Rocky Rambo Wei Nam Kam admitted to randomly killing Richard Jones, 68, and his wife, Dianna Mah-Jones, 64, in their home on Sept. 26, 2017, but his defence argues at trial that his mental state was impaired due to an addiction to video games and claims he didn’t have the intent to commit murder — and was guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.
But just because a B.C. Supreme Court judge has allowed the “gaming-consciousness” defence in the trial of the accused double-murderer doesn’t mean the disorder is real or that the defence will work.
“It’s an ingenious defence, but the issue here is really whether it is believable, whether it is credible, or whether it’s just a stab in the dark,” said Vancouver criminologist Robert Gordon.
Gordon said the defence is doing their duty by trying to present a defence, whether or not the judge believes it in the end. “The admissibility of such a claim recognizes the fact that we are in a common-law jurisdiction and we give the defence every opportunity to present their story,” he said.
If the judge had decided not to allow the video-game defence, that decision could have been grounds for an appeal, said Gordon.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Edward Shen testified on behalf of the prosecution during the trial this month. Shen claimed Rocky Rambo’s obsession with video games and comic books could have affected his perception of where reality begins and ends, and he coined the term “gaming consciousness” to describe the state that he may have been in at the time of the murders.
There is a long history of lawyers using the defence that someone isn’t guilty by reason of a mental disorder, but usually claims are based on medical evidence, said Gordon. Gaming consciousness isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a diagnostic tool produced by the American Psychiatric Association.
The Crown hasn’t called any experts to refute the claim.
“The Crown probably didn’t think this would have gathered any kind of credibility, and it has no medical basis in fact,” Gordon said. “I suspect that the judge has said it’s theoretically admissible, so let’s hear it. Doesn’t mean to say that it’s believable or credible so we give them a chance and we can’t be accused of being biased.”
Gordon called the gaming-consciousness claim “not credible.”
Bernhard Riecke, associate professor at Simon Fraser University and a researcher in virtual reality, said that although he doesn’t like the term “gaming consciousness,” and gaming addiction isn’t part of the DSM-5, gaming can become addictive if the pursuit becomes an obsession.
“If it inhibits your daily life, by all practical means you could have the neural physiological markers of addiction, including brain changes,” he said.
But the physiological and psychological effects of immersive gaming haven’t been well-studied.
“It’s pretty clear that people mimic and imitate behaviour, but it’s hard to do fully controlled studies — you can’t tell people to play five-hours-a-day for years to study them, but anything you do for a long time is going to affect you,” said Riecke.
Riecke said that even if there is a blurring of reality, “that doesn’t justify or take away responsibility for behaviour.”
Final submissions in the trial by the Crown and the defence are being made this week.