Games can influence the minds of killers, but that doesn't mean games are to blame.
By Patrick Vuleta 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.
- Poverty: Many crimes are committed out of a short term need for money, such as a burglary gone wrong.
- 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.
- 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.
- Drugs, alcohol, and other foreign influences: People do weird things under the influence, so drugs are bad, ‘kay?
- 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.
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.