There are many cases of news media trying to pin the blame for crimes on things other than criminals. While it happens frequently these days with regard to video games, other media have been scapegoated for decades. The novel The Catcher in the Rye is still considered a contributing factor for the killing of John Lennon to this day, and John Hinckley, who tried to kill Ronald Reagan, was said to have been inspired by the book.
Looking to the world of film, Benn Affleck's The Town, may have inspired a couple to rob a bank in 2011. Over a decade ago, the Washington D.C. shooter's defense team tried to convince the judge in the case that Lee Malvo was obsessed with The Matrix and took part in the killings because of that movie. John Hinckley's attempt on Reagan's life was also suggested to have been partially motivated by the movie Taxi Driver, which was where Hinckley's obsession with Jodie Foster came from.
These days, video games have been a phenomenal scapegoat for countless crimes and horrible acts. Some political figures go out of their way to demonize the gaming industry as a whole and try to tie every social problem and despicable crime back to screens and controllers. More often than not, while the media will try to portray games as villainous and corrupting in nature, the vast majority of gamers know their pastime is just that, a pastime, a hobby, a little innocent fantasy. Those who commit horrendous crimes would likely have done so anyway, regardless of a character on a screen doing something similar. In short, there are almost always other demons at play when a person who plays video games does something awful and stupid. Nonetheless, here are fifteen crimes that media, politicians, and other confused sources of "information" tried to pin on games and the gaming industry.
15 The "Manhunt" Murder
Manhunt and its sequel remain among the nastiest gore-filled adventures the world of gaming has ever seen. The games did have plots, but they were very minimum, and at the end of the day, those who played, played primarily for the shock value.
Over a decade ago in 2004, a young man was murdered with a hammer in a park in Leicester, England. Quickly and without much in the way of real research, the media suggested that the perpetrator of this crime (who liked the game Manhunt) committed this act because of the game.
Upon actually investigating, police determined that the two involved with the crime were both involved with gangs and the killing was over a small monetary debt. The only reason anyone thought the game was to blame was the fact that a blunt object was used, similar to many of the melee weapons used for close range kills in the game.
14 New South Wales Australia Knife Crime Rate
While many of our entries on this list will be single crimes, and even sets of similar crimes, but a criminal trend itself was blamed on gaming back in 2012. In June and July of that year, Police Commissioner of New South Wales, Australia, Andrew Scipione, was arguing that a recent increase in drunken fights, along with violent knife crime in his region, was the result of video games that reward players for committing such acts on screen.
Scipione said that kids as young as 13 or 14 were walking around intoxicated, and committing violent crimes, but their parents were unconcerned, responding dismissively to police officers calling to report intoxicated, violent children. Scipione's comments did little to actually address any problems and rather scapegoated games, rather than going after the deeper problems that caused the violent behavior among the youth in question.
13 Video Game "Style" Bank Robbery?
In September 2013, a fifteen-year-old boy robbed a Barclay's Bank in Liverpool, England. He used a BB gun (brandishing it as a real firearm) and shouted things like "I'm not f***ing around," according to his own confession and reports from witnesses. The word video game was not mentioned in his interviews with police, or the trial itself, so it is interesting that multiple news outlets, including BBC and Daily Mail, presented this crime as if it was inspired by a video game. As this crime took place about a week after the release of GTA V, maybe some news executives thought it would make great headlines to bring a gaming edge to this story.
The facts of the case, however, tell of a young man carrying out a robbery that was absolutely theatrical, but there was no solid evidence that the crime was caused by any video game. Maybe the kid had just watched Heat for the first time.
12 Devin Moore's Killings
Back in June, 2003, Devin Moore was being detained by police under suspicion of having stolen a car in Fayette, Alabama. He managed to obtain one of the arresting officer's pistol, shooting both of them, and then a dispatcher on his way out of the station. He then fled the station in a patrol car, but was apprehended later that day.
He said something to the effect of "life is a video game, and everyone has to die" during his capture, and at some point, investigators confirmed that Moore was a very dedicated fan of the Grand Theft Auto series, with a particular fondness for Vice City. At trial, the defense was not allowed (as per a prior ruling by the judge) to suggest that Moore's actions could be blamed on the game.
We'll say the same thing about this event that we'll say about the rest of these crimes blamed on GTA: it is a game, and stealing cars and murdering people is punishable by law in real life. There was another lawsuit against Sony by the families of the victims, but that was ultimately unsuccessful. Devin Moore's appeals are still being processed, and he is awaiting death by lethal injection.
