Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't hate the game

It was about a week ago that I stumbled onto an article describing how a 17-year-old boy from Ohio had slain his mother (and almost his father) over the popular video game, Halo 3. The boy's father, a minister at a local church, had forbidden the boy from playing the game.

Daniel Petric crept into his parents room at night and asked them, "Would you guys close your eyes? I have a surprise for you." Closing their eyes, and expecting something nice, his parents each received gunshot wounds to the head. Daniel then ran away from home, taking with him nothing but his Halo 3 game disc.

It's easy to point the finger at games for this incident. Certainly games have their role to play in creating immersive and interactive fictional settings. But at worst, they could serve as a trigger point for those with underlying mental or moral instabilities. Halo 3 is a colourful science fiction story about a super-soldier out to save the world. It carries little of the controversial content of some other popular games.

If I were to identify one singular component of video games that I think has been deleterious on the development of youth, I would point the finger squarely at online competitive play. Not only does multiplayer facilitate endless hours of addictive gameplay (there is no finite story to complete), but it also brings together legions of arrogant and abusive morons who cuss and insult one another from the safety of their own homes. However, this is not a function of games, but rather the nature of the Internet itself. The Internet's freedom from tangible retrubution for one's actions makes it a breeding ground for idiocy.

The prevention of troubling scenarios such as that of Daniel Petric require more fundamental changes than restrictions on video game content (though some degree of content moderation may be prudent). They require us as a society to examine our character and attitudes towards conflict, morality, family, firearms, and education. While this particular case was sparked by Halo, the underlying issues lay with Daniel... and with us.

I was shocked while studying for my course on Community Health to stumble upon the following fact regarding Canada:

In the past 20 years, one third of homocide victims were related to their killers.

Admittedly, homocide is not a frequent occurence in our society, but it does raise some rather dramatic questions: Who slaughters their own kin?


sandlot said...

Considering that domestic violence and abuse are one of the most problematic issues within a household, and that the probability to be raped by a family member/friend is more likely than to be raped by a stranger while walking at home at night, i don't find it that shocking to hear that 1/3 of homicides are within the family as well.

but i do agree with you that we have to examine the social context that this boy was in rather than just blame the game.

Anonymous said...

I think extended period of video game-play can make someone irritable. This is especially true for many action-packed games like Counterstrike because the player is in a constant state of alertness and excitement. Imagine what could happen when a youth is suddenly snapped back to reality when the parent takes away the adrenaline-packed games he's been playing for 12 hours straight. Arguments could ensue, violence might follow, and possibly with horrifying consequences.

Video games (intense action ones) are more than a trigger point for the unstable; they are a breeding ground for erratic violent behaviors. I think when youths become so accustomed to the graphic violence in video games, they are more likely to act impulsively on their rage and more readily solve problems with disproportionate violence. Of course, some people are more predisposed to this than others, given the social context you mentioned.

I agree there are many more underlying issues at hand in tragedies like the case you mentioned. Why was it so easy for Daniel Petric to obtain guns and other firearm? After so many home-shootings, school violence like the Virgina Tech Massacre, there are still so many Americans who choose to embrace their current ineffective gun-control legislation (if existent). So many Americans have no political motivation at all to change the status quo. And Canadians consistently become victims of gun-violence because many illegal firearms are smuggled over the border. In essence, they are accomplice to many of the firearm crimes in Canada.

a_ndy said...

Wow, these comments are so thoughtful and convicting that I'm rather at a loss to respond.

@sandlot: I guess when you put it that way, it doesn't seem quite as shocking. But then the proportion of violence that is domestic violence is, and I suppose that raises similar questions.

@Teddy: I can see where you're coming from. Still, I've binge played a fair share of video games in my day... I think there are issues with duration of play; but I think it also takes a special kind of disposition to confuse virtual reality with reality proper.

With regards to the firearm, I believe the boy stole it from the locked storage device his father kept it in. And while gun control certainly would have helped, it doesn't change the boy's intention to kill his parents.

Alexis said...

I have to say Teddy has a point. Although you and many people you know turned out fine having played violent video games in their youth, I can't imagine it not having an effect on developing minds of children and teenagers. I can't say games these days are more violent than they used to be because I don't really have first-hand experience with them. Keep in mind, though, that with improved graphics and sound, they create a far more realistic world than they used to.

Michael said...

I'd have to go with Andy on this one (Teddy please don't snap and kill me, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE!!!), but not really for the same reason.

I think there is truth to both sides, specifically, that anyone who commits a violent act in 'mimic' of some videogame is psychologically predisposed to violence but also that playing violent videogames desensitizes one to violence.

The latter is most certainly true and is an age-old argument that has been used against violence in TV and pornography on the internets (studies have shown you become less offended by violence and the objectification of women almost immediately after viewing the former).

But it has to be pointed out that 'desensitization' by itself provides no impetus. As a rather graphic example, thanks to destroying my brain on such websites as Ogrish (links to wikipedia article), I do not necessarily find violent crime to be physically repulsive, but that does not make it any less morally reprehensible.

Anyways, that's more of an aside on Teddy's issue. The fact of the matter is, no matter how much the public tries to censor it, kids will get their hands on violent videogames, just like how they manage to sneak into R-rated movies and circumvent 'parental filters' when surfing the internet.

In fact, any attempts at restriction or censorship only makes things more popular... hence the immense popularity of the GTA games (all the free publicity from Family-This and Children-That).

Instead, I think it ultimately falls to parental guidance and involvement (like, actually play-testing the games their kids buy, omg?!), to help 'developing minds' separate fantasy from reality.