Video Games Hold No Answers

For over thirty years I have represented teens throughout the nation charged with homicide. I have not conducted any   laboratory controlled studies on the relationship between violent video games (or for that matter slasher movies or violent music lyrics) and   homicidal or aggressive behavior   in young people. I have however, come to many understandings about teen homicide and youth violence sitting for hours on end in windowless jail interview rooms with shackled teenagers who have taken the lives of friends, neighbors, family members and strangers. And what I have learned is that the relationship between the killing and what video game the kid plays, what movie he watches or song he listens to is so tenuous as to be irrelevant. If there   was any truly meaningful link between   homicide and media exposure from any source, then by now one would have seen a whole body of supportive forensic research being used in our courts. If any of this research being trotted out now held even a glimmer of hope for a person accused of murder, attorneys all over the country would be mounting vigorous defenses based upon this connection – but we haven’t. And the reason we haven’t is that the connection between the psychological and behavioral dynamics of youth homicide and violent video games and violent movies is simply not there.

                Critics of violent media typically trot out studies which supposedly show that children (in a controlled setting) become more agitated or aggressive in the aftermath of watching a violent movie or playing a violent video game. These studies however have precious little to do with the reality of teens that kill. They do not account for the myriad of familial, social and psychological factors that present themselves in the vast majority of homicides perpetrated by teens and young adults. However, these types of studies gain easy traction with the public and politicians because of a   widespread   distrust of teenagers and  the unspoken belief that even average, well-adjusted  16 or  18 year olds, can’t be relied upon to distinguish between fantasy and reality.

                The video-creators of Mortal Kombat and Resident Evil (or for that matter film directors like Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone) are also easy targets for the public’s wrath – much easier than say gun manufacturers. Our nation has a long and enduring history of making our musicians, film makers and television producers whipping boys   for the messy, intractable   social issues it doesn’t want to confront head on – and that is exactly what we are seeing now. In fact, witness that the only area of common ground between liberals and conservatives in the whole post-Newtown debate is tightening   the reins on video-game makers.    

                 Pointing the finger at video game makers also stems from an unwillingness to look directly at ourselves and our families for the real answers. The two principal factors at the heart of these terrible tragedies are long term mental illness and the prolonged exposure to   physical violence and sexual abuse in the home.   A number of years ago,   I represented a young teenage girl who shot her father with his own gun. The state’s theory was that she was under the influence of heavy metal music (Motley Crue) which put thoughts in her mind of   the occult and suicide.  (Outside the courtroom the prosecutor told the press that “research suggested that teenage fans of such music may be prone to violence.”) As the evidence came in, it became clear that music   had nothing to do with the homicide. In finding   her not guilty, the judge decided   that she   killed her father because he was beating her mother and she was fearful he was going to rape her.

 Many   children who kill also have psychological and behavioral adjustment problems which can be traced back to their pre-school and early elementary school years. In some of these cases parents simply do not see these problems; in others, they see the problems and either don’t know what to do or don’t care to do anything. Our unwillingness to accept the fact that serious mental illness in children and adolescents is simply way beyond the ability of most parents to effectively address is one of the most profound challenges we face in preventing youth violence.  

                We have for the first time an historic opportunity to move forward the national dialogue about violence in a meaningful way. Obviously restricting access to high-capacity weapons is a needed step, but we are deluding ourselves if we believe that any legislation curbing media violence in any of its forms will prevent future tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School. 


One Response to Video Games Hold No Answers

  1. Malaine Gill says:

    I Absolutely Agree… What I Find is… the violent, movies, video games, etc that these children watch or play or get involved with, if anything… is an outlet for their mind, that they use to try to deal with the trauma & suffering they have had to endure… whether, physical, mental, sexual or what… They MIND, cannot deal w/this Severe Trauma…. Without JESUS CHRIST, the Child will Suffer Some Type of Personality Disorder & Shall Eventually Become Violent Either 2 Themselves of Others…
    The LORD Led me 2 Ur Book, Years Ago & I Have Never Forgotten the Book, Nor Ur Name… I Thank the LORD, for Ur Work … U Have Been a Blessing 2 Many… Thank U!

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