11 Child Neglect
There is no nice way to say this: sometimes parents get so glued to a video game that their own children end up suffering. There have been a few cases of this, and the few we name here may not be the only examples. Gregg Kleinmark, an Ohio man, left his twin sons (both under a year old) in a bathtub together so he could go play on his Gameboy. They both died, and he pleaded guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
A Korean couple took it a step further, and were actually raising a virtual baby at a local gaming cafe, while their own baby starved to death at home. They would feed the child, leave for ten to twelve hours to play, return, and go to sleep, repeating the process the next day. The father went to prison for a year, and the mother received a suspended sentence.
These are just a couple of examples, and demonstrate that when one lacks self-control and lets a game meant for simple entertainment run their life, the results can be horrible.
10 England's 2011 Riots
Back in August 2011, there were numerous riots throughout England that resulted in numerous injuries, massive amounts of destroyed property, arson, looting, and of course, five deaths. The violence and unrest started after a man was killed by police, but there were numerous other factors for the anger that erupted during that week. Social issues such as class-based prejudice and racial tensions were significant, along with growing unemployment through much of the country at the time.
But rather than admitting that people were angry and fighting back, one police officer (who remained nameless) argued that it was nothing more than young people who enjoyed Grand Theft Auto and "want to live it for themselves." The media picked up on this one cop's ignorant opinion and entertained the idea as if he was onto something.
9 New York Crime Spree
During the summer of 2008, several youths in New York City committed some nasty crimes that included break-ins, a robbery, a brutal beating, and an attempted carjacking. There were six of them in total, and they were between the ages of 14 and 18, and their rampage started in the middle of the night, lasting until a woman they tried to force out of her vehicle managed to call the police.
During the aftermath and investigation, cops piled the blame for these crimes on 2008's Grand Theft Auto IV, and said the boys were trying to emulate the actions of Niko Bellic. The police never did say how they got that information, but rather said that it came up during their investigation. Even if these kids did want to emulate the game, they and their parents bear the burden of guilt for not knowing/teaching the difference between real life and fiction, not the people at Rockstar.
8 Cabbie Killed In Crash - Need For Speed
Back in early 2006, two 18-year-old men in Toronto, Canada went for a late night drive. They decided to race with each other in their parents' vehicles, getting up to 140 km/h (almost 90 mph) in a 60 km/h zone. One of the young men slammed his Mercedes into Tahir Khan's cab, which was turning left, killing him instantly. The two racers were not seriously injured.
A copy of Need for Speed: Most Wanted was found in one of the cars, and the Toronto Police and media hinted that the game may be entered into evidence as having inspired the young men to race their vehicles along local streets. Both of the young men pleaded guilty, receiving little more than slaps on the wrist (suspended licenses, community service, probation). While games took some blame, most reporters eventually settled on the idea that this was just two spoiled brats doing something stupid, and that the game wasn't to blame for a man's death.
7 Washington Navy Yard Shooting
In mid-September, 2013, Aaron Alexis shot and killed twelve people and injured three more in a rampage that took place at the Washington Navy Yard in D.C. He worked for the U.S. Navy for just under four years, and then received his discharge, but would later work for that institution as a contractor. His shooting took place on the morning of September 16th, and as we said, claimed the lives of twelve people. He was able to easily gain access to the base because he was a regular contractor there and him showing up to work was nothing out of the ordinary.
Reports the day after the attack tried to pin the violence on video games, citing the Call of Duty franchise as a favorite of the shooter's and saying that he would play for over twelve hours without stopping. This turned out to be based on little more than friends describing him, and further research into his life turned out to show that he was delusional and paranoid, and constantly ranted at his friends about how people were out to get him and out to rob him. He also hinted many times that he thought he was being controlled by some kind of experimental military mind-control technology, which may have played a major role in his attack.
6 Bethel High School Shooting
Back in early 1997, 16-year-old Evan Ramsey took a Mossberg shotgun to his high school in Bethel, Alaska and killed two classmates, injuring two more. Evan had a very rough childhood. His father was incarcerated for much of his childhood, his mother was an alcoholic, and many of the men his mother dated throughout his youth were abusive. He was taken into the foster system and was abused by foster parents and other children at home as well as while in school.
His unfortunate upbringing, however, was not enough of an excuse of course, given that he had killed two people. He was found guilty of murder and attempted murder, and sentenced to just short of two centuries in prison for his crime. The media had a field day with the fact that he played Doom and years later. When he and his father were interviewed by Anderson Cooper, his father still held the view that his son's video game habits played more of a role in his behavior than bullying at school, sexual abuse in the foster system, and overall turbulent childhood.
