No Cause For Murder

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While we're mostly preoccupied with either supporting or refuting claims that video games create real-life violence, the underlying fear is rarely addressed by either the gaming media or politicians. The argument that games cause terrible acts of homicide implies that movies, music, or even other people can have the same power over anyone. Because "anyone" includes the person making the argument, they lash out at the most obvious examples of this in an attempt to project it outside themselves. Getting mired in the minutia of cause and effect keeps us in a constant cycle of fear and blame. It's an utter waste of time.

If playing video games or watching violent movies makes Billy a killer, then perhaps stopping your channel flipping to catch some young coeds dancing on the beach makes you a pervert. Maybe it starts there. The sight of those young women needles into your mind and turns you to the internet. Adult websites drive you further down the rabbit hole, until you're skulking in parks and stalking underage girls online. If you staunchly believe that media alone can flip that switch from normal to insane, you're halfway there already.

We can take it even further. If a woman is startled by the noise of a car accident a block away and has a heart attack, did it cause her to die? If we debate that this is true and ignore the fact that she overate and smoked for forty years prior to that moment, we'll never get anywhere.

How about a homeless man asking for change, does he "cause" you to duck your head and shuffle by, making you to feel like a less than caring person? Of course not. His asking has nothing to do with your reaction. What arises in your mind and drives your actions begins and ends with you. To point the finger and say that a desperate man caused you to feel like a jerk is no different than a teenager pointing at a game and saying it caused him to steal cars.

Life can't be framed up like a game of billiards. There is no easy "eight ball, corner pocket" shot to be made when trying to draw a line between cause and action. If we could exact the same control over the world that we think we have over a game of pool, we might take a seed into our basement, stare at it really hard and grow a flower in the cement. Instead, the best anyone can do is create conditions that support an outcome. We can't force a seed into flowering, but we can plant it in good soil, make sure it gets lots of sun and pour a little water on it once in a while. Whether or not it grows isn't up to us.

The reason science and psychiatry will never pin down the "cause" of killing is because there is no single force on this earth that has that power. There is always a choice. While it seems like sometimes the whole world is pushing a kid toward a deadly decision, no one can pull the trigger for him.

A parent who abuses his children exerts a definite influence over the direction of their lives, but he cannot make them into monsters. That experience may create a world view that fosters mistrust, anger or violence in kind. But it can also influence a different path, a desire to be caring and forgiving in light of what happened growing up and seeing where violence leads. Every child in that situation will come out differently; there is no ultimate cause and effect inherent to an abusive upbringing. There are probable outcomes we can glean based on prior occurrences, but not every kid is guaranteed to repeat the sins of the father.

Believing that we can cause someone to be good or bad, or that we can simply cut out offending materials and make a problem go away is so fundamentally wrong that no lasting good will ever come of it. To think otherwise is to make ourselves out to be small gods, bending reality to our will -- like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.

Lasting, positive change will only come when we stop reaching for causes and start creating conditions that will support kids and teenagers who need it. We can't make anyone put the pin back in the grenade, but by supporting active, caring people who want to help, we might be able to influence some of those fateful decisions before it gets that far.

Comments

I often wonder what effects video games have had on me. They've certainly had a great influence in my life. I think positive. Without video games I think I would have been a very miserable adolescent growing up. Video games gave me entertainment when I didn't have any real friends to play with. I think for every case of some kid blaming video games for why he committed a crime, theres probably hundreds more of video games having a positive influence on a kids life.

Just off the top of my head, benefits I've gotten from gaming
1. Faster, more accurate typing skills
2. better reading comprehension
3. Sharpened Problem solving skills
4. Computer and Programming knowledge
5. Experience using CAD like programs
6. better hand eye coordination

If we go too deep into one thing we often create habits and after a while the situation they create seems to have always been present and seems to be out of our control. But if we think back far enough we realize that at one point we did make decisions that led us down that road. Which is scary because we don't like taking the blame and responsibility, but it's also liberating because it means we can make similar decisions to pull ourselves out and get back on the right path.

Your article brought that to mind, although it's not directly related to cause and effect video game violence. It does deal with root causes I suppose. Thanks, Certis.

Remember the media a while back reporting that D&D was dangerous because a few kids thought they could fly off a bridge? The Christian Right too that incident even more into the weird by publishing books that described the dangers of D&D and how it led to Satanism and Satanic Rituals. Or how about when they claimed that Heavy Metal music drove kids to violence and killing their parents. The same happened again with NIN and Marlyn Manson.

