Researcher Tries To Connect Violence And Video Games During Murder Trial; Gets Destroyed During Cross Examination

from the 3-Mortal-Kombat-saves?-thank-god-this-'killer'-is-no-longer-walking-free dept

Violence and violent video games still remain connected in the eyes of many despite a lack of supporting evidence. When an act of violence occurs, the more horrific it is, the more certain it is that people will try to connect the two. We’ve seen it happen time and time again.

A recent murder trial used this “connection” in the accused’s defense, but with a twist. Instead of using violent video games as a scapegoat to help defray the culpability of their client (“video games made him do it”), the defense team used it to portray one of the victims as a violent person motivated by violent video games.

Illinois man Chris Beason was accused of the murder of five members of his ex-wife’s family — parents Ruth and Raymond “Rick” Gee, Rick’s 22-year-old son Austin and Ruth’s two children, 14-year-old Dillen and 16-year-old Justina. Beason also severely beat the Gee’s three-year-old daughter, but she survived. Things looked bad for Beason, who went on trial facing an uphill battle against a ton of forensic evidence and damning testimonies provided by a former cellmate and his own brother.

So, Beason went in a wholly unexpected direction, claiming that he was walked in on a murder-in-progress, perpetrated by Dillen, and had to kill the 14-year-old in self defense.

The defense tried to paint the victim (who was bludgeoned to death) as an anti-social at-risk teen whose rage and anger was exacerbated by playing video games. This, the defense argued, led to Dillen killing his entire family on the night of September 29, 2009 – which Harris claimed to have walked into in progress.

The defense called in an “expert” (you’ll see why the quotes are attached as this unfolds) to support its theory that Dillen’s video game habits had turned him into a murderer.

To drive this angle home, the defense called Iowa State University professor and researcher Craig Anderson. On May 28 he testified about a report he created for the case based on documents sent to him by the defense.

Those of you familiar with Craig Anderson’s video game research will see where this is going. Those who aren’t, prepare to meet the man most likely to take Jack Thompson’s place as the shrill voice of video game hysteria.

To set the stage, here are a few quotes (by others in the research field) on Anderson and his “research.”

In reference to a 2008 study of his that “linked” video games to violence in the US and Japan:

In the literature review the authors suggest that research on video game violence is consistent when this is hardly the case. The authors here simply ignore a wide body of research which conflicts with their views…

[Prof. Christopher Ferguson’s] paper claims that Anderson’s study “included many studies that do not relate well to serious aggression, an apparently biased sample of unpublished studies, and a ‘best practices’ analysis that appears unreliable and does not consider the impact of unstandardized aggression measures on the inflation of effect size estimates.”

I would certainly say there’s an agenda here… what Craig Anderson argues in his paper, he then goes into describing youth violence, talking about how serious a public concern youth violence is. [But] He doesn’t measure youth violence in his study. He doesn’t measure anything even close to it. The aggression measure he uses is not a behavioral measure, it doesn’t measure aggressive behaviors. It doesn’t predict youth violence. So they’re engaging in hyperbole that is not warranted by the results of their study, and that to me say there’s clearly an agenda.]

Anderson first delved into Dillen’s non-video game background, citing multiple risk factors like anti-social behavior, ADD, learning problems and troubled home life. He pointed out that Dillen kept a “knife and golf club” in his room and was prone to “emotional outbursts.” After running down everything in Dillen’s life that may have contributed to his supposed killing spree, Anderson turned to his area of “expertise.”

Anderson testified that research has shown that playing violent video games can lead to aggressive behavior. The defense then moved to discuss three save games on Dillen’s PS2 – for Mortal Kombat. After describing the fatalities in the game – one character ripping another’s spine out – the jury was shown various fatalities from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.

One game. Three saves. Obviously a pattern. The fatalities in the game are indeed violent, but they’ve also been around for years, being enjoyed by millions of gamers with no ill side effects. Anderson was probably feeling rather confident in his conclusions — right up until the prosecution began drilling holes in every argument.

But on cross examination, Anderson was put on the defensive as the prosecution drilled down into his expert testimony on video game violence and research. First he was asked if he had ever played Mortal Kombat and if it had made him violent.

