Violent Video Games and Mass Shootings
This is a very contentious subject here in America, everybody having an opinion. What’s yours? Do you think that I’m off base? Let us know down in the comments.
On February 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz allegedly entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He opened fire on students and teachers after allegedly pulling a fire alarm. He used the chaos as an opportunity to cause mass casualties, killing 17 and wounding others. As with any other mass shooting in America, the country immediately split into two sides. They began arguing with each other about whether the sale and owning of firearms should be more heavily regulated. Eventually the argument rolled around predictably to the topic of whether violent video games and movies have an effect and should be more tightly controlled. Violent Video games have been an easy scapegoat for politicians who use it to scare uninformed, mostly older voters.
This has been the case ever since April 20, 1999. Two shooters entered their high school and killed 13 people. They then turned the guns on themselves to avoid being captured by police. The two shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were fans of the first-person shooter Doom, and the movie The Matrix. The connection between the media that the two were fans of and their actions sparked controversy. In 1999 the government began investigation into violence in video games. This led to the formation of the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB). The ESRB is a way for the video game industry to self-regulate. With the ESRB in place, the federal government wouldn’t have to regulate them.
So, after nearly twenty years, have they proven a connection between violent video games and a tendency toward violence in the real world? Surely by now, there will have been some solid evidence to prove that violent video games are the biggest indicator a future mass murderer? No? Most evidence says the opposite? Well then why does this excuse still get trotted out by politicians when some obviously mentally unwell individual decides to pick up a gun and kill as many people as they can? Are they are going for some kind of demented high score?
It’s an Easy Target
Technology is historically difficult for older generations to understand. Most older people were not used to the rapid rise and changing of computer technology, a good deal of which never touched a computer until it was obvious that it was a necessary part of life. These same people see an interactive medium like video games as something of a boogeyman.
Video games as a media is still seen as something that most Baby Boomers were already too old to be the main audience for the new technology. Video games have had a hard time shaking their stigma as “murder simulators,” as anti-gaming activist Jack Thompson called them often. For most people who didn’t grow up with video games, saw the congressional hearings about Doom and Mortal Kombat and Night Trap and then proceeded to watch these violent video games become more realistic and brutal as time marched on.
Video games get more flak from parents and politicians for their interactive nature. Logically, if you play games where you shoot hundreds and thousands of faceless bad guys over and over and over, while blood sprays realistically from said nameless targets; it stands to reason that the player may get a little desensitized to violence. If the player is already disturbed, then the violent video games will only heighten their “blood lust.” This makes video games an easy target for angry parents and deflecting politicians all over the country when terrible things happen.
What does the evidence say?
In an article written for theconversation.com, Christopher J. Ferguson – a professor of psychology at Stetson University and a 15 year researcher into the connection between violent video games and violence – states that he “can state that is no evidence to support these claims that violent media and real-world violence are connected.” The Supreme Court ruled in 2011 in their ruling for Brown, Governer of California, et al. v. Entertainment Merchants Association et al., (a court case trying to repeal a California law banning the sale of video games to minors) said:
“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively. Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media. Since California has declined to restrict those other media, e.g., Saturday morning cartoons, its video-game regulation is wildly underinclusive, raising serious doubts about whether the State is pursuing the interest it invokes or is instead disfavoring a particular speaker or viewpoint. California also cannot show that the Act’s restrictions meet the alleged substantial need of parents who wish to restrict their children’s access to violent videos. The video-game industry’s voluntary rating system already accomplishes that to a large extent.”
What does this Mean?
The studies that are often cited as being proof that violent video games have an effect on violent behavior that politicians pull out in these cases have been largely refuted by this point due to obvious bias and unconfirmed results.
It is true that America has the second largest concentration of players behind China, and the has the highest percentage of gun violence. The fact remains that all other countries who have a large percentage of the gamer population have a much lower rate of gun violence, lower than what the ratio of gamers to gun violence in America would have you expect.
So, if there is no correlation between violent video games and violent behavior, then why does it keep coming up? What could politicians seek to gain from placing the blame on the video game industry?
Violent Video Games Take the Focus Off of Major Campaign Contributors
Every time there is a major mass shooting in America, the first group blamed is always the NRA. Depending on your political leanings may or may not be a good target. It makes sense to blame the NRA, though, as the biggest advocate of gun ownership without government oversight. To that end, they’re willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to politicians in office that are receptive to the NRA’s wants and needs.
If your biggest campaign contributor has some bad press, it would behoove you to keep them happy. That’s just the way that politics work. If you don’t have more money than your opponent, you run a good chance of losing the next election.
The easiest thing to do in a situation like this is to change the conversation. After the shooting in Parkland, FL the call for gun reform, has been louder than normal. The NRA is staunchly against any kind of laws that restrict what guns that Americans can own or use. So, there is a strong sense of wanting to change the conversation. Out comes the violent video games and movies argument.
It’s An Easy Way to Show “We Care for our Constituents”
Politicians are always ready for the next reelection cycle. This leads to them tying their ship to the closest crisis that wins brownie points with the voters. The violent video game argument comes up frequently because it’s the perfect scapegoat for a situation with no easy answers. It’s easy to say “it’s for the kids,” and when push comes to shove there will be no need to take any action to “regulate video games.” Politically it’s a win-win situation for any politician who wants to take a side but doesn’t want to have to actually do anything about it.
This is a big reason why the call for violent video games to be banned will not go away any time soon.
The Real Solution
The hardest solution, but one which would be the most successful, would be an overhaul of America’s mental healthcare system. There is a stigma in America that having a mental health problem is a cry for attention and fake. That, or it makes the sufferer a defective person. This makes it hard for anyone to get any kind of help if necessary; leading to people who have some suicidal or homicidal ideation to slip through the cracks. Mixed with the ease with which Americans can buy a gun, creates a volatile mixture allowing bad things to happen.
But like I said, this is the most difficult solution. The first step would be to change the stigma in America. This would never work if people don’t feel comfortable seeking help. The second step is of course going to be easier access to these resources. This is probably going to take a fair amount of government regulation. This is going to immediately make some people mad. However, in the long run people are going to be happier when their kids are safer.
This is a touchy subject for many people. Some have had family or friends who have been killed by a deranged gunman. It allows these people and the people for whom this tragedy has hit close to home to grieve and heal. You know, if the whole world wasn’t shouting vitriol at them from all sides.