On February 14, 2018, chaos and tragedy descended upon a school in Parkland, Florida. In a building that we entrust children to, that we entrust the future of humankind to, 17 lives were ended prematurely. All it took was six minutes. Six minutes of hell for those inside, six minutes of agony for those waiting for their loved ones outside, and six minutes where we as a society failed the most basic test of civilization. Shortly thereafter, people rallied under one simple cause with one simple demand: that this kind of disaster never happen again. Simple, yet for all the progress that is being made, you would think that people were asking for heaven and Earth to be moved. Apparently, the buck doesn’t stop anywhere anymore as politicians and figureheads blamed everything for the murders, including the age old scapegoat of video games.
By now, you may have heard the usual arguments about how video games train people to be impeccably accurate, emotionless, merciless killing machines who derive pleasure from senseless violence. Indeed, a governor from Kentucky stated that games “celebrate the slaughtering of people….where you get extra points for finishing someone who’s lying there begging for their life”. Major media outlets are entertaining the idea that a mass shooter can use video games like Call of Duty as a “virtual boot camp” due to how closely games can mirror real weapons and enemies. The President of the United States certainly seems quite intent to paint games as some kind of cause for the wholesale slaughter of children by children, but it is highly doubtful that the President has even seen a game in real life, much less played one himself. For that matter, many critics of video game violence give the impression that they are not familiar with the subject matter at all, especially the aforementioned governor of Kentucky, but that’s neither here nor there.
Conversely, you may have also heard of the numerous studies that point out that games like Call of Duty aren’t going to give you the mental preparation necessary to end another person’s life, much less the lives of multiple people. A Swinburne University of Technology study concluded that for the vast majority of kids, games don’t have an impact on their “general aggression rate” unless they were already a problematic kind of child to begin with. A United States Secret Service/Department of Education report stated that school shooting perpetrators were twice as likely to be attracted to violent books and movies as they were to violent games. The American Psychological Association found that while games may cause increased aggression in players, there is insufficient evidence to support the notion that this is enough to cause criminal violence. There’s also the fact that games have become such a huge part of modern life that the audience of games span from the young to the elderly, the social and the solitary, the brilliant and the mundane, though somehow only children are susceptible to the supposed negative effects of games.
If anything, games might have a positive effect on the human mind, though as with all things, moderation and supervision is necessary. “As an educator for 30 years, I understand the concern of video games and real-life violence and the importance of parents to review content on behalf of their children,” Deanna Terzian, the President of Curricularworks stated. “Studies have shown that video games can promote learning, thinking and have other cognitive benefits. We need a common sense approach to how we consume content for our children.” To suggest that parents, and society as a whole, are responsible for the upbringing of children and not game development companies is apparently pure lunacy, however, seeing as how it is far easier to blame companies like Infinity Ward and Activision for making the guns and enemies in Call of Duty so realistic that it may as well be a military-grade training simulator.
Yet, for all the studies and statements that people make, the truth of the matter isn’t so complicated that psychologists and the highest levels of government need to weigh in. Seeing as how both groups are susceptible to outside forces that cause them to say things that they may not truly believe or understand, it may be for the best to make your own observations about the world and to draw your own conclusions about the situation. Merely open your eyes and look around you. Are kids stabbing each other in the streets because of Grand Theft Auto V? Has the release of Overwatch caused a world war to break out in schools around the world? The infamous “No Russian” mission of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 failed to cause the wholesale slaughter of an airport full of people, and that’s still not the most gratuitously violent scene to ever appear in gaming. These are games that have audience sizes that number in the millions, which would imply that there would be dozens if not hundreds of murders every day if even 0.001% of their respective playerbases decided to go kill people for fun as some may apparently believe, yet that clearly is not the case.
If one were to insist that games are truly to blame for inspiring ideas in children to commit acts of senseless violence, then one must also realize that they are no more at fault than every other form of media. To say that games are the sole cause of school shootings is rather absurd when many of the most celebrated movies of our time feature dismemberment (Star Wars), face melting (Indiana Jones), and people getting eaten in a decidedly less than pleasant manner (Jurassic Park). That’s not even touching R-rated movies and some of the horrific things that happen in literature, unless one wants to suggest that The Cask of Amontillado is merely a pleasant tale about architectural engineering. Despite this, no one is mentioning the violence that is shown in anything aside from games, as if games are the only thing that influence children. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the first time that powerful people in their mad lust for power attempted to influence the media that we consume under the guise of protecting children, and it won’t be the last.
Games are unique in that they bring a comparatively underrepresented level of interactivity to the audience, but the day when you can earn a driver or pilot’s license by simply playing GTA V or Flight Simulator is the day that we can seriously consider games to be a major contributor to school shootings. After all, if we are to follow the idea that games can be used as virtual firing ranges to turn kids into expert shooters to its most logical and reasonable conclusion, then it’s not that much of a stretch to say that games can turn kids into expert pilots, cooks, chauffeurs, and so on and so forth. Surely proponents of the notion that doing something in a game prepares you to do that same thing in real life would thus have no problem with hiring gaming-addicted kids to run the government, manage farms, and oversee NASA’s efforts to reach the stars either, since games have given people the chance to do such things as well. It would certainly be no less ridiculous than saying that games can mentally prepare someone to take another person’s life, much less encourage it.
Of course, if people considered the fact that a lot more violence has been caused in the name of religion, politics (especially politics), race, arbitrary lines on a map, and countless other silly things long before games have existed, then perhaps this discussion wouldn’t be needed to begin with. Then again, this isn’t the first time that a school was the scene of a mass shooting in recent memory, and it likely won’t be the last either. If we, as such a violence-obsessed society, can’t (or won’t) come to terms with how every school shooter carried out their crimes with the same kind of weapon (it’d be pretty hard to carry out a mass shooting without a gun), then there isn’t much more that anyone can say to convince people that video games are about as morally corrupting as comic books, rap music, and Elvis’ hips were. It would be one thing if game developers were creating the tools, mental and financial struggles, and society that enables mass shooters to commit their deeds, but so far, Activision hasn’t exactly been pumping out Call of Duty-themed firearms for kids to use in real life, nor are they responsible for creating a long-standing culture where violence is glorious and might makes right. Violent games are but a product of a violent culture, and to criticize the former without so much as acknowledging the latter is to walk the path of dangerous ignorance.