Anderson said that he had in fact played the game many years ago and indicated that it did not make him violent.

Millions of gamers. Millions of violent video game hours played. Violent crime at an all-time low in most of America. And yet, Anderson and other like-minded individuals insist these games craft killers. Somehow, Anderson wasn’t affected by Mortal Kombat but he expected the jury to believe Dillen was.

Focusing on violent video games, the prosecution pointed out that 70 percent of adolescents play video games and the majority of them do not commit violent crimes. But the real zinger came when the prosecution asked Anderson if Pac Man eating a ghost could be considered violent by some definitions. Anderson says that it could.

The prosecution wasn’t finished nailing Anderson to the wall. It also attacked the supposed research he had done into Dillen’s past.

Anderson also admitted that he didn’t talk to anyone (including therapists, teachers, school officials, or family members) familiar with Dillen’s behavior when preparing his report for the defense. The prosecution pointed out that Anderson’s first draft of his report listed six risk factors, but a later draft listed 16. Anderson responded by saying that prior aggression is the highest indicator of violence. Anderson also admitted that he had no way of knowing if the documents he used for his report were accurate. The prosecution also pointed out that Dillen’s grades had been improving over time and that in some subjects he was getting “A’s” and “B’s”.

For someone so confident that video games are creating killers, Anderson didn’t seem too sure of much else. I’m sure he thought he wouldn’t need to do more than trot out a little bit of his proprietary “research” and coast out of there unscathed. Instead, the prosecution went after his half-assed “expert opinion” relentlessly, forcing Anderson to utter some pretty damning statements of his own. Unfortunately for Anderson, the only person these statements damned was himself.

Later the prosecution got Anderson to acknowledge that there has never been a study that shows violent video games have been directly linked to violent acts.

Certainly nothing outside of Anderson’s own. It gets better (for us). The prosecution brought up Brown v. EMA, pointing out the Supreme Court justices’ criticism of Anderson’s methodology. Anderson’s response?

Anderson said that the decision by the Supreme Court looked like it was written by the video games industry and that he felt like the video game industry went out of its way to personally attack him.

Wow. The video game industry controls the Supreme Court. Who knew?

Ultimately, Anderson’s testimony did little, if anything, for the defense. Beason was found guilty of five counts of first-degree murder. Anderson, on the other hand, has further cemented his own reputation as researcher severely short on credibility and objectivity — both generally considered to be positive traits in this field. Furthermore, he’s proved himself to be the kind of opportunistic person who’s willing to further his own agenda by painting a murder victim as a violent killer. The courtroom is no place to be tossing around predispositions and shrugging off actual facts. Anderson did both.

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Comments on “Researcher Tries To Connect Violence And Video Games During Murder Trial; Gets Destroyed During Cross Examination”

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47 Comments
out_of_the_blue says:

This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

You do everything you can to avoid the common sense connection between violence in movies and video games. But along with the devil-worship and nihilism in heavy metal, it CAN’T BE GOOD. There’s just no way that it can be a positive for society. — All you’re saying is that academics who don’t wish to prove it have managed to not prove it.

SO, when you’re getting beaten to death by cops, just console yourself that the cause of their violence is mysterious, can’t be linked to any societal milieu, and most definitely NOT to video games.

Nick (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

The more I read OOTB’s posts, the more I think he is just fanatically playing devil’s advocate. I can’t think of a single post here that he hasn’t taken the complete opposite stance on for anything. And there are a few posts on techdirt that I haven’t agreed with, either on the severity of the issue, or the actual issue itself.

OOTB, however, consistently yells at us that we are all “sheeple” ignorant to the common sense ideas in our society as if HE is the one in the right / majority of the country and knows it.

Well, it’s good exercise. Gets us to learn how to argue against the common stupid statements we are likely to hear regarding these stories in the coming days.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

He doesn’t always disagree. Sometimes agree, but say something like “Why do you criticize company X for doing Y, when Google is a much bigger offender”. Or in the article on proposed tariffs on Chinese imports, he went off on a tangent about how the author didn’t mention China’s use of slave labor.

