Shrink: Doom Deprivation May Have Sparked Columbine Massacre

July 27, 2007 -

Video game critics commonly hold that violent video games, including Doom, contributed to the 1999 Columbine massacre. But an Oregon psychiatrist theorizes that not being able to play Doom may have been a far more significant factor in the murderous rampage carried out by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Psychiatrist - and GamePolitics reader - Jerald Block MD (left) discusses his theory in a lengthy interview with Destructoid. Block's recent research paper, Lessons From Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage was recently published in the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry.

Dr. Block - a gamer himself - has a professional fascination with the effects of technology on individuals. He told Destructoid:

I knew that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played many computer games. I had even played some of the same games. So I was curious and began reading the data… It was consuming, compelling, and disturbing reading.

Of the criticism often leveled at games, Block doesn't see it as unfair:


Game developers know when they are pushing the envelope... I'd argue that several successful companies, like Take 2, have used such marketing strategies. And they expect the criticism, maybe even like it for the free PR, though sometimes they get burned...  The problem is that the entire gaming industry then gets predictably (i.e. not unfairly) attacked.

Regarding the Columbine killers, Block speculates that being deprived of their PC's - and thus, their games - by way of parental punishment left a void in their lives which they filled up in part with the plot to attack their high school:

When Klebold and Harris are kicked off their computers, few, if any, would recognize just how important their virtual lives were to them. Most people wouldn't even know they were in trouble.  That would make the punishment much more severe...

For heavy computer users, cutting them off can free up 30 or more hours a week. That is a lot of time to fill, especially for an enraged teen with limited social skills.  Unwise. The second issue is to recognize that computer users have a relationship with their computers... As silly as it may sound, being cut off from the system might feel something like being cut off from your best friend...

Harris had just been banned from the computer and the game. In its absence, he was keeping the game alive, refusing to give up his virtual life and the degree of power he felt there. By merging it with the real, he did not need to give it up.


I believe the primary issue is not the violent content. The problem is how seductively immersive technology can be. It becomes our best friend, our container for aggression, and the place we spend time. For many of those immersed, they go into crisis when they lose access to it. Clearly, we need more research exploring and confirming my analysis. In the interim, I'd suggest moderation, both in computer use and when putting limits on gaming.

If Block's theory has merit, how about this nightmare scenario:

One minute you might be enormously powerful online. The next minute, the plug is pulled and your entire virtual existence is deleted away. We should expect such events to make people question what they have been doing with their lives for the past year(s). Imagine the day when that happens to WoW. It might seem unlikely but… suppose Blizzard gets sued and needs to shut its servers down… will we have 9 million infuriated people across the globe?

Block also offers an interesting critique of the work of video game critics Craig Anderson of Iowa State University and Brad Bushman of Michigan State.


Wow. This guy is a real piece of work:

@ Madcat.
Sounds like you're a loser who can't control himself.

I'm new here, so go easy on me people. These kids were messed up for sure, but besides looking at video games for the answer to why, what the hell was going on at school that made them want to do this, I'm genuinely curious, with all their planning, I have yet to hear anyone seriously debate why they directed their hatred towards their classmates. I do believe that something such as being cut off from games could trigger this, but only if you hated the parts of your life that didn't involve games. I used to get bullied at school myself, I also had a dog at that time, a kind of "only friend", I know that if anything had happened to my dog as in dying, I would have flipped, I would have done something irrational and something that I would have regretted. But people wouldn't blame my dog. Luckily things have since changed, happy ending all that good stuff. Anyway, my point is don't look at the straw that broke their backs, look at the rest of the stuff that they were carrying.
First post...kind of hoping it would be shorter...
If anyone actually has any info about their classmates I'd love to hear it, lots of people are born messed up, but a lot more get made messed up.

@ Jack Thompson, Attorney

Attorney for how much longer now Jack?


Anyways, I love the article, and I think this guy knows what hes talking about.

What it comes down to is that there are some people who dont fit in with society. So they look for ways to escape it. Games offer a way out. So does tv, music, movies, reading, etc.

