Causation vs Correlation: Violence and violent video games

Pols and activists will always look for a scapegoat on which to blame the actions of an individual.  In this case an 8 year-old boy, for whatever reason, shot and killed his elderly caregiver.  Who knows, perhaps this is a case where the boy was influenced by the game he was playing.  However, this isn’t the fault of the game even if it was the root influence.

(WFSB) — An 8-year-old boy from Louisiana has been accused of shooting and killing his 87-year-old caregiver after playing a violent video game.

The little boy from Slaughter, LA, told investigators that the shooting was accidental, but police told various media outlets that they believe the child intentionally shot and killed the caregiver, identified as Marie Smothers.

According to police, the unidentified 8-year-old pulled the trigger minutes after playing Grand Theft Auto IV, which awards points for every person you kill.

Officials said the child shot her in the back of the head while she was sitting in a chair watching TV.

There’s now a debate whether the violent video games are to blame.

Video game makers said it’s unfair to blame the tragedy on a video game, and in a statement said this is about access to firearms and not video games.

First, the Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game series is rated “M” (mature) and can only be purchased by consumers aged 17 and older.  Someone allowed this small child play a game which was intended for adults.  Just like we blame parents for corrupting their children when they allow them to view rated-R movies, the parents/guardians/caretakers are to blame for allowing such a young child to play a game like GTA.

Moreover, simply playing games with violent themes will only corrupt a person to the extent they would be corrupted by anything.  Some people are more prone to be abnormally influenced by material like this than others.  In fact there are thousands of kids playing games like GTA or worse who have no inclination to mimic the disturbing content simulated in the game.

When I first heard about this story what immediately came to mind was what occupied young boys prior to the advent of the video came console.  We played cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, and ‘army’.  All of these neighborhood games involved aiming guns — realistic looking, imaginary, or improvised (sticks, for example) — at our friends and shooting them.  I ‘killed’ my friends and my friends ‘killed’ me dozens of times in an afternoon.

I grew up in a generation who played outside killed my friends and was also the perfect age at the genesis of the video game boom.  I had Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation, and XBox 360.  I’ve played the entire GTA series as well as the Call of Duty franchise (highly realistic simulated military warfare) and I have yet to shoot or experience an impulse to shoot anyone — and I am a gun owner who carries.

This was a tragedy easily prevented.  This little boy had access to a video game intended for mature adults as well as a gun.  The culpability belongs to whoever was responsible for monitoring this child.  Not a game.  Not a gun.  Until we, as a society, are willing to point fingers at the true causes of the problems we face, we’ll never solve anything.


  1. I think it was Glenn Beck who told of some military guy who has been speaking out about the ill effects of video games, particularly when violent games are played by younger kids. But then I always thought of watching the Stooges as a small boy and never wanting to really take a saw to a friend’s head. We also played the same games you mentioned and watched every war and western movie with rapt attention. What we had, however, were parents that didn’t suffer stupidity out of their kids.

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