Kids have always been easily lured to violence.
Even in some of the cartoons considered throughout the television era as the most benign, most family-oriented entertainment there are examples of violent acts being used for humour.
Elmer Fudd shooting the bill off Daffy Duck with a shotgun, and the Road Runner tricking Wile E. Coyote into falling off a cliff drew great laughs from audiences in their day.
As the decades passed, technology improved, and a new generation of cartoon violence began to appear in a more interactive form – video games.
The 1980’s saw the explosion of arcade games like Double-Dragon and Kung Fu that popularised the fighting genre. At the turn of the decade, games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat – pitting contestants from around the world against each other in matches where defeated opponents were sometimes set on fire or beheaded – were in every arcade and on many home video game entertainment systems as well.
Violent video games proliferated in the early 90’s with the introduction of Doom, a computer war game that depicted the first-person point of view of a heavily armed warrior bloodily blasting his way through hordes of scary monsters.
On 20 April, 1999 two teenagers murdered 12 students and a teacher inside Columbine High School in Colorado, USA during a shooting rampage. It had been reported that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were obsessed with the game Doom. Press reports indicated Harris created package files for the computer game showing him as the shooter.
Since then, video game systems and computer games have become even more violent, and far more realistic.
The introduction of the Grand Theft Auto series is probably the most common example used in modern times of video games that have blurred the line of cartoon violence and reality.
The Grand Theft Auto series places the player in the shoes of a criminal who has to attain certain goals, which in one game include killing a number of police officers. Another version of the game includes a scene where the main character beheads a prostitute inside a car.
In 2003, attorneys for a 16-year-old American teen initially tried to use an insanity defence following Dustin Lynch being charged with aggravated murder. Lawyers argued the boy was “obsessed” with Grand Theft Auto III.
One attorney even asked the father of Lynch’s murder victim to give a note to the trial judge stating: “the attorneys had better tell the jury about the violent video game that trained this kid and showed him how to kill our daughter.”
Court documents allege Lynch stabbed 15-year-old JoLynn Mishne with a kitchen knife after striking her with a bedpost in the Mishne family’s Medina, Ohio home.
Lynch was a runaway who was staying with the Mishne family. He later denied that the game had any influence on his actions.
The debate over what role increasingly violent – and increasingly realistic – video games have played in real acts of violence has raged for well more than a decade around the world. In recent years, that concern has come to the Cayman Islands with even Premier McKeeva Bush warning parents not to let children spend too much time around the “video boxes”.
Royal Cayman Islands Police Commissioner David Baines said during an interview on the subject late last year that he believes the problem stems from parents – who may remember the very early days of video games like Pong and Pac Man – not realising what the modern games their children are playing look like.
Baines said media violence comes in many forms, including movies and television. But in some cases, he said, parents won’t think twice about buying their children an “M-rated” video game (for mature themes) when they would never buy an R-rated film for the kids to watch.
“There’s a wider issue about the lack of parental control and a generational difference of understanding what exactly is going on with modern games,” he says. “This is manifesting itself in what would be considered X-rated violence, but also pornography. Kids become immune to the reality of violence.”
This level of violence so concerned a local primary school principal that his staff drew up a “Top Ten list” of video games parents should avoid purchasing for kids during the holiday season. The list was distributed to parents at West Bay’s John Cumber Primary a couple weeks before Christmas.
John Cumber officials also asked parents or children to bring the games to school, if they already had copies, so they could be destroyed.
The games included on the list were: Resident Evil 4, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, God of War, NARC, Killer 7, The Warriors, 50 Cent: Bulletproof, Crime Life: Gang Wars, Condemned: Criminal Origins, and True Crime: New York City.
John Cumber Principal Joseph Wallace believes extremely violent video games can encourage children to become violent in their adult lives.
“Research has showed…that over time, when these kids play the video games constantly…it desensitises them to the act of violence,” Wallace says. “But there’s no off button in real life; there’s no restart.”
“Besides, what the kids are doing when they’re playing video games, they’re not playing outside,” he says.
West Bay Police Station Chief Inspector Angelique Howell, who also participated in Thursday’s event, believes local groups like CODAC and the school are trying to send an important message when it comes to violent video games.
. Howell says games like Grand Theft Auto depict police chases and murders which negatively effect kids.
“Parents have to be responsible and screen what they are buying for children and what they allow their children to play with,” Chief Inspector Howell says.
But Blockbuster Video store co-owner Deborah McTaggart said blaming the games for violence committed by children and young adults amounts to a sort of blame displacement.
“If you have no relationship with your kids and they’re locked up in a room with violent video games, I guess you’re probably going to have some problems,” McTaggart says.
The video store owner has a unique perspective on the issue. A former store employee, Sabrina Schirn – a close friend of McTaggart’s daughter – was brutally killed in March after vanishing one morning. Cayman’s recent spate of violent crimes has affected her more closely than many others.
“Do I think we can attribute this to video games? I mean, I don’t think the really violent games are good, and there are titles that I don’t sell (at Blockbuster),” she says. “I personally don’t like horror movies…but if I don’t bring them in, will it stop the violence?”
McTaggart says these video games are available everywhere, not only on Grand Cayman, but in the US – just a short weekend shopping trip away. She said her store does not sell “M – for mature” rated video games to kids under 17. But there’s nothing they can do about parents who buy them for their children.
“If someone’s looking for it they’re going to find it,” she says.
McTaggart calls the game destroying event held in December at John Cumber Primary an interesting gesture, but she said she’d be surprised if the school got too many video games turned in.
“I think you’d have to pry them out of the kids’ hands,” she says.
School officials said mostly toy guys were turned in at the event, not video games.
Kids have always been easily lured to violence.