Video Games

Does it Matter That British Teen Suspected of Stabbing Teacher to Death Played Violent Video Games?

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Credit: smademedia/Foter

The Daily Mail is reporting that the teenager in England who is suspected of recently stabbing a teacher to death in front of students played "ultra-violent video games," "experimented with drugs," and threatened to commit suicide after he complained about bullying. The Mail also mentions that the 15-year-old boy's peers regarded him as a loner who mostly did well in school but "seemed increasingly troubled in recent months." The Grand Theft Auto series and Dark Souls are all mentioned as games played by the suspect in the Mail's reporting.

Most readers will remember that after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012 it was reported that Adam Lanza enjoyed violent video games such as those in the Call of Duty series. In March 2013 The New York Times reported that according to one witness Lanza was a "shut-in and an avid gamer who plays 'Call of Duty,' amongst other games." According to The Daily Mail, Lanza also played Gears of War.

However, while it might be the case that many of those who commit violent crimes also played violent video games it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between playing violent video games and violent crime.

In the March 2014 issue of Reason Jacob Sullum points out that Lanza played Dance Dance Revolution every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the months before the Sandy Hook massacre. No one is suggesting that Lanza's obsession with dancing as being causally related to his murder of 27 people.

Reason's Jesse Walker notes in the June 2014 issue of Reason that in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre there was support for action to be taken against video games across the political spectrum, with Donald Trump tweeting "Video game violence & glorification must be stopped—it is creating monsters!" and Vice President Joe Biden proposing a tax on video games.  

It was not only Lanza's penchant for violent video games that some thought could in some way be linked to his violence; others pointed out that he had Asperger syndrome although, as Sullum points out, The New York Times noted that "there is no evidence that people with Asperger's are more likely than others to commit violent crimes."

Last year, Kotaku published an article on what 25 years of research on violence and video games has come up with. Kotaku notes that, "While there are no documented scientific links between video games and criminal violence, the question of whether violent video games lead to aggression has been hotly debated."

The article goes on to point out that "there have been two major meta-analyses" done on data relating to video games and violence and that the two groups that did studies on the data came to different conclusions.

Reason

Scientists such as Brad Bushman and Craig Anderson believe that there is "a definitive causal link between games and aggressive behavior." The Kotaku article notes that there is a distinction between aggression and criminal violence:

That distinction between criminal violence and aggression is critical. Science has yet to show any links between video games and violence, but violent games may have a more subtle effect on children: for example, they could make a child more inclined to bully or spread rumors about his peers.

However, researchers Chris Ferguson and Cheryl Olsen, who examined the same data as Bushman and Anderson, believe that there is no conclusive evidence between violence and video games. Ferguson told Kotaku:

I think anybody who tells you that there's any kind of consistency to the aggression research is lying to you, quite frankly… There's no consistency in the aggression literature, and my impression is that at this point it is not strong enough to draw any kind of causal, or even really correlational links between video game violence and aggression, even, no matter how weakly we may define aggression.

For more from Reason on video games click here, and be sure to check out Reason's June 2014 video game-themed issue.

NEXT: Gene Healy Says Obama Is Right on Clemency for Non-Violent Drug Offenders

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  1. Dayz or Rust? Can’t decide which one to buy.

    1. DayZ is fun. Its a challenge. It still needs a lot of work. (Beta) I never got Rust to work right so I don’t know whether or not to recommend it. Oh yeah in DayZ stay off the railroad tracks if you do not want to get robbed, stripped, handcuffed, and forced to eat rotten fruit. =)

      1. That is precisely why I want the game!

          1. That is some of the finest entertainment I have ever witnessed.

        1. Honestly DayZ is an interesting social experiment. The “Regulators” are just as shitty as the “Bandits”. The Bandits will just shoot you, or torture you and take you stuff. The Regulators will take your weapons, and a few items, and leave you defenseless against the Bandits. When you do find a few individuals that are “Friendlies”, or at least won’t shoot you on sight. Most of the time some sort of mutual aid, or trade happens.

    2. Planet Explorers.

      Or, if you absolutely have to have zombies, 7 Days To Die.

    3. Rust. It’s still a little rough around the edges but DayZ needs Arma2 and a couple of it’s expansions to work so it’s a bit of an investment.

