Tag Archives: Florida

On Politicians and Villains, Real and Imaginary


There’s been quite the kerfuffle the past day or so about Florida U.S. Congressional candidate Jake Rush, a 35-year-old Republican who also apparently plays Camarilla, a live-action vampire role-playing game, in his off time. From the sounds of it, Rush plays some sort of villain in the game, one who’s prone to making upsetting, sexually violent threats against other characters. I won’t quote those threats here; you can click through if you want to see them.

I wrote pretty extensively about role-playing games and LARPs in The Columbine Effect, and interviewed adult gamers who had played with a local Camarilla group in their teens and 20s. Although some people who play seem not to have strong boundaries between their in-game roles and their day-to-day lives, as I mention in the book, for the most part that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t know much about Rush and can’t tell you whether he behaves like his Camarilla character on a day-to-day basis. What I can tell you is that there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a curiosity about villains or evil people, and finding a safe and harmless outlet through which to explore that curiosity.

Through play-acting. It isn’t real life. It’s pretend.

By contrast, let’s look at California Senator Leland Yee, who was arrested last week for allegedly conspiring to traffic weapons and also for taking political contributions (bribes) in exchange for favors. (You may recall that Yee was a vocal opponent of allowing minors to play violent video games, sponsoring legislation that was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Court). Yee was allegedly affiliated with a San Francisco-based organized crime gang, who knew him as “Uncle Leland.” Yee apparently told an undercover agent, who was pretending to be a gun runner, “There’s a part of me that wants to be like you. You know how I’m going to be like you? Just be a free agent [in the Philippines].”

That wasn’t pretend.

Some legislators play the villain in real life and just hope they don’t get caught. Some find a harmless way to do so instead. Why should we attack the latter as though it’s the former? Doesn’t make sense to me.

Violent video games, Satan, and murder (again)

Did video games make Peter Charles John Jensen, left, shoot his wife? Did Satan make Christopher Roalson, right, stab an elderly woman to death? If not, why are police, prosecutors, and the press mentioning it?

On Sept. 25, police in Jacksonville, Florida, charged Peter Charles John Jensen with murder. Allegedly, he apparently was “playing violent video games under the influence of some type of drug,” police said, before he got into an argument with his wife, Karina, and shot her. A witness — who was playing video games with Jensen — reported the shooting, and fled when Jensen pointed the gun at him. Karina was dead when police arrived and found her.

A few days earlier, a Hayward, Wisconsin, jury found Christopher Roalson guilty of first-degree murder. Roalson, along with accomplice Austin Davis, broke into 93-year-old Irena Roszak’s Radisson house and stabbed her to death in 2009. They have called it a “thrill kill,” and Davis told the court that he heard screaming and someone saying “Hail Satan” coming from Roszak’s bedroom the night of the murder. Roalson also reportedly claimed he was “Satan’s son” as he and Davis left the house that night.

As you can see, the headline in the Jensen case is:
Man killed wife in Julington Creek shooting Saturday, police say
Police: He played video games and took drugs before the slaying.

And for Roalson, the lede in a Duluth newspaper:
A Sawyer County jury on Friday found 30-year-old Christopher Roalson guilty in the murder of 93-year-old Irena Roszak, a case that officials called a “thrill kill” with satanic overtones.

Coverage in both cases has been sketchy and doesn’t point to a clear, legitimate motive. Maybe that’s why everyone has latched onto these sensationalistic but meaningless details. I can point to Jensen’s glazed demeanor and compare it to that of (allegedly schizophrenic) Aurora, Colorado, shooter James Holmes, but that’s guesswork at best. How we can get through an entire trial, in Roalson’s case, and not be clear on why he killed an elderly woman, is beyond me — especially since you have to prove premeditation for first-degree murder, and premeditation suggests a motive.

Instead, we’re left with violent video games, drugs, and Satan: scary things many people don’t understand, but are happy to consider valid motivations for killing — as valid as any other impetus we also might not understand. We’re also left with the impression that these things might make anyone else commit murder. Better take them away before that happens, right?

Spector: “stop loving the ultra-violence” in games

Are video games “too violent?” Or are violence critics forgetting who we are?