To people like me, when our escape method goes away, we are suddenly thrust into a world that we have no experience with. There really is no way to deal with this. Personally id just sweep the whole thing under the carpet. People want to escape from the world? Let them! There is a reason people like me hide.

If you really wanted to "fix" people like me, make it easier for us to integrate into society, so we dont feel like we dont belong, so we can understand what is going on around us!

Otherwise just let us escape... then we arent society's problem anymore.

What it comes down to is that there are some people who dont fit in with society. So they look for ways to escape it. Games offer a way out. So does tv, music, movies, reading, etc.

To people like me, when our escape method goes away, we are suddenly thrust into a world that we have no experience with. There really is no way to deal with this. Personally id just sweep the whole thing under the carpet. People want to escape from the world? Let them! There is a reason people like me hide.

If you really wanted to "fix" people like me, make it easier for us to integrate into society, so we dont feel like we dont belong, so we can understand what is going on around us!

Otherwise just let us escape... Our problem, not society's.

I'm sorry I came in kind of late to comment on this, but I didn't want to until I had read Dr. Block's paper in its entirety. I have to say it was very interesting and one of the more cogent and thought-out essays on the subject. It holds more water at least than the "video games trained them to kill" angle mined by Grossman and Thompson.

Speaking of which, JT's almost as bad as the criminals who keep changing their stories during interrogation. If what he just said at the top of the thread is true, then it simply proves he's out to completely ban video games and doesn't want them being played by anyone. Not just children.

Where the "video games trained them to kill" angle suggests that it turned Harris and Klebold into soulless killing machines, Dr. Block's theories make their actions easier to understand and maintains their humanity. Depriving them of their preferred outlet only made tham angrier and more inclined to violence, whch stands in stark contrast to the idea that playing the games made them more predisposed to it.

What jumped out at me the most however, was the assertion that once the reality of what they were doing hit them after their first few murders, they no longer perceived what they were doing as "fun." And this is borne out by Dr. Block's analysis of their actions throughout their rampage; something I don't think has ever been done this comprehensvely before.

If it is true, then Harris and Klebold probably had felt remorse for their actions. Unfortunately, they had committed to the course of action they had chosen and that point probably felt that they had no alternative but to follow through as best they could and make good on the promises they had kept to themselves. Once they finally realized there was no good way out for them and that their lives were now totally ruined was the point when they committed suicide; the closest thing to "hitting the reset button" that they had.

Again, this paints a more human picture of them than previous accounts had. But I suppose most had held back from fear that they would be accused of sympathizing with them. But this is not the case. If anything, this analysis more than any other I've seen comes closest to helping us understand what really happened that day.

That having been said, I agree with the others that deprivation was not the overriding cause. If anything it merely hastened the inevitable, and it only could have been prevented if more people had been aware of the other red flags that were being sent up.

In the end, what's really needed are improvements to our mental health care system to better find these people and readily get them the help that they need before they are too far gone.

columbine would not have happened if klebold and harris had learned a better way to deal with their bullies and the people who picked on them. when you push and push and push someone, you will eventually are going to get pushed back. they just did not know the right way to do it and deal with their problems in a more logical manner.

@ Jerald Block

I would like to comment and add some new insight to your idea that the lack of the game was a trigger.

In many instances where addictive personality can lead to a blowup of frusteration and anger, I doubt that this was a major factor in the Columbine massacre. With all the things that the two boys were going through, even if they had the ability to escape into games I doubt that it would have prevented the attack. It may have delayed it, but it was not a significant factor in any way. If you take into account that they saw the world as a place of hostility, then reason would dictate that this series of events would have happened either way unless action to prevent it was taken (aka. the parents or school officials or even the police predicting where the events would take them and putting a stop to that process).

I belive you well know that this is very hard for even the most seasoned professional in the field of psycology to predict. If one is to reason this unreasonable act out, then it is clear that all the factors that are working togeather make this situation possible. And even then it is hard to predict. I would very much doubt that the lack of video games were the reason that the two boys went on their rampage. Maybe with all the factors looked at, without special intrest interference, can any of us possibly get close to the triggers that occured on the day they decided to commit their criminal act.

