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24 Feb, 2021 12:43

Scapegoating GTA: Chicago’s crime epidemic has real-world reasons, but sure, let’s blame ‘violent video games’ again

Scapegoating GTA: Chicago’s crime epidemic has real-world reasons, but sure, let’s blame ‘violent video games’ again

An Illinois lawmaker and a community leader want legislation to ban the sale of ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (GTA) and other violent video games. It’s not a new idea, and it won’t help any of the real issues behind Chicago’s crime wave.

Sometimes good men have very bad ideas. In this particular case, a business owner and community organizer named Early Walker from Chicago is one such person. Walker is the founder of a group called Operation Safe Pump, which is a campaign to stop carjackings at gas stations and shopping centers by hiring private security firms to protect people from having their cars stolen. It is a noble pursuit, but it is going in the wrong direction, with Walker trying to pair with an Illinois representative.

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The law that they are trying to introduce would ban the sale of the ‘Grand Theft Auto’ video game franchise and other violent video games within the state of Illinois. Illinois is the fifth most populous state in America, and has the third largest city with Chicago. The GTA series, which hasn’t seen a new game in over seven years, is notorious for its themes of crime, and carjacking is a central activity players can simulate.

The banning of such video games would definitely have a financial effect on the companies that sell them, and some have speculated that the wording in the bill could affect games as tame as ‘Super Mario Brothers’. Last I checked, you don't steal a car by jumping on a mushroom first.

All humor aside, this is a serious issue. Blaming video games for spiking violence is a politicians’ game almost as old as popular video games themselves (see ‘Doom’ and the Columbine massacre for perhaps the most iconic example) – an easy non-solution for genuine problems that plague society.

Chicago has real issues. It has a district attorney named Kim Foxx who has dismissed the cases of over 25,000 felony defendants, putting many potential repeat criminals back on the streets. The city saw a 50 percent jump in shootings and murders in 2020. Gang violence is rampant, and the crime rate continues to climb back towards the levels of the early nineties. None of these things can be stopped by banning a video game. You could ban video games in general, and it would still happen.

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So why is it that ‘Grand Theft Auto’ is being brought up once again as the cause of all that ails our society? The same reason that heavy metal came under fire, or the Dungeons & Dragons ‘Satanic panic’ happened, in the '80s. It's an easy scapegoat, because it takes a genre that isn't for everyone and tries to spin it as something more than just artistic expression.

When Dee Snider, the lead singer of the band Twisted Sister, testified before Congress in the 1980s he mentioned that when people try to add their own interpretations to art, they will always find what they're looking for. 

I am of the belief that it is undeniable that video games are art. Whether or not a particular game is high art can be discussed, but they nonetheless include the expressions of the creators. Banning art does not solve the problem of crime, and assuming that it will is ignorant and foolhardy.

It's also obvious that GTA can be a violent video game. However, the violence that exists in almost every ‘Grand Theft Auto’ game is no different than the violence that I saw watching ‘Scarface’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Carlito's Way’, ‘American Gangster’, ‘The Wire’, or any other piece of art that covers organized crime. If we're going to judge one by that measure of creating crime, we have to judge them all – and none of them are guilty.

This sort of law would do nothing more than damage businesses and censor an art form. What happens after that? What do you do when the murders and thefts continue? Who do you blame? Instead of pursuing censorship, I think Mr. Walker should continue to pursue community solutions to reduce violent crime in a city that so many people love. Blaming video games has never solved a single thing – and there’s no reason to believe this time will be different.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.