In this world there are some things that, when taken out of context, can be made to seem a lot worse than they are. These are easy targets that the media and politicians attack whenever they are even remotely involved in a situation and rather than try to find the actual issue and put a voice to it, the media goes after these easy targets each and every time. It’s always been a particular concern of mine, not least because I tend to be a fan of these targets in when they are in the firing line. As a result I learned the mantra that “Correlation does not equal causation” at a very early age.
We’ve all seen these things attacked. I wrote a while ago about how I’d seen anime in this country attacked in a pretty awful manner when it was first starting out and I’ve said, both then and elsewhere, that I’ve seen the same things happen with rock music, movies, role-playing games (make-believe with dice that unsurprisingly has nothing to do with the mad claims surrounding it of murder and baby eating) and video games. Anything that can hold the attention of a large group of people tends to gain the ire of those who don’t understand it, and is blamed for all manner of wrongs in the world.
It’s pretty much been the same throughout history. Whenever anything new is introduced there are those who are sure it is corrupting the youth of the day.
In 1790, Reverend Enos Hitchcock wrote the following about books and the theatre;
The free access which many young people have to romances, novels, and plays has poisoned the mind and corrupted the morals of many a promising youth; and prevented others from improving their minds in useful knowledge.
My personal favourite example of this sort of mentality comes from the July 1859 edition of Scientific American magazine, which reads;
A pernicious excitement to learn and play chess has spread all over the country, and numerous clubs for practicing this game have been formed in cities and villages… chess is a mere amusement of a very inferior character, which robs the mind of valuable time that might be devoted to nobler acquirements, while it affords no benefit whatever to the body.
That’s right folks, not even the self-professed game of kings was safe from being the reason our children aren’t as well raised as we’d hoped they would be.
Parenting is what it comes down to in the end, in almost every case. Children who haven’t been properly raised do something bloody awful and then everyone scrambles for someone to blame. Which brings us neatly to Grand Theft Auto, a game series that has been blamed for everything from drunk driving to setting cats on fire and on to murder, because obviously when people of any age do these things a video game is to blame and not the sort of messed up person they actually are.
With a new version of the game due to be released next month I thought it might be funny to have a look at some of the news stories about the last game and see how the media blamed the game, citing features that don’t actually exist in the game as proof. It was an idea that would have been quite fun and a little interesting. Then an 8 year old child shot his 87 year old grandmother in the head after playing the game and if seemed a little tasteless to do that.
Yes, you read that right. An eight year old child murdered his grandmother because he thought it was fun after playing a violent video game. Of course the media have latched on to this and are pointing out all those other cases where the game has caused violence in people who would never have been violent before. No-one is bothering to ask the questions that should be asked.
Questions like what kind of parent buys an eighteen rated video game for an eight year old and leaves them unattended while playing it? Violence to the degrees that an eighteen rated game is allowed to show is equivalent to so-called video nasties, and no-one should be leaving their child alone with those either. For an eight year old this provides high levels of realistic violence with no context to it; they have no basis that has built over the years that allows them to realise these things aren’t something they should be doing. It’s like a regular cartoon suddenly switching to Tom taking Jerry behind the woodshed, holding him down and graphically torturing him in front of your children. With that amount of violence given to the child and no supervision to cut the game off before he saw the worst of it, as well as no context for the violence, the child was bound to pick up some very bad ideas about how you can treat people. He simply couldn’t know better than what he was being taught at that early age.
Which brings us to the second very important question. One that is actually more important than the first but a lot less related to the media coverage of this story. In fact, I’ve seen it mentioned only once in passing in a media report and that was a neighbour who pointed it out just before paragraphs of “video games cause violence”.
The question is simply, how the hell did an eight year old child get such easy access to a loaded gun in the first place? Yes, a lot of people are blaming the game, and yes I agree that the child was young enough in this case for the game to have given him ideas that proper parenting would have taken out of his head right away, or stopped from being put in there. Proper parenting, or just being a fucking decent human being, would have also kept a loaded gun out of the hands of an eight year old child.
There are plenty of people who will argue against this and say that children should be allowed guns as it teaches them about gun safety, but stop a moment and look at this case. This child obviously had no concept of the damage such a weapon could cause. Even if he had been properly trained in its use, the weapon still should have been locked away out of his reach because it isn’t a bloody toy and he should know that he can’t play with it. That’s what gun safety is at its core.
The problem here is not that a child played a video game and it made him kill someone because video games are evil. The problem is that a child who was young enough to have little to no idea of consequence was playing a game that he was far to young for. To understand it the game required a level of maturity he couldn’t have have developed by then, and he came to view the sensationalised violence in the game as something rewarding. Finally he was allowed unrestricted access to a loaded gun.
That we are expected to ignore these basic facts and simply blame the game without question, all for the sake of the parents who allowed all this to happen, is simply unconscionable.