Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Criminals' "media histories" may help explain behavior

In recent years, many pediatricians have started taking “media histories” of their young patients. As part of office checkups, the doctors gather answers to such questions as “How much time do you spend playing computer games or watching TV each day?”

The answers can be telltale signs of vulnerability to attention-deficit disorder, risky behavior, early on-set diabetes and obesity.

Similar “media histories” are needed for criminals whose law-breaking is suspiciously like fantasy behavior encouraged by video games.

Such behavior taken into the real word is both criminal and dangerous.

Oregonian columnist Steve Duin recently wrote that Oregon State troopers in the first six months of 2006 cited 258 drivers for driving at more than 100 miles per hour. The majority were 24 and younger, and 80 percent were males.

The statistics are frightening but not surprising. Many of us are shocked to see such recklessness with increasing frequency on our freeways. What are these young drivers thinking? They aren't thinking at all; I suspect they are playing out their fantasies.

The demographic group reported by the troopers is telling too because it matches a particular cohort, young males, drawn to video games featuring reckless fantasy driving at break-neck speeds.

Media histories of the young violators might reveal the link between fantasies and freeways.

Then there is the matter of high school shooters, a tragic phenomenon that also coincided with the increase in violent video gaming.


Was 18-year-old Douglas Chanthabouly, who shot and killed a classmate in Tacoma last week, a player of “shooter” games?

So far news accounts don’t tell us.

Of course, the vast majority of gamers naturally make the distinction between fantasy violence and real violence and its real consequences. But what about those few who don’t, or can’t? Chanthabouly, who reportedly had a history of mental problems, is exactly the sort of person who could be vulnerable to spending hours assuming the perspective of a killer staring down the barrel of his gun and destroying every living thing.

According the newspaper, witnesses said Chanthabouly pointed a handgun at his victim and shot him in the face. Then he stood over the body and shot him twice more. Any number of video games sold at your local Fred Meyer allow—indeed reward—players to do the same.

As relevant as Chanthobouly’s history of mental illness may be, his media history in combination with his illness could be equally, or more, revealing about his murderous behavior.

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