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The Political Game: Video games made me do it


Each week Dennis McCauley contributes The Political Game, a column on the collision of politics and video games:

Ladies and gentlemen of the Joystiq jury, I direct your attention to Independence Day, 2004. On that morning, Cody Posey, just an average 14-year-old boy, picked up a gun, walked into his home and gunned down his stepmother in cold blood.

The video games made him do it.

Cody's dad, Delbert, a caretaker at ABC newsman Sam Donaldson's New Mexico ranch, heard the shots and came running. Cody shot him dead, too, along with his 13-year-old stepsister, Marilea. Sam Donaldson actually discovered the crime scene and called the police. The adolescent killer was arrested, tried, and sent away. Cody Posey, average American teen, had become a homicidal maniac.

The video games made him do it.

At least, that's the premise behind a lawsuit filed in Albuquerque this week. The suit seeks $600 million in damages from Sony, Rockstar and Take-Two. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is the same amount demanded by another GTA wrongful death suit, brought by the same attorney in Alabama in 2005.

Unlike the Alabama case, however, the circumstances of which had at least a few similarities to GTA's game play, such as the fact that the victims were police officers and stolen cars were involved, the Cody Posey case has none. Was there a "go nuts and wipe out your own family" mission in Vice City? If so, I guess I missed it.

Never mind all of that, the video games made him do it.

In fact, even the most cursory examination of the case shows that for years prior to the killings Cody was beset by tragedy as well as an almost unspeakable level of abuse. Here's a kid who was brutally beaten by his father, a man who cared so little for the boy that he surrendered legal custody of his son at one point. Tragically, Cody's biological mother, to whom he was very close, was killed in a traffic accident in 1999. Young Cody was in the car at the time. One can only imagine the terrible effect that had on the boy's psyche.

But the video games made him do it.

During the investigation and trial, witnesses described occasions when his father hit Cody with a rock and threatened the boy's privates with a metal hook. There was testimony of his father squeezing Cody's fingers with pliers. Classmates recalled Cody coming to school with black eyes. Even Cody's uncle, a plaintiff in the $600 million lawsuit, admitted that his brother beat the boy with a board.

But, it was the video games.

On the night before the killings, Cody told investigators, his sick, twisted excuse of a father -- a man who had incest porn on his hard drive -- tried to coerce the boy into having sex with Cody's stepmother. When Cody refused, his father burned him with a heated metal rod. Unlike the nonsense in this lawsuit, Cody's burn marks were real. Investigators photographed them.

The judge in Cody's case found that the boy was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the killings, hardly surprising given his witnessing the death of his mother and the horrendous level of mistreatment he suffered at the hands of his father.

None of this, of course, remotely justifies what Cody Posey did. But his lawyer argued -- and the court agreed -- that Cody needed treatment in a juvenile facility rather than being cast into the bowels of the adult prison system. He will likely be released when he turns 21. To let someone who killed three people go free just seven years after the crime is remarkable. It would have been very easy for the judge to send Cody away for the rest of his life. That he didn't tells us that His Honor was convinced by the abuse evidence as well.

So what's the video game angle?

Virtually nonexistent. Investigators removed a PS2 and a copy of Vice City from the crime scene in the Posey home after receiving some prompting from the lawyer who would later file this case. Gary Mitchell, Cody's attorney, was approached with the "GTA made me do it" concept before the trial, but recognized it for what it was.

"I didn't see as it as a meritorious defense," Mitchell told a local newspaper. "I was far more concerned about the abuse Cody suffered over the years than any connection to playing a game on the computer."

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you decide.

Dennis McCauley is Editor of and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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