Bob says:

Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

If violence in the media- on television, in movies and video games- causes real, physical violence, and is more prevalent than ever, how are violent crimes at an all time low?

Oh wait, there’s this new thing called causality, which you have no empirical evidence to suggest.

Oh wait again, I’m appealing to the sense of reason you’ve clearly failed to engage.

Idiotic comments aside, why are flagged comments hidden? It seems like the best way to address nonsense is with a little common sense. I’d rather not let idiots go on propagating ignorance unchecked.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

Because there is a difference between encouraging someone to buy a new anti-microbial soap or chicken fillet cutter and imploring someone to go out and kill ‘anyone’.

At best you could blame Fox+COD for attacks on Muslims but even that would be a stretch (the COD bit anyway ;).

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

If you can’t make a comment without lying and name-calling in the subject line of your comment, why bother?

“But along with the devil-worship and nihilism in heavy metal, it CAN’T BE GOOD.”

Whoa… Did I time travel back to the 1980s? Time to buy me some Apple stock!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

“Whoa… Did I time travel back to the 1980s? Time to buy me some Apple stock!”

We must not miss this opportunity. Quick, we can still prevent such horrific world disasters as 9/11, Fukushima and Windows 8 from happening!

Tim Griffiths (profile) says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

So just so we are clear the only way to grow up and stop acting like a 14 year only is to simply accept what you are told is “common sense” even when their is no evidence to support it? So you either just admitted that you are 14 or that you accept what you are told at face value with no need to think critically about it. So you’ve just pretty much undermined everything you have and will ever say on any topic here because you’ve categorically stated that you have no interest in a critical debate just justifying what you view as “common sense”. Well done.

kainyu says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

Really?..

Come on when were you born? I can point out anything from any timeline from present to the 1880 that was viewed as a social norm for people under the age of 25 and as damaging by those older. The only people who get violent after playing a video game were violent to begin with. You have to realise some people are just angry by nature. Take me for example I wasn’t exactly a calm kid don’t get me wrong I wasn’t violent but if someone did or said something that I disagreed with I would defend my point or position firmly and if it came to a fight so be it. Did that evolve into me murdering people that didn’t share my belief when I found gaming? Not in the slightest I met people all across the world got great friends that I never would have had if we didn’t share that hobby and have become an adult with no criminal record a good line of work (Programmer (I failed in school wanted to make games really bad so I taught myself ended up having a normal software development job)).

I could find just as many violent people who play video games than who write poetry, read books, or who don’t do any and have an active social life or any other activity. I will write a book how all serial murderers drove cars and that lead them to murder! I could make conenctions but they are flimsy and foolish.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

Normally I do not feed the trolls. But, this one I can not let go unresponded.

I’ve been playing violent video games since I was 14 when the violent game asteroids came out.

OOTB please give me your address. I need a human sacrifice for my satanic ritual this Friday, and you seem a really good canidate. Given the content of your posts on this forum our coven can resonably assume that you are a virgin. I am a 27th Level Grand Master Warlock and your sacrifice would be greatly apprichiated and I’m sure you would agree that it is an honor to be asked by us to partisipate.

Just so you know: we use chicken blood to draw our pentagrams, and the altar is made out of the bones of woodland animals we found in the forest. The candle wax is made from the fat of frogs we killed in the nearby pond.

Not an Electronic Rodent (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

I need a human sacrifice for my satanic ritual this Friday

As someone who has also played violent video games since their invention (space invaders anyone?) and has further fuelled my clear predisposition for violence by repeatedly playing roleplaying games (including gasp some involving religious and even satanic themes) I am clearly in desperate need of attending a human sacrifice immediately… I’d be grateful if you’d forward your address and if it’s OOTB you get then it’ll be well worth the plane ticket – I’ll even spring for the candles and knife… 🙂

Damn I must have been repressing my muderous tendencies for way too long…

Digitari says:

Re: Re: Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

can I come along? I just want to film it, listening to OOTB on here screaming long enough.. I love to record some REAL screams for a change…

BTW I can’t believe OOTB use “Common sense” in his post, it’s obvious, for him, it’s neither common, nor sense.