      1. The *mod* version of DayZ does – there’s a standalone in development that does not, and uses an updated engine.

        1. Beat me to it. =)

  2. I heard he liked PB&J sandwiches.

    1. No. Pretty much no non-American likes PB&J sandwiches.

  3. No.

    Next post, please.

  4. it is not clear that there is a causal relationship between playing violent video games and violent crime.

    It *is* clear, Matthew!

    Commission of a violent crime causes the media to report that the perp played violent video games.

    1. Does anyone NOT play violent video games anymore? I mean, I’ve been playing the shit out of TW: Rome II with the gore on. That probably counts for them. (“Playing the shit out of” now means about 3 hours total on the weekends and maybe 3 more hours on the weeknights.)

      1. There are some people who don’t play “video games” but can’t put their smartphones down…

      2. It’s mostly violent games. Gaming is a huge industry. Therefore, violent people play violent games along with nonviolent people playing violent games.

      3. Does it matter? There’s a growing body of evidence that the challenge of games rather than actual content leads to aggression.

        I bet total-rage and average-rage-over-time for games like Tetris, Bubble Bobble, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush far exceeds games like Call of Duty, Halo, or Titan Fall.

        I think the more important question is being overlooked; regardless of whether Gears of War played a part in the homicide Lanza committed, did DDR play a part in his suicide?

        1. Personally, the greatest rage I’ve felt for video games was in cases that were real-life or were meant to mimic the natural forces of real life.

          Hundreds of hours of questing to have a player eradicated or the partition they’re stored on corrupted is more personality-warpingly frustrating than any of the violent content.

        2. did DDR play a part in his suicide?

          What? East Germans are still at work? (Reminds me of the pilot episode of “The Tick,” in which Tick and Arthur must stop Red Square, a robot created by the Soviets to kill Jimmy Carter, who had been president at the time the robot was built.)

        3. I bet total-rage and average-rage-over-time for games like Tetris, Bubble Bobble, Angry Birds, and Candy Crush far exceeds games like Call of Duty, Halo, or Titan Fall.

          Clearly you haven’t experienced the netcode of BF4.

          1. I still love the game, but the “fix” seems to have just changed the problems rather than fixing them.

      4. I’ve been playing the shit out of TW: Rome II

        The only violence Rome 2 encourages is against its developers. You must be the only person who wasn’t hideously disappointed by it. “You want us to include magically-appearing transport fleets that are more powerful than the navies the player spent a shitload of denarii on? Good idea!”

        1. I’m more annoyed that I can’t just split off units without a general, or expand a garrisson without one. My primary method of reinforcement of a failing front in earlier games was to sweep garrisons forward in an inexorable tide of small units that refilled (or replaced) the field armies before the whole side of the empire collapsed.

          1. Yes, it does take some adapting. I hated this for a while, too. I’m good now.

        2. “You want us to include magically-appearing transport fleets that are more powerful than the navies the player spent a shitload of denarii on? Good idea!”

          You know, that is pretty much what the Romans did to defeat the Carthaginians. Just drafted sailors and put legions on boats. But I’ve been playing as the Pontics and rampaging around Turkey and the Black Sea. So far, no encounters with the Romans. But yeah, I didn’t like the main campaign.

        3. ^This. I gave up on Rome II after a few hours, and went back to Europa Universalis IV. Which also feels blander than predecessor (monarch points are not a very exciting dynamic). But at least fleets are not magic.

          1. There are some mods that fix most of the most-glaring problems. I used one for a while, but then the game updated and it broke the mod and I haven’t bothered with it for months. At least I bought the game on sale, so I only wasted $30 on it.

            The answer isn’t EU4, it’s CK2. Murdering children = great fun.

            1. Yeah? Well, I just re-downloaded Gal Civ II.

              God, I’m old.

            2. CK2 is great fun. I’m running through EUIV using a save game converter, and hoping I can get my EU4 save into Vic3 and HoI4 eventually. Grand roleplay game – start with a single illiterate Norwegian dude in 868 and end up a superpower in 1950’s or whenever.

  5. Ultra-violence? Did he like Ludwig van and the old in-and-out as well?

    1. only when drinking velachrome.

      1. Welly-well, my little droogies!

    2. No time for the old in-out, love; just came to read the meter.

  6. So, no regard for the millions of purveyors of violent videogames who never commit any crimes? (Aside from the manditory three a day due to contradictary laws, I mean real crimes.)

