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Sheriff, media imply Grand Theft Auto IV made 8-year-old a killer

UB media expert says hold the phone

Release Date: October 21, 2013

Josephine Anstey

Josephine Anstey

“There are some 8-year-olds who, even if they know a gun is real, are too immature to fully understand what they are doing or its consequences.”
Josephine Anstey, Chair and professor of media study
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Multiple media outlets recently reported that an 8-year-old Louisiana boy shot and killed his 87-year-old grandmother just minutes after playing the video game Grand Theft Auto IV (GTA). The game awards points to players for killing people and has been claimed to encourage violence in real life.

The boy said it was an accident and that he thought the gun was a toy. The Sheriff’s Department of East Feliciana Parish has called it “homicide” and said publicly that the child had “intentionally shot (the victim) in the back of the head” as she watched TV and had “targeted” her after playing GTA.

The video game was mentioned in virtually all press stories about the incident and fed into the ongoing national argument over whether or not the game provokes violent behavior in players.

Josephine Anstey, professor and chair of the University at Buffalo Department of Media Study, says, “The relationship between ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ in the case of violent video games, even in this instance, has not been established, and is disputed in the cognitive and clinical psychology communities.

“Video game research is still in its infancy,” she says, “and claims like this demonstrate the fallacy of the single cause.

“When dubious inferences of cause and effect are presented by law enforcement and not questioned by the press, it invites the public to jump to unwarranted conclusions,” says Anstey. 

“There is a complex relationship between society, individual behavior and media,” she says. “If it was simple, if, for instance, children's behavior was provoked only by games, books and TV, we would have no problem raising them. We'd just give them moral stories about picking up their rooms and sharing with their friends and we'd be done.” 

Anstey points out that even if the boy finished playing GTA just minutes before the shooting, it would appear that no one asked if the child is immature for his age or recently had eaten sugar or meat (or not enough meat), watched violent images on the news or witnessed a violent incident in his community. These things, as well as stress, abuse, deprivation, personality disorders and mental illness, to name a few, have been linked to aggressive or violent behavior in children, she says.

“If the boy had ‘shot’ his caretaker with a toy gun,” she says, “there would have been no killing, no sheriff’s opinion and no press coverage. His behavior would not be deemed violent.

“And if, as the child says, he thought the gun was a toy, then despite the fact that it was real, and regardless of outcome, he cannot be said to have been demonstrating ‘violent’ behavior at the time, video game or no video game,” says Anstey.

“Long before video games, children shot and killed people, in most cases, entirely by accident.

“We used to blame movies, television and comic books for childhood aggression. But even if a child shoots someone in a fit of rage and not in play,” she says, “and even if no other likely causations can be identified, the demonstrable fact is that there are some 8-year-olds who, even if they know a gun is real, are too immature to fully understand what they are doing or its consequences.”

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan
News Content Manager, Arts and Humanities, Public Health, Social Sciences
Tel: 716-645-4602
pdonovan@buffalo.edu