Legal Opinion: How games inspire the murder of innocents (and why that isn’t their fault)


By on April 11, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I’ll tell you why games do not cause murders. Of course, you already know this. However, with all the negative attention games have received on this topic lately, it’s good to look at how games may actually influence the minds of killers. (And to justify that trollish headline.)

Because really, any violent media can inspire someone to kill in a certain way—including video games. It’s been proven. But while the anti-gaming lobby would have you believe that this means games cause murder and should be censored, they are very much mistaken.

To understand why, we need to look at what leads people to murder.

What causes murder?

Proving murder requires proof of deliberate action, or at least extreme recklessness. The stronger the proof of intent, the stronger the case against the accused. Proving the underlying cause, or motive, is important.

To broadly generalise, most murders come from one or more of five causes.

  1. Poverty: Many crimes are committed out of a short term need for money, such as a burglary gone wrong.
  2. Low social acceptance: Most of the crimes on which games took some blame for were crimes of loneliness. These feelings led to a desire to seek revenge on those who had “wronged” them.
  3. Sudden anger: So called “crimes of passion” where an ordinary person flies into a sudden fit of rage, as was my reaction upon finding that Kelly didn’t make the cut for the final Mass Effect 3 DLC.
  4. Drugs, alcohol, and other foreign influences: People do weird things under the influence, so drugs are bad, ‘kay?
  5. Peer pressure: Some just want to belong. Murderous peer pressure leads to gang warfare and political assassinations.

Neither violent games, movies, or television are on the list. These play a different role entirely.

Media inspires but gives no motive

No evidence has linked the amount of violent media a person consumes with the rate of crime. While increasing poverty, drugs, or peer pressure will lead to more crime, greater exposure to violent media will not. Peer-reviewed studies confirm that you’re just as likely to go on a drug-fuelled Killdozer rampage after watching one violent movie as you are after watching a hundred.

You may, however, decide the Killdozer needs to ride again after reading this glorified account of Marvin Heemeyer.

The copycat effect is a proven phenomenon, and movies, news reports, and games are all potential inspirations. In 1998, Mario Padilla and Samuel Ramirez stabbed Mario’s mother forty five times. Their motive was poverty, because they needed money. They needed money to buy ghostface costumes and a voice changer to go on a killing spree in the style of Scream.

Two other ghostface-style killings followed shortly after. Thierry Jaradin stabbed a fifteen year old girl while wearing the costume after she refused to go on a date. A French teenager known only as “Julian” wore the costume and stabbed a fellow student to death after rejections by other girls. In both cases, the motive was loneliness.

Did Scream play a role in the murders? Yes. But would they have occurred had it not been for Scream? Yes again. The copycat effect suggests that impressionable killers are looking for instruction, inspiration, or justification for the motives they have.

Copycat killers will kill in a certain way, because (perhaps) it has proven shock value. Because the killings would draw attention and make them famous, because the media love a sensationalist story. Or, they could point to media and say “Other people made me what I am, so I am not to blame.”

Again, this is not the deluded ramblings of a gaming apologist. Every university study on copycat crimes has found no causal connection between the media inspiration and the crimes committed. In every crime linked with a violent film or video game, the crime would have been committed anyway, for the underlying motive was there all along. As was the willingness to seek a justification.

Copycat inspiration is everywhere

If some people are so impressionable, couldn’t we just censor the muse? Remove the impressions? That’s what the anti-game politicians say, after all.

No, we can’t.

Impressionable would-be killers actively seek out inspirations, instructions, and justifications for their murders (…) in the absence of any one source of inspiration, another one will take its place

Violence is everywhere. The news reports killings as they happen, often in the goriest details possible. Violent films hit the cinemas every week. YouTube lets you watch uncensored videos of people being hurt. Even a basic Google image search shows some pretty nasty stuff.

The oft-repeated counter-argument to this is that the interactivity, and seeming innocence of gaming makes it unique. An all-pervasive, malign influence on the mind… like Mass Effect’s reapers.

