Regarding my previous concern about a public relations nightmare arising from the D.C. sniper killings (see previous posts here and here), while there has been little fallout against our industry so far, I’m still on the fence as to why that may be. It’s entirely possible that there is no evidence that the killers were fans of sniping simulations, which would mean that our industry’s insistence on ignoring all social concerns until cornered by Congress has been the right tack. On the other hand, the current silence may only be the calm before the courtroom storm, meaning our instinct to deny could be working against our own best interests. Because a comprehensive gag order was draped over this case shortly after the two suspects were apprehended, we don’t really know whether either of them were fans of violent entertainment of any kind.
It still seems to me that a savvy, cutting-edge industry would be proactive when threatened with scapegoating of this magnitude, but I’m going to let that go for the moment. For the sake of argument let’s say that no violent software turned up on any computers the suspects may have owned or used, and let’s say the suspects themselves aren’t claiming that GTA III made them do it. Aren’t we in the clear then, at least this time?
My answer is no, and here’s why.
Until recently it was pretty obvious that the younger killer’s defense team would paint the elder killer as the motivator of the crimes, with the kid (he’s seventeen) playing the role of a confused and abused pawn. A few days ago, however, the New York Times reported that the primary (and possibly only) shooter was the younger of the two captured men, which means the blame game is suddenly much harder to play. Although this claim, and others in the article, are being vehemently denied by authorities knowledgeable about the case, the possibility that the kid was the trigger-happy member of the duo means his defense attorneys are not only going to have to deal with ‘who’, they’re also going to have to deal with ‘why’. (Any defense in this case involves trying to get these guys life instead of the death penalty. Neither of these guys is ever going to walk.)
Instead of coaching their client to look harmless, spineless and dopey while they harp on the older suspect’s record of failed relationships, domineering behavior and violent confrontations, the younger suspect’s defense attorneys may have to explain why he was the one repeatedly pulling the trigger, with no evidence that he ever tried to miss. The only argument I can see them trying to sell to a jury – assuming they don’t get lucky with an MRI and turn up a brain tumor – is that their client is a victim himself:
- Look, kid – in order to keep the jury from killing you we need to give them an excuse they can live with. The race card’s out because you shot people of all races, and the poverty card is out because you didn’t ask for money soon enough.
- Although the jury’s job will be to decide innocence or guilt, juries also like to try to figure out why a crime has happened, which gives us a shot at keeping you alive. Unfortunately, we’ve only been able to come up with one viable excuse that has any traction. That’s the idea that you’ve played so many violent video games you didn’t really know you were actually hurting people when you blew their heads off.
- Aw, come on – who’s gonna believe that? I mean, if violent entertainment really did cause violent crimes, wouldn’t this country be awash in blood? I mean, more than usual?
- I’ll tell you why they’ll believe it. First, you’re still young enough that we can try to pass you off as an impressionable kid – as long as you don’t articulate any more complex thoughts like you just did. Second, the jury members we’ll empanel will be parents with little or no firsthand knowledge of computer games. After we give them a demonstration of something like excessive violence mode in Soldier of Fortune II, I guarantee you they’ll be scared for the souls of their own children. That can only help when they’re trying to decide whether you get the needle or not. Speaking of which, have you ever played Soldier of Fortune II?
- Let’s try that again. Have you ever played Soldier of Fortune II?
- Uh…yeah. I loved it. Especially excessive violence mode.
- Interesting. What else have you played?
- What else is there?
— Mark Barrett