Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Jan. 30, 2006)

Violent video games are not the Culprit

  By John Martin

Once again the media is foolishly jumping on the ďviolent pop-culture causes crimeĒ bandwagon.

A senseless and tragic street race resulting in the death of an innocent third party, this time in Toronto, is being blamed on a popular video game.

A couple of eighteen year olds racing their parentsí Mercedes have been charged with criminal negligence causing death when one of the vehicles lost control and collided with a taxi, killing the cabbie.

Such events have become all too common of late with the courts doing little more than ordering a brief period of house arrest and a temporary driverís license suspension.  This latest incident would surely have faded from the news after a couple of days except for one item.

The police found a copy of the video game, Need For Speed, in one of the vehicles.

Personally I havenít played a video game since the first edition of Space Invaders in 1979 but apparently the game consists of numerous scenarios involving street racing where players try to avoid law enforcement.

Thatís all the media needed to connect the dots and allege that once again, violent media and entertainment is the culprit.

Such uninformed and reckless allegations are nothing new.

In the 50ís it was common for journalists to note that rock and roll was responsible for corrupting a generation of teens.

Heavy metal, punk and hip-hop have since similarly be blamed for juvenile delinquency.

Violent television shows and movies have also been targeted by a host of ďexpertsĒ for their role in promoting aggression, rage and criminality.

It was only three years ago that a prestigious academic journal published a study purporting that children who watch violent cartoons, including Roadrunner and Coyote episodes, are more likely to physically abuse their spouses down the road.

Countless authorities on youth rearing have made careers from citing the relationship between kids who play with toy guns and violence in adulthood.

Youths involved in serious incidents of violence have been represented by lawyers who have even claimed televised professional wrestling was to blame for their clientsí behavior.

I was always of the mind that substance abuse, poor parenting skills and delinquent peers contributed to the onset of delinquency.  But apparently itís Stone Cold Steve Austinís fault.

It was inevitable that violent video games, representing the latest in technology and entertainment, would soon be blamed as well.

According to those who are considered experts (note the sarcasm) in this area, digital video games dehumanize and glorify interpersonal violence to the point where kids canít tell the difference between virtually ramming a police cruiser during a game of Grand Theft Auto, and actually deliberately driving into a patrol car.

Instead of pointing the finger at video games that make a game out of high-speed drag racing, perhaps we should raise concern with a judiciary that doesnít think street racing, even when it results in death, is a serious offence.

After all, if judges donít consider street racing anything more than youthful misadventure, why should anyone else?

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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