can't blame video games.They as of now accompany age restrictions.Anyways why did an eight year old have entry to a gun?Video games don't murder individuals.Guns do,that and poor parental skills.Great employment America and discover anybody to blame however the individuals specifically dependable.
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An avid gamer and long-time pro wrestling fan, stay tuned to Grizzly Gaming and the Delco Elbow Drop for game reviews and pro wrestling news.

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