Just a thought.


It could be, but I have a theory that jack thompson is purposely making himself look like an idiot so that we as gamers will underestimate him (and if that's the case then so far it's gone pretty smoothly)

Thank you for taking the time to respond, and glad you enjoy Game Politics.

I must say, it must be a unique experience, from a psychiatrists'' point of view, to read Internet discussions about you. ;)

I've been listening to the dialog, resisting the temptation to jump in...I suppose like a psychiatrist should. I'll just wanted to thank all of you for the read; I hope I can incorporate some of what was discussed in my future work.

I do read Game Politics and my compliments to Dennis for the great job he does.

I never really wanted to shoot anyone, but I had some serious episodes of depression after being banned from video games as well, though I was weasly enough that I could never be banned all that much. I do think of losing a role in a play because of my inability to keep track of the rehearsal schedule, though. If it was anything like that, it could be pretty devastating. That leaves wide open the question of one should do instead, though.


Good analysis. I think if an individual is to be weaned off of a certain kind of stimuli for any reason though, there definitely needs to be something new in place to fill the void as a means of support. There was a time during high school when my mother (probably inspired by that awful Dr. Laura who was popular at the time) went through all my stuff and took away all the music, movies, and video games she found offensive. It was the single most devestating moment in my life because it left me with nothing.

Fortunately I am not a violent or destructive person. If I did have access to a lethal weapon however, suicide would have been a very likely reaction at that moment and in the coming weeks. My problems were largely academic and psychological at the time, and the only thing I had to get me through were my friends, who lent me a large amount of the material my mom had taken away.

That's more or less what the report is saying.

The message I get is that Harris, in particular, had made focuses in his life for venting his inbred anger, his Diaries, Violent Media etc. However, the anger, the plans to perform one horrific act, and he was never, ever blind to the fact that what he planned was an act of evil, he was proud of it, were never forgotten, merely vented through other sources. It WAS at this point that it should have been picked up on, but most parents would think twice about reading their childs' diary etc, it's hard to know where to establish the line between parenting and trust, though his violent writing at school would certainly have triggered alarm bells these days, we've learned that much of a lesson.

When the Computer rights were removed, to two young men, who had already developed a mindset of feeding on their own bitterness, decided that the removal of this outlet was enough to warrant doing 'it', something they had been planning for a long long time, as I and other people have said earlier, from Frank Zappa onwards, that trigger is immaterial, it could have been anything.

Basically, my own take on what Dr Block is saying is that when someone who is compulsive-obsessive forms a link with something, there's value in researching just how that link is formed, and how wise it is to simply break it rather than wean them off of it. Most people cope fine with having restricted access to their pastimes for a while, though anyone would get frustrated after a while, but compulsive obsessives may react exponentially more radically to it than an average person. I'm not sure I agree with the whole 'Computer as a Friend' idea, I think it might be worth casting the net a little wider and seeing how other obsessions work, but I do think he's touching on something, but more about obsessives than about computers and Video Games.

What I'm suggesting that in this case, if they had any relationship with the shootings at all, all that video games did in the Columbine case was delay the inevitable.

This is just another of many theories, and I don't see much to it. If any individual in any aspect of life gets their main focus of leisure/relaxation taken away without notice, it would create a very difficult situation. If those people are already somewhat sociopathic and are venting their already existing aggression through something safe like a video game, and that sanctuary disappears, then... well... idle hands and all that.

gez...i mean, i play games like starcraft, wow, quake, counterstrike, doom, gta, bully, and manhunt for like, an hour. does that mean i too, will go on a shooting spree? no. i either play magic , yugioh, or the wow tcg. these students had other problems that being suddenly cut off from their games. i know what its like to suddenly get cut off of something, had a smoker for a roomie once. u

I hereby Challenge Jack Thompson To a boxing match! As I was often told in the military "When the mind fails the body pays!" Well Jack you're about a s bright as a stump and your mind has failed you for the billionth time. Lets see if your physical aspects are any keener.

