In February of 2003, 19-year old Joshua Cooke bought a shotgun. It was one that looked very similar to the one that Neo used in The Matrix. In Cooke’s room there was a poster of Neo, and Cooke was often seen with his Matrix-esque trench coat. When Joshua Cooke used that newly acquired shotgun to kill both of his parents, the defense lawyers actually tried to use the defense of “The Matrix made him do it”.
Over ten years later on August 23, 2013, Joshua Cooke does his first television interview on “Piers Morgan Live” to talk about the experience. Here is an excerpt from the transcript of that show:
“'The Matrix' impacted me a lot. When I would watch "The Matrix," I would see myself in that role. I would see myself shooting the bullies and people who had hurt me in my life. And this movie was a type of a release of aggression. It made me feel better when I would watch it. So I watched this movie hundreds of times."
It would seem that the Matrix, a movie Cooke watched so often that he had to replace his VHS copy (lol VHS), wasn’t the only thing that warped his mind. Read on:
“The video games were the same - played the same part. Video games like 'Grand Theft Auto,' 'Blood Rain,' 'Resident Evil,' 'Doom,' 'Quake,' shooter games. When I would play these games, it did a lot for me mentally for I could release my aggression with these games. I could almost bring my fantasies to fruition. The way I would verse myself in these games, sometimes I would play them 12 to 15 hours a day without leaving my room. I would have food and all kinds of things stashed in my room so I wouldn't have to leave."
Do you think that there was/is something wrong with Mr. Cooke to be so obsessed with a movie and some video games that he would kill his parents? I’m not in any way professionally qualified to state anything about him, but in my unprofessional and personal opinion this dude didn’t have any friends and he induced his own madness by spending too much time outside of reality. He flunked out of college because he couldn’t stop playing video games, and I think that probably did a number on him. You see, video games are meant to be entertaining and rewarding to the player. Could you imagine a video game that you couldn’t win? Even if you lose a life or are defeated by a tricky bossfight, you can always come back and become victorious. In an interview with Fox News, Dr. David Greenfield explained that personal victory in a video game causes a release of dopamine in the brain. This release is sought after again and again, and (most) video games are meant to be winnable, so sometimes people keep playing long hours because they are always winning and always getting a release of dopamine for doing so. This causes a video game addiction. Now imagine someone who is always “winning” and feeling good about it being hit with the realization that they have actually failed big time by flunking out of college. This is almost like circumstances forming an intervention for our addicted gamer and they are going to fight back. In this case, they are going to fight reality. This probably causes the addicted gamer to do some pretty irrational things. When Joshua Cooke’s parents had something to say about his addiction without realizing the severity of it, Joshua’s mind defended his addiction at all costs instead of facing the truth. Could things have been different if someone, anyone, had befriended Joshua Cooke and slowly brought him out of his mania? Perhaps, and that would have been a really nice story to tell here, but that job belongs to no one in particular so there is no one to blame. Can you blame the gun store for making a legal sale? Nope. Can you blame the video game maker or Keanu Reeves for making effective entertainment? Nope, in fact I applaud them. Can you blame the 19-year old MAN for his mistakes and self-induced homicidal mania? Yes…yes you can. There were a LOT of factors in Joshua Cooke’s life that caused him to do what he did; the statement he makes about “bullies and people who had hurt me in my life” that he describes fantasizing about killing in his Piers Morgan interview is pretty telling about how he may have been exposed to a lot more negative influences than video games.
In a September 10th interview with Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Keith Ablow states that there have been conclusive studies done and they show that video games increase aggression and decrease empathy. He further states that a decrease in empathy is dangerous because it “frees” the mind, I guess implying that a decrease in empathy is equivalent to a decrease in understanding of the concepts right and wrong. A lot of people say that a video game rewarding people for kills is equal to associating shooting people in the face to the dopamine release, but an equal amount of people will tell you that a video game rewarding people for kills is equal to associating being good at a video game to the dopamine release. Ablow really seems to be positive about those “conclusive studies” that have been done…but are they really that conclusive?