We can read anything and everything into another person's actions by drawing fictional correlations between them and what they do.

The current trend is of course video games and how they cause our children to be less productive members of society. Certainly there is a responsibility factor that parents should possess before letting their 6 year old boy sit in front of an Xbox and play GTA and then wonder why he's a bit agitated around other children. That's just plain irresponsible. Might as well show the boy a horror film and then wonder why he is having nightmares at night. Or let the boy watch porn and wonder why he asking questions about anal sex. There is a certain age at which children should be allowed to do certain things and a certain age when they shouldn't. Do I feel that video games has an affect on children? Yes. Do I believe that the Columbine H.S. shooting was because of video games? Hell no. That's just stupid to come to that correlation. Obviously there are many more factor involved and to put the blame on video games is the easy way out and the way out that doesn't blame society and family. Obviously we can't control society enough to mold it to what we feel is ideal but we can attempt to make a family operate as a family. The best any parent can do is attempt to find some way to enforce some resemblance of control in the household. It's not going to be perfect and children are going to get away with a lot of things but all you can do is the best you can and hope for the best.

Great article - The attention games are getting is less stagering on this side of the atlantic (or Denmark, at least), but our I have no doubt that any change in attitude in America will have profound effect here.

Certis wrote:

-- like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.

Is that a Discworld reference? I realize it serves a purpose as a parallel but it still reminds me a lot of "Interesting Times".

Certis wrote:
-- like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.
Is that a Discworld reference? I realize it serves a purpose as a parallel but it still reminds me a lot of "Interesting Times".

Possibly but it also comes from a theory that everything is connected and that a butterfly flapping it wings can start a chain of events that will result in a tornado or hurricane, what have you. That theory (if I am right about it's meaning) ties in nicely with the article by showing how extreme the cause and affect type of thinking can be, and possibly how silly it can get.

There was a movie I saw recently on dvd (The United States of Leyland I think) and it had an interesting take on personal responsibility and religion.

People can believe in the existence powers of good and evil that effect changes in the world (i.e. god and the devil). The main character in the movie then pointed out that if you didn't believe in these powers you'd have to acknowledge that your actions are determined by your own will. That you have the choice to do good or to do evil without any external influence.

I see more and more justifications for unacceptable behaviour. "I'm sorry I beat the boy but I was under the influence of alcohol...", "I saw someone else do it and it looked cool.."
Everything you do is your own choice and blaming an external influence would also imply that as you're unable to control yourself you don't deserve to be treated as a sentient being...
... maybe I'm being harsh

Brilliant article Certis, easily one of the best to ever grace the front page. I will be forwarding the article to a few of my friends.

Certis wrote:

....like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.

The theory that a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane on the opposite side of the world is the Chaos Theory. The theory states that we can only measure a thing or event to a certain precision, and everything after that level will compound over time to create a result that is radically different from what we expected.

Y'all are doing you best to make sure GWJ gets slashdotted with every article lately it seems Certis.

Yet another excellent article. I've always found it more than a little odd that the media always wants a single bullet point answer for every problem and that bullet point never seems to be that the kid(s) were already messed up in the head in the first place. Doom didn't cause Columbine to happen, two crazy kids who were teased every day made Columbine happen. The Catcher in the Rye didn't tell Mark David Chapman to kill John Lennon. Backmasking doesn't send messages directly into our subconscious, and if you thought you could fly after playing a few rounds of Dungeons and Dragons, then you already had something wrong inside your head.

Those aren't the easy answers we want to hear. There's too much grey area. Why ask why these kids were allowed to be teased every day, what their home lives were like, what other myriad social pressures that teens face on a daily basis lead up to such a horror? if x = y and y = z then x = z. That's easy. The rate of change of x as it approaches the square root of y over z? Cubed? No one wants to know that.

Perhaps we're still living in a culture of irresponsibility and we refuse to accept that our actions have consequences. It's not my fault that I put hot coffee between my legs and burnt myself, it's McDonald's fault for giving it to me hot. Why should I pay that red light camera ticket for doing 40 over the limit, when the cameras are clearly a money grabbing scheme by the cops? It's not like we don't have coffee holders in our cars after all. Heaven forbid we get caught when we choose to break the law.