Alt0 says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

“But along with the devil-worship and nihilism in heavy metal, it CAN’T BE GOOD.”

One example for you Blue.
I play video games as a “valve”. I don my armor, grab a sword and shield and indulge in MAKE BELIEVE mayhem, and it actually has a “calming” effect after a long day.
Someone cuts me off while driving (I ride a motorcycle and this behavior is a real threat to me) I get angry. Do I kick off their mirror in retaliation? Hell no because that’s REAL LIFE violence. I am someone that actually knows the difference between the two, as does almost everyone except some researchers and undoubtedly you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: This is a real mania with you 14-year-olds, isn't it?

“You do everything you can to avoid the common sense connection between violence in movies and video games. But along with the devil-worship and nihilism in heavy metal, it CAN’T BE GOOD.”

And those wizards and witches in Harry Potter novels and movies!
My GOD!
Save us from them, before they force us to do evil deeds against our wills!

PaulT (profile) says:

I can almost understand this kind of desperate and plaining false kind of argument in a murder trial. If you can’t refute the physical evidence and can’t produce any actual evidence of mental or other circumstance to lower the charge being faced, it’s worth a punt.

The problem is the crusaders who pick up these lies and drag them through political and other arenas, deflecting attention and resources away from the actual causes of society’s problems. Jack Thompson was laughed at until he got disbarred, hopefully the same will happen to this lawyer.

As someone who grew up during the UK video nasties crap, it’s a shame that it’s being repeated. I hope the lawmakers aren’t as stupid as those people were, but I have many doubts.

Anonymous Coward says:

“The fatalities in the game are indeed violent…”

Are they?

If you consider one person exploding into like seven rib cages, twelve legs and five skulls to be violent, then sure, it’s violent…in a totally unrealistic and over the top way.

Or maybe you are thinking about the part where they drop an arcade machine on the victim?

Seriously, MK is a (terrible) joke.

RyanNerd (profile) says:

Criminal Lawyers a necessary evil

I have to give kudos to the defence attorney whose job it is from time to time to defend someone who is obviously guilty. So congrats to him for proposing a plausible story (his client came in on a murder that was already in progress) and trying his best to bring in an “expert” on behalf of his client to mount a defence of the indefensible.

Anonymous Coward says:

He pointed out that Dillen kept a “knife and golf club” in his room…

So? I had quite the collection of pocket knives. Most of them were gifts from family members. I had no place to keep these knives but in my room.

Also had a baseball bat next to my bed.

I certainly haven’t killed, maimed, or otherwise seriously injured anyone in my life.

I’m trying to remember if Craig Anderson actually taught any of my classes when I was at ISU. Name is familiar, but this is the first time in a long time I have heard it.

Viln (profile) says:

Folks...

I realize many of you come to these comments sections to hear a troll spout nonsense and other people rip him apart for it… and I can understand the entertainment value to a certain degree… I think we all need to acknowledge that the lettuce has spoiled long ago. Let’s stop giving celebrity status to the same message board cretins and try to elevate the discussion to something more entertaining or expansive.

Or at the very least, let’s hold out for some new, more entertaining trolls.

placebo96799 (profile) says:

I have my doubts

I don’t think a blanket statement can be made that there is no connection between acts of violence and violent video games. My argument is that advertisers are projected to spend 500 billion dollars this year worldwide. About 170 billion in the U.S. alone. This money would not be spent if advertising did not affect the behavior of some of the people that are exposed to it. The argument “I played Mortal Combat and I’ve never killed anyone” doesn’t sway me. Millions of people see advertisements for cigarettes but have never smoked. But there is a subset of the population that does smoke due to the influence of the ads. Regarding violence, I venture to say that violent video games influence a subset of the game playing population to commit acts of violence. It is likely a miniscule number, but a “number” nonetheless.

Rich says:

Re: I have my doubts

Being persuaded to purchase an item because of advertising is a BIG difference from being persuaded to kill someone. People are not robots subject to the whims. We make choices based on a lot of factors. Desire and influence are only part of it. The only consequences of my buying a game are lost of money and time. The consequences of murder are much, much greater.

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