After kid kills caregiver and CNN blames a violent video game, it’s time to do a little math


An 8-year-old shoots his elderly caregiver. And the police blame video games? Photo by Flickr user Whistling in the Dark.

CNN ran an article today about an 8-year-old Louisiana boy who was living with an elderly caregiver until he shot her in the back of the head Thursday, killing her. They didn’t waste much time before blaming video games. Here’s a quote from the local police:

“Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Play Station III ‘Grand Theft Auto IV’, a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and awards points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

I have so many questions, I don’t know where to begin. Okay, that’s not entirely true. Here’s my first question:

1. Why did this little boy have access to a loaded gun?

It’s a question we’re not likely to get the answer to. Admittedly, it’s entirely possible that the boy was trained to use weapons responsibly, although part of that training involves teaching people never to point a loaded gun at another person.

2. Why are we still blaming Grand Theft Auto?

It’s worth remembering that the man most responsible for trying to create connections between this video game and youth violence, Jack Thompson was disbarred in part for his conduct in cases involving the video game. There’s no science connecting this game (or any game) to real-life violence. And let’s keep in mind that CNN and the sheriffs of Louisiana are not scientists.

3. Why don’t we trust kids to separate fact from fiction?

The kids I’ve talked to in my own research, whether they’re 8 or 12 or 18, recognized a very clear line between video-game violence and real violence. The same was true of those I interviewed for Wired in 2011. Once in a while, maybe, a kid can’t tell the difference; I remember seeing one of the early Superman movies in the theater, and my brother thinking he could jump off our play structure and fly. But he was also about 2 years old, much younger than this kid. You know who can’t tell the difference between fiction and reality so well these days? “Experts.” Oh, and Pat Robertson.

Speaking of which, I’m no expert on this kid’s life, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say if he’s living in a trailer park with a 90-year-old woman who isn’t a family member, and who leaves a loaded gun around, this kid might have bigger concerns than his video-game intake. I also find it really interesting that following this event he’s now living with his parents. I will grant that there are some kids who are better off not living with their parents, but when that’s the situation, that’s a pretty heavy thing for an 8-year-old kid to deal with on a daily basis.

I’ve already seen parents calling for the end of violent video games, but what would that solve? If this were a math equation, it would go something like:

kid + GTA + gun = fatality

Now let’s take one of those things out of the equation.

kid + GTA = fatality?

Not unless you can bludgeon someone to death with a game console.

Let’s try again:

kid + gun = fatality

Maybe. There’s still a missing factor here, that unknown something that actually made this kid kill.

We need to keep looking for it.

The video game? That isn’t it.

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