#1 - JT missed the point again, with regards to the theories of the Doctor in the article: The games were an outlet for their agression, NOT something they built an appetite for because it was there. *begin sarcasm*It couldn't POSSIBLY have anything to do with their parents' lack of involvement in their lives, the complacent school officials, the bullies, or the apathetic attitude toward bullying that the entire school took.*end sarcasm*

#2 - The games themselves aren't addictive. People CAN become addicted to them, as they can any other activity. It's just like saying eating is addictive, because some people are addictive eaters - completly wrong. Most people eat at a healthy level without any problem.

#3 - The doctor's theories are just that - theories. An interesting theory, no doubt, and one which I can at least see a granule of truth in from my own experiences. Personally, I find my punching bag to be a better stress reliever than games, and I prefer not to game angry in the first place, as I don't enjoy it as much.

#4 - The collumbine killers were already mentally unstable. Banning video games based on their behavior would be like banning oxygen because 100% of all psychotic killers had it in their bloodstream in the weeks and months prior to their killings.

The combination of some bits and pieces here; the mentally unstable kids, the hopeless situation they found themselves in at school and in life, and the removal of the one place in life where they had some empowerment and stress relief... well, it created something we're all actually very familiar with: Suicide Bombers. Granted, these kids weren't strapping TNT to their chests, but they must have known they'd die that day. We see the same combination of factors, albeit with a religious undertone, in the suicide attacks in the middle east.

In conclusion, if Jack tries to use these theories in a lawsuit, all the opposition has to do is follow a similar line of thinking to this, and he'll have shot himself in the foot instead of shot his opposition dead.

I'm not going to completely discredit or blow off this guy's research. There are some very intriguing theories he's proposed. That said, I feel that it is attempting to quantify the problem in simplistic terms that ignores other factors in the process. I don't necessarily say he's on the completely wrong track, but he's put on some blinders in the process. His theories could explain some of what went on that led up to the Columbine massacre -- but are not representative of the total, or even majority of what all most likely happened with those boys.

I suppose he may be right in a direct way, but this doesn't really suggest a course of action, unless it's let kids play games as much as they want.

Thad, I didn't say what the level of explosion is gonna be.

Normal people don't go and shoot people when their release valves are taken away, at least not immediately. But you can be sure normal people will get cranky and snappy. And given enough time (the length of which depends on your level of normalcy) without proper release value, you can be certain even normal people will crack and do something extraordinarily stupid or violent.

Psychotic, insane people will obviously explode in a quite different scale with no release valves in place.

@Jack Thompson
The theory here is that the boy's only outlet for their aggression was taken away as well as their only source of empowerment. Left without their coping mechanism, they had to do other things to cope, which lead to the shootings. So the games acted as a pressure valve, not> a pressure cooker for them.

At least according to the theory here.

These theories lead to A made them do it even tho B C and D got them to F and F was then the final result, my point being A seem to be the only focus here when you have rage issues,bully issues mental health issues that were completely ignored by adults, why is the suspension of A so important when they were stockpiling weapons before it?
When they were already broken enough think that this?

Common sense tells us that the fiction tells someone to do something and they do it life has broken them not the fiction they cling too.

It's a good theory, but it was probably a combination of factors, not including Klebold not taking his Prozac.

REAL Jack, if you hate gamepolitics and Dennis so much, why do you post here? Is it because he's the only one who thinks that you're sane enough to publish? Or do you WANT him?

Hummm, why do I get the idea that someone is trolling here by pretending to be a certain someone, and is also here trying to throw off such suspicion....

Too bad there are people here who quickly assume that people are who they say they are in the name field....

it is if your jack thompson.

I think he's saying it goes deeper than that, preperations and plans were underway for quite some time, the ban from the computer had only been for a few days, I always think of the computer ban as 'The straw that broke the camels back' from their own point of view. Basically, they were searching for excuses to commit an atrocity, much like Manson was, and they both had followers, Manson had his 'family', Harris had Klebold.