Yet the copycat effect is not some passive, invisible influence. It has no effect on a reasonable, guarded mind. Instead, impressionable would-be killers actively seek out inspirations, instructions, and justifications for their murders. If not Scream, then perhaps Grand Theft Auto. If not Grand Theft Auto, then CSI. If not CSI, then whatever’s being glorified by the media right now.

In the absence of any one source of inspiration, another one will take its place. Neither video games, news reports, nor films are any worse than each other. They may, however, all serve as inspiration to a vulnerable person. And this is why they mistakenly take the blame.

If we accept this, then the solution to increasing violence is not censorship. Rather, it is providing better role models for the impressionable. Removing drops from the ocean will not address the underlying motives behind murder. In the absence of positive influences on people, you cannot take zero from zero to make two.

10 comments (Leave your own)

Its been ages since I have seen a PC game deduct points from killing the “good guys” or civilians


If two star crossed lovers take their lives in the grand pursuit of love, would the headlines cry foul over Shakespeare? Indeed the copy cat nature exists, be it from stories, music, movies or games. Even Metallica were once bemoaned for inspiring suicides with the lyrics to their song “Fade to Black”.

People are captivated by the personalities and stories told, regardless of the format used to tell it. It influences lives and inspires people to want to be as important, or special, as the people of these tales. This can be an asset to encouraging people to pursue goals in life, or to achieve things beyond that which they dreamed. Though, as mentioned in the article, sometimes the source of inspiration and idol-ism comes from a place that is not wholesome, or desirable, in a way that “normal” society would ever want to recreate, not a role model that you would steer someone towards.

Story telling has always been part of how we teach each other things, and modern day stories have a greater number of vehicles in which to deliver it. Games are as valid for stories as a movie, song or book, and the dark and light has equal need, or right, to be presented there as in any other media. Without the bad where is the measure for good? Without wrong, where is right? Do you tell the story of Jesus without Satan, or Adam and Eve minus the Serpent? Corruption and greed, or violence and murder, it is all as much a part of our world as any acts of heroism and selflessness.

The final accountability however can only ever be held to the individuals of any copy cat, or inspired, act. But maybe as a whole, as humanity, we should take on some of the responsibility by asking ourselves how some of the perpetrators of such acts were outcast enough, angry enough, or poor enough to feel like there actions were valid and an appropriate course of actions for them. Then again, there will always be some that “just want to watch the world burn” (thanks Alfred)


I’m mashing the ‘like’ button but nothing’s happening!!!

Seriously though, this pretty much nails it. In all my studies of violent crime, particularly its causes, video games, movies and media didn’t rate a mention as a cause. As an inspiration for the act itself? Possibly, but even that is loosely translated. But the underlying motivator? No. No one in their right mind without heavy extenuating factors plays a video game and thinks its a good idea to go copy it afterwards, no matter what scaremongering tactics the news chooses to employ to try and say otherwise.


Its been ages since I have seen a PC game deduct points from killing the “good guys” or civilians

S.W.A.T. 4 comes to mind. That was a good title. You could go through a level with a taser and a paintball gun full of pepper spray balls and be completely non lethal. Actually that was the optimum way to play from memory.

Also hooray! A legal opinion that isn’t about DRM. Cheers Patrick!


ctrl-f leliana / kelly = nothing…

slipping up Pat…. slipping

but tops article!


Blaming an anti-social act as having been inspired by media/entertainment is an easy way for people to deny personal responsibility.

Is this another one of those “First World” issues.

People who are going to commit crimes will do it regardless of what ‘inspires’ them. For someone to become inspired you need to have an interest in the subject to begin with.

I wonder what games Kim Jong-Un is playing?



I wonder what games Kim Jong-Un is playing?



Patrick Vuleta

ctrl-f leliana / kelly = nothing…

slipping up Pat…. slipping

but tops article!

You’re right! I have rectified the oversight immediately!

Thanks for the comments everyone!


There’s this thing called culture that won’t take responsibility for its actions. Culture feeds our knowledge, which provides our experiencing mechanisms through thought. If games inspire killing then we better phase out our military machines because they often inspire games. In fact it is the corporate ‘military machine’ that does so much harm but it all comes through culture. It’s economically relevant these days to kill and to support killing – but we won’t take responsibility. Let’s just blame computer games – no one plays them anyway.

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