Gamers Gone Wild: 10 crimes committed by gamers and why video games are being blamed for them

Super Mario has been stomping on heads since the early 80’s, but no one has ever accused the Italian plumber of being responsible for crime. More recently, however, video games such as Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto, have been condemned for playing a role in the commission of criminal offences.

Criminal lawyer Steven Mercael has experienced a marked increase in criminal charges where video games are perceived as playing a role, especially assaults. Mr Mercael, who represents Fortnite gamer Luke Munday in an assault case that drew international headlines, has urged caution in blaming video games for crime.

Below is a list of 10 crimes that video games have been blamed for and the basis, flimsy or otherwise, of the accusations.

An Oregon man on LSD leads police on a 60km car chase, thinking he is playing Grand Theft Auto

An Oregon man took LSD, stole a car, and led police on a 60km car chase, believing he was living a real-life version of Grand Theft Auto.

During the car chase, the man crashed through fences, ran over spike strips twice and drove on the road. Upon crashing the car, he tried ramming a police car before running into a trailer park where he was arrested trying to steal another car.

The man was charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants, second-degree criminal mischief, third-degree escape, unauthorised use of a motor vehicle, attempting to elude a police officer, possession of a stolen motor vehicle, unlawful entry into a motor vehicle, interfering with a police officer, reckless endangering, reckless driving and offensive littering.

person holding Sony PS3 controller in front of flat screen monitor

Russian man found guilty of inciting religious hatred after playing Pokemon Go in Church

A 22-year-old Russian blogger was charged with inciting religious hatred after he filmed himself in Church and mocked Christianity by likening Jesus Christ to a Pokemon character. The blogger decided to play Pokemon Go inside the church because he had seen a news report saying people who did so could be fined or jailed.

The man filmed himself trying to ‘catch em all’ in the church, before leaving and making the remark: “But, you know, I didn’t catch the rarest Pokémon that you could find there — Jesus.”

The blogger was given a suspended three-and-a-half-year jail sentence and was temporarily confined to a pre-trial detention centre.

The mobile game, Pokemon GO, being played at a park

A Sydney man is captured on Twitch assaulting his wife who interrupted his game of Fortnite

A Sydney man was charged with assaulting his wife after she asked him to stop playing Fortnite and come eat with their family. To get her husband off the game, the wife threw objects at him, including her shoe. While this was happening, the man was livestreaming himself playing Fortnite on Twitch. The live-stream captured audio of the incident during including screaming and a loud slapping sound. The video went viral.

The man subsequently apologised and went to relationship counselling with his wife.

Person playing Fortnite on Nintendo Switch

Minecraft gamer tries to frame games server with a hoax email to blow up schools

A disgruntled Minecraft player was behind a hoax email sent to about 400 schools in England threatening to bomb school grounds if money was not paid. Schools in London, Manchester and North Yorkshire, were evacuated in response to the bomb threat.

The email appeared to come from gaming server VeltPvP, but the company said the account had been “spoofed” and the hoax emails had been sent in a bid to damage VeltPvP’s reputation.

A scene of a meadow from the computer game, Minecraft.

A 45-year-old gamer threatens to shoot 11-year-old boy after losing to him on Fortnite

A New York man threatened to shoot an 11-year-old boy after losing a Fortnite: Battle Royale match. The man sent the boy threatening text and voice messages on Xbox One after the loss. In the threats, the man told the boy he would come to his home and cause him pain and mentioned coming to the boy’s school. The two knew each other through gaming and had no other relationship outside of that sphere.

The man was charged with second-degree aggravated harassment and acting in a manner to injure a child.

Boy playing Fortnite on his computer with a headset on

Man defrauds employer and spends $1 million of his ill-gotten gains on Game of War

A Californian man pleaded guilty to defrauding his employer and spending $1 million dollars of his ill-gotten gains on in-app purchases in Game of War. He pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering charges.

In another case, a librarian from Utah, stole $89,000 from the North Logan City Library and spent it on in-app purchases on “Game of War.”

