Sunday, March 06, 2005

Does Grand Theft Auto Cause People to Kill?

The makers of the video game Grand Theft Auto, along with Walmart and GameStop are being sued by families of two police officers who were killed by 18-year old Devin Moore (ed. note: Moore shot and killed three officers), who said after he killed the police officers, "Life is like a video game. Everybody's got to die sometime." The question is: Is Grand Theft Auto responsible for these officers deaths?

When interviewed by 60 Minutes, child psychologist, David Walsh, had this to say, "You know, not every kid that plays a violent video game is gonna turn to violence. And that's because they don't have all of those other risk factors going on. It's a combination of risk factors, which come together in a tragic outcome." I think that's a sensible answer and I know quite a bit on the subject matter, as I wrote a Senior Thesis on violent video games last year. So what are some of those risk factors? An aggressive disposition (e.g., believing that use of violence is an effective means to solve problems, angry mood, etc.) and being a male are two of the biggest risk factors. Moore has both of these risk factors as not is he a male, but he came from a broken home and bounced around several foster homes. Then when you add the hours of Grand Theft Auto he played, it does make it more likely he will act out violently.

If playing Grand Theft Auto when mixed with the right risk factors can lead to tragic consequences like the death of the three officers here, does that mean the makers of Grand Theft Auto are civilly liable for the officers' deaths? Probably not. You would have to show that playing Grand Theft Auto caused Moore to shoot those officers. That is a tricky proposition. Simply being a risk factor for possible violence is probably not enough for the makers of Grand Theft Auto to be liable. Not to mention, researchers really do not know how big of a role violent video game playing is in a person's decision to act out violent. I tried to answer that question in my Senior Thesis project without a lot of success. Until more is known about the effects of violent video games, I do not see lawsuits against video game makers or its sellers will have much success.

While video game makers for now, may not be liable for the violent actions taken by its players, the states can do a better job in making sure games like Grand Theft Auto do not end up in the hands of children. A simple measure that states could pass would be to require all video game sellers to only sell mature-rated videos to people 17 and older. Hence, treating mature-rated video games like R-rated movies and carding those individuals who do not look old enough to purchase the games. In addition to the video game sellers being more aware of who they sell their games to, parents must do a better job of monitoring what their children play and to exercise some common sense in what games they buy for their children. For example, if you're buying Grand Theft Auto for your 13-year old son, you're a terrible parent, especially if your child has a problem with aggression. Games like Grand Theft Auto are meant to be played by adults.