Virulent Media on Violent Gaming

A news story came out today about how an eight-year-old got a hold of a pistol in his house and subsequently shot his grandmother in the face with it. That’s pretty horrible, but you know what’s more horrible? That the media is already latching onto one particular piece of the event for its breaking news story: that just before the shooting, the child was playing Grand Theft Auto IV.

Oh boy…

Lemme preface this by saying that I don’t believe that violent video games are directly responsible for cultivating a person’s violent tendencies, nor are they what allows a person to finally cross that threshold from fantasizing and into acting out that fantasy. In those instances, it almost always invariably returns to a preexisting mental condition that is going unchecked.

do, however, totally believe that video games, violent or not, can totally have an affect on the blossoming mind of an impressionable young child. Hell, anything can affect a child’s mind – I once thought I might be able to bounce real high if I landed on my butt thanks to Disney’s Gummi Bears (bouncing here and there and everywhere).

I couldn’t, and I hurt my butt.

ANYway, on to the point. I believe there are two major things that need to be taken into consideration about this news story (and many like it). Two major elements that, had one or both of them been remedied, a grandmother would probably still be alive.

The firearm

First things first, and especially the most important thing to question; how in the Seven Hells did an eight-year-old boy get his hands on a loaded pistol in the first place?! We could almost stop asking questions there, because without the access to a firearm, this never would have happened. How completely irresponsible do you have to be to have an easily-accessible tool designed for killing and maiming in the same space as a person of an age notorious for its horrible decision-making skills?

There’s almost no excuse. I can’t even think of one that would be justifiable, and I’ve got an imagination so overactive I had to pick a career in writing to get all of the ideas out of my head, lest it explode like a unicorn’s rectum.

I wish this segment was longer, but there’s really nothing more to say; a loaded gun should not have been anywhere near the child in a circumstance that he could get a hold of it. Period.

The game

Secondly, there’s the game the boy was playing. This hits home with me a lot harder than the first factor because I worked at GameStop for a large portion of my adult life, and gaming is one of my greatest hobbies. I know quite a bit about games, to say the least.

The game in question, Grand Theft Auto IV, is rather popular. It’s a game where you get to run around the city and pretty much do whatever you want within the confines of the game world – steal cars, drive around, run people over, shoot cops and civilians, rob businesses, and maybe play the story to grow your criminal empire. That all sounds pretty bad, and it is. It’s violent, and contains a lot of very mature subject matter dealing with sex, drugs, and criminal activity. It’s why the game has an ESRB Rating of M for Mature and a PEGI 18+ rating. It’s not a game designed, developed, or marketed for anyone that isn’t considered an adult.

A symbol that became the bane of twelve-year-olds everywhere.

That last part I mentioned? That’s huge. A game like GTA IV is for someone like me: a responsible adult with a healthy love for fantasy, and the intelligence to discern between it and reality.

A lot of the people who complain about violence in video games and want it removed are usually the misinformed directing their anger in the wrong way. Video gaming isn’t some sort of “kid’s toy.” So many reports say that most gamers are people aged 20 and up, whose parents can’t yell at them to “turn off the game and come to dinner. I don’t care that you need to get to a save point – come to dinner.” At least, gaming isn’t only for kids; there are plenty of games rated E for Everyone that are great for children to play, sometimes together with their families. Hell, that’s how Nintendo got so big – family-friendly gaming.

Couldn’t get any more family-friendly if he tried.

However, just like books, movies, and television, there’s something for everyone, and overall the market is dominated by products of a particular medium aimed at the people who can spend the most money. Put your piggy bank away Timmy, I’m not talking about your $2.47, I’m talking about adults, with jobs. The problem is that many still view gaming as a childish pass-time, and so they get upset at developers creating violent video games for adults to play. Developers have never aimed a violent video game towards children, and them being hassled by some Mothers Against Violent Video Games organization is just irritating, because there’s little-to-no blame that should be placed on them. If there’s anywhere blame rests, it’s squarely on the shoulders of the people buying the games the children play – their parents.

Although, some might say that it’s up to the store clerk, which is half-true. They have a responsibility to keep adult-oriented content away from minors, and that goes for pretty much anything kids shouldn’t get their hands on. Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant a salesperson you are, there’s nothing you can do about a parent who just doesn’t know enough, or worse, just doesn’t care.

When I worked at GameStop, we always enforced the ESRB System, because it was there for an incredibly smart reason – to keep stupid kids from playing games they shouldn’t be playing. Whenever a child brought up an M-rated game, I’d asked to speak with their parent or guardian, so that I could confirm with them that it was alright for them to be playing a game that may expose them to some mature themes. Oftentimes the parent would say “Oh no…no,” and turn to their child saying “Pick out something else.” However, there was always those parents who just waved their hand dismissively saying “Yeah, whatever,” or “He knows the difference,” and there’s nothing more that I can do beyond that point – I have to defer to their judgment. It’s their child after all. There are very few instances where it was appropriate for me to stress the issue and give my opinion on whether it was really suitable, but I did so whenever that opportunity arose. The next best thing to do is to refuse to sell a game we know that is being purchased for a minor, and we always denied minors if they tried to buy an M-rated game on their own.