Perhaps, unsurprisingly, Game of War claims the largest in-app spending of all mobile video games with players on average spending $550 in in-app purchases each year.

Man wearing headset playing a video game on a computer

Crime spree in an English county of 8 crimes involving Fortnite

Devon and Cornwall Police, in England, have dealt with 8 crimes involving Fortnite since the beginning of 2018. The crimes included:

  • A man being charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after he held a knife to the throat of a person who refused to give him money to buy some add-ons for Fortnite.
  • A man being charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after his younger brother refused to play Fortnite with him.
  • A man being charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after he punched a person who refused to reveal whether he was a Fortnite player.
  • A teenager being charged with criminal damage after punching a door when his mother intervened in a game of Fortnite that he was playing with his brother.
    A man being charged with criminal damage after he damaged the house of his partner when she told him to stop playing Fortnite.

NSW Rabbi links video games to abortion

Abortion, incredibly, is still outlawed in NSW, although the law is not enforced. As debate raged in NSW Parliament for abortion laws to be repealed, a Rabbi fronted a state parliamentary inquiry into the draft law and suggested that women would abort their children so they would have more times to play video games.

The Rabbi later attempted to clarify his comments by saying that what he meant was women could neglect their children to the point of death because they’d be too busy playing video games to care for their children.

Woman with headset playing a video game on computer

NSW Police Commissioner blames video games for increasing crime

In 2012, NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione blamed increased crime in the state of NSW on video games, seemingly targeting Grand Theft Auto.

“You get rewarded for killing people, raping women, stealing money from prostitutes, driving cars crashing and killing people,” Scipione said. “ How can it not affect you if you’re a young adolescent growing up in an era where to be violent is almost praiseworthy, where you engage in virtual crime on a daily basis and many of these young people (do) for hours and hours on end.”

Two people sits in front of computers playing video games, with headphones on

The mass shootings in Texas and Ohio on 3 and 4 August 2019

After the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that resulted in the deaths of 29 people, US President Trump launched an attack on video games, blaming them for the shootings.

We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” Trump said. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this, and it has to begin immediately.”

The president’s comments were met with outrage in the gamer community with the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the leading trade group for the video game industry, releasing a statement that said:

More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide. Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the U.S”.

A hall filled of people playing video games on multiple monitors

Video games are an easy target and blaming them for violence in society ignores other underlying factors that influence crime, many which are much more significant such as mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, and poverty,”

Steven Mercael

“As a criminal lawyer, it is my job to investigate all the factors that might have contributed to my client’s offending, so I can put forward their best case to the court.”

Steven Mercael

Do video games increase crime?

Blaming video games for crime, especially violent crime, is not new and can be traced back to the release of games such as Mortal Kombat in the early nineties. This is especially so in the United States.

In 1993-1994, US Congress held hearings into the link between video games and violence. The result was the introduction of game ratings given by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

The next significant attempt in the United States to link to video games to violence came from a California law that eventually made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. The law sought to restrict the sales of violent games to minors. It relied on the same law used to ban the sale of pornography to minors. The Supreme Court rejected the law for infringing the free speech protections afforded by the First Amendment.

California relies primarily on the research of Dr. Craig Anderson and a few other research psychologists whose studies purport to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children,” the majority of judges held. “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason. They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively … They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and some minuscule real-world effects.

One of the most recent views on the link between video game and violence was expressed by the authoritative American Psychological Association in 2017. It said: “Scant evidence has emerged that makes any causal or correlational connection between playing violent video games and actually committing violent activities.”

The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which Australian courts use to diagnose mental disorders, has recommended further research into video game addiction, which presumably would consider any links to crime.

Mr Mercael said the adding of video game addiction to the DSM could have significant ramifications in the world of criminal law.

If video game addiction is added to the DSM, it will be placed beside other behavioural addictions, such as gambling,” he said. “This could lead to reduced sentences in some cases where gaming addiction was a contributing factor to the commission of an offence.”


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