OK, Seriously, Grand Theft Auto Did Not Cause The London Riots

Fact: People in England are freaking the hell out right now. That whole riot thing, you’ve heard about that, yes? Here’s what seems to have happened:

On Thursday evening, London constabulary shot and killed a Tottenham man, 29 year old Mark Duggan, while he was sitting in the back seat of a taxi cab. No official reason has yet been provided for why local coppers were interested in him: gang ties have been insinuated but no evidence has been forthcoming; Police claim the killing occurred during a gunfight between police and Mr. Duggan. That story was contradicted by some witness accounts as well as later information that became public. This might have blown over, but unfortunately, Police made things worse when they failed to inform the man’s parent’s about his death. The family had to read about it in the local paper.

The murky circumstances obviously left the neighborhood feeling a bit persnickety and on Sunday thousands gathered for what was intended to be a nonviolent vigel for Duggan and his family, largely an attempt to pressure the Metropolitan police to explain themselves and investigate the killing. Tensions were high already, and then things got worse: A 16 year old girl threw rocks at the police standing guard. That’s kind of a dumb move, but then they completely overreacted by ganging up on her 15 to one and beating her senseless. Match, meet kindling. This immediately turned a tense situation into the worst riots England has seen since the Thatcher years.

Now the riots have spread to other cities, police are completely overwhelmed, the citizenry are terrified and both the Prime Minister and the London Mayor look like fools for staying on vacation for nearly 3 days into the mess. It’s a terrible nightmare for people living through it, and clear evidence that whatever the hell is happening, something is really wrong in England. Some are alleging that this riot was instigated by opportunistic thugs looking to take advantage of the chaos by settling scores and looting. Others point to the severe recession, deep cuts in benefits, education and housing affecting people who tend to live in places like Tottenham. Many have pointed out that England has already seen a great deal of activity by an outraged populace on both sides of the political divide in recent months, and seek to fit this riot into that context.

What is wrong, exactly, I am not qualified to say, but it’s probable that whatever the cause, riots of this size do not happen in a vacuum. So obviously it is essential that the British government and local police take careful steps to investigate, identify and mitigate the factors that contributed. Of course, the obvious assumption is that until this calms down we have nothing but speculation to rely on, and maybe people in positions of authority ought to refrain from commenting until they have more data. But of course we don’t live in my fantasy world, and naturally people are making the usual silly assertions.

Take this Anonymous Metropolitan Police Officer, interviewed by the Evening Standard, who offered this rather novel explanation:

Go home, get a takeaway and watch anything that happens on TV,” one constable advised. “These are bad people who did this. Kids out of control. When I was young it was all Pacman and board games. Now they’re playing Grand Theft Auto and want to live it for themselves.

Oh lord, here we go again. Something big, scary, inexplicable has happened and instead of actually examining the causes of that something, people are indulging their dumbest instincts and laying the blame on things that have absolutely no real connection to the event in question whatsoever. The last time we had this conversation, it was about the horrible terrorist attacks in Norway, which left dozens dead and dozens more injured, being blamed on Dragon Age 2. Now, we get to have almost the same conversation about Grand Theft Auto.

Now I have to admit, I’m impressed that this idiot was able to successfully combine the “In my day things were better!” and the “media I don’t understand is ruining the world” arguments into a coherently incoherent baseless assertion, but he did it. Excellent work, constable. That rare accomplishment doesn’t change the fact that this statement just might be the dumbest thing ever said about this mess. It will likely never be topped.

First, the Grand Theft Auto series has sold more than 124 million units since launching in the late 90s. That is at least 40-60 million individual people who have purchased these games and played them to death. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this. If GTA causes people to riot and commit crimes, then why haven’t we seen more of this? If anything, at least in the United States, crime is way, way down. Obviously, the nefarious Emma Goldmans* at Rockstar Games are falling down on the job.

Second, if this guy’s reference to Pac-Man being from ‘when I was young’ is any guide, then he is referring to the period after September, 1980 when Pac-Man was released outside of Japan. In which case I want to know how bad things have to get before he stops considering things idyllic and innocent. Because following his logic, here are some of the totally not out-of-control, completely safe and normal uprisings caused by Pac-Man:

* The 1980 St. Pauls riot
* The 1981 Brixton riot
* The Liverpool and Toxteth riots that happened soon after Brixton

Of course, things calmed down once Pac-Man fever ebbed. But then Super Mario Bros. must have outraged people who didn’t like Italian plumbers, because things started heating up again right as that game was released:

* The 1985 Brixton Riot
* The 1985 Handworth race riots

Oh how I do ever so miss those days of innocence! The threat of IRA bombings and constant rioting in industrial hellholes, why it’s like the stories of Mark Twain! I tell you these kids today.

But seriously, it was true for the horrific tragedy in Norway and it’s true now: That new violent media you don’t understand did not invent violence and it certainly did not cause it. We understand that easy, insipid conclusions serve the purpose of absolving people from responsibility for things like this, but the citizenry would be better served if their authorities think critically, with an eye to actually solving problems instead. I sincerely hope that this awful violence ends soon, and that in the aftermath, England gets the latter and not the former.

In the meantime, you know the whole shooting thing that started this mess? The London police are finally admitting that there isn’t a shred of evidence that the man they killed was armed. Maybe they ought to consider how enraged people get when the cops kill unarmed people before they start blaming Xbox ownership, mmk?

*NOTE: Emma Goldman was actually awesome. I am assuming the mindset of a thug cop.

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3 Comments on OK, Seriously, Grand Theft Auto Did Not Cause The London Riots

youallloose

On August 10, 2011 at 12:09 am

Injustices, and stupid people start riots not video games.

1992 Los Angeles riots?
Police using to much force, sound familiar?
A jury acquitted four white Los Angeles Police Department officers accused in the videotaped beating of black motorist Rodney King.

http://libcom.org/files/images/history/riotfire.jpg

I doubt authority caught every one that participated in that.

Fergus

On August 24, 2011 at 5:52 am

What are you on about mate? I read up until about the point where you stated and I quote; “If GTA causes people to riot and commit crimes, then why haven’t we seen more of this? If anything, at least in the United States, crime is way, way down.” Get your facts right. Crime rates in the US are quite high and though not in comparison to some countries in the Middle East, India, Africa, etc. But for a first world country they are in fact quite high. Just something else to consider before you write another article; Remember to actually read over your work. You sound like you have done your research but that doesn’t excuse the fact that you sound like a 11 year old school boy. Good article though. Good on you for trying.

Ross Lincoln

On August 24, 2011 at 9:40 am

Sorry Fergus, but American crime rates are at historic lows.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1963761,00.html

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0524/US-crime-rate-is-down-six-key-reasons

It’s actually been a source of tremendous speculation, why, in the midst of a recession, crime is actually down. I’m willing to bet crime is going to go back up rather soon, but for now, at least, it’s at historically low levels, especially when you consider there’s more than 300 million of us.

But good on you for trying.