Critical Intel

Critical Intel
Grand Theft Auto IV Didn't Drive an 8 Year-Old to Murder

Robert Rath | 28 Aug 2013 12:05
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The Sheriff's Department's statement has a number of problems, not least that it misspells "PlayStation 3." More troubling is the claim that GTA IV "has been associated with encouraging violence" and that it "awards points to players for killing people." First of all, anyone who's played Grand Theft Auto IV knows that the game doesn't award "points" for anything, much less for killing people - it's a myth that was created on talk shows and circulated until it was considered a fact. As for the game being "associated with encouraging violence," there have been about a half-dozen killings and crimes that were supposedly "inspired" by the GTA series, but when you look closely, at least four cases distinctly look like blame-shifting attempts by either the suspects or defense attorneys, and the rest seem to involve severe mental illness. To date, no plea of insanity involving Grand Theft Auto has ever held up in court. To say the game is "associated" with violence is a weasel word - a way to suggest a link where a link has never been proven.

It is, frankly, a strange thing to tell the media, particularly in a case involving children. The statement seems calculated to be flashy and draw national attention to the case: We believe a boy killed his grandmother intentionally. We don't have a motive and can't release any details, except that the suspect was playing Grand Theft Auto IV. Never mind that neighbors said the boy and his grandmother seemed to have a "loving relationship" and slept in the same room. Never mind that the child was playing, unsupervised, with a loaded gun. The statement about GTA was like a dinner gong for the cable news networks.

Uninformed Reporting Twists the Story

On August 24th picked up the story and ran with it. This early report had most of the relevant information, but misstated Ms. Smothers's age as 90 rather than 87 (a mistake that would carry on in Fox News cable programming days later). However, the most problematic part was a quote from Kristopher Kaliebe, a child psychologist from LSU:

"From a behavior therapy perspective, I would say that's practicing," added Dr. Kaliebe, speaking about the incident. "So if you have a video game where someone shoots at a target, that's sort of practicing shooting at a target. When you have a video game that is shooting at a human being, that is practicing shooting at a human being."

It's a good quote and seems to hit the nail on the head for the GTA-blamers, but it has a few issues. First, Dr. Kaliebe was working on incomplete, secondhand information. He did not examine the boy in question in a clinical setting, he simply made a comment on the information given - that a boy had shot his grandmother after playing Grand Theft Auto. In other words, it's not necessarily an uninformed comment, but it's based on severely limited information and assumes a link between the game and the shooting that hadn't been conclusively established. (In Dr. Kaliebe's defense, I would not be surprised if the full interview was loaded with caveats that were cut out.)

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