I’m a fan of the Law & Order franchise and I catch most of the Special Victims Unit (SVU) episodes. One thing that makes the series compelling is that the cases they deal with don’t always end up tied up with a happy little bow where the bad guy is caught and the victim can pick up and move on with their lives. Sometimes, the bad guy (or girl) gets away with murder. It something that bugs the heck out of my wife (she needs everything packaged perfectly) but I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy the fact that bad people do bad things and get away with it, I like the fact that life isn’t fair and sometimes really crappy stuff happens. So it was this reason that caused a little trepidation when I heard that tonight’s episode was about some kids doing a crime they have done over and over in a video game. I thought for sure they were going to hammer away the “violent video games make violent kids”. At first it seemed like that was the path they were going to take. It wasn’t looking good.
The officers come across a body of a hooker who’s been hit by a car, beaten and robbed. Det. Stabler’s son recognizes the M.O. as the object of a video game called “Intensity” (*cough* I mean Grand Theft Auto *cough*) where the object is to run people over and beat them up to take their money. Again, I don’t like where this is going.
Long story short, they catch the teenagers who did the crime, and their high-profile, ignorant-as-nails lawyer cooks up a plea of not guilty because they were addicted to video games and couldn’t distinguish right from wrong. My favorite character of the series, Dr. Wong lays the psychiatric smack-down on the lawyer and basically says the narcissistic adrenaline junkies knew exactly what they were doing. When the lawyer asks him if he thinks video games make the kids that play them violent, he basically says “No”. What’s this? They are actually saying the violent video game “Intensity” didn’t drive these kids to do a heinous crime? That they, of their own conscience, ran a girl over because they were sickos, not whacked-out video game players? Astonishing! I can’t believe it, but the “Main Stream Media” (the evil one?) is actually saying violent video games don’t make kids do violent things? I thought this was a no-no! Someone is gonna get it over at NBC! Didn’t they get the memo? But sure enough, there it was, laid bare for all to see. Complete with the guilty verdicts for the two teenagers on the count of 2nd degree murder. Amazing.
Overall, they did a pretty good job of portraying video games in the episode. The don’t just show them off as mindless entertainment and they definitely don’t make it seem like they’re a breeding ground for an army of killers. The company that made the game Intensity also made children’s games. The gamers weren’t nerdy looking teens, although of the game programmers did. I’d have to ding the kids who played the perps. They weren’t convincing gamers. The boy in particular seemed more like a frat gamer than a “real gamner”. But I give them credit, they did a lot of things right. The even had Stabler’s son playing a Tapwave Zodiac at the end of the episode (shameless product placement? Probably. My guess is the kid owns a GBA in real life). I thought the episode was well done, and I applaud the writers from avoiding the knee-jerk reaction of blaming the video game and getting to the root cause — these kids were just plain bad seeds.
Update (2/9/05) – It appears I wasn’t the only one who caught this episode. Andrew at Tales of a Scorched Earth posted his comments here.
Update (2/15/05) – Here are some more comments, by new-to-me Clubberjack. He also made some pretty good points.