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Sniper theories run gamut

Movies? Games? Links to popular culture debated

By Jeordan Legon

Traffic slows on I-395 in Springfield, Virginia, as police search for the sniper.
Traffic slows on I-395 in Springfield, Virginia, as police search for the sniper.

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Has the media's coverage of the sniper shootings added to the public's fears?


(CNN) -- The baffling paucity of answers in the Washington-area sniper case has fueled wide-ranging speculation that the killer may be taking cues from popular culture.

Serial killer flicks. Violent video games. The Tarot deck's "Death" card.

In the absence of a motive, each can become a focus for conjecture as the public tries to understand the apparently random shootings in the suburbs surrounding the capital.

Investigators have released nothing to indicate that any of these theories about the killer's motivation or operating mode is based in fact. But that doesn't stop the chatter.

Dorree Lynn, a psychologist and author in Washington, said the speculation helps combat feelings of hopelessness.

"Rather than feel helpless, people seek explanations," she says. "The minute they start seeking explanations they go into whatever they can grasp, usually something they have seen -- video games, movies, even books."

Gaming and guessing

Video games, especially those with sniper features, have come under particular scrutiny. Florida lawyer Jack Thompson speculated on NBC's Today show Friday that the shooter might be a gamer. Thompson surmised that an inscription on a Tarot card found near one of the shootings -- "Dear Policeman: I am God" -- might have links to gaming.

"You go to video game chat rooms and you have the proclamation 'I am God' all over the place," said Thompson, an advocate of regulations to keep violent video games out of the hands of minors.

The expression is sometimes used by gamers to declare victory and players commonly say they're in "God-mode" when their characters shield themselves or don protections that make them invincible.

Thompson said investigators should consider possible links to shooting games.

"The mayhem that we're seeing, we're seeing played out by somebody who is a marksman, either in the military or a video game setting," he said.

Such claims are at odds with the facts, said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association.

"This murderous spree is the act of a deranged and sick individual," he said. "It's not violent media that create sociopathic personalities."

"The notion that using a mouse or controller in a video game can teach people to be a sharpshooter is absurd," he added.

Screen speculation

Attention has turned not only to video games but also to movies in an attempt to find clues to the killer's behavior. In "Malice," a 1993 thriller which aired October 3 on the TBS cable network -- a sister AOL Time Warner company with CNN -- Alec Baldwin plays a surgeon who comes under fire during a legal deposition.

"You ask me if I have a God complex?" Baldwin's character says. "Let me tell you something: I am God!"

The film's broadcast several days before the inscribed Tarot card was discovered near a Maryland school where a 13-year-old boy was shot was enough for some to conclude that it might be related. (About Tarot cards)

The theories didn't stop there. The buzz surrounding Tarot was so intense as a result of the sniper case that the American Tarot Association posted a page of "fast-facts" on its Web site.

"All of us who are accomplished Tarot readers understand that the fact that the Death card was left is no more significant than if you tore a picture of Death out of an art book, or a quote about death from the Bible," Sandra Thomson, president of the Tarot association, told The New York Times. "It's a gimmick."

While the motivations of the killer may never be known, the public is certain to keep searching for clues, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said.

"The public has this insatiable desire to know, sometimes just because we like to inquire, we like to know what's going on," he said. "But the other part is we want to protect ourselves. We want to know, should we be out shopping, should we be buying coffee, should I go to the grocery store?"

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