Violent video games under fire again

On a cold winter’s day in Newtown, Conn., a lone gunman killed his mother and 26 other individuals including children before killing himself.

As we all sat and watched the news reports and the immediate postmortem reactions to the second deadliest school shooting after the Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007 , we asked ourselves that all-important question: Why?

It happened after Columbine, and it happened after Virginia Tech. Everyone and anyone asked: What kind of music were these gunmen listening to? What movies did they watch? What kind of mental illnesses did they possibly have?

But the one that always seems to pop up is: What violent video games were they playing?

Sure enough, each of the shooters did play violent video games. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were avid players of first-person shooting games “Doom” and “Wolfenstein 3D.” Seung-Hui Cho was known to have played a popular online first-person shooter, “Counter-Strike,” in which players side with terrorism or counterterrorism units. Online discussion boards and Reddit have reported that the Sandy Hook gunman “liked” the popular Western role-playing game “Mass Effect” on Facebook and was “addicted” to “Call of Duty.”

By this string of logic, violent video games are the most dangerous products ever to be placed in the hands of men and women alike and that their infectious desensitization of violence will bring about the downfall of modern society as we know it.

It makes for a convenient scapegoat. Much like how rock ‘n’ roll, comic books, metal and even jazz music were blamed for society’s ills, violent video games are an easy detractor from the more important issues, such as the status of mental health care and aid in this country. Regardless of the trends, Southington, Conn., decided to target violent video games and offer a $25 gift certificate in exchange for the games so that they will be destroyed.

According to an article from video game news website Polygon, website School superintendent Joe Erardi said, “There are youngsters who appear to be consumed with violent video games.”

He clarified that this movement was an effort to get parents and kids talking about violent video games.

“Our message is fairly simple: Have the conversation with your child,” he said.

According to Gamepolitics.com, Southington and Erardi have retracted their proposed actions since then.

“We succeeded in our program,” Erardi said in the article. “Our mission was to create strong awareness in Southington for parents and families. … Our other objective was to promote the discussion of violent video games and media with children.”

If this was 1992 and Sub-Zero in “Mortal Kombat” ripped off his first head, then I would agree wholeheartedly that this discussion is necessary for America’s youth.

However, video games have evolved and improved artistically and narratively since then. The recent discussions about violent video games drags the industry back to the age-old question about the influence of violent media on the minds of today’s youth seems unfavorable and detrimental to the video game industry.

Still, that won’t stop Massachusetts from removing violent video games from turnpike rest stops, according to The Boston Globe.

Transportation Secretary Richard Davey said that, ”Bottom line is I think there isn’t a person who doesn’t believe that there isn’t too much violence in our society, and games can glorify that. A video game in a public space could be used by anybody of any age.”

Jeff Holmes, graduate student at ASU’s Center for Games and Impact and a doctorate student in rhetoric and composition, said that this misses the big picture point about violent video games.

“By casually condemning video games as causal to violent episodes, we do a real disservice to the underlying reality that people who are going to shoot up a mall or a school don’t need the game at all in order to do it. … We need to help guide people – young or old, gamers or not – to recognize that their actions occur within a specific context, and that these have different rules governing them,” Holmes said.

It’s not enough to say “correlation does not equal causation,” because the video game industry has been through this whole dog and pony show before. It has become a redundant exercise to blatant scapegoating of the larger issues at play.

For every politician and government worker that thinks that violent video games are the end to civility, we as the gamers need to respond with pacifism and well-articulated discussions, because the games can and will succeed in their own battles.

 

Reach the reporter at shfawcet@asu.edu