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“Grand Theft Auto Killing” Is Justification, Narrative for Morons

Grand Theft Auto

An eight year old boy has killed his 87 year old grandmother, Marie Smothers after playing violent video game Grand Theft Auto, which “awards points for killing people.” Yes, it’s another of these stories…

It makes for a wonderful story, doesn’t it? A poor innocent child, excited to play on his PlayStation 3 console, puts in his copy of Grand Theft Auto IV and suddenly becomes a crazed lunatic. He reaches for his grandparent’s gun – which happens to be loaded and in an easily accessible place – and then he moves into the other room, shooting her through the head. 

The interesting thing is that Grand Theft Auto is actually a very small part of this story, although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise when you take into account just how much coverage it’s getting on almost every site reporting this story. 

Take a look at the Daily Mail for instance. Mentioned in the headline, five of seven pictures showing the game… three mentions in the actual text. Two imply that Grand Theft Auto IV is the reason this kid killed his grandmother without backing it up (because when you’re talking about the obvious effect of violent video games on young minds, it’s best to just presume it’s fact, as if you’re saying the sky is blue or the grass is green). The last says taht although the television was off when police arrived, a game console was on with the GTA disk inside the machine.

There’s absolutely no reason to believe that Grand Theft Auto is the reason that this murder (which took place in the unfortunately named Slaughter, LA) was committed. Except that he was playing this game before he shot her and that they had had a normal relationship before that. What else could it be?

As pointed out in the release from the local sheriff’s office, reported by WAFB:

“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 Play Station III “Grand Theft Auto IV”, a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and awards points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

The Advocate manage to give both sides of the Violence in Video Games debate, but it’s the anti-gaming message they decide to use as a pop quote at the top of the page. More than that, the title of the coverage itself sadly declares that “shooter, aged 8, played violent video game.”

Dr Micheal Welner – the anti-gaming talking head – was pretty clear in his message.

“When it comes to eliminating violence, culture matters,” said Welner, who has testified in many criminal trials, including several of the Angola 5 trials in West Feliciana Parish.

He said video game developers design games to be absorbing and life-like and that killing is portrayed in a banal manner.

“My professional opinion is that video game violence is enabling the expression of violent urges in ways that cocaine and the worst of drugs never did and never could,” Welner said

Welner said parents should stop paying for violent video games for kids and should “collect them and throw them out in the same way you would flush the drugs you find.”

He added, “Community investment needs to be directed toward getting children away from gaming platforms and back out on the ball fields, where they can be engaging recreation in ways that are more suitable for children.”

Christopher J. Ferguson takes a different approach.

“He’s kind of young for ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ but generally speaking, if you go into any house where there’s a teenager or even a kid a little younger, the odds of not finding a video game like this are almost zero,” Ferguson said.

The game is meant for mature audiences, “but in terms of it making him kill his (relative), no, probably not,” Ferguson said.

“It’s just a convenient narrative, but in terms of actual evidence that these video games cause people to become aggressive in this type of way, no, there’s none whatsoever,” Ferguson said, noting that while video games are very popular, youth violence is at its lowest level in four years.

 It’s interesting here that the media have taken a theme and ran with it, rather than being the source of the bias. The local Sheriff’s Office released a statement not directly blaming the Grand Theft Auto IV but explaining that a copy of the game was present, that the child had been playing it for a time before the killing and that that game rewarded you with points for making kills. What’s left unsaid is that the kid decided to earn points in real life and, blinded by evil games developers, didn’t realize that granny wouldn’t respawn.

The investigation is ongoing though, but… yeah. Video games. Still looking for what happened but… Grand Theft Auto IV.

The media have instead jumped into a sea of hyperbole and mass hysteria. Grand Theft Auto rewards points for killing. Talking heads who speak in disgust about how video games TRAIN people to kill. Say what you want about gun rights and all of that, but when not a single interviewed psychologist across the half a dozen publications I’ve looked across mention the presence of an easily accessible weapon, loaded and ready to go, and instead focus on a digital world that that child shouldn’t have been allowed to enter anyway, there’s something very wrong.

It’s narrative for morons. It’s an answer to an unanswerable question. And, if you don’t prod it too hard, it fits. 

With Grand Theft Auto V on the horizon, with millions excited for what may be one of the biggest games of this year, this generation, you just know that this is the beginning of something that’s going to happen more often. Between now and the end of the year, more parents will be offended, more psychologists will have half-baked explanations and more newspaper editors will watch as a tumour of ignorance grows and grows under the radiation of their coverage.

Compare the prices for Grand Thieft Auto V.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott