A Chinese gamer swallows razor blades in a suicide attempt, Daniel Petric shoots his mom and Brandon Crisp runs away from home – anyone see a pattern here?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s not game addiction. It’s media coverage.
That’s not to say that 17-year-olds have been committing matricide since time immemorial. Or that the American Psychiatric Association won’t enter video game addiction into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders when review time comes up in 2012. Or that it’s somehow normal to log 100 hours of World of Warcraft in a week.
But I submit that just 10 years ago, Petric’s murder trial would not have gotten this kind of attention from the media. We wouldn’t have headlines like “X-Box Slaying” or “Mortal Kombat Murder.” It would just be “Teen Commits Murder Over Toy” with a quote about how he (or she) seemed like such a nice kid.
So why has the press shifted toward highlighting video games in connection with crime or tragedy? And why are they calling compulsive gaming an “addiction” when the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association haven’t named it so (yet)? Is it because the public really thinks that video games are dangerous?
Or maybe the press is looking for easy headlines. For a little experiment, check out how many hits the razor blade story got this morning. Then check out the murder trial’s hits. And lastly, sit back and see how many hits this page gets.
If we pay this much attention to the topic, it’s no wonder that politicians and lawyers are doing it, too. That scares me because too much attention could legitimize something that might not even be real. Think of the Twinkie Defense in Dan White's murder trial – if politicians, psychologists and TV anchors had bought into it, people might well get away with murder if they can cram down a couple of boxes before getting out their gun.
For more reading on the idea of game addiction (you know, with actual science and stuff), check out:
The Daedalus Project
Stanford School of Medicine’s Recent Study
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry's Reaction to AMA Recommendations on Video Games