Sunday, February 17, 2008

Kotaku on JT's NIU Claims

School shootings are horrible tragedies. I want to be clear right from the start that no one should be made to endure a loved one's murder or suicide, particularly in such a painful and public manner.

In the aftermath of such an event, we all want to know why it happened. But speculating about motives before we have concrete information is foolish in the least and can be harmfully misleading. Mere speculation, though, can be forgiven. Using a tragedy to advance a wholly unrelated agenda cannot.

It is with this in mind that we watch a video of one infamous Florida attorney, whom we followers of video game culture sometimes call He Who Must Not Be Named. Inexplicably, this man is allowed on Fox News to throw out his claims that major tragedies are caused by video games. The shooting at NIU on the 14th was no exception.

An analysis of the claims in this clip has been made by Brian Crecente of Kotaku, which I will reproduce for you here.

  1. We find from brain scan studies out of Harvard that if you get started playing, for example, violent video games you can more likely copy-cat the behaviors in the games.
    Verdict: False
    Evidence: While the study of adolescents by Harvard and Indiana university researchers found that video games can spur "emotional arousal" and lower self-control it never made that final leap. In fact David S. Bickham, a research scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, told the Washington Post that the study, while interesting, wasn't conclusive.

  2. The disturbing thing that keeps popping up in many of these as in Va Tech, Columbine, Paducah, where I represented the six parents of the three girls shot and killed, is that you can rehearse these types of massacres on simulators which are called video games. And you can therefore made more proficient in doing this.
    Verdict: False
    Evidence: Va Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho only had a passing interest in gaming years before the shoot[ing]. A lawyer tried to draw a connection between the game Doom and Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, but that was tossed out by a federal judge. Paducah shooter Michael Carneal also played Doom, but that was found to not be connected to the shooting. Video game as murder simulator and training tool just doesn't hold any water.

  3. The worst school shooting in history until Va Tech, was by Robert Steinhauser in Erfurt, Germany who trained on Counter-Strike Half Life. That's the game that Cho at Va Tech trained on in High School.
    Verdict: Not exactly true
    Evidence: While it is true that Steinhauser and Cho both played Counter-Strike at some point in their lives, with more than a million copies sold, that could probably be said of a lot of college students. Saying that Cho "trained on" the game is a bit of a stretch.

  4. And um the effect, the affects the psychological affect of the shooter, plus his attire is suggestive of a couple of the games in which the "hero" wears this type of attire.
    Verdict: Likely false
    Evidence: The description by those present don't make it sound like he had a flat affect. One person said "It looked like a theatrical thing the way he walked onto the stage." Others described his behavior leading up to the shooting as erratic. Not surprising of a man who had recently been dumped by his girlfriend and had stopped taking his medication, possibly anti-depressants. Simply wearing black doesn't mean he was dressing up like the "hero" from Counter-Strike.

  5. I lost my train of thought. I wrote a book...
    Verdict: True
    Evidence: Jack did indeed write a book, and I think he lost his train of thought about two decades ago.
Wonderful skeptical analysis of an opportunist. Kudos to Crecente, and I wish I had wrote it myself.


Ben said...

Haven't kids been playing Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers for a long time? Aren't those games better simulators than video games?

Loren Coleman said...

I could not agree with you more in this blog and the arguments you cite.

I discussed these "meds" and "video game" theories earlier today in what I call the "NIU Blame Game."

The actual reality is that there is more solid research demonstrating that the wall-to-wall coverage on faux news stations trigger more copycat school shootings than any video game ever did!!

Loren Coleman, MSW

Old sliderule geek said...

But what about the psychological disorder, Ms MSW? Was the killer merely depressed and thus prescribed Prozac, or was he schizophrenic, or did he have some other disorder? As psychiatric disorders are only diagnosed behaviorly, and from patient self-description, they can be hard to pin down.

I hope that as we acquire hard knowledge of brain function and disfunction we will better learn how to spot and restrain potential killers.

Doubtless the instantaneous around the clock coverage of these actions even as they occur does have something to do with it. But there are alot of angry people out there who hate their bosses, wives, coworkers, etc that don't act out in this way. What in the killers psychological makeup leads to this suicidal/homicidal behavior?

Old sliderule geek said...

Oops, Mr Coleman, you are definitely not a Ms! I apologize profusely.