Could video games have kept teen from killing great-grandmother, stabbing grandmother?

An Atlanta teen (not pictured) killed his great-grandmother and stabbed his grandmother with a sword after they kept him from playing the video game Halo. Photo by Flickr user Aidan.Morgan.

In the big debate over whether minors should play violent video games, there are parents who let them play, parents who don’t let them play, and parents who say it’s okay for a while — and then try to cut kids off from such games when they become a problem. We don’t know why an Atlanta 15-year-old’s family told him to stop playing Halo. What we do know is, most kids who are separated from their video games don’t get so angry that they kill. One did.

Douglas County sheriff’s officials say the teenager used a 36-inch sword to stab his grandmother, 55-year-old Laura Prince, in the arm and to kill his great-grandmother, 77-year-old Mary Joan Gibbs.

Officers arrived at the home Monday afternoon and found the grandmother barricaded inside a room and the great-grandmother lying lifeless in the front yard, Douglas County Sheriff Phil Miller said.

The teen was standing in the doorway with what officers described as a full-sized sword and a pellet rifle, Miller said.

Officers used a stun gun to take the teen into custody after a standoff.

It turns out that this teen had already been evaluated twice after violent episodes, but was released. The question isn’t why was he allowed to play violent video games. The question is, why was he allowed access to a sword and a pellet gun? I doubt very much that question will be answered during the teen’s murder trial.

In the realm of the everyday, parents struggle with what to let their kids play. One San Diego mom said she doesn’t like her 9-year-old son playing violent video games. However, she works long hours and can’t supervise him at home. Fair enough. For child care, she’s relying on her brothers — who spend all their time playing video games. Not a great situation for a mom with her values, right?

Unfortunately, the article, from Latin in America, uses this tale as a springboard for a cornucopia of random, unfounded claims about video games. It starts by referring to an unnamed study that found that by age 21, boys have played some 10,000 hours of video games (and then calls this an “addiction”). If boys begin playing at 5, as the article suggests, that’s 16 years of gameplay. 16 years contain more than 140,160 hours. 10,000 hours is 14 percent of that — a little more than 3 hours a day. That’s not nothing, but it’s not “addiction” levels by any means.

The article goes on. Allowing kids to explore aggression and violence in a consequence-free way “sends the wrong message,” it claims — despite the fact that many teen gamers appreciate that opportunity. And it ends by warning parents that “video games are the new tools of sex predators.” What the?

Thankfully, there have been some voices from the other side of the fence recently. Let’s start with Chris Martucci at What Blag?, who offers “In Defense of Call of Duty”. Martucci takes on the idea that video games are the cause of real-life violence by pointing out:

1. As Lewis-Hasteley states, as popular as violent video games are, bad people are bound to play them at some point.

2. There is no “violent gene” or unitary “violent part of the brain.” Certain emotions are associated with certain parts of the brain, which are thus associated with violence. There is therefore no simple way to prevent your child from becoming an axe-murderer with Gattaca-style eugenics. What I mean to say is this: if violent video games are merely associated with something that is associated with violence, how much is that really worth to us?

Bad people play these very popular games, just as bad people go to church, drive cars, eat at McDonald’s, watch sports on television, swim in the ocean, have children, and breathe. We wouldn’t blame any of those other behaviors on violence, so why gaming?

Over at, Peter Suderman extends his own defense of video games, again citing the dropoff in real-life violence that has coincided with the rise of violent video games. As with all data on video games to date, this is correlational — there’s no way to determine whether one caused the other. However, boredom and free time are frequently cited as reasons for juvenile delinquency, and, as Mike Ward has discovered, kids who are busy playing video games aren’t bored.

In general, it pays to listen to kids themselves. Over at Radical Parenting, 16-year-old gamer Monique shares her love of violent games as a way of safely exploring, expressing, and purging anger.

The media is so quick to jump on violent video games being the cause of aggression, however never stops to think that maybe a violent video game can help lesson aggression. When asked if he thought violent video games caused anger and aggression 16-year-old Edwin McGuffin replied by saying, “No, I don’t. I find that video games actually help reduce it. When I get mad I just jump on my Xbox instead of taking it out on others.”

What if that Atlanta teen had been playing Halo that day, rather than taking up his weapons in anger?


2 responses to “Could video games have kept teen from killing great-grandmother, stabbing grandmother?

  1. A teenager in my town — someone who lives in my neighborhood, in fact, probably just a few blocks away from me — tried to kill the vice principal of the high school last week. The details are here:

    Now, while the incident I’ve referenced is quite different — it involved drugs, not video games — I bring it up because in both cases, the impulse for many people is to generalize. I am a pacifist in real life, but I enjoy playing Doom II and slaughtering aliens by the dozens. I have never and will never attempt to end the life of another human. Who is among the vast majority of people who have played Doom II: me or this kid? Me or the Columbine kids?

    The kid in my neighborhood was caught on a Thursday morning along the bike trail, packing weed in a pipe to get blazed with a friend before school. The vice principal caught him and suspended him, and the kid freaked out. Does that mean that kids who smoke pot are any more likely to behave violently than kids who don’t? There’s no evidence to suggest that, but many people will perceive a connection — or pretend to perceive one.

    Some people are mentally ill, or have other serious problems that make them dangerous to others. The source of that mental illness is not to be found in the entertainment they choose.

  2. Pingback: Video games: educational, or crime-sparking? Informed & uninformed voices in the debate | Backward Messages

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