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Videogames and Violence: A Scapegoat for Larger Issues

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It seems like this has been a conversation since the Columbine shooting that we’ve heard over and over again: video games cause violence in our kids. With this latest school shooting and the discovery that the shooter played some sort of video game the debate flared up again; my Facebook feed absolutely swarmed with opinions and one shot images overlaid with text. Of course the games shown are biased in and of themselves: some of these are ones I don’t even recognize, and I’m pretty well versed in gaming. I never see collages of Super Mario, Little Big Planet, or Scribblenauts on these though.

Personally I’m all for thought out debate over the subject, regardless of your viewpoint, but that simply isn’t the world we live in any longer. Instead we live in a world where everybody lives in their own echo chambers on social media that occasionally accidentally collide with someone who has a different viewpoint. Complex issues are reduced down to a boiler plate quote plastered over some ultra-violent video game screenshots and that is enough for some conservative gun lover to clutch their pearls and click share. Then others see the image and without any checking at all on the basis of it share the picture; after all it is a simple button press so anyone can share a half-baked opinion with zero effort.

Without ever having to research or form their own opinion people are able to confirm their own bias and it is all under a massive effort to hand wave away from the real problems: gun control and mental health. Those are an incredibly difficult and complex issue to sort though, so the easy target is video games. Rap music, rock and roll, and even Dungeons and Dragons all had their turn at this, and as a relatively young medium video games are now firmly in the crosshairs. When the real issue is too hard to address we point fingers at whatever is adjacent and hope the public swarm to it, and unfortunately a vast majority do. Not only is it unfounded, but constant studies keep finding no correlation between video games and violence, or at least results so marginalized that they are impossible to confirm.

The studies that do find some sort of link never have a clear determination of what games, what ages, how they came by these results. It simply gives the news a buzz worthy headline that they can slap onto an article, and that people on social media can point to confirming their own bias.

I solidly refute the idea that video games cause violence in children.

Not only am I living proof, but 1.2 billion people play video games worldwide. If video games truly caused violence in children, then why isn’t the world a walking wasteland of death and destruction brought on by digitally trained assassins? A little too pie in the sky for you? You need something more concrete do you?

Japan is absolutely saturated with gaming culture, our past time practically was born over there, and while they certainly have murder when is the last time you’ve heard of a mass shooting of a school over there? Go ahead, Google it, I’ll wait. Ok, so they don’t have over 18 school shootings in less than 3 months overseas? Hmm, whatever could be the difference between Japan and the US then?

I mean after all, they have more than 127 million individuals living over there, but rarely see over 10 deaths a year from gun violence. Since video games are obviously to blame, and gun control has nothing to do with anything according to the NRA and Trump supporters in general, than why the obvious correlation? The reason: Japan has extremely strict gun control.

In order to own a gun in Japan you have to attend an all day class, not to mention score a 95% accuracy rating during a shooting-range test. Then they have to pass stringent mental health evaluation at a hospital, AND a background check that includes interviews with friends and family as well as digging into your criminal past. On top of that people even have to undergo a drug test.  After all of that they are able to own a gun, and not a moment before.

This newest piece of garbage that shot up a school threatened constantly via social media to harm people, hurt animals as a child, and was clearly a sociopath. So why blame anything on video games?

Simple: it distracts from the largest and most obvious cause of gun violence: POOR GUN CONTROL.

 The debate becomes even more pointless when you recognize that, just like any other form of media, games have ratings that are supposed to be followed. Anyone under the age of 17 in the US shouldn’t be playing Grand Theft Auto, but it is one of the first games parents point to when wanting to claim that these games have failed our children. Certainly some of these kids are getting these games from a lax Wal-Mart, but for the most part it is parents who don’t really care what their children are doing that are buying their kids these videogames. So even if you do believe that horribly violent video games cause violence in children, then by already existing regulations these individuals should never be getting their hands on them anyway.

Can videogames have an effect on an individual? Of course they can, as any art can. Videogames can inspire us, bring us to tears, and get our heart pumping with adrenaline. There are games that glorify the violence inherent in a lot of games, and I’ve played a bunch of them. All of them are marked M for Mature, and shouldn’t be being consumed by an individual in their formative years; though I would argue showing dead terrorists on the evening news while children are still awake is more disturbing than a digital killing spree any day of the week. Either way we have whole societies of video game players and nowhere near that many of us committing murder sprees.

If an individual is already sick, then of course a videogame could affect how they view reality, but in those cases anything can. An errant phrase from someone, a simple paragraph in a book, YouTube videos: any and all things can be harnessed by a person who is a sociopath or mentally ill to mean whatever they want them to mean. Can a video game de-synthetize to violence? To a degree, I believe so. I regularly see horrible things in video games, awful nightmare inducing things sometimes, and it no longer phases me. I see these things in movies, TV shows, and in every other form of media also. I still get weak headed and stomached though when I see an open cut on an arm. I wanted to be a firefighter earlier in life, but couldn’t after being exposed to some of the stuff they see in real life.

By the popular news outlet I shouldn’t be bothered by that; after all I’ve been ripping eyeballs out of minotaurs as Kratos for years by the time I was exposed to that, blowing people to chunks with rocket launchers, and other dubious acts of violence. Shouldn’t I then have a heart of steel, trained in the way of death as I am?

I could continue on here, but I will leave it at this.

Videogames do not cause violence in our kids. They are not the overarching thing that you should be concerned about. What should scare you instead are sick individuals having incredibly easy access to weapons that can kill someone by simply pointing it at them and pressing a trigger, all laying on the idea of a portion of our constitution written when we still had muzzle loaded powder weapons.

We need better gun control, we need more easily accessible help for the mentally ill, and we need to stop pointing fingers at media that millions of people consume without causing harm to anyone.

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10 thoughts on “Videogames and Violence: A Scapegoat for Larger Issues

  1. “I never see collages of Super Mario, Little Big Planet, or Scribblenauts on these though.” I had a good laugh on this one. I also appreciated your talk on gun control issues and desensitization.

    I am not sure that anyone is surprised by the conservative response to all this (not that I think Trump is even a conservative at all) but we were talking about Polygon earlier today and there on the other side of the political fence you had a bunch of journalists trying to malign games as causing violence for years, before of course they conveniently flipped once Trump made his statements. That’s why I like your final statement about not pointing fingers. It’s easy enough to find someone to blame, which is exactly what many are doing with games. So thanks for sharing your voice in the discussion!

    Like

  2. Video games always get blamed for violence, even nowadays that the industry is more mainstream. I don’t understand how someone can argue that software is to blame, rather than guns, when yet another shooting occurs.

    Like

  3. This is a really great article Daniel, I think I would struggle to keep such a measured tone! I am curently writing an article about the positive things that video games do for our lives, inspired by these recent discussions into violence and video games, and I wondered if it would be ok for me to link to this article?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It really makes me upset that politicians want to point the finger at something that isn’t the problem than discuss and talk about the real issue here. Whether it be movies, violence in music, and now more than ever video games people just want to take a trip back to the 90’s and debate this issue. STOP WASTING EVERYONE’S TIME AND DO SOME REAL WORK POLITICIANS.

    Liked by 1 person

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