Have you ever seen a movie that scared the crap out of you as a kid, only to find that it wasn’t that scary after all when you watch it as an adult? One of the reasons that happens is because you’ve probably seen so many scarier movies that the one you saw as a kid seemed tame. Another reason is that you probably have a better grip on reality. Adults watch a kung-fu movie and don’t jump around kicking each other like kids do after a Power Rangers episode…generally. It’s happened, I’m sure, but the difference is that the kids haven’t been drinking. Kids want to be Power Rangers, and that aspiration might even appear to be an attainable one to them at the time. According to this CNN interview with an expert (that also disputes the claim that there are conclusive studies like the ones Dr. Ablow mentioned in his CNN interview), this emulation of inappropriate behavior that they see on TV or experience in a game is likely what caused an 8-year boy to shoot his grandmother in the head after playing Grand Theft Auto IV. This is why violent shows, movies AND video games are inappropriate for kids. Not all of things remotely violent are bad, mind you, but you do have to filter and limit their intake before you make children believe that the world is only about hyper-realistic violence and sex with no real consequences. Otherwise you end up with a kid like Devin Moore, who responded to being stopped for a minor traffic violation by taking a cops gun, shooting three other cops and stealing a police cruiser to make his escape. Moore later admitted that he was inspired by Grand Theft Auto, of course, saying that “Life is a video game. Everybody’s got to die sometime.” This is not a video game affecting someone, this is someone blaming a video game for their actions. I played TONS of video games and watched movies I probably shouldn’t have, but I was also brought up not to disrespect those in authority. I’m not meaning to turn this into a debate about parenting, but you really can’t dispute how important a role parents play in the development of their children.
Now for the other side of the story I wanted to tell here: The news media. However you feel about Fox News, it is undeniable that they have been going hard against the video game industry as being to blame for a lot of the instances where younger folks are killing people. They ran the interview with Dr. Keith Ablow on September 10; they posted an article titled 'Training simulation:' Mass killers often share obsession with violent video games on September 12; the same writer put out an article on September 13th titled 'Frag him': Video games ratchet up violence, blur line between fantasy and reality, and this one even goes so far as to make wild claims like “Master Chief’s realistic reloading animation is realistic and will alter your perception of realism…as he walks across a far-off planet in a futuristic suit of body armor fighting aliens” and another, even wilder claim that the most recent Duke Nukem was a “2011 hit”. Another article, posted to Fox news on September 14 (making it 3 days in a row for these kinds of articles), compared video games to movies in how they affect our minds. This article’s references, despite the perceived intention, doesn’t really display video games as being bad as much as having an effect that movies don’t, though the counterpoint is further down the article than most people will read.
I was wondering why Fox was pushing so hard on video games when none of the other news agencies were and then it hit me: Grand Theft Auto was coming out.
After all that huff and puff, however, you would think that Fox would decry GTAV as overtly violent/sexual and liken its coming to that of Satan himself. Instead, we got this. Fox News wrote an article praising Grand Theft Auto despite its violence. MSNBC and CNN also posted articles concerning the release and, with special contributors to the articles such as IGN’s Steve Butts (lol) and gaming analyst Steve Bailey, they all say pretty positive things about the game. Metacritic has it at 98. IGN gave it a perfect 100. They also gave that score to The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid 4, Grand Theft Auto IV, Mario Golf, Uncharted 3, and Magical Tetris Challenge for Game Boy Color. My intent isn’t to minimize the potential awesomeness of the newest Grand Theft Auto, but I’m just putting the facts out there.
No news organization has said that putting violent video games in front of kids is a good thing, but even Dr. Drew helps out when they do say that it is not the cause of violence. For all the noise that Fox was trying to make about the link between violent video games and violent behavior by putting out an interview clip and three articles in five days, then, why praise Grand Theft Auto V so heavily? Could it be that one guy at Fox is all bent out of shape when it comes to video games while another one wrote the article about the new GTA? Could it be that they were smooth-talked by some Rockstar marketing guys into forgetting their previous articles? Is there a connection at all?
I’ve put out a lot of info, a lot of opinions and a crazy conspiracy theory involving news media. If you think video games can't inspire people to do positive things, tell it to these two guys or click on our Extra Life link on the front page of this website. Whatever you think, I wanna hear it. You know…in the comments section.
One last thing: I seem to be obsessed with what Fox says…maybe it’s due to this music video that you won't ever forget or get out of your head. Your welcome.