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.