When There's Nothing to Blame, There's Always Games

Last October, Stefan Martin-Urban shot up a suburban cul-de-sac, killing two people and then himself. Investigators found no drugs, no journals explaining his motives. But they did find video games, and so that's the answer.

That's the line pressed by law enforcement in Grand Junction, Colo., where Martin-Urban's killing spree took place. Although the specific games with which this young man was supposedly obsessed are not named, Grand Theft Auto - probably because of its cop-killing history - is strongly implied.

"It could be that he was simply acting out a part in a video game. Maybe he had interjected himself into a game in his mind," Grand Junction police Sgt. Tony Clayton said. It's the first quote used in a story published by the Denver Post.

Look, we have an editorial agenda here at Kotaku, and it's video games, and you as readers and commenters are also forceful video game advocates. We both have seen enough of this that I wonder if our eye-rolling is every bit as tendentious as a cop using armchair psychology to explain a senseless murder.

But at some point, I think mainstream reporters and writers have got to ask the extra question of the police, and that is simply, "Do you have real evidence that this person was deliberately impersonating video game killings, or is that just a guess?" We get to this point because random murders scare the shit out of the public, and police feel compelled to find some larger reason so that people can, I dunno, take proactive steps to protect themselves. But blaming video games, I think, sows more panic, because they're widespread, they're legal for sale, and they're not going away any time soon.

Rather than just descend into flamebait over the usual violent-video-game nonsense, I'd like to move this to maybe a more productive argument. And that is to ask the mainstream media to stop swallowing unsubstantiated b.s. whole. Nancy Lofholm's article (and I know her, and like her a lot, and she's forgotten more about reporting than I've ever learned, so this is sort of weird) is a very good narrative without the video game angle, which she didn't invent from whole cloth, she just took it at face value. But cops pull things out of their asses all the time - look at the "street value" of a major drug bust. Blaming video games has gone so far beyond cliché that it really needs to start facing the strong skepticism for which reporters are known.

The problem is that some things, some really frightening things, are just unknowable and unpreventable, and the police's only job in that case is to respond to the scene, restore order, and write it up. But a police officer saying that straight up is a lot more unacceptable to the public than if he pins it on something intangible out in pop culture. Which should say something about who's really to blame here.

Video Games Maybe to Blame in Senseless Shootings [Denver Post]