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Can a Video Game Lead to Murder?

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Posted by Allison on March 7, 2005 1:00 PM

Last night CBS's 60 Minutes ran a piece entitled, Can a Video Game Lead to Murder? which examined the tragic case of Devin Moore Thompson, the 18 year old who brutally and unapologetically killed three police officers in the small town of Fayette, Alabama in 2003. In a scene which, in all honesty, is reminiscent of a mission in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Thompson, who was being booked inside the Fayette police station for trying to steal a car, lunged for the booking officer's gun, shot the officer in the head with it, then proceeded to shoot his way out of the station. He then stole a police cruiser for his escape. Behind him he left three dead men, two of which were police officers. Later that day, when Thompson was caught, he allegedly told the arresting officer, "Life's like a video game. You've got to die sometime."

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Many legislators, and one particularly determined lawyer, want you to believe the reason for this rampage lies almost wholly on the shoulders of the video game industry, and their creation of "murder simulators" which they distribute to children. Jack Thompson, the famous (or infamous) Coral Gables, FL attorney has made it his personal goal to hold the video game industry responsible for such violent acts by minors. Mr. Thompson (not to be confused with the killer Devin Thompson), came screeching to the "aid" of the pained Alabama families, and has since filed a $600 million lawsuit against Take2 Interactive (the publishers of GTA games), Wal-Mart and GameStop (where Devin Thompson is said to have purchased GTA3 and GTA: Vice City under the ESRB-mandated 17-year-old purchase age), and Sony Computer Entertainment America (makers of the PS2 console on which Devin played these games).

Before going any further, let's all be honest with ourselves. If you're a gamer and if you have found yourself even momentarily addicted to a game, you know full well these games seep into your subconscious. My first realization of this was back in the 80s after receiving my first Game Boy and the game Tetris. I very clearly remember going to sleep at night, watching the Tetris puzzle pieces fall into place behind my eyelids. Later, when I was in college, I remember going on a Quake bender which produced very similar behind the eyelids images as I fell into sleepyville. Today, despite the fact that I'm playing more games than I ever have, I've lost the ability to play games as I fall asleep. However, certain games will enter my actual dreams now. Sometimes these dreams provide me with answers to places where I'm stuck in a game, other times this has created very dark and disturbing nightmares (and, if that's the case, the game goes bye-bye).

If you have ever played a GTA game through completion, you have spent enough hours on the game to play out various scenarios in your mind as you make your way through the real world. For most of us, these come as we find ourselves behind the wheel of a car. Often on the heels of finishing a GTA game, I imagine various scenarios as I drive. I see cars that I could clip and spin out. I see a nice line where I could fit my motorcycle (if I were driving one), and, oddly, I often see armored vehicles, which I imagine ramming as they continue driving, unscathed by the actions of my tiny Honda Civic. These urges do eventually fade as I get further away from the game, but they are there. So, what is it that keeps me from doing these things? Well, unlike Devin Thompson, I don't believe "Life is a video game". And, while I understand the teenager's brain is more sensitive and vulnerable to recurring acts of anything, I know enough of them to know they don't believe "life is a video game", either.

So, what does make that difference? Clearly the statistics are on the side of the video gaming industry. Millions of violent video games are sold, and, while they are primarily sold to adults, they are often purchased for those under the age of 17. With that being said, it's more than fair to assume millions of teens across the world have played these games. So, when violence occurs, it's easy for someone like Jack Thompson to "predict" a video game was involved, as most male teens have, at some point, played a violent video game. Sadly, Thompson never looks to anything outside of the video game for clues, which is why he never has and never will win one of these outrageous cases. And, he, and people like him, are actually doing much more harm than good when it comes to the kind of despicable violence a small handful of teens have committed over the past decade.

Is it not appropriate to ask what was going on with the parents of Devin Moore Thompson? 60 Minutes reported that, "Moore (Thompson) had a profoundly troubled upbringing, bouncing back and forth between a broken home and a handful of foster families." Is it, then, not appropriate to look at the number of kids being passed around from foster family to foster family who, ultimately, end up being violent criminals? While I don't have the statistics, I think it's more than common sense which can easily show Thompson's violent tendencies are much more strongly linked to his "profoundly troubled upbringing" than the video game. We don't know much about the upbringing, but we do know it allowed him to sit in front of a TV playing this game obsessively "day after day after day". We know he has a belief that "Life is a video game". This not normal, and it screams of someone with no appropriate adult supervision much more clearly than they scream of a teen exposed to video games.

