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posted by: GF! Back Catalogue 10/2004 => 1995
date posted: 12:00 AM Wed Nov 6th, 2002
last revision: 12:00 AM Wed Nov 6th, 2002

By Shawn Rider

It turns out that in Montgomery County, Maryland, police are looking into "tips" they received on their sniper hotline concerning Grand Theft Auto 3, as described in this article from The Jeffersonian. Callers phoning the line apparently reported that in Grand Theft Auto 3 you could use a sniper rifle to shoot whomever you'd like. So in the interest of thoroughly investigating the case, several police officers from the Montgomery County Police Department have purchased GTA3 from a Circuit City over the past couple weeks. Are these guys doing a bunch of hard work, or are they simply catching up on their games?

According to Walt Bader, the President of the Montgomery County Fraternal Order of Police, there are "a thousand" things cops do to profile criminals, and playing the videogames they may have played is just one tactic an investigator might use. Sure, I can buy that. Of course, it's generally considered more useful to profile the criminal before you catch him, but perhaps a better understanding of John Allen Muhammed and Lee Malvo could be useful to prosecutors and those seriously affected by what is certainly a ruthless murdering rampage. Given that Malvo is 17 years old, and using the ever-suspect "conventional wisdom" of gaming demographics, there is a good chance that he was exposed to the most popular PlayStation 2 game ever, and the highest grossing game in videogame history, GTA3.

But here's where things get sticky. GTA3 has been reviled by religious and moral groups since its release over a year ago. It was cited by Senators Lieberman and Kohl in the annual Video Game Violence Report as earning a "dishonorable mention." Do you know what this means? That's right “ our congress apparently has nothing better to do in "these trying times" than write reports about violent videogames. Or, at the very least, our leaders believe it is worth their time to spend valuable resources listing violent videogames. Don't you think there are better things for our congresspeople to be briefed on than how many kills you can rack up in GTA3? Do you think they flipped when Lieberman told them you could kill a thousand people per level in Dynasty Warriors 3? Or is he even doing enough research to look at lesser-known games like that? Does this have any bearing on our political or social lives?

Religious and moral groups think so. But remember, these people come out of the same mode of thinking that led Fredric Wertham in 1954 to write about how Batman and Robin were indoctrinating our young men into homosexuality. In short, religious and moral groups are nuts “ today they take away your videogames, tomorrow they'll take away your cable porn and soon you won't be able to dance in your own home without offending the great being. And you know what? Somebody will still shoot somebody else, and it will be blamed on that infernal dancing habit they had, but not the fact that many of these right-wing religious fanatics are also big gun nuts.

Bringing this back to the sniper investigation, David Walsh, the head of the National Institute on Media and the Family, cites the infamous tarot card clue. The sniper left a tarot card with a note written on it that said, "I am God," at one of the crime scenes. Walsh claims, "Gamers will often say ˜I am God,'" proving how few gamers he has been around.

I have never claimed to be a god in a videogame, except in a game like Black and White, where you really do play a god. But in Black and White there are no sniper rifles, and usually, when describing a "god game" we use phrases more like, "you are a god," or, "the gamer takes on the role of a god." Do people really play videogames for some kind of god-like power trip? Probably, but they also probably don't think of it in exactly those terms. Even in a game as violent and derogatory as Unreal Tournament 2003, where taunts include "I own!", "You whore!" and "Die bitch!" there is no "I am God" taunt. Wanna talk about misogyny in games? We might have an easy discussion. Wanna talk about this god complex? Then we need to do some serious research.

Lets face facts, too: That 1990 Chevy Caprice probably didn't even have a bumping stereo, let alone the PlayStation 2 hookup. People who think they are gods and murder other people are serial killers or paranoid schizophrenics, not gamers“ there's a significant difference there, and we need to recognize that. In a lot of ways it's the difference between Charles Manson and Marilyn Manson “ one is truly dangerous and reprehensible, while the other is playful and fantastic.

And here's my last argument against how GTA3 could have influenced the sniper shootings “ if they had been playing a videogame they probably wouldn't have committed the real act. This is a new breed of "conventional wisdom," just as unreliable as the original breed, but more "common sense" to me. We play games to do things we can't do in the real world “ driving big robots, scoring touchdowns, skating really good, sniping innocent civilians. Playing the game allows you to indulge the fantasy without the ramifications of the reality, and I'm pretty sure that whether you're afraid of jail time, or just banged up knee joints, I believe most gamers will admit that they would rather have the fantasy than the reality.

This editorial uses a a source Liz Bloch's article for Capital News Service, "Sniper probes look to games," available as of 11.06.02 at this URL: http://news.mywebpal.com/news_tool_v2.cfm?pnpID=811&