Game over: sentencing can include video game ban

Judges can include video game bans in a probation. But how effective that is isn't entirely clear.

Judges can include video game bans in a probation. But how effective that is isn't entirely clear.

Judges can include video game bans in a probation. But how effective that is isn't entirely clear.

A judge has told a West Kootenay resident he can’t play violent video games.

Denver Skey, who pled guilty to uttering threats that led to the cancellation of the Mount Sentinel Secondary graduation last June, was sentenced earlier this month.

Along with the three months in jail Skey had already served, Judge Phil Seagram ruled on 14 probation conditions the 19-year-old has to abide by for three years.

Among them, Seagram stipulated Skey couldn’t play “first-person violent video games.”

Although the condition stood out in the ruling, the case’s prosecutor Sunday Patola said it didn’t take her by surprise.

“It’s not uncommon to restrict people,” Patola told the Star.

“It’s typically in particular type of cases, like if there’s luring on the Internet or porn, any sort of Internet-related crime. It’s not uncommon for judges to order something like that.”

But there’s no way of knowing how common it is for a judge to ban video games.

Dan McLaughlin, a communications counsel with the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General, said sentencing conditions aren’t tracked.

“It’s fair to say it’s not one that we see every day,” said McLaughlin.

According to McLaughlin, judges have plenty of leeway in deciding on probationary conditions, but that only comes after hearing suggestions from the Crown and defence as well as medical and psychological reports.

Victims can also make suggestions through pre-sentence reports or victim impact statements.

David MacAlister, director of the school of criminology at Simon Fraser University, said he couldn’t recall a case in which video games were banned. But Skey’s condition, MacAlister said, was likely there for a reason.

“It’s going to change from case to case,” he said.

“So if you’ve got someone who’s convicted of some cruelty to animals case, for example, they might be prohibited from possessing pets or being around small animals for the duration of the probation conditions. But it’ll vary, and basically it’s left up to the judge.

“As long as the conditions attached are reasonable in the circumstances, they can get as creative as they want to.”

How this kind of probation is monitored isn’t entirely clear.

When contacted by the Star, the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General replied via email that it couldn’t detail how supervision works “as this would undermine enforcement efforts.”

“Generally speaking, BC Corrections employs a number of supervision tools to ensure offenders are complying with their court-ordered conditions, such as home visits, curfew checks, public notifications, electronic monitoring, programming and working closely police and those that have a relationship with the offender.”

Skey is also required to keep a log of all websites he visits. But MacAlister said any condition that bans media can be difficult to monitor.

“Probation officers, they can make spot checks on them, talk to their family members, talk to their friends, but it’s unlikely that the kid’s mother is going to rat him out for playing video games,” said MacAlister.

“I just don’t know how readily enforceable it really is.”

Video games have often been associated with violent crimes. Victims’ families once unsuccessfully sued game developers such as Activision and Id Software because Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were known to have played video games such as Doom.

But a link between gaming and violence has yet to be proven.

A 2015 task force report by the American Psychological Association reviewed over 150 research papers that studied violent video game use.

The task force found that although video games have been shown to cause increased aggressive behaviour, there hasn’t been enough research to show playing games like Call of Duty makes murderers out of gamers.

Gordon Nagayama Hall, a doctor of psychology at the University of Oregon and one of the APA’s task force researchers, said Skey’s threats may or may not have been empty, but that they still suggest intent.

“Violent behaviour includes many components,” said Hall.

“I think violent video games may put someone at risk for violence, but a direct relationship between violent video games and violent behaviours has not been established.

“I think it does create a risk for such behaviour.”