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No firm link between violence and video games, Anstey says

Josephine Anstey disputes the claims that video games like Grand Theft Auto IV encourage violence in real life.


Published October 24, 2013

“Video game research is still in its infancy, and claims like this demonstrate the fallacy of the single cause.”
Josephine Anstey, professor and chair
Department of Media Study

An 8-year-old Louisiana boy shoots and kills his 87-year-old grandmother just minutes after playing the video game Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA). The game awards points to players for killing people, and has been claimed to encourage violence in real life.

The boy says it was an accident and that he thought the gun was a toy. The Sheriff’s Department of East Feliciana Parish, in the meantime, calls it “homicide” and says publicly that the child “intentionally shot (the victim) in the back of the head” as she watched TV and had “targeted” her after playing GTA.

The video game was mentioned in virtually all press stories about the incident, feeding into the ongoing national argument over whether or not the game provokes violent behavior in players.

Josephine Anstey, professor and chair of the Department of Media Study, says the relationship between “cause” and “effect” in the case of violent video games, even in this instance, has not been established and is disputed in the cognitive and clinical psychology communities.

 “Video game research is still in its infancy,” Anstey says, “and claims like this demonstrate the fallacy of the single cause.   

“When dubious inferences of cause and effect are presented by law enforcement and not questioned by the press, it invites the public to jump to unwarranted conclusions. 

“There is a complex relationship between society, individual behavior and media,” Anstey explains. “If it was simple—if, for instance children’s behavior was provoked only by games, books and TV—we would have no problem raising them. We’d just give them moral stories about picking up their rooms and sharing with their friends, and we’d be done.” 

Even if it is true that the boy finished played GTA just minutes before the shooting, Anstey says it seems that no one asked if the child is immature for his age or recently had eaten sugar or meat (or not enough meat), watched violent images on the news or witnessed a violent incident in his community. These things, as well as stress, abuse, deprivation, personality disorders and mental illness, to name a few, have been linked to aggressive or violent behavior in children.

“If the boy had ‘shot’ his caretaker with a toy gun,” Anstey points out, “there would have been no killing, no sheriff’s opinion and no press coverage. His behavior would not be deemed violent.

“And if, as the child says, he thought the gun was a toy, then despite the fact that it was real, and regardless of outcome, he cannot be said to have been demonstrating ‘violent’ behavior at the time—video game or no video game,” she says.

“Long before video games, children shot and killed people, in most cases, entirely by accident. We used to blame movies, television and comic books for childhood aggression. But even if a child shoots someone in a fit of rage and not in play,” she says, “and even if no other likely causations can be identified, the demonstrable fact is that there are some 8-year-olds who, even if they know a gun is real, are too immature to fully understand what they were doing or its consequences.”