When in Doubt, Blame Video Games

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil... whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil… whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Near Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a small town with an unusual name, but perhaps a name more fitting given recent events there: Slaughter. Just twenty miles north of the state capital, Slaughter only became a town in 2002 and boasts a population just below 1,000 people.

Actually, there is one less person there now: 87-year-old Marie Smothers, who died this past Thursday.

Smothers was the grandmother and caregiver of her 8-year-old grandson and by all accounts, they had a loving and positive relationship. Rumor has it they even shared a bed from time to time, which isn’t something you do with a relative you don’t care for deeply… or so you would think.

On Thursday, Smothers was caring for her grandson in the mobile home where she lived, watching some television while he played video games in the other room. Out of nowhere, the young boy suddenly appeared with a loaded handgun, walked up behind his grandmother, put the nozzle to her head and pulled the trigger.

Smothers was obviously found dead at the scene by police a short time later. And though the young killer claimed it was an accident, authorities believe he intentionally shot Smothers because he was influenced by the violent video game he was playing at the time: Grand Theft Auto IV.

One of my personal favorites, incidentally, and by far one of my top three favorite game franchises. I guess that means I have the potential to snap and start murdering people too, huh? Go figure.

All the GTA IV hating began when a spokesperson from the East Feliciana Paris Sheriff’s Department issued the following statement:

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

“Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time, investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Playstation III ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and [awarding] points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

Moses, smell the roses!

Countless studies have tried to connect video games, rock music, rap music and almost anything else you can imagine to violent behavior—usually in young people—but there has yet to be any definitive proof of a causal relationship between the two. That certainly doesn’t stop the haters from trying, though.

After all, it’s much easier to blame something like video games than to truly get to the root of a problem.

Sure, it is possible some 8-year-old who is too young to make sound, rational decisions while also considering the consequences of his actions might kill his grandmother. Hell, it happened in this very story. But I would ask some more relevant questions before trying to pin this terrible tragedy on GTA IV.

Why was such a young boy permitted to play a game marked for mature audiences and packaged with all the appropriate warning labels for violent content and adult situations?

Is it wise for a child’s caregiver and grandmother to not only keep a loaded gun in the house, but to also make it easily accessible to the very child she’s been tasked with protecting?

Does the child have any mental or emotional issues that may have contributed to his suddenly violent behavior?

Smothers home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

Smothers’ home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

These are the answers I would like to know, especially before I start blaming a video game for what happened in Slaughter. If GTA IV was the spark that set this kid off, wouldn’t similar things be happening all over the world almost all the time? It makes absolutely no sense because if you think about it, stories you hear on the news can be just as violent and dark as video games, sometimes even worse. Do stories about all the death in Syria turn young people into violent soldiers or rebels? Of course not, so how can we say video games are apt to do the same by turning players into violent criminals?

Fortunately for this young man, the state of Louisiana exempts all children under the age of 10 from criminal responsibility, so he will face no charges for what he has done—if he truly understands what he’s done, that is.

“We have a child who does not know the impact and consequences of the act he committed,” a lawyer named Sclynski Legier told WAFB after the shooting. “He truly doesn’t understand that.”

So I implore you: If you are ever charged with watching, babysitting, caring for or even parenting a small child, by all means, put away the video games, unload and secure your weapons and try doing something together for a change. I promise you the odds of it becoming violent will drop significantly as a result.

And these days, why risk it? Just look what happened to Marie Smothers, for goodness sake!

Posted on August 26, 2013, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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