Don't take the blame! Sue! Nothing is ever your fault! Therefore it's not our fault when someone goes on a killing spree, it's the new media's fault! Our culture right now is perfect! It's that damn new Rock and Roll music/Dungeons and Dragons/Video Games! Change is bad, it's what causes all our problems.

Is this phenomenon new, our lethargy and fear of change? Copernicus' De revolutionibus orbium coelestium was on the churches banned book list for daring to suggest that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. Only over time did his research become accepted and expanded upon. Women had to fight for the right to vote and to be treated as equals. Again, over time peoples views slowly changed and women have a much more equal standing in our society.

We crave simple answers and resist change, it's part of the human idiom. I have hope that even this can change. That not everything has a simple answer and that change can be good.

Wow, you really nailed this article. I don't know what, if anything prompted this particular piece since it seems to be an endless topic of debate, but I think I will come back to and reference this article the next time it comes up.

Certis wrote:

Instead, the best anyone can do is create conditions that support an outcome. We can't force a seed into flowering, but we can plant it in good soil, make sure it gets lots of sun and pour a little water on it once in a while. Whether or not it grows isn't up to us.

I think this is one of the strongest and clearest points of the argument, and well put.

Excellent article, great food for thought.

[quote=Certis]-- like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.[/url]
Really dig the parallel.

Fantastic article, Certis. I was nodding in agreement throughout its entirety. I hope this does get Slashdot coverage, just so more people can read it. Although it will be tough to be without the site again.

SexyBeast wrote:

I often wonder what effects video games have had on me. They've certainly had a great influence in my life. I think positive. Without video games I think I would have been a very miserable adolescent growing up. Video games gave me entertainment when I didn't have any real friends to play with. I think for every case of some kid blaming video games for why he committed a crime, theres probably hundreds more of video games having a positive influence on a kids life.

Just off the top of my head, benefits I've gotten from gaming
1. Faster, more accurate typing skills
2. better reading comprehension
3. Sharpened Problem solving skills
4. Computer and Programming knowledge
5. Experience using CAD like programs
6. better hand eye coordination

7. Learned history and mythology and spurned a further interest in it
8. Learned how to run over people in GTA
9. Learned how to kill people in Rainbow 6
10. Learned how to kill Americans in CoH
11. Learned how to kill Germans in Wolfenstein
12. Learned the all-important ways to kill aliens in Doom

Is that a Discworld reference? I realize it serves a purpose as a parallel but it still reminds me a lot of "Interesting Times".

This theory was indeed referenced (well the butterflies actually created a hurricane as part of the story) in "Interesting Times" but Terry Pratchett was referencing the theory that Gaald and Dr_J mentioned, so strictly speaking, Certis was probably not thinking of Discworld when he wrote it since it has been around far longer than that.

But I admit "Interesting Times" was the first thing that popped into my head when I read that part of this (wonderful) article, as coincidentally, I am currently reading it.

Oh and fantastic piece, Certis. I was nodding like a bobble-head while reading it.

Game Theory covered this topic on one of their recent podcasts when they interviewed Proffesor Patrick Markey of Villanova University. One of the points that he brought up was that while the research does suggest that there is a correlation between aggressive behavior in people who view violent media the part that is often ignored by ambitious politicians and crazy lawyers is that the effect is very small both in magnitude and duration. I'd highly recommend this podcast to anyone who has further interest in the subject.

A thought just occurred to me.

The American public seems fine with their movies. They seem fine with the rating system, fine with the model fo "going to the movies," fine with their children being stopped from buying tickets for 'R' rated films, fine with having to escort children to see these movies if they think they should. In short they seem fine with the journey that is the movies.

Video Games are another animal. With the death of the arcade and the growth of the consoles you don't "go out" to play video games. Games are more private, more personal, longer, more immersive. It's a lot like the pornography model. You sneak out, pick up something you've craved for a while, take it home and hide it from the wife... or the parents, or whoever. But they're not porn, and they have age restrictions, and they still require the same parental responsibility. You still need to monitor your child's purchases, their habits, their lifestyle. And if you find GTA under their bed you still need to have a very serious conversation.

Can we have Congress pass a responsibility bill? Perhaps an amendment to the Constitution that allows indivudual senators to go out into the world and slap parents, to take away their right to sue, something to pour the cold water on them.