Another E3 has come and gone, giving the gaming press a taste of video games to come. Since then, a number of folks have come come out against the violence in the next wave of games, claiming it’s just too much.

One of those critics is game designer Warren Spector, who left Eidos in 2004 after being disturbed by some of the plans for Hitman. He also drew a line between the violence in games he’s worked on, such as Deus Ex, and the video games he saw at this year’s E3. Here’s what he said:

“The ultra-violence has to stop. We have to stop loving it. I just don’t believe in the effects argument at all, but I do believe that we are fetishizing violence, and now in some cases actually combining it with an adolescent approach to sexuality. I just think it’s in bad taste.”

Spector says the violence in Deus Ex was meant to disturb the player, rather than pleasure them. “The carnage induced on in-game beings disappearing along with the body, erases the aftermath of said carnage from the gamer’s thoughts,” he said.

Everyone has the right to judge for him- or herself how much violence in a game is “too much.” Spector’s tolerances are obviously different than others, and that’s fine. The problem comes when he attempts to tell the rest of the industry what it should produce, and when he tells gamers what they should like. I find the phrase, “We have to stop loving [ultra-violence]” really disturbing. It’s like telling people they should stop loving bacon, or beer, or babies.

Human beings were once relatively wild. We still have that animal side in us. Aggression is part of who we are. Games don’t make us aggressive. Being human makes us aggressive. And we all let it out in different ways: going on long runs, playing hockey, starting bar fights, kneading bread, trolling on the Internet, or playing violent video games are some examples. Anyone who forgets why people (including kids) might enjoy violent games can be reminded by reading Gerard Jones’ Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe Violence. Children aren’t the only ones who need it. Adults need it, too. We don’t need to stop “loving it.”

Look at the comments on the Spector article. Gamers know their limits, and if something’s too violent, they won’t play it. This is true of kids, too. We can trust them. Taking away games or reducing the violence in order to protect the tiny minority of mentally unbalanced people who might claim video-game violence as a jumping-off point for real-life acts would likely make the rest of society more violent — an outcome none of us wants.

Are video games becoming more violent? They’re certainly becoming more realistic — and that can heighten the sense that they’re more gory and brutal as well. Why would gamers want this? Even through violent crime is dropping, the existing violent crime is getting more airtime, and in some cases, it’s just getting weirder. We need ways to process what’s going on. And video games are one of the safest ways going.

Is drug-fueled violence the new “Satanism?”

Photo by Flickr user benjennings.

Drugs make people — okay, some people — do very strange things. They can make men undress on the side of a highway and chew another man’s face off, for example. Or, they can make a mom gouge her own son’s eyes out, possibly with a spoon.

Apparently, they’re also enough to make some reporters think that such activity amounts to a “Satanic ritual.” Even Reuters fell for that claim — which came from police in Mexico, where the crime occurred.

CBS reported:

The crime appeared to have been part of a ritual, but was not apparently related to the Santa Muerte or Saint Death cult, some of whose followers were recently charged with the sacrificial killings of two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in northern Sonora state, he said.

Wow. Way to introduce many unrelated, fear-mongering factors. If it has nothing to do with Santa Muerte, and is unrelated to these “sacrificial killings,” then why are they being mentioned in the article?

Then there’s this, from Reuters:

“There was some kind of satanic ceremony inside a house,” said Laura
Uribe, a spokeswoman for state prosecutors in the State of Mexico, a
populous region that borders much of the capital. She did not give details of what the satanic ritual involved.

If you do a Google search for “Satanic ritual” and “eyeballs,” do you know what you get? A bunch of links to news articles about this incident, and one YouTube link to a 1990 horror movie called Ritual of Death, in which the protagonist takes out a monster’s eyeballs.

This should tell you something: what happened in that Mexico City home may have been ritualistic, but whatever foundations it had were in María del Carmen Ríos García’s drug-fueled state, not in any religious or occult tradition. Once again, reporters are trying to make a horror movie of the evening news, but it’s just there for show.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, Washington, Satanists are giving their central figure some good PR. The group, which has a Web site at http://olympia.worshipsatan.org/, has been posting flyers around town with such messages as, “Unanswered prayers? Let Satan Try” and “Tired of guilt? Satan can help.”