    1. Yes, but according to concerned mothers, if just one commits a crime, then we should ban all games.

      1. Obviously the solution is to ban mothers.

        1. Or, rather, employ them in the underground monocle mines.

          1. You fool, naturally mined monocles are not the most efficient means of production. A monocle mine isn’t going to maximize your returns unless you find a segment of the market that can be suckered into believing that the flawed products dragged from the ground are somehow superior to the manufactured artificial variety due to their rareness and not because they’re generally crap and hard to extract. Take a look at DeBeers for some inspiration.

            1. “most efficient means of production”

              What are you, a dirty, dirty capitalist? 😉

              The goal is it employ the busy-body mothers (think of the poor children I am saving).

  7. I like Venn diagrams. Certainly there is going to be some overlap between violent pyschopaths and video game players.

  8. Any thoughts on the effects on violent crime rates that might be precipitated by a ban on violent video games?

    I’ll speculate they would be unchanged or rise slightly.

  9. Well, Great Britian, if you’re going to pretend that immersion in the doctrines of radical jihadist Islam had nothing to do with the decapitation of Lee Rigby, then you can’t pretend that immersing oneself in the world of Grand Theft Auto leads to real-life violence. That is, you can’t unless you want to be viewed as a fucking hypocrite.

    1. The hole in your reasoning is that the Brits, like many people, have little trouble being viewed as fucking hypocrites.

      1. They also have little trouble with being viewed as fucking sheep.

        1. In what sense? Deference to authority, or high quality webcam, fast internet, and attractive sheep?

          1. Your post isn’t cryptic enough to be malkavian.

          2. Deference to authority – the British Isles don’t have fast internet so they don’t have webcam shows of their sheep shenanigans.

    2. Can an island be a hypocrite?

      I know they are pretty far gone over there, but have they reached the point of thinking with one mind?

      1. And yes, I know what metonymy is.

  10. Please, video game banners, please keep making the argument that video games are causing this, we will keep showing that Violent video game sales coincide with drop in violent youth crimes.

    1. I’m not a gamer. (I do sometimes kill aliens with Emily Grace.)

      But it is interesting that what I understand was the first, first-person shooter, Doom, premiered in 1993. 1993 was also the year the U.S. crime rate quit rising and started to drop.

  11. Vice President Joe Biden proposing a tax on video games.

    Is there anything Joe Biden doesn’t want to tax? Actually, I could do a correlation between things Joe Biden wants to tax and violence, and then argue that Joe Biden taxing things causes violence, thus we must stop taxing things. For the children!

  12. “No one is suggesting that Lanza’s obsession with dancing as being causally related to his murder of 27 people.”

    “No one” asked me.

    1. Like I said, I think the more important point is being missed;

      If a couple more hours of DDR had caused him to commit suicide about 5 min. earlier no one would be asking about his Gears of War habit.

  13. I certainly don’t think gaming leads to real-world violence.

    But depending on the game, as with any form of art, it can either uplift or degrade. The games where you save the princess or the world from evildoers are great – the games where you score points for running down pedestrians may well cultivate a certain indifference to suffering which, if it doesn’t turn players into killers, could let people be less likely to empathize.

    Do any gamers want to chime in?

    1. I think it’s far more likely that giving people a safe space to engage in such power fantasies is likely to reduce it’s occurrence in the real world. Why take a risk when a safe, consequence free ego boost is just a joystick away? I suppose if one delights in wanton violence, plays obsessively, and, particularly, anti-socially, then perhaps that could speed up a trend that was, in all probability, in existence already. Or perhaps it could slow it down through the aforementioned dynamic. At heart is the neverending desire for people to make sense out of the senseless, or at least, the impossibly complex to make themselves feel safer and secure in the fantasy of an ordered world. Video games are just another target on an endless list.

    2. I play violent online FPS games 4 or 5 days a week, I’m an introverted misanthropic prick, and I’ve yet to go postal despite the fact that I read Reason daily. I think the evidence speaks for itself.

      1. “I’ve yet to go postal”

        which wasn’t my point

        1. Did you actually have one then? If the consequence of indifference to suffering caused by video game violence isn’t going postal then who gives a shit?

          1. Again, I don’t mean *all* video game violence. I refer to the attitude communicated by the violence – it matters whether you’re defending the world against zombies (a Good Thing, let me emphasize) or stealing a car and running people over.

