Friday, June 6, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV - Death is a Video Game

by Donna Pendergast

Grand Theft Auto is probably the most notorious series of crime-themed video games. Rated "M" for Mature (the equivalent of an R rating for movies), Grand Theft Auto IV, like its predecessors, celebrates criminality and provides depictions of graphic violence. The quality of the graphics creates disturbingly realistic animations of the highest level that technology can provide.

Set in fictional Liberty City (which is New York disguised by name only), and starring Niko Belli, an eastern European immigrant gangster, Grand Theft Auto is a roller-coaster of a tumultuous ride.

Niko commits violent crimes, drives after imbibing virtual liquor, and engages in other sordid activities such as prostitution. In fact, in certain areas of Liberty City, Niko not only attracts the attention of a prostitute--he lets her into his car to negotiate sex acts and prices for those acts as well (hand job, fellatio, or "cowgirl").

A game is just a game?

Now call me old-fashioned if you will, but that's a little too much realism for me. Videos games may be protected by the
First Amendment, but as the former (and still involved) stepparent of a sixteen year old, I don't want my child exposed to that type of content.

I know the gamers will be screaming This is an issue of parental control, and certainly they are right. But let's face it--rated "M" or not, these games are getting into our children's hands. Whether it be from trading or buying on the Internet, or from borrowing from friends whose parents are not aware of or do not control access to unsuitable content, our kids are playing these games.

So what effect is it having on them?

Gamers are quick to defend the games, pointing out that many studies have reached the conclusion that violence in video games is not causally linked with aggressive behavior. But other studies have found effects ranging from increased aggression and desensitization to violence to social isolation. The American Psychological Association summarizes the issue this way: "Psychological research confirms that violent video games can increase children's aggression but that parents moderate the negative effects."

Of course, that's assuming that parents are aware and involved. As for me, I don't buy the gamer arguments. I'm sure that video games don't cause increased agression in every teen or even in the majority of young people. I am also sure that good parenting can moderate the negative effects of videogames on teens. But I'm still convinced that these games have a negative effect. I'm not saying that they make all persons psychopaths but you will never convince me that repeated and prolonged exposure to these types of games has no detrimental effect on the children who play them. When a child is identifying with an agressor and directing explicit sexual activity or realistic depictions of graphic violence I can't help believing that this activity forced upon the subconcious is unhealthy and can wire in unhealthy and even violent behavior patterns.

"Life is a video game"

Take the case of eighteen-year-old Devin Moore. Moore, a gamer who played hundreds of hours of Grand Theft Auto III, sparked a huge controversy in 2003, when he murdered two police officers and a dispatcher in an Alabama police station. Never having been in trouble before, Moore was brought into the police station on suspicion of stealing a car.

While being booked on this charge, an initially cooperative Moore lunged at the officer taking away his .40 caliber weapon. He used this weapon to kill the officer by shooting him in the head. Moore then used the gun to kill a second officer who responded to assist, leaving him dead in the hallway with a shot to his head. On his way out of the police station, after grabbing a set of car keys, Moore pumped five bullets into the dispatcher, one of them in the head, before jumping into a police car and fleeing the scene.

After his capture Moore allegedly stated to police "Life is a video game, you have to die sometime." In 2005, a multimillion dollar lawsuit was filed against the makers of Grand Auto Theft based on the claim that repeated playing of the game incited Moore to go on a rampage.

So was there a connection between Moore's violent behavior and his repeated playing of Grand Theft Auto?

David Walsh, a child psychologist who coauthored a study on the effects of violent video games and adolescent agression, found a connection between the two.

He attributes the underdeveloped adolescent brain as being more susceptible than an adult brain to reacting to stressful situations by reverting to familiar patterns wired into the brain during hours and hours of rehearsing violent acts.

my last post, I described the development of the adolescent brain explaining that the prefrontal cortex, which governs impulse contol, is not fully developed until people are in their twenties. That alone is a critical reason for parents to monitor what is being wired into a child's brain oftentimes for hours on end.

Statements made in this post are my own and not intended to reflect the views, opinions, or position of the Michigan Attorney General or the Michigan Department of Attorney General.


Anonymous said...

Two years ago I witnessed my 11 year old nephew say to his friend while playing Grand Theft Auto, " If you don't want to pay the hooker shot her in the head and take your money back, that's what I do." It made me sick to my stomach and made me think less of my sister as a parent. Thanks for the great post.

Donna Pendergast said...

Thanks for the comment. Your comment makes me feel sick as well and further convinces me that that these games desensitize and wire in in a callous disregard for life in an imaginary scenario. Unfortunately with teens that are not well adjusted----the translation to every day life can be fatal.

Anonymous said...

There is NO evidence to back your assertion up. Its a bunch of tongue wagging making excuses for bad kids.

Donna Pendergast said...

As always your opinion is appreciated. As a prosecutor I am the last one to make excuses for bad behavior. I also believe in accountability for ones actions.

I DO however believe the scientific research about the development of a human brain. For that reason the fact that children are playing these games, sometimes for hours on end, alarms me. Accordingly, I will continue to wag my tongue about my concerns. Thank you for taking the time to comment

daniel said...

that games are not intented for kids or teenegers, also de R rated movies, films and pornography, game consoles have parental controls for set restrictions about how many hours and what rate can childrens play. Parents excuses for bad parenting always made me sick.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing a paper on how parenting and past experience have a greater effect on judgement and reaction to stressful situations. You're the second person to cite the case of Devin Moore, and I'm wondering how much unbiased research you did for this article. Is there any other case in the entire history of our legal system in which a teenager uses video games as an excuse for violence? If not, Devin Moore is nothing "moore" than an anomaly. I would never let a six year old play GTA because it's shocking and may leave them scarred (like walking in on two parents having sex). A seventeen year old who kills three people and then justifies it with GTA has deeper issues than a few hundred hours of interaction with randomly pixilated images.
Read the following article and shut up.

Anonymous said...

God woman, get a life, make children of your own. You don't have a clue what are you talking about.