There are countless accidents in the world, many more deliberate than others, but it is not an accident to bring up an angry, violent child. It's not that easy.

Our society has to come to terms with the idea that human beings are perfectly capable of performing atrocities and not everyone is fundamentally good. We really cant handle the idea that people can kill with no remorse. Every generation has had a media source that filled the cause. Rock and Roll music, comic books, movies and now games caused these unfortunate souls down the road to evil. And the moral majority thinks that if we only get rid of the current cause these people will stop killing. Sorry folks there is no quick fix to this problem and there never will be.

Doom didn't cause Columbine to happen, two crazy kids who were teased every day made Columbine happen.

Be careful, it's a pretty common refrain among gamers that "Games didn't cause columbine, that's crazy! It was bullies. Duh" That's just replacing one cause with another because it suits our personal tilt more.

When I'm saying there's no cause, I'm not limiting that to just games and violence. I'm talking everything, there can't be some cause here, but no cause over there, depending on where our ideals fall.

Certis wrote:

Life can't be framed up like a game of billiards.

Well, crap. Now I have to restart my thesis, "I suck at life because I suck at pool."

Certis wrote:
Doom didn't cause Columbine to happen, two crazy kids who were teased every day made Columbine happen.

Be careful, it's a pretty common refrain among gamers that "Games didn't cause columbine, that's crazy! It was bullies. Duh" That's just replacing one cause with another because it suits our personal tilt more.

When I'm saying there's no cause, I'm not limiting that to just games and violence. I'm talking everything, there can't be some cause here, but no cause over there, depending on where our ideals fall.

Yeah, I oversimplified that more than a little bit and shouldn't have. I was trying to illustrate the point that it's never just one thing that leads up to people snapping like this.

Ironic that. I'm trying to say that it's never a simple answer and then I go and make an overly simple statement as one of my arguments. Methinks I need to go back to English 101

Weeee!

Certis is teh famous.

Huzzah! Informed discourse ahoy!

Very well put, Certis. Thank you.

BlackSheep wrote:
SexyBeast wrote:

I often wonder what effects video games have had on me. They've certainly had a great influence in my life. I think positive. Without video games I think I would have been a very miserable adolescent growing up. Video games gave me entertainment when I didn't have any real friends to play with. I think for every case of some kid blaming video games for why he committed a crime, theres probably hundreds more of video games having a positive influence on a kids life.

Just off the top of my head, benefits I've gotten from gaming
1. Faster, more accurate typing skills
2. better reading comprehension
3. Sharpened Problem solving skills
4. Computer and Programming knowledge
5. Experience using CAD like programs
6. better hand eye coordination

7. Learned history and mythology and spurned a further interest in it
8. Learned how to run over people in GTA
9. Learned how to kill people in Rainbow 6
10. Learned how to kill Americans in CoH
11. Learned how to kill Germans in Wolfenstein
12. Learned the all-important ways to kill aliens in Doom

Don't forget the zombie hordes!

Al wrote:

Game Theory covered this topic on one of their recent podcasts when they interviewed Proffesor Patrick Markey of Villanova University. One of the points that he brought up was that while the research does suggest that there is a correlation between aggressive behavior in people who view violent media the part that is often ignored by ambitious politicians and crazy lawyers is that the effect is very small both in magnitude and duration. I'd highly recommend this podcast to anyone who has further interest in the subject.

There's also a very real question of causation. Was their violent nature what drew them to games, or was it the other way around?

TheWanderer wrote:

Video Games are another animal. With the death of the arcade and the growth of the consoles you don't "go out" to play video games. Games are more private, more personal, longer, more immersive. It's a lot like the pornography model. You sneak out, pick up something you've craved for a while, take it home and hide it from the wife... or the parents, or whoever. But they're not porn, and they have age restrictions, and they still require the same parental responsibility. You still need to monitor your child's purchases, their habits, their lifestyle. And if you find GTA under their bed you still need to have a very serious conversation.

Does this mean I'll be able to pick up Gears of War 2 from behind the counter at White Hen Pantry?

Yes, but only if Dante is working.

"I assure you, we are open for business!"

The more I am suckered into watching media coverage of pretty much anything the more often I find myself feeling like we are becoming a society of victims. No one wants to be held responsible for their actions or lack thereof. It is always easier to pass the buck. Violence, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, Christianity, Sex, Political Correctness, whatever. Something is always causing folks to act one way or another. Situations are never the result of conscious thought on the part of those involved.