It needs to be held in mind that 99 IEDs had been constructed by the two boys in preperation for the attack, that's not something that was a snap decision for revenge, it was something they'd been looking for an excuse to commit for quite some time. As Frank Zappa once put, it could have just as easily been the colour of someones tie that set them off, Harris, in particular, was searching for excuses to hate the world.

its alot easier to print bullshit books then treat actual patients isn't it "doctor"?

I think that this isn't to unlikely. When I was bullied at school I usually took my anger out on in-game characters. It helped went some of the frustration I would otherwise have let out on my family.

"that Block is speculating that having their favourite pastime denied to them is what ultimately caused them to rebel - and their rebellion was to find another way to play the game."

Which makes about as much sense as being denied playing chess therefore kidnapping the British monarchy in order to continue.

@Unrated and others

I won't express my opinion in it; I'm still thinking it over. But like what Unrated said, yes, you may have been prevented from games, and such. And maybe, you were a little mad. But there is a difference between you and those kids; whether you think it helps or hurts this study is up to you.

Those two were crazy. They had problems. Serious problems. They were not normal, healthy kids, there was something about them that made them insane on the inside.

It just seems to me, at least, that a lot of people who have commented so far has not gone into that. When you're unstable, anything can set you off; anything.

@GoodRobotUs --

"I think he’s saying it goes deeper than that, preperations and plans were underway for quite some time, the ban from the computer had only been for a few days, I always think of the computer ban as ‘The straw that broke the camels back’ from their own point of view."

Exactly, a simple computer ban was not enough to set these kids off on it's own. It might've been the thing that finally made them snap and say "It's time", but that could've been anything. If they were sports players and had been pulled from their team it might've set them off. If their favorite TV had been cancelled it might've set them off. If a parent threw away comic books while cleaning it might've set them off...

They were ticking time bombs waiting for *any* excuse to enact their carefully laid out plans. Nothing, short of being jailed, would've stopped them at that point. The sooner people realize that and start looking at what *started* them down that path, the sooner we'll be able to identify and help people like this before it's too late.

Of course, that doesn't grab headline or sell books quite as well as "Videogames made them do it", but saving lives and stopping spree killers isn't always about the glamour and glitz of media coverage.

Sorry, that was @Wolfeman :)


If Blizzard shut down, people would flock to the next MMORPG, go watch TV, go to an arcade, go do other things that don't involve gaming, or god-forbid the World Of Offline Gaming:

I think, Captain Sensible, that Block is speculating that having their favourite pastime denied to them is what ultimately caused them to rebel - and their rebellion was to find another way to play the game.

Im gonna call bullshit on this one. When I lived with my parents they would cut off my computer and videogames all the time. I did not go and plan on killing people for it. If anything all this "Proves" is that violent videogames STOP crazys from killing people.

LOL Well, in all fairness to him, hindsight is always clearer, and these WERE pre 9/11 days as well as (obviously) before School shootings were such a massive subject. So whilst, yes, I was amazed to read that too, I thought about it for a while and realised how hard it would be to make a decision about that, especially considering he already had a criminal record. I'd hate to be put in a position where I had to decide whether to, effectively, send my son to jail, it seems a clear cut decision nowadays, but it wasn't then.

@ Thad
The point which I was trying to make is that those with an agenda to push see the event through the agenda and thus overlook the fact that "it’s CERTAINLY an issue of disturbed teenagers whose parents meant well but did not get them the help they needed."

The gun control issue is a distraction just like game issue is a distraction. The boys at Columbine used a multi tiered approach to slaughter. Even without the guns they could have limited themselves to bombs. Or knives or baseball bats or even an xbox which I'm pretty sure is heafty enough to bludgeon someone with.

The root problem is that they were disturbed. And identifying and getting help for disturbed teenagers or anyone else who is prone to snapping and going on a rampage is hard. Much harder than banning guns or violent video games.

@ Grey: "The anti gun activists blame the guns and the anti game activists blame the games."

This isn't any less stupid an analogy than the last 700 times it's been used.


