This Just In: Judge Calls Halo "Delusional Environment"

Normally I avoid even commenting on the intersections between violent real-world crime and fantasy videogame violence. There's really little point. There's not much more than can be said on the matter than what is already out there.

However, the remarks of Judge James Burge following his conviction of Daniel Petric are simply so ridiculous that I can't let them pass. From story coverage at, of all places, a PS3 website:

The boy was finally convicted of the crime earlier today, but Judge James Burge wasn't happy with the sentencing. He told the press that he blamed the video game developers more than Daniel for the crime committed. Burge accused Halo 3 developer Bungie of creating a "delusional environment" where the normal rules of reality didn't apply. "[In Halo 3] you can shoot these aliens, and they're there again the next day. You have to shoot them again, and I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea, at the time he hatched this plot, that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever," Burge explained.

It's really hard to take that seriously. It's also really hard to swallow the idea that this is a person who is a judge-- who is in a position of education and authority. That's frightening. What is surprising is that despite blaming the videogame more than the perpetrator, he still found the latter guilty, which I suppose is also encouraging.

However, let's play reductio ad absurdum a bit with this. It won't be hard; there's not to much reducting to do before things get pretty damn absurdum.

First of all, Halo 3 is a "delusional environment" where the rules of reality don't apply. This, apparently, is bad. One shouldn't make videogames where the rules of reality don't apply. The judge specifically links this to the fact that Covenant aliens you kill today are alive tomorrow if you play the game again.

What must the judge have thought of games that actually respawn enemies during a single play session then?

What would Halo look like if Bungie avoided including such delusions?

First of all, you'd have permanent death-- once the Covenant killed the Master Chief, that's it. Game over. You can't come back from death. That's delusional thinking. If you let the Chief get killed, it's all over. Take the game back to the store and get your money back, since you obviously suck. But better you suck at Halo then get delusional thoughts from it about the immortality of galaxy-hopping super soldiers.

Even if you manage not to get killed, after you finish the game, you're done. Again, take it back to the store and get your money back. All those Covenant you killed? Dead. They can't come back. Play through a second time? Resurrect all those dead aliens? That's crazy talk!

Although I'm not sure you'd be able to even successfully play through Judge Burge's Halo even once. Since at the very start of Halo 3, the Chief falls several kilometers into the jungle, apparently without a parachute. Survive that? Absolutely freaking insane, man. So the judge's Halo consists of half the Arrival cutscene, until Sarge realizes the Chief is dead and isn't coming back. Hope you kept your receipt.

Follow a Covenant fleet into a Forerunner portal to the Ark, outside our own galaxy? Impossible. You can't teach kids to think such things are real.

Laser guns? Plasma swords? FTL travel? Robot suits, energy shields, realistic artificial intelligence and alien races? All figments of a sick and twisted imagination which leads teens to get The Wrong Ideas.

Judge Burge, do you have kids? Ever let them watch Warner Brothers cartoons? Because I'm sure they've gotten delusional ideas from watching the Coyote survive all those explosions and long falls, and they must be outside figuring out how to try them out on real coyotes-- or perhaps on you, since they have no idea whatsoever that if they shoot you into space with an ACME rocket today you won't be back behind the bench tomorrow.

We should be so lucky that they'd be that delusional.



I too generally like to stay away from any online forum / blog which will end up being controversial and debatable, however, this story also pushed me over the edge.

By all means, I feel pain and sorrow for the child, parents, and family as a whole.
However, there is more to this case than simply saying "damn video games, warping kids minds again."

As narcogen said, If halo is a "delusional world" that causes children to detach from reality, then classic Disney and Warner Brothers movies should also be perceived as such.

Whether it was bad parenting or a mental condition, there is more to blame than a gaming studio.

Censorship is a problem in this country. It sugar coats children's lives and does NOT show them what is really out there in the world, then when they find out what it is really like, it's too much and stuff like this happens.


