Video Games Don’t Cause School Shootings
It goes without saying that when tragedy strikes, those who would push an agenda are quick to do so. In the wake of the malevolent event at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 19 year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed seventeen people, most of whom ranged in age from 14-17, some were quick to push an agenda. Namely, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, echoing the words of Spokane Country Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich after last year’s Freeman school shooting, who was also echoing the words of countless pro-gun narrative ideologues over the recent years.
That narrative? The video games are to blame for school shootings.
But how accurate is that narrative? After all, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and even Japan and Israel have the same access to media and video games as their American counterparts. And yet, while there have been violent events there, they are nowhere near as prevalent as in the United States.
There have been numerous studies of the effect of video games in violent events over the years. The leading study, by the American Psychological Association, published in 2005 was quickly adopted by the APA Council of Representatives suggesting that there was a increased likelihood of violence in video game players was quickly discounted in a letter-writing campaign by the APA’s own membership. Other studies were equally as inconclusive, and an independent study of crimes committed as a direct influence of video games each revealed a pre-existing condition within the perpetrators. Oftentimes they were being treated for schizophrenia.
However, in almost all cases of school shootings in the USA, investigations revealed two factors that I feel hit closer to home: Almost all perpetrators had a rough home life, and almost all of them suffered from some form of mental illness.
And in almost all these cases, the blame was laid at the feet of video games, movies and music.
While it’s undeniable that all these forms of media can have an effect on personality and traits of those who consume it, very rarely has there been a notable causal link. Mark David Chapman, the man who shot and killed John Lennon, cited JD Salinger’s classic, The Catcher in the Rye, as his inspiration, and outright modeled himself after the character of Holden Caulfield. Edmonton-based Mark Twitchell idolized the character of TV’s “moral” serial killer Dexter and used his methods in the murder of John Altinger. Polwat Chino, a Thai teenager, cited Grand Theft Auto 4 as his inspiration for the murder of a taxi driver. And in the USA, two pre-teen girls stabbed a third in order to “appease” Slender Man (now a major motion picture by Sony Entertainment.)
However, these cases are few and far between, and the causal link is dependent largely on the assertions of the very people who are seeking excuses for their own actions. But this isn’t to suggest media can’t have an effect. Some music and movies have managed to have a huge effect on subcultures, as evident by the sudden sharp increase in street racing after the release of The Fast and the Furious movie.
For what it’s worth, there is very little in the way of evidence to suggest that video games are responsible for such malevolent tragedies. Many point their fingers towards guns, but I don’t think that’s quite the case either. After all, there are other countries with lax gun laws that don’t see a fraction of the violence as in America.
I understand the pro-gun lobby is struggling to find something to blame other than guns in the wake of all these tragedies, and that is fine. But in choosing poor targets, they weaken their own stances and make it difficult for an informed public to support gun rights. When they do so, it’s easy to suggest that people like Matt Bevin and Ozzie Knezovich are attempting to shift the blame irresponsibly. I don’t know for certain if it’s the American gun culture that is causing these problems or not, but I’m more inclined to believe it’s that young men no longer have the same mentorship and guidance they once had when the nuclear family was the norm. And certainly there are a number of single parents who go above and beyond for their children and do a job worthy of praise, but one cannot do the job of two people (let alone a village) and maintain the same level of efficiency over an extended period of time. Now this won’t be true in all cases, but the common thread in many of these situations takes the appearance of the lack of a responsible male father figure to help guide these children. This could mean single-parenthood, or it could be a disinterested parent. Regardless, I believe this helps to explain these situations far more than a half-cocked attempt to blame video games.
Real violence isn’t as easy as many of these pundits make it out to be. One cannot chainsaw a demon in Doom by pulling the R2 button and find parallels between that and doing it to real people. It lacks the dimension. Fantasy violence cannot even hope to compete with real violence. Fantasy violence lacks the recoil of weaponry. The smell and taste of gunpowder and blood. The sounds of people pleading for their very lives, or the cries of anguish. The mind who can commit these acts is scorched with hatred. A pure, ignorant hatred that manifests itself in an extreme act to “take revenge” upon the world.
The people who do this sort of thing are damaged, and it’s not video games that caused said damage. That sort of damage does not come from 1080p screen or an arena-style video game developer. That damage comes from a mind that so hates the world that they wish to take revenge upon it with their very being.
Not the mind who likes to relieve stress by taking some time to earn achievement trophies by slaughtering scores of the undead.