There's some merit to the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument, in that the underlying problem is not the weapon but the mind of the user, but until you at least acknowledge the very very obvious fact that guns make it a lot easier for people to kill people, it's really hard to take any argument you make seriously.

@ Pixelantes Anonymous: "Video games = release valve

No release valve = explosion

Simple as that."

Er, no, it's not NEARLY as simple as that.

I got grounded in high school too. Sometimes the folks took away my games or Internet access. I was mad but I never killed anybody. And -- with a nod to Grey's point, as bad as his analogy is -- I wouldn't have killed anybody even if I'd had a gun.

I don't think the point here is games at all. If Block's supposition is correct, then it's an issue of addiction, and even if he's not, it's CERTAINLY an issue of disturbed teenagers whose parents meant well but did not get them the help they needed.

It's interesting to note that one of the boys' fathers found a pipe bomb in his bedroom almost a year before the Columbine attack, but chose to dispose of it silently, just about the time that the boy had changed to a new anti-depressant medication, though Block does acknowledge that the Jury is still very much out on that one, it still shows that this was not 'cranial menu' stuff, it was not a spontaneous reaction to external stimuli, it was something that had been planned and prepared for a great deal of time.

Normal person plays games, parent takes away games: nothing happens

deeply troubled person plays games (violent ones), parent takes away : massacre.

Perhaps the problem isn't the games?

@Jack Thompson

how many times does it have to be said. I game where you can't even look up and down can't "train" you on anything, never mind GTA games with their crappy graphics. If you think I'm wrong, take a look at the PS3 and Xbox360 graphics, douche.

Welcome to the Dark Side (or so it is said by some). :)

At any rate, a very good starting point for research on the Columbine Massacre is:

But don't stop there. Use the info in the article and the discussion page there, along with the other links provided as a starting point on research. Google is a very talkative friend too. Sometimes too talkative, but it has its uses.

I say this because you should never rely solely on one resource for research. I'm sure you'll find out a great deal of information if you don't rely on stories and opinions by one person or one group of individuals. This is, of course, true of everything you research.

Really, there is a great deal more to learn about the events that led up to that horrible day. And even when you think you know everything, realize that the only people who knew everything about what happened and why are dead. Their names were Eric and Dylan.

NW2K Software

I will say, after reading the article, that it's quite interesting in some ways. I'll agree that violent games were one of Klebold and Harris' outlets for their condition, together with Violent movies etc, they were compulsive obsessives, which means whatever they did, they became fixated with, so it's not all that surprising that when forced not to be able to partake of something they obsessed about, the balance the games and films etc had helped keep in check finally tipped.

As has been said before, the core (though not the extent) of this reaction is not dissimilar to not being able to go to the pub because you ahve to stay and fix the tap, it's frustrating, and you can be a bit ratty about it, but K&H weren't 'ordinary' people to start off with, so the reaction wasn't 'ordinary'.

The whole thing about being a 'powerful person' on WoW is an interesting point, though my own concern would be more about things like Linden Labs, that try to make things that don't exist into markettable merchandise., something Blizzard does not encourage at all. If 9 million people got thrown from WoW (ignoring alt-nicks, farmers and dead accounts) I don't think there'd be an uprising. There'd probably be multiple attempts at class-action lawsuits, which is quite amusing that the Video Game worlds' first reaction to losing one of it's favourite games would probably be to try and go Thompson on it. That, I think, is more telling than any 'Video Games cause Violence' claim.

Say paul, if someone says something you can't agree with, it's not going to kill you. So why go to your angry animal instincts by uselessly and childishly insult him. When there are people who really deserve it like Fox News and Rupert Murdoch's monopolism (though insults never get anyone anywhere). And it seems agreeable.

To be honest, someone standing on one leg in a bowl of custard and whilstling the National Anthem backwards would lend weight to Jack's claims, at least in his own mind.

@ Ben Ambroso

The issue isn't so much whether he breaks the rules of commenting, it's how he tries to make every article about him. It's distracts from talking about the actual story and it's disruptive.

Video games = release valve

No release valve = explosion

Simple as that.
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