I completely agree.

here's my little rant a little while ago.
Where I said this:

"Long before video games came around, we killed each other in play. Humans have simulated death and aggression, and reaped the benefits of the following dopamine high, for as long as we've been on this planet. Normally we simply call this "delusional state" play. And guess what, children have crossed the line from play to murder before now, but we didn't attack the game they played, we locked the gun cabinet."

Hopefully, this kid has not played Monopoly. He's probably thinking he can easily get out of jail for $200. When reality hits him, he may require a therapist.

There's more... the sensationalized version of this story omitted some important factors.

The kid was apparently bedridden for a year recovering from a lifethreatening infection. He spent that time playing video games and watching tv. His parents said "no" to buying Halo 3, so he snuck out and bought it anyways.

Sure, access to a family gun by a 16 year old that was kicked out of his house by his parents for being caught with the Halo 3 game has NOTHING to do with them getting murdered.

Must have been that fake environment, rather than the feeling that your life has been completely ruined by your parents, being kicked out of the house you were bedridden in, and homeschooled in prior to that.. and had access to a locked gun case in their home.

The game was locked in the gun cabinet but according to his father, he "somehow" found a key.

Here's what's really screwed-up though.

The father recounted in court that his son stood behind them and asked them to close their eyes because he had a big surprise for them. The next thing his father remembers is the disorientation that came with being shot in the head, twice.

The mom had injuries on her forearms that were consistent with trying to block her face as she was shot and killed with two shots.

Then the kid pushed the gun into his father's hand saying "here.. take it, it's your gun," and then went to answer the door as his older sister plus husband came over. He said "it's not a good time, mom and dad are having a big argument." They heard dad moaning and pushed past him to get into the house. He ran for his dad's van, and drove for a friend's house. He was arrested before he got there, with a copy of Halo 3 on the seat next to him.

Sounds more like he watched some gangster movies/shows or played Saints Row 2, or Grand theft Auto... Stuff that's more into folks taking charge over their lives by killing the competition, execution style, with a smart one-line

Anyways.. here's an article with these kinds of details. (I found it because the site you're currently linked to for the news information contained a virus, so I had to look elsewhere.)

I posted elsewhere that it would be just as fair to blame the child's extensive (obsessive?) Bible study (with its promise of eternal life after life) as it would to blame Halo.

"I was sending them to a better place" hasn't flown as a defense in court, though. "The devil made me do it" has in its different guises.

-- Steve's thinking that the planet has forgotten the whole [url=]foofarah over comic books[/url] from fifty-odd years ago. Same *stuff*, different day.

Never mind Warner Brothers cartoons - delusional environments are part of our cultural heritage. Zeus didn't really rape anyone in the form of a swan, nor did Medusa turn anyone to stone. The impossible and fantastic was never confined to video games - sadly mental health issues have always been viewed with suspicion.


I just figured out you had a comment section.

Shouldn't have posted on HBO then.

-Cody Miller

No problem. Crossposting your post and my reply here:

Can you say with certainty that our perceptions are not at least somewhat shaped by the media we watch/play? It's very clear that they can, since advertising is very big business.

Of course they can. However, there's a huge gap between things like shaping, or influencing, and causing specfic actions, or bearing blame for the acts of individuals who are of age and otherwise sound mind.

I think your argument about permanent death isn't really on the mark. Nobody sees a movie or plays a game (except for maybe the very young) and think that the actors or the characters are actually dying. That doesn't make the world 'delusional'.

Hence the reference to "reductio ad absurdum". I'm alleging it is just as ludicrous to assume that the Chief, or any game or film character, is "really dying" than it is to assume that other characters the player shoots are *not really dying* because they respawn. Two sides of the same coin. Also, the presumed remedy to the judge's criticism is that, to be socially responsible, a game must implement permanent death, at least for targets of the player's violence-- since to allow them to resurrect, by any method whatsoever, creates the "delusional" environment, since the normally one-way arrow of death has been reversed. Why should the player be exempted from this?