5 Confiscated Game Revenge
There are few methods of discipline as effective for parents as taking away privileges. A kid in their late teens losing the freedom to take the family car, or a child not being allowed to play sports or see their friends will likely straighten up. Of course, taking away video games is a decent choice as well. Unfortunately, there are cases of parents being killed or brutally assaulted by one of their offspring for confiscating video games.
Daniel Petric and Nathon Brooks are among the most famous. Back in 2007, Petric purchased Halo 3 after being instructed not to. His parents found the game, and took it away, locking it up. He found his way into the lock box, took the game, and the pistol that sat next to it, killed his mother and shot his father (the father made it). He was sentenced to 23 to life.
Nathon Brooks played video games almost all the time, and when his parents took his systems away, he wrestled with the idea of killing them for just an hour and a half before going through with the deed. He shot both of them while they slept. Both of them suffered injuries that will never fully heal (sight and hearing among them), but did survive.
While video games may have been the final catalyst for these crimes, the games themselves are not to blame for the parents who didn't set boundaries, or the youths who decide to do something this heinous.
In April 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up Columbine High School, killing thirteen (and then themselves), and injuring 21 people. In the wake of this disturbing and awful event, the fingers were pointed just about everywhere. The gun industry was blamed, as were the pharmaceutical companies, the handling of bullying in schools, and, of course, violence in video games. Who was really to blame? Two high school students who made a terrible series of choices and did a terrible series of things.
But predictably, the fact that those two young men were fans of Doom and early Grand Theft Auto games often became the focus of the media, along with the music of Marilyn Manson, who was apparently also to blame. There were many factors at play here, and while the two killers did play violent video games, piling the blame on an early first-person shooter is ridiculous.
3 Sandy Hook
We could take most of what was said about the Columbine shooters and recycle it here. In late 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot his mother, along with six staff members and twenty students at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In the wake of Lanza's disgusting rampage, media outlets went rampant describing his obsession with gaming. Among the games found at his home were GTA IV, Left 4 Dead, Doom, and a couple of Call of Dutys. He was also a Dance Dance Revolution fanatic. While his crimes were initially thought to have been inspired by video games, those rumors were quickly put to rest as police discovered the extent of Lanza's mental illness.
2 Infants And Toddlers Killed For Interrupting Video Game Sessions
Yes, you read that right, and yes, this is about as repugnant as humanity can be. Video games are supposed to be immersive, if they weren't and didn't allow you into another incredible universe what would be the point of playing? Unfortunately, some people allow this immersion to reach the level of a full-blown addiction. Much like any other obsession or addiction, the problem is with the person, not the object in question.
A few times in the last several years, parents have (whether or purpose or by accident, it doesn't matter) killed babies for crying during gaming marathons. Back in 2012, Brian Frazier of North Carolina, hit his two-week-old son in the face, causing his death, because the infant was crying during his gaming time. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 2015. This seems like a case of a person who should never have had a child or a video game.
There was a similar case in Texas in 2015 of a man asphyxiating a toddler for a similar reason, and there are also a few cases of babies being shaken for crying during gaming. We're all for a good gaming marathon, and on some weekends, there is nothing quite like sitting down to a Battlefield binge or an ultra-immersive RPG, but it really should go without saying that kids come first, and are vastly more important than gaming. Obviously, it is doubtful that anyone reading this would ever even think to hurt a child, and we are likely preaching to the metaphorical choir here, so we'll move on to our next awful crime.
1 Anders Breivik's Rampage
The deadliest event in the history of Norway since World War II took place back in July 2011. Anders Breivik, described as a right-wing extremist, detonated a car bomb among several government buildings in Oslo, and then attacked a summer camp run by a Norwegian political party. He killed a total of 77 people, and injured over 300 more.
His goal was purely political, and his attack was diligently planned. Breivik has claimed that he originally sought to create this kind of havoc back as early as 2003, and started formally planning his massacre in 2009. He was arrested shortly after his attack on the camp. At trial he admitted to all that he had done, but argued his actions were necessary, thereby pleading not guilty.
He was found to be both sane, and guilty at trial and sentenced to a minimum of 21 years behind bars, which can be extended for five year intervals if he remains a threat to public safety. In his prison cell, he has both television and video games (prisons in Norway are actually pretty nice), but he has formally complained that he wants more "adult games" and to select his own games.
His crimes were primarily politically motivated, but the media still tried to scapegoat gaming. Breivik said, during an interview with police investigators, and later while on trial, that he practiced shooting with a holographic gunsight by playing tons of Call of Duty. While there is some evidence, such as the research of retired U.S. Army psychologist Dave Grossman, that shows video games that allow players to aim down iron sights or scopes, can actually act as a form of shooting trainer. Important to remember, however, is the fact that the motivation and inspiration for Breivik's attacks had nothing to do with video games.