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The Political Game: How old is too old for game blame?


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

School shooting? Mass murder? Horrific homicide?

If the killer is of a certain age, video games are sure to be blamed, at least in certain quarters. But that age might be older than you think. When pundits, culture cops and massacre chasers espouse their theories about the forces that drive real-world killers, exactly how old does the perpetrator need to be before video games get a pass?

Based on recent events, that magic number is ... 30. As Joystiq readers know, it's practically a given these days that video games will be mentioned anytime there's a school shooting. But what if the shooter is no kid?

Consider that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech killer, was 23.

Kimveer Gill, who shot up Montreal's Dawson College last year, was 26.

Kevin Ray Underwood, 26, butchered a little girl in April of 2006.

Charles McCoy was 29 when police arrested him in 2004 for a series of sniper shootings along interstates in Ohio.

While it's apparent that Cho, Gill, Underwood and McCoy were deeply disturbed adults, video games were blamed to some degree in all four cases. Game-hatin' attorney Jack Thompson, fringe political figure Lyndon LaRouche, and TV shrink Dr. Phil McGraw all gave video games a mention in relation to the Virginia Tech rampage.

Canadian journalist Mike Strobel was quick to blame the Dawson College shooting on Gill's play of Super Columbine Massacre RPG. And Rep. Roy Burrell, the man behind Louisiana's failed 2006 video game law, trotted out Kevin Ray Underwood's play of Kingdom of Loathing, an online game involving stick figures, during his testimony before the legislature. Jack Thompson pursued the video game angle in the Ohio sniper case.

On the other hand, Amish school shooter Charles Roberts, also deeply disturbed, was 32. Not a peep was heard about video games in that case. Nor were games mentioned in the case of Duane Morrison, 53, who held six teenage girls hostage in Bailey, Colorado last year, molesting several and killing one victim as police stormed in. Last weekend a 36-year old man went on a shooting spree in Idaho that claimed the lives of four, including a police officer. Games didn't come up in the coverage.

While critics of video game violence generally say they want to restrict sales of M-rated games to minors (and who can argue with that?), some appear willing to raise the issue in response to any horrific crime committed by anyone 30 or younger. Perhaps it gives publicity to their agendas. Perhaps it's a ploy to get face time with the TV pundits. Perhaps they'd really like to ban violent games for players of all ages.

Take Cho Seung Hui. If the Virginia Tech madman ever really was an underage player of violent video games, such underage play would have happened at least five years before the VTU rampage. Kimveer Gill was nine years beyond the cutoff age for an M-rated game, as was Kevin Ray Underwood. Charles McCoy hadn't seen 17 in a dozen years.

So why were games even mentioned? Are game violence critics postulating some kind of longterm effect, such as, play Counter-Strike today and be programmed for mass murder a decade from now? Or are they saying that grownups aren't responsible for what they do, that a video game can turn a grown man into a murderer? And, if so, where's the research to support that? There isn't any. It's bad enough that some critics will reflexively point the finger at video games when a 15-year-old commits a violent act. It's indefensible to blame games for the actions of a man in his mid-20's.

Dennis McCauley is the Political Editor for the Entertainment Consumers Association (, tracks the political side of video games at and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at

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