Death by murder isn't something most people experience firsthand, unless you have gone off to war. So, I think a lot of people's understanding of murder at least comes somewhat from the media in which murder is featured.

Technically I think it's not usually called "murder" when it is within the context of a legally declared war, but your point is taken. The vast majority of people, myself included, experience these concepts in a mediated way, through news and entertainment.

A friend of mine, by no means delusional, joined the army. By his own admission, he joined because he not only wanted to serve his country, but was good at FPS games, and felt he would also be good at the real thing. He understood the difference between fantasy and reality, but I have no doubt in my mind that video games influenced his perceptions of violence, combined with the media's coverage of the war. In fact, the army is using video games as recruiting tools, not because people are so crazy they can't tell the difference between what's real and not, but because people ARE subtly influenced by how subjects are treated in the media they experience.

The gap between "influence" and "cause" is a yawning chasm, however.

To draw a parallel with the judge's comments, your friend would have had to believe he could heal himself by picking up a cardboard box with a red cross on it, or that he could rack up a kill ratio of hundreds if not thousands to one with minimal support from his compatriots, or any one of any other unrealistic feats that are included within video games, which are at best rough approximations even when they are portraying "real life" environments and situations, as many WW2 titles do, as opposed to fictions woven from whole cloth, like the Halo series.

I have no beef with criticism of media based on social effects. However, most of the major media stories on the topic that get play are grievously flawed and extreme. They aren't about "hey, let's encourage games to be more nuanced and include a broader range of human experience than they do" it's "my kid can't possibly be as stupid/evil as to have done the thing he's clearly chosen to do, so the *influence* of media and games must be to blame". Lazy thinking and lazy parenting. I'd rather not be in the position of defending an industry that more often than not produces shallow bulletfests bereft of artistic merit. When the critics stop being as one-dimensional as the games they attack, I'll be able to drop that.

Some movies explore the meaning of violence in a meaningful way. Some other movies do not and use it to entertain. If you primarily watched movies, or played games that were in the former category, don't you think your perception of it would be more sophisticated than someone who watched primarily media from the latter?

Sure! Now, what shall we do-- ban those in one category as opposed to the other?

Does that mean that a game that considers violence in a meaningful way cannot be blamed for any influence it might have, but a game that does not consider it in a meaningful way can be? Who is the arbiter of what "meaningful" is?

A lot of rhetoric asking for better, deeper, more contextualized themes in games or films are really coded requests for politically correct treatment of those topics. So, a war movie that shows pain and suffering and condemns war for it is good, while one that glorifies it and urges war is bad. One may accurately state that entertainment products are not the best places for people to get their value judgments from on a topic such as this, but neither am I willing to let the legally community predetermine those judgments, somehow exposing the "bad" category of art products to liabilities that do not affect the "good" category.

That's just for normal people. ESPECIALLY if you really are mentally ill, then the media that shapes your perceptions of violence will have a much bigger impact on your attitude towards it.

This also is often considered and I think it's a red herring. If you are mentally incompetent, then you have a legal guardian who is responsible for your care and conduct and should be filtering the media the person consumes. If one's illness does not rise to the level of incompetence, then tough titties. I don't think anybody ought to be expected to produce content that is deemed "safe" for those who are mentally ill and might be affected in a way that is different, either in degree or kind, from the way a so-called "normal" person might be affected.

I am NOT blaming Halo one bit, but I will criticize it and many many other games for not even trying to explore or contextualize the violence that's at the core of its gameplay.

Halo's violence doesn't have a context?

Humanity isn't being exterminated by a conglomeration of zealot races who believe their gods demand jihad? The Prophets aren't protecting their power and privilege by concealing the truth of humanity's special place in the galaxy, and ordering their destruction to keep that secret? The Elites aren't justified in their violence against the Brutes, the Prophets, and their supporters by the murder of Elites on the council (ordered by the Prophets, undertaken by the brutes) also in service of promoting the prophets' agenda, preserving their power, and protecting the secret of humanity?

If that's not a context I don't know what one is.

Rampant for over se7en years.