Grand Theft Auto is a franchise that has garnered huge attention over the years, from fans and critics alike. Those opposed to the video game do so on the auspices that is glamorizes and propagates violence within society. At the other end of the scale, proponents of the video game challenge these assertions, often calling for tighter restrictions on the sale of violent games to minors.
The latest episodes of violence surrounding GTA 5’s release will, no doubt, do little to mitigate the fears of those who challenge the legitimacy of violent video games.
The London Stabbing
A London superstore based in the United Kingdom, called Asda, had opened at midnight for the release of the hugely anticipated, blockbuster title Grand Theft Auto V. One of those individuals attending the midnight launch was a 23-year-old gamer who queued up for over an hour to retrieve his copy of the game.
After making his purchase, the man departed the store and made his way back home. Within just shy of an hour and a half of the game’s release, a gang ambushed the young man; many of his possessions were stolen, including his watch, a cell phone and the copy of GTA V he had just purchased, but not before being brutally beaten with a brick and then stabbed.
Three youths have been taken into police custody for questioning. The youngsters are 15, 17 and 18 years of age, and remain the suspected perpetrators of the criminal act.
According to The Mirror, a spokesperson for Scotland Yard maintains the motive for the attacks remains “… unclear at this stage.” He also substantiated claims that a brick was used during the vicious assault.
Police were called to Princes Avenue in Colindale, London, at 1:22 a.m. The victim was then transported to a local hospital, where he remains in a stable condition.
Individuals within the media may be quick to attribute this latest act as a sign that violent video games inspire real-life violence. However, during the midnight stabbing on the streets of London, the suspected muggers pilfered a number of items, not GTA V in isolation; it is plausible the muggers were entirely unaware that the 23-year-old possessed the video game, before coordinating their violent attack.
However, we await further confirmation on the muggers’ motives.
New York Cop Impersonations
Meanwhile, across the pond, a much less serious crime has recently taken place. Three men have been arrested after posing as cops, in order to cut a line of hundreds of patiently queuing gamers, during the midnight sale of GTA V.
According to Fox News, the hotheaded men included the son of a retired police officer and an auxiliary NYPD officer. The men were later identified as Frank Santanastaso (aged 19), Kiros Abdel Sayed (aged 19) and Matthew Kirsheh (aged 20).
Based upon disclosed court documents, Santanastaso sported a tattoo of his father’s NYPD shield on his arm, whilst Kirsheh flashed a fake NYPD shield, in a bid to trick the store’s proprietors. Sayed, on the other hand, used his auxiliary badge and identification.
Naturally, the group were confused for police officers. It is even reported that one of the mall guards offered the trio cups of coffee.
The men almost managed to get away with the devious, criminal acts. They successfully jumped the queue, made their transactions and vacated the premises. However, carelessly, the group performed an illegal U-turn in front of a genuine police officer, stationed in an unmarked police vehicle; at this point, the jig was up.
The suspects were stopped and arrested in front of Kirsheh’s residence. Instead of simply waiting in line to purchase a video game, the three individuals now face charges of second-degree impersonation, and may even face a year of incarceration.
Can Video Games Cause Violence?
Much research has been conducted into the relationship between aggression and exposure of individuals to violent video games. Thus far, however, the conclusions drawn from these studies vary wildly, with no legitimate consensus having yet been reached.
For example, in a recent publication by Ferguson and Kilburn (2010), entitled Much Ado About Nothing, the researchers found little evidence to suggest violent video games had any impact upon society. The pair investigated the methodologies of a number of other studies, which had identified positive correlations, and determined that the effects had been subject to “misestimation and over-interpretation.”
Likewise, a mechanistic basis for explaining the link between aggression and violent video game use has yet to be adequately defined.
Looking at the other side of the argument, several studies have inferred a connection to be possible. A recent publication in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, entitled Correlates and Consequences of Exposure to Video Game Violence, found subjects that played violent video games to demonstrate aggressive behaviors:
“… repeated exposure to video game violence increases in aggressive behavior in part via changes in cognitive and personality factors associated with desensitization.”
Of course, such research is necessary. If there is a chance that playing violent video games could lead to aggression, or an individual’s increased propensity towards engaging in criminal wrongdoing, then further investigation is mandated.
However, as with any new entertainment medium, the video games industry is currently battling to prove itself as a legitimate art form. Similar concerns had been raised in the past with the inception of controversial film and music. Ultimately, however, the anxiety appeared to wash away with time, and these platforms are now accepted as the norm.
On the other hand, some have concerns with the interactive nature of video games. watching and listening to film, television and music remains a relatively passive experience; when engaging in a video game you are in direct control of many of the protagonists.
Frankly, it is likely that a multitude of factors play a part in violent acts, in general. When investigating the link between violent video games and aggression, it is not prudent to push aside other variables. Social background, parental guidance, schooling, financial standing, peer pressure and psychological status are all highly important factors, which are all too commonly ignored when looking at individual cases.
Often, upon hearing that a sociopathic criminal once played violent video games, the public’s natural tendency is to jump to the conclusion that these criminal acts are inextricably linked to games, pushing aside the other afore-mentioned contributory factors.
And, when people ask whether GTA 5 can inspire violence in the little ones, an obvious response springs to mind – the little ones shouldn’t be playing it. Research can inform us on a great deal, but sometimes a common sense approach must prevail.
By: James Fenner (Op-Ed)