Anthony M. Graziano, a man charged with starting a fire at a synagogue in Bergen County, New Jersey earlier this month, appeared in court yesterday to plead not guilty because of a predisposition to violence caused by playing violent Xbox 360 games. His lawyer, Robert Kalisch, argued their position to the court, saying that to his client, “… it’s not a game anymore. It becomes reality.” Kalisch did not elaborate to the court which violent games his client played, but pressed the court to see how “these” games create, “lots of violence, lots of meanness,” in those who play them.
Last November, Graziano actually called an ambulance himself, telling the EMS workers who arrived that he was, “feeling crazy or something.” After an examination at the hospital, doctors recommended he see a psychiatrist.
Even in the face of evidence that the mental health system failed to act, violent games remain a convenient scapegoat for those unable to see the real problems. While anyone who has played on Xbox Live can certainly attest to having seen general rudeness and meanness, it has always seemed a stretch to think that mentally stable people would all of a sudden become violent due to playing violent games. Even studies done by the American Psychological Association on the issue have been mixed.
This isn’t the first time violent games have been persecuted by the legal system. Thanks to a decision by the Supreme Court last June however, games remain protected (for the time being) by the same free speech laws that protect books, plays, movies and television.
Without knowing what games Graziano played, how often, how much, etc. there is no real indicator of which game or games allegedly caused his behavior. Had he been doing 360s while running around with what should be a mounted sniper rifle there may have been an argument to be made.