In the weeks before he stormed his high school with weapons, Alexander Youshock played “violent video games in which characters were often armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails,” according to wire reports. Image from Call of Duty 3.
On August 24, 2009 — days after school started for the fall — teenager Alexander Youshock arrived for morning classes at Hillsdale High School in San Mateo, Calif. Unlike his fellow students, he was armed with 10 pipe bombs, a chainsaw, and a 10-inch knife.
Youshock’s fate now rests in the hands of a jury, currently deliberating in a San Mateo County courtroom where Youshock stands accused on two counts of attempted murder and other charges. No one was injured in the attack; Youshock was unable to start his chainsaw, and the two pipe bombs he detonated weren’t close enough to harm anyone. If the jury finds him guilty of any charges, a second trial will determine his sanity.
Youshock is allegedly schizophrenic; he told the court he began hearing voices when he was in the eighth grade. In high school, he said he felt “singled out” by counselors and teachers who pushed him to participate in classes and do homework. His cracked state of mind may have motivated the attack on the high school, expert witnesses testified.
And yet, somehow video games get tangled up in all this: “In the months leading up to the Hillsdale attack, Youshock spent most days in his room playing violent video games in which characters were often armed with pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails. His ability to tell the difference between his violent fantasies and their possible consequences in the real world became obscured by his mental disorder, [psychologist Alfred] Fricke said.”
Once again, video games are dragged through the mud in a court case where it’s not apparent that a teen’s gaming habits — or even his mental stability — are to blame. Sure, it’s possible that Youshock has the very rare form of schizophrenia that can make some sufferers harbor violent fantasies and even act on them. Youshock himself said that his inspiration came predominantly from the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre and a 2009 school shooting in Winnenden, Germany.
But most people who learn about such shootings don’t bring bombs to high school. The same can be said of most schizophrenics, and most players of violent video games — even ones with pipe bombs in them. It takes a lot more than any of these factors — and more than these factors combined — to push someone this far. And, so far, we don’t know what leads boys like Youshock to attack their own stomping grounds. As long as we keep focusing on distractions like video games, we’ll never figure it out.
Parents, what are your concerns about video games like the ones Youshock played? Have you ever prevented your kids from playing them? How did that effort turn out?