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Three teens were arrested in Gaston County, North Carolina earlier this week for a string of arsons. The nineteen year olds set eight cars and one vacant home ablaze. They also stole valuables from the cars they set on fire and face up to 20 charges. According to WSOCTV, police say the teens got the idea from playing Postal 2.
I'm not sure what I'm sicker of - reading news stories that link video games and violent behavior, or reading news stories that defend video games in the wake of these stories. This is the last time I'll be writing a counterargument to that type of news story. I punched "Gaston County" and "Postal 2" into Google to survey coverage on this story and all but one article on the first page was a gaming site. The only non-gaming site on that first page was the original story on WSOCTV's site...which was ninth from the top. Gamers are quick to defend themselves when confronted with these stories - a pretty natural response to the media claiming your hobby is boot camp for criminals - but we probably end up giving this story much more exposure than it deserves.
I'm so sick of hearing both sides of this stagnant issue by now and I'd like to say gamers could just ignore these news stories from now on and it'll go away. However, it seems like the media is intent on rolling out stories like this on a conveyor belt and it requires at least an attempt at a response. To balance my desire to reply to the articles that allege violent crimes are the result of gaming and my desire to not rehash this same argument over and over every time such an article crops up, I've written a form response. Whenever there's an incident of teenage criminal stupidity reportedly caused by gaming, feel free to print out this article and fill in the proper nouns to fit the specific story:
A teenager from ____________ was arrested today on charges of __________________. The suspect allegedly told police he was acting out something he had seen in the popular video game _____________________. Teachers at his school described him as an introverted but intelligent "loner." He could serve up to _________ time in jail if convicted.
I was happy to see that the original article by _________________ cited research that linked violent video games with aggressive behavior. However, while there has been a considerable amount of research on the subject, there has been no direct causal link established. While people who play violent video games may act more aggressively than people who do not, correlation does not imply causation. Playing the violent video games does not necessarily cause aggressive behavior, much less criminal behavior. Yet video games are given a disproportionate amount of attention in these cases. I understand it makes for a much easier article to just say, "a teenager who played a lot of video games committed a crime," and leave it at that. It requires no digging into deeper causes for the teenager's behavior, whether it is negative peer influence, poor parenting, or mental imbalance.
Yes, I went there. Chris Rock had a bit about the Columbine kids in one of his stand-up comedy specials: "Everyone wants to know what kind of music was they listening to? Or what kind of movies was they watching? What happened to 'crazy'?" I have no doubt that the various teenage killers supposedly "trained" by video games would have been just as screwed up in the head if they had never played a minute of Doom. However, the media gives these teenagers - and every negative influence on them that led to the crime - a free pass by believing them when they say "I wanted to steal a car like in Grand Theft Auto. That's why I did it." Or, "I learned that chokehold from Mortal Kombat."
Does anyone really think these teenagers are supernaturally compelled to do whatever they see in a video game? Are we really this delusional? Why are video games and other media only this magically influential when it comes to negative effects? I've yet to read a news story with the headline "Gospel Music Drives Teen to Organize Food Drive." We're personally responsible for positive actions but blame is pushed off for negative actions. Good is internal, evil is external. It's harder and less pleasant to explain, say, external reasons for a person being charitable (maybe the kid organizing the food drive is doing it to beef up his college applications) or deep, internal reasons for horrible acts like shooting up a school. So the media avoids it, and goes for the easy, linear story: a video game warped the mind of an innocent kid and he turned into a hardened criminal. It's lazy journalism that only serves psychology researchers trying to tally up the number of "video game-inspired crimes" per year and politicians looking for anecdotes for video game legislation.