Violent Video Games: My Quick Opinion.

The ongoing debate is this: Do violent video games cause kids to commit violent acts, and if so, then what should be done about it?

Recent scenario: An 8-year-old boy in Louisiana shot and killed his 90-year-old babysitter, coming up behind her and shooting her in the back of the head. Just minutes earlier, the child had been playing Grand Theft Auto IV. The Grand Theft Auto series is widely known for it’s brutal violence and at-times positive depictions of gangster lifestyles. The Police have thus far determined that they do not think the shooting was a total accident; they suspect the young child’s actions were intentional, and that he knew he would hurt the woman (I am not sure why this is the case, but I am willing to accept this accusation as reasonably conceivable for now, more evidence pending.)

Of course, the big question everyone has is this: Was the child influenced to commit this crime due to playing the “Mature”-rated GTA IV, or should the video game be considered merely circumstantial to the crime?

Disclaimer: I am no lawyer, or human-behavior expert. What follows is my simple assessment. I am likely to step on a few toes, but here goes: I do believe that playing GTA IV influenced this young child’s decision to kill his caretaker. My reasoning is simple: “Garbage in, garbage out.”

I do not believe the playing of GTA IV was the sole factor. I am a huge subscriber to the “Importance of Parenting” school of thought (which I just made up), namely that parents (or surrogate parental figures) are the number 1 most important factor in a child’s development. Therefore, my conclusion is that the majority of blame belongs to his parents in some form. I cannot define specifically how without knowing his parents, but I fully believe that we could pinpoint red-flag parenting techniques if we could examine their history with their child. One of the most damning evidences of this is that the child could get the gun. I am all for gun-ownership by private citizens, but I will dang-sure keep my future firearm away from my future kid’s paws at all costs. I doubt this child’s parents were taking similar measures. The disregard for the potential danger is staggering. A second piece of damning evidence is that the kid was playing GTA IV. What kind of parent lets their 8-year-old son play GTA IV, a game where you jack-up innocent people without remorse and kill hookers to get your money back? (I will grant that GTA usually tries to paint the player character as “good” on some level, and does not glorify violence completely without shame, but nobody can deny that GTA is basically a “gangster life” simulator with all the violent and negative trappings.)

I do believe that the playing of GTA IV played a role in this child’s thought-process. I’m no Joe Lieberman-style video game hater. I don’t have time to play video games anymore, but they’ll always have a special place in my small intestine. However, I strongly believe in the proverb I mentioned earlier: “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

Who among us did not role-play our favorite video game / movie / cartoon / comic book characters when we were 8-years-old? When I was young, I played “Goldeneye 64” profusely (as did many others in my generation). I role-played the shoot-em-up multiplayer with friends all the time; running around, pretending to shoot each other, dropping dead or getting into “nuh-uh, you missed!” fights. The game had an impact on me in this fashion. “Goldeneye” was fairly innocuous as compared to many other shooters, which I think was a good quality. At any rate, I thoroughly credit my parents with instilling a rejection of gratuitous violence in myself and my siblings. In fact, we oftentimes played “Goldeneye” at my house when our parents weren’t looking, because they largely did not approve of the game (Sorry to break it to ya, mom and dad, but hey: We turned out alright.) I think this was a marvelous attitude for them to project onto us, because it always kept me conscious of why they didn’t like the game; because it was violent, and violence was bad. I would role-play “Goldeneye” and pretend to shoot my friends, but in the back of my mind I always knew that acting “Goldeneye” out for-reals would be very wrong.

In my humble opinion, I believe the situation with this young child may be similar. Most specifically: Does he have a father in his life? What kind of father is he? If he has no dad, does he have a father figure? What is he like?

I do think that this young boy, who clearly enjoyed the GTA series, was motivated by his desire to role-play what happened in the games. I postulate that either his parents are sub-par, or he basically has no parents at all. I think that this young boy was allowed to consume what I do consider to be “garbage” (I do not like GTA), and that he had no moderating influence in his life to teach him that what he was observing in the game was wrong, or at least questionable. He was consuming this garbage at a very impressionable time in his life, and the garbage was becoming a part of him. I believe that if he had someone who was taking better care of him and thought more of how he was being raised, this terrible incident could have been avoided.

Final question: What should be done about this?

The follow-up question to immediately ask is: …and who should do something about? I’ll tell you who shouldn’t do something about it: Politicians and Bureaucrats. I oppose any and all attempts by politicians to regulate video games and their content. Video games in the home need to be regulated by parents. These are the people who should do something. When I am a parent, I will be very involved in what forms of media my kids consume. I will not go over the details, but the point is that I do not want my kids to be wallowing in “garbage” without my moderating influence. I do not want to shelter my kids to the point of detriment, but neither will I allow them to mindlessly consume garbage and not recognize it for what it is. I believe that if the young boy from Louisiana had parents with a similar mindset, things would have turned out differently.

Final note: I can pinpoint a single video game that changed my entire view of violence in games. It was Metal Gear Solid 3. MGS3 is a stealth-action game where you can silently kill every single enemy you encounter, should you choose to; however, there is a  dream-sequence late in the game in which you encounter the dead and tormented souls of every enemy soldier you’ve killed (during your encounter with ‘The Sorrow’, for those in-the-know). Guys with broken necks, bloodied and bullet-riddled bodies, all screaming in agony at what you’ve done to them. It had an interesting effect on me. It was only a game, but I legitimately felt like bad person for what I had done through the course of the game. From then on, I’ve been less enthusiastic about games where you thoughtlessly rack-up huge body counts.

Zoom ahead to approximately 3:00 to see what I’m talking about.

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