Column: Video games don’t murder

By Dan Mollison

It has happened at last. After decades of lawsuits directed toward “big tobacco” and the fast-food industry concerning the lethal effects of their products, the spotlight has finally turned toward video games and their effects on players. Regardless of whether you’re interested in video games, this incident has important implications for you. It reopens the issue of whether companies should be held liable when their products have negative effects on consumers.

On Aug. 10, after only an hour of deliberation, a jury convicted 20-year-old Devin Moore for the murder of three police officers. After being booked on a stolen auto charge, Moore grabbed an officer’s gun and fatally shot all three in the head. He then jumped into a patrol car and fled the scene, according to

Anyone who is familiar with the Grand Theft Auto series of video games can probably already see where this is going. As part of his defense, Moore pleaded insanity and cited his frequent exposure to the Grand Theft Auto video games as his inspiration for the killings. In these games, players can shoot police officers, steal cars and commit a host of other crimes – including soliciting a prostitute.

The question now being asked, in the form of a lawsuit, is whether the makers of Grand Theft Auto share any liability for these homicides. Despite Moore’s quick conviction by the jury, the victims’ families have filed a civil suit against the manufacturer of Grand Theft Auto and two stores, claiming that Moore’s exposure to the games is partly responsible for the crimes.

I have to admit that it was chilling for me to read about this triple murder. I personally am not a frequent Grand Theft Auto player, but I can’t deny that Moore’s crimes disturbingly parallel the crimes that players, including me, often commit while playing the game. Grand Theft Auto is a video game in which a cornered player must fight, steal and kill if they want to stay alive and out of jail. It’s possible that when Moore found himself facing the end of his “game” in real life, he instinctively responded with the same brutal tactics that he would as a Grand Theft Auto player.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

There’s no question in my mind, however, that the vast majority of the blame for these crimes lies with Moore. It’s possible that repeated exposure to the video game could have primed Moore to react in a certain way when he was faced with arrest, but the game didn’t make him steal a gun, pull the trigger three times and then speed off in a stolen squad car. Only Moore had the power to make those decisions, so the families’ argument that the video game is to blame doesn’t hold up for me.

If the judge finds that the Grand Theft Auto game did indeed influence the murders, and he also believes that the gaming company should pay for it, then couldn’t any aspect of the media that could “potentially cause harm” to consumers be targeted? If Grand Theft Auto can be held liable for the violence its gamers commit, then couldn’t I sue the developers of Spongebob Squarepants when my child turns out to be homosexual because Spongebob Squarepants “promotes a pro-homosexual agenda?” Sorry, I had to throw that in there – but my point is that this line of thinking creates a slippery slope that essentially puts all of our culture on trial.

In the end, there’s no way to legally protect ourselves from our culture without violating someone’s right to free speech in some way, even when it influences us to commit murder. The same freedom that protects us also protects the parts of our culture that harm us. And as long as we value our right to be free, there is not much that we can do about that.