A Play on Perception: The Flaw in the Violent Video Game Debate

Video games are the devil. At least, that’s what opponents of video games want you to think. In his essay, Virtual Gangstas in the Era of State Violence, David Leonard discusses the story of Devin Moore, a 16-year-old teenager who cited Grand Theft Auto as his inspiration for killing 3 police officers in the summer of 2003. Though Moore was found guilty and sentenced to death, the case generated discussions regarding the social and moral effects of violent video games on young adults. Despite evidence to the contrary, many opponents linked the rise in violent behavior to the popularity of vulgar games, calling Grand Theft Auto “a murder simulator” or a “training machine” (Leonard 259).

However, the logic that such arguments are founded on appear to be flawed. Take the claim that such games only affect those who are predisposed to violent behavior. As Leonard notes:

It is only those who are otherwise likely to commit crimes who will be pushed into violence through game play (those not likely to commit crimes – white suburban youth—may adopt problematic cultural attributes: sagging pants – but not pathological behavior) (261).

According to anti-video-game crusaders, children who are raised in environments that are not conducive to moral behavior (read: African Americans) are more likely to develop “ideas” from video games and mimic them in the real world. However, if the number one consumer of video games is the white, suburban male that lacks any pre-existing disposition to violence and will likely only adopt “problematic cultural attributes” like “sagging pants,” then who exactly are these anti-game measures trying to protect (Leonard 261)? That is to say, if the reason for banning such games relies on the assumption that doing so will prevent white youth from emulating the negative “black culture” that is portrayed on screen, then wouldn’t that suggest that white youth are predisposed to violence? If only those who are likely to commit crimes anyway are threatened by such games, why are white suburban youth the audience we are trying to protect? Here lies the contradiction.

GTAThis discrepancy, then, reveals a deeper ideology hidden in the Devin Moore case, one that aims to demonize the black image in order to provide a scapegoat for the younger generation’s destructive behavior. In other words, by attributing Devin Moore’s violent outburst to his participation in violent video game culture, lawmakers are able to blame the images of “black culture” seen in games like Grand Theft Auto for national tragedies. They are not condemning the video game itself but rather the image of blackness within such games.

Devin Moore’s case was manipulating by the media for the purpose of perpetuating a racist discourse. Though ten years have passed since the event, such incidents of perception distortion have not disappeared. Earlier this year, the Today Show hosted a family whose son took his parents’ car on a joyride:

Contrast that story to the one of Latarian Milton, a 7-year-old black boy who committed a nearly identical crime but whose behavior received very different media coverage:

This comparison, made by Dr. Lisa Wade on her critical blog, The Society Pages, reveals misrepresentation of race that the media continues to indulge in, even to this day. In the end, the Devin Moore case is nothing more than a play on perception.

Featured image via Flickr


Leonard, David. "Young, Black (& Brown) and Don't Give a Fuck: Virtual Gangstas in the Era of State 
     Violence." Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies (2009): 248-71. Print.

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