I’ve even had naturally clueless parents come in and ask us for guidance on how best to look for games for their children, and I always pointed to the ESRB rating as their best guide to find out what was in the game, which they could then judge as suitable for their ilk. Of course, then they could always ask us for further details. Pretty much every parent I’ve ever showed the ESRB system to thought it was so helpful, and it does its job well. It’s the perfect tool for responsible parents, or responsible people in general.

So, was the game itself a factor in the case of this child shooting his grandmother? Maybe. Remember – Gummi Bears. The bigger concern is that the child should not have even been playing the game. He was playing a game that was not meant for him and his division of fantasy and reality was probably rather non-existent. It’s as irresponsible for him to be playing that game as it is for his parents to give him cigarettes, or let him look at pornography. The child’s impressionable and still-growing mind doesn’t need to be exposed to that stuff, that’s what warps a child’s thinking.

The skinny

In the end, this all comes down to one thing that was overlooked – responsibility. Without it, we had a young and totally impressionable child playing a video game he had no business playing, and we had a firearm just sitting there within reach of that impressionable youngling. It’s no wonder the tragedy that occurred did; you take responsibility out of pretty much anything and you’re going to end up with some sort of mess on your hands.

This isn’t an issue of gun-control, and it’s not an issue of violent video games. This is an issue of stupid people letting their equally stupid behavior get people hurt, while everyone blames it on something that has no control over what happened. But no, the media, in all their glory and desire to stay competitive in the news world, is forced to sensationalize things to get those hits, and in the process they damage the image of the video game industry that’s come under fire for decades now, just like comic books and rock ‘n’ roll have before it.

So we have specifically-worded articles by CNN and FOX (par for the course, amirite?) that are written to make one think a violent video game was the linchpin that holds the whole horrible event together. Never mind the irresponsibility that played such a large role, we’ll just continue leaning against an industry already buckling under the stress from within so we can “inform” people. All this virulence the media likes to play up isn’t helping anybody; it’s not starting the proper dialogues or helping people to see where the problems (if any) truly lie.

If there’s any reason that violent video games should be a talking point in this news story, it’s about why the child was playing it in the first place, not how it may have affected his judgment. We already know it could have affected his judgment. That’s why it’s not a game for children, and why it’s rated as such. Any outrage we should feel about kids playing violent video games,  should be about their parents letting them play them, just as we get outraged about a parent that lets their child smoke, or look at porn – because it’s bad for their physical and mental development.

That’ll be all from me. See you next post, and Keep Yourself Alive!

4 thoughts on “Virulent Media on Violent Gaming

  1. very well written and agree on all points.

    i’d like to stress the fact a little more that this is not about gun control, nor about violent video games. This is mostly an issue of responsibility. You cannot fail in so many areas of protecting this boy from what he needs to be protected from, and than blame the objects that were abused.

    This is exactly like a drunk at a bar having too much to drink, decides to drive home killing somebody in the process and blaming the bartender for serving him enough alcohol to get him drunk.
    People are so great at passing the buck, but im sorry, your poor actions and decisions have consequences and sometimes they are dire.

    Also, as you briefly mentioned, this boys mindset and understanding between virtual reality and reality is not exactly fully developed. He was almost certainly not talked to by the parents and taught about the firearm in the home, how its so dangerous and why. Do people realize kids are not idiots? You can teach a 3 year old about a firearm and why they should not be messing around with it (but obviously still have it stored and locked properly). At this boys age i’d even say the parents should be obligated to take the child shooting so they can fully understand what is in their house.
    You can almost guarantee the boy did not understand the reality of the weapon, and GTA IV probably did send confusing messages that the gun was not as dangerous as it actually is, and thus in his mind was probably just playing around not realizing what had happened even after shooting his grandmother.

    When i was 8 years old i played cops and robbers. I had toy guns and even made toy guns out of k’nex. However i was also taught the difference between real weapons, what they are capable of and why they’re not the same. AKA i had at least semi-responsible parents.

    • I’d like to think I was very aware of what weapons did to people from everything that I had watched as a tyke. In my young mind I knew they took people away, but could also protect people.

      I was big on Legend of Zelda as a kid, and used to run around the forests and hills around our house with a wooden sword and shield my dad made me. I preferred to be the hero who used his weapons for a good cause.

      Maybe if the kid played a game like that, which offered structure, instead of the totally violent and anarchistic soiree that is GTA, he would have had a slightly better understanding of things like weapons and life, and how they intermingle for better or worse.

  2. Yes the video game is to blame……not the irresponsible parents who somehow had a gun within the reach and access of an 8 year old……..yes definitely the video games fault……

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