            And I’m not advocating a ban – just discussing possible effects of the legal behavior.

            1. And, as PM pointed out, it *has* no effect on his legal behavior. As such, who cares if his heart is hardened to the suffering of others – he doesn’t hang out with other people anyway.

    3. I’m not a gamer, but it seems to me that any game is mostly about mastering skills and solving puzzles far more than anything uplifting or degrading.

      As far as I am concerned, Super Mario World is the pinnacle of video game goodness and the saving the princess aspect of it is completely irrelevant to my enjoyment of the game. But maybe the actual plot has more to do with enjoying these big fancy games all the kids are into these days, I don’t know.

    4. I’ll chime in.

      Short answer: video games don’t affect one’s ability to empathize with other humans any more than movies, tv, literature, or music. Sociopaths will remain sociopaths no matter how often they watch Schindler’s List or play Nintendogs; no amount of GTA will make an otherwise normal, healthy person develop a penchant for cruelty, sadism, or narcissism.

      As Dances says, games of all sorts where the player identifies with the main character does offer an opportunity to experiment with different behaviors in an environment without real consequences. Even then, many players make choices consistent with their personal morality. It’s very much like paper-and-pencil RPGs; people do certainly play characters that are totally different, but many people find it hard to behave in a way that isn’t consistent with their personal code of conduct even in a fictional setting where it’s encouraged.

      Besides which, what exactly is the mechanism by which a normal child plays video games and transforms into a sociopathic murderer? So far, the explanations all seem like a variation on osmosis, and I’m not buying it.

  14. I certainly don’t think gaming leads to real-world violence.

    But depending on the game, as with any form of art, it can either uplift or degrade. The games where you save the princess or the world from evildoers are great – the games where you score points for running down pedestrians may well cultivate a certain indifference to suffering which, if it doesn’t turn players into killers, could let people be less likely to empathize.

    Do any gamers want to chime in?

    1. Random cooperative online games that require high degree of coordination. Play World of Tanks for a while, and watch your faith in humanity diminish.

    2. Save a princess from evildoers? What are you, twelve years old?

      1. You are aware that this is a discussion about video games, right?

        1. Exactly – who the hell plays games like that?

          I don’t think I’ve seen a ‘rescue the princess’ game in decades and all the ‘save the world’ games comes with stupid moral choices where either your a doormat or you eat live kittens in front of kindergarteners. If anything, *those* games push you towards evil just so you can maintain a little self-esteem.

          “Hero! You must take these shoes over to that guy 100 yards away and give them to him! Then he will give you slightly better shoes that you will bring back to me! The fate of the world hangs in the balance! No I won’t give you the important quests now! I don’t trust you enough yet! But if you do enough menial tasks for me I will!”

    3. Actually, going by crime rates, playing violent games has the opposite effect. Gamers as a demographic group have about one tenth the violent crime rate that the general public does. Generally, exploring violence in the game reduces the likelihood of exploring it out on the streets.

  15. I hear Donald Sterling played Bioshock Infinite and chose to throw the ball at the interracial couple at the raffle.

    1. Taking his coffee black these days, is he?

  16. Most young men play violent video games. Most violent crimes are committed by young men, and have been since long before there were video games. Why would anyone think that the video games have any causal role here?

    1. The plural of “post hoc ergo propter hoc” is now “causation”.

    2. Agreed, Richard ‘The Iceman’ Kuklinski grew up largely before the video game era. By his own recollection he is to have been involved in or committed between 100 and 250 murders over his 40 yr. career. He was convicted of 3 and died in prison. Depending on how much fiction you want to wade into and believe, he’s hardly outstanding in his field (see Whitey Bulger).

      Lanza killed 26 in the span of five minutes.

      If video games motivate people like Lanza to do what they did, it could easily be perceived as having made serial killers less motivated, less organized, and less innovative.

      What’s schadenfreude is that, you can highlight equally valid traces between Sandy Hook, Columbine, Oklahoma City, and Ruby Ridge/Waco but nobody’s doing any studies on how oppressive state action motivates these incidents second and third-hand.

  17. I suspect he also breathed aur, drank water and ate food. So did every other murderer in history.

    1. Argh, AIR (not gold, heh). We have to login to post, why can’t we have an edit button?!?

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