Breaking News: Two teenagers have been charged with carjacking and assault in downtown LA. They have both previously played ‘Grand Theft Auto’.
Breaking News: Two people have been caught manufacturing and supplying meth in suburban Sydney. They have both seen the critically acclaimed TV series ‘Breaking Bad’.
Breaking News: Children have been put on detention for talking in class and failing to complete homework in every school all over the world. They’ve all seen the antics of Bart Simpson on ‘The Simpsons’.
Breaking News: Five families are at war over a park bench In east London. They are all fans of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’.
Now these ‘breaking news’ pieces are obviously fictitious. Firstly children being disruptive in class and failing to complete homework clearly isn’t newsworthy. Secondly fighting over a park bench is just ridiculous. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is the seemingly trivial information thrown in at the end. It changes the way we view the story. All of a sudden a story about five families fighting over a park bench becomes a story about groups of ‘Game of Thrones’ fans replicating the show’s main plot point by engaging in outlandish antisocial behaviour. It’s still ridiculous but now there’s a simplistic reason behind the mayhem. These are pretty basic examples but what they show is how people try to find causality between a form of media and criminal or antisocial behaviour.
It’s known as the media effects model; the theory that suggests that there is a direct connection between one’s consumption of mass media and their subsequent behaviour. David Gauntlett criticizes this theory in his article “Ten things wrong with the ‘effects model’” (1998), stating that it approaches “the problem backwards, by starting with the media and then trying to lasso connections from there on to social beings”. He then goes on to disparage the theory’s perception of children, arguing that they are viewed as “inadequate” and “inept victims of products which, whilst obviously puerile and transparent to adults, can trick children into all kinds of ill-advised behaviour.” Remember this when considering the following work of Rebecca Savastio.
In September 2013, Rebecca Savastio wrote an article for the Guardian Liberty Voice entitled “Grand Theft Auto Drives 8 Year Old to Murder His Grandmother”. As the title suggests, the article connects the tragic case of an 8-year-old murdering his grandmother to the video game series ‘Grand Theft Auto’, before going on to argue that video games cause violence. Savastio writes that the sheriff department in charge of the investigation “…concluded that the game directly contributed to the boys’ murderous actions…”. She then goes on to quote the sheriff department:
“…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.”
Despite what Savastio has concluded, the investigators actually avoid passing blame onto the video game and only state that the boy was playing ‘Grand Theft Auto’ prior to the homicide occurring. So what makes Savastio jump to such a conclusion? It is anxiety; a common anxiety over media which was brought about by the notion of media effects.
This story is part of a much larger debate – do video games cause violence? People all over the world are becoming concerned that video games, in particular violent ones, are causing children to exhibit aggressive and antisocial behaviour. The problem is that a lot of the research conducted in this area often overlooks the psychological, social and genetic factors that all play a part in shaping someone’s personality and behaviour. When a serial killer claims that their crimes were committed out of boredom, no one accepts it as just a case of someone looking to pass the time. We search for a deeper motive and cause and often find that there are underlying psychological issues and possibly a history of abuse or trauma. There is never one simple cause.
Now I’m not saying video games have no effect on children. I believe that a child with pre-existing or a predisposition to aggressive behaviour shouldn’t be stimulated by violent video games or should at least be strictly monitored when playing them. But to say that video games cause violence is an oversimplification of a much broader problem. The same rule applies when trying to connect Bart Simpson to lower test scores, ‘Breaking Bad’ to illegal drug manufacturing, or ‘Game of Thrones’ to petty family feuds. In the words of David Gauntlett, it’s “backwards”.
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Gauntlett, D. (1998), Ten things wrong with the ‘effects model’, Theory.org.uk, viewed 19 April 2015, http://www.theory.org.uk/effects.htm
Savastio, R (2013), ‘Grand Theft Auto Drives 8 Year Old to Murder His Grandmother’, Guardian Liberty Voice, 20 September viewed 11 March 2015, http://guardianlv.com/2013/09/grand-theft-auto-drives-8-year-old-to-murder-his-grandmother/#7GublT1ti5uGcQDv.99