It wasn't my fault my parents beat me... His mind was warped from playing too many video games... Janet jackson's boob has destroyed my child's innocence... I am poor because the man is keeping me down... OMG the taco bell dog offends me because it has a spanish accent... It's those homosexuals wanting gay marriage that is corrupting the moral fabric of our society... Etc etc. If I took it all at face value I would be forced into the belief that no one in our society is capable of thinking/living/acting for themselves. It's rather depressing.

I will never in a million years claim that none of these things impact society or individuals. However at some point people need to come to grips with the fact that they have the final say in the way they respond to outside stimuli. It's not like the alcohol lept into your body of its own volition and then forced you to get in your car and drive and kill that family of 15. If you know you are the type who will get in your car and drive either don't drink, or make other arrangements ahead of time. Yes it's fun to cut people up with a chainsaw in gears but if you can't differentiate between a virtual avatar and a living breathing person outside of the game you were probably insane long before you picked up the game...

Oh hey look Sexy Beast, somebody interpreted your list.

I decided to run the Jack Thompson Translation software on the first comment from TFA...See the results below. Comments in italics, translations are not.

Just off the top of my head, benefits I've gotten from gaming
1. Faster, more accurate typing skills (for dodging bullets)
2. better reading comprehension (so I know who to shoot)
3. Sharpened Problem solving skills (when the gun doesn't work, switch to the knife)
4. Computer and Programming knowledge (old aimbots didn't install themselves you know!)
5. Experience using CAD like programs (to make maps of my school of course)
6. better hand eye coordination (the better to shoot you with my dearie!)

Excellent article Certis. Pretty much any point I would have made has been already by other people. It frustrates me to no end that the "journalists" who make up the majority of the mainstream media are more concerned with appealing to the ever-decreasing, fear-driven attention span and the western audience than with actually going into detail and justifying what they claim. As has been eluded to elsewhere in this thread, that is as much the fault of the audience not wanting to be properly informed as it is of the media for not properly informing them. Everyone will deny that they want to be told how to think but that is in fact what most people want. Learning the truth is too much work.

Great article Certis.

I also think the important point somewhat flogged to death, but unrealized by many is there is very little personal accountability anymore. Whether an adult has some, or requires their child to have some. Two examples come to mind both have happened to me: First when was the last time at work someone actually took responsibility for a screwup/mistake. It has been a long time since I have seen it happen. All you hear is "we had a miscommunication", " I was unable to reach...", "It was the XXX team". No one is stepping up. I try to do it now even on little things to set an example, but so far it doesn't seem to be working.

Personal accountability is dead... Long live the scapegoat!

The second incident is much more personal. Recently, two boys out drinking etc. got it in their heads to smash a few mailboxes. Mine got hit along with several neighbors. The kids got caught. One went around three days later, with his dad and without asking or saying anything (i.e. apologizing) fixed my mailbox. I saw it when I got home from work. That was one father's solution.

The other father's was to hold the boy accountable completely. I received a summons to court as a witness/person who suffered harm. The boy was there. The judge lectured him and likely scared him a bit. I was asked to come and I did. Yet nothing was required or given to me. In my opinion I wasted an afternoon since, I had no interaction with the judge, the kid or anyone and there was no restitution made to me. Why was I even called... (There was another homeowner there as well, same deal and he had the same opinion.). Now, I could have spent the time better, but I appreciate that the parent made a point to his son. Yes my time was wasted and I still didn't get an apology, but the boy was likely taught a lesson.

Overall though, the first solution seems the better. That parent showed his son to fix what you mess up and did not waste my time. I learned who it was at a going away party for the family a year later. A note of apology or knock on the door and he would have been the winner. To find out a year after that it was your kid just doesn't sit right, but in the grand scheme it was a well intentioned solution just lacking an apology.

Personal accountability is barely alive, Resuscitate it. Death to the scapegoat!

Random Thought: If the penalty for committing a first degree felony was immediately being shipped off to Iraq and being shoved off the truck in the middle of a war zone armed with nothing but your wits would the crime rate go down?

Good work Certis.

kilroy0097 wrote:

Random Thought: If the penalty for committing a first degree felony was immediately being shipped off to Iraq and being shoved off the truck in the middle of a war zone armed with nothing but your wits would the crime rate go down?

I think so.