Really, it’s about time someone stood up for Satanism — and made it more approachable to people who might have preconceived ideas about it. Humor works especially well, and it looks like Olympia’s Satanists are working that angle. They even have their own “Satanic prayer line” (call 601-2-SATAN-2).

Reporters: maybe you can call them the next time someone tells you a crime was part of a “Satanic ritual.” There’s a thought.

A hoodie isn’t a death sentence

I want to break with form a little bit today and talk about the controversy sparked by Geraldo Rivera’s comments regarding Trayvon Martin’s outerwear choices last week. On Twitter, he said:

@GeraldoRivera: Trayvon killed by a jerk w a gun but black & Latino parents have to drill into kids heads: a hoodie is like a sign: shoot or stop & frisk me
@GeraldoRivera: His hoodie killed Trayvon Martin as surely as George Zimmerman.
@GeraldoRivera: Justice will come to Zimmerman the Fla shooter-but I’m trying to save lives like Trayvon’s-Parents Alert: hoodies can get your kid killed
@GeraldoRivera: My own son just wrote to say he’s ashamed of my position re hoodies-still I feel parents must do whatever they can to keep their kids safe
@GeraldoRivera: Its not blaming the victim Its common sense-look like a gangsta&some armed schmuck will take you at your word
@GeraldoRivera: Critics of my hoodie comments think they’re mad at me but they’re really mad at the undeniably unfair reality of young male black/brown life
@GeraldoRivera: It hurts to be assailed-but anger doesn’t change reality-a minority kid in a hoodie in a hood not his own is a 911 call waiting to happen-

And on Fox News, he said:

“Every time you see someone stickin’ up a 7-11, the kid’s wearing a hoodie,” he said. “Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it’s a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a “gangsta”… well, people are going to perceive you as a menace.”

I understand where he’s coming from: he’s saying that minority kids might be safer if they don’t wear hoodies, entirely due to the public perception of these kids when they wear such garments. But if they got rid of the hoodies, what would it be then? The baggy jeans? The big sneakers? The puffy jackets? The baseball caps? The bandanas? The sports t-shirts? Do we want minorities to dress like “white kids,” when even white kids don’t dress “like white kids”?

However, the fault isn’t with the clothing. It’s with our culture’s enduring perception of minorities — even kids — as criminals, as threats. And Geraldo — himself a Latino — is doing nothing in these statements to protect vulnerable kids from that perception.

It’s no different from telling goths to stop wearing black clothing and makeup, or telling Middle Eastern metalheads to wear white button-down shirts, or telling Iraqi emos to give up the skinny jeans and eyeliner — because otherwise, they’ll be beaten, arrested, or killed.

Youths, and people who “dress young,” who embrace rebellious clothing styles, have a right to do so — and to pass freely in society without the fear of attack. To say otherwise is to blame them for all who might do them harm because of the way they look. That is not where the blame belongs. And there are many things about their appearance that young minorities can’t change — things that some still perceive as automatically suspect.

By now, I hope, most people know better than to listen to Geraldo Rivera. For those who don’t, I will remind you how he fanned the flames of the Satanic Panic, which in turn destroyed many families.

Legislator: If prayer bill passes, “[Kids] could say whatever they want. That scares me.”

Opponents of a Florida bill say it would allow kids to deliver “Satanic messages” at school events. Photo by Flickr user allthecolor.

The prayer-in-schools debate has revived in Florida, where a bill that would allow students to deliver “inspirational messages” at school events has passed the house and senate and awaits the vote of Gov. Rick Scott.

According to the Washington Post, Scott “hasn’t promised to sign the bill, but he did say this: ‘I haven’t seen the bill, but I believe in Jesus Christ, and I believe individuals should have a right to say a prayer.'”

However, some have pointed out that the law would permit students to include “Satanic messages” in school alongside those of other faiths. One such detractor was Democratic Rep. Jeff Clemons, who read from the “Aryan Satanic Manifesto.” He then asked Rep. Charles Van Zant, who supports the law, if the passage was inspirational.

“That would be the students’ prerogative because of our constitutional freedom of speech,” Van Zant replied.