Still, with that being said, it cannot be ignored that Thompson's actions were of the copycat nature from a specific Grand Theft Auto: Vice City mission, just as the Columbine killers pulled off a copycat performance from a scene from the movie "The Basketball Diaries". Yes, they also played Doom, but, if we're going to give Jack Thompson and certain legislators anything, we have to be honest about the copycat scenarios of these "murder simulators". With Devin Thompson it was a video game, with the Columbine killers it was a movie. While both are forms of entertainment, the stronger connection comes from their family life. While the Columbine killers weren't foster children, they were somehow so ignored as developing teenage boys that they were able to build bombs in their own houses, and get their hands on guns without their parents knowing.

With the exclusion of this Devin Thompson story, every one of Jack Thompson's failed cases (he's only had failed cases when it comes to video games), involve a teen's ability to get their hands on a gun. Now, would a teen have a desire to get a gun if video games were not in their lives? Sure they would. Movies and TV glorify killing just as much as video games do, and, if we did not have video games, people like Jack Thompson and our government leaders would be going after them instead of video games. Our legislators go after the games because it's easy for them and it's a great way to get votes. No sane person is pro-putting violent video games in the hands of children. And demonizing video games is a very easy thing to do, particularly when you're doing it to a generation of people who, for the most part, have never played a video game in their life, and if they have, it's been along the lines of Pac-Man. You also must remember that most Americans don't understand video games are, in fact, a form of art, and are protected by the First Amendment. Since kids have First Amendment rights, you cannot take away their right to play these games.

With that being said, here at Lunabean.com we are fully in favor and support the voluntary enforcement of ESRB video game ratings at every place where video games are sold. We believe in the power of the people and we believe in capitalism. If there's a video game retailer not abiding by the video game ratings and selling M-rated games to kids, we believe that if people and parents truly care about this, they could organize a large scale boycott or they could stand outside of the store with signs and warn any parent entering. Churches and school districts could inform so many, if people truly cared. But, I think the truth is, most parents understand their kids, and understand regulated play, of even violent games, isn't going to turn their kid bad, which is why they are the ones primarily purchasing the games for their children. They know their kids, and they know their kids don't believe "Life is a video game".

Should we do our best to let parents know what is in these violent games they are buying for their children? Absolutely. However, it is not the fault of the industry if these warnings are falling on deaf ears. As unpopular as it is to say, parents are, for the most part, responsible for what their children get their hands on. And, keep in mind, video games are not like drugs. They cannot be played in secret if a parent is paying attention. They require hours of time, an expensive console and a stationary TV.

As for people like Jack Thompson, who has been less than honest with all of us, well, upon researching him, I discovered some truly disturbing facts, and it seems that he is simply on a mission from God, which prevents him from using any common sense when it comes to this. It's been reported that he believes God "chose him to be the savior of widows and orphans". If that's true, why is he going after video games instead of the foster system that allowed Devin Thompson to so tragically fall through the cracks? If only news programs would stop booking him...of course, we know news programs only like the sensational. So, upon wrapping up this article, I would like to provide all of you with a few links concerning Jack Thompson, the media's sweetheart when it comes to suing video games makers and suppliers for hundreds of millions of dollars. I do this, not to make a fool of the man, but so people understand the psyche of this man, who speaks so poorly of the video game industry that we all know and love.

Jack's obsession with Batman.

Jack's obsession with Janet Reno

Jack's debate with Ms. Reno where he demanded she fill out a form claiming her sexuality.

Jack's reputation at the right-wing site "Free Republic", and how he threatened to sue many "FReepers".
Search for "BatJack", the handle he chose, presumably because of his fondness for Batman.

Jack's disdain for gamers, in general.

Jack taking the case against video game makers because the victim played a violent video game while the assailant was in need of drug money.

More Jack hatred for gamers

Jack going after Howard Stern
Note, this is on Neil Rogers' site. Neil took out a temporary restraining order against Thompson as Thompson went after him for indecency in the 1990s.

And there's so much more, which you all can find simply by using Google, but you get the point.

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