The Sunshine Sentinel stated:

While supporters are largely viewed as trying to open up a channel for school prayer, both sides in the debate agree it could also allow messages that include Holocaust denial, racially-charged speeches, uncomfortable beliefs of some fringe religions or endorsements of sex and drugs… If backers of the bill want students to be able to give Christian prayers as an inspirational message, they have to be prepared for Satanic, Muslim and other messages.

“They could say whatever they want,” said Rep. Marty Kiar. “That scares me.”

I’m not sure if this is genuine sentiment, or a last-ditch effort to make this bill fail. In either case, it comes down to a few things: One, some legislators are afraid of the beliefs and statements of people who follow Satanism and other religions they consider “fringe.” (By the way, it’s worth stating that Aryan Satanism is not the only kind — it’s not even the most popular kind.) Two, they’re willing to restrict the free-speech rights of citizens in order to quell this fear, just because the citizens in this case happen to be minors. And three, this is apparently their most potent argument against allowing “inspirational” religious messages in schools.

I’m not a proponent of prayer in school, but for once, I find myself siding with those who are.

What do you think? Would this bill allow Satanist kids to have their say? And would that be a bad thing?

Here’s some “interfaith” violent-video-game fearmongering for you — happy holidays!

Should the absence of good science be reason enough to keep kids from playing violent video games? Photo by Flickr user scottfidd.

Just in time for holiday gift-unwrapping, two members of the Interfaith Social Justice Committee for Temple Emanu-El and St. Martha Catholic Church — in Sarasota, Florida — have penned a scaremongering editorial urging parents to keep kids from violent video games at all costs: “Do not purchase them, return those received as gifts, destroy or give away any currently owned; and deny the right to play them wherever you live.”

I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog scanning the studies that suggest both positive and negative consequences from playing violent video games. Most recently, I looked at a Swedish study that said, decisively, the jury’s still out on violent gaming and its effect (if any) on young people. So why do Frank Schaal and John McGruder say parents should keep their kids from video games at all costs?

Well, they start with throwing science and reason right out the window:

More detailed studies of video games and their psychological effects are warranted, but as responsible adults, can we afford to wait? There may be no more causal relationship between violent video games and aggressive behavior than there was between a moral crisis and the hip gyrations of Elvis in the 1950s; then again, 1950s research about cigarettes was also inconclusive.

That’s … sort of a good point. But their missive goes quickly downhill from there:

We know these facts: Award-winning video games such as “Grand Theft Auto,” thrive on murder, theft and destruction. Gamers increase their chances of winning by making a virtual visit to a prostitute who can be subsequently mugged.

… Actually, that isn’t true. It’s true that GTA allows you to do this, if you choose, but it isn’t required to do so in order to advance the game. In the scenario they describe, you break even at best; prostitutes in GTA, as in real life, cost money. (And let’s not even get into the idea that visiting a sex worker is somehow wrong. It’s illegal, yes, but that’s another matter.)

And high school students who committed mass murders were heavy gamers; some even customized the game “Doom” to eerily match the crimes they committed.

… That’s also not true. According to the Secret Service, “Only 1 in 8 school shooters showed any interest in violent video games; only 1 in 4 liked violent movies.” In fact, school shooters are much less interested in video games and violent video games than their peers. At least one study has suggested that juvenile criminals might be less likely to harm people if they’re busy playing video games instead, getting their aggressions out virtually rather than in reality.

Schall and McGruder cap their nonsense with this frightening line of argument:

The consequences of this pollution contribute to the degeneration of society. Bullying, fighting, gang warfare, and other aggressive crimes, including murder, are committed by young people, concomitantly spreading destruction and devaluing the gifts of life and freedom. Inevitably, many youths are incarcerated, often with long sentences and always with life-altering ramifications. In Florida alone, close to 100 men are now serving life sentences without parole for crimes committed when they were young.

While it’s true that juveniles are going to prison for crimes they committed, there’s still no evidence that it’s video games that put them there. For those who did enjoy a game or two, there were many other factors — from upbringing and trauma to mental health and desperation — that were much more prominent in these criminals’ lives. Even teen-killer “expert” Phil Chalmers — who thinks video games do contribute to delinquency — says it’s one factor among many.

So, no, parents don’t need to worry. They don’t need to start burning video games like they’re books or records. They can let their kids play games, keep an eye on them, and relax.