the artistry and psychology of gaming


Blaming Video Games for the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Blaming Video Games for the Sandy Hook Tragedy

Let me begin by offering my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims of Sandy Hook tragedy. I’m sure you all agree that a video game website is not a place for discussions on gun control or grave issues such as what lead to that sad event or how to prevent it. I will not touch these issues here. However, video games have been blamed as a factor in the violence, and from both sides of the debate. Here, we need to discuss this, because if we take a backseat and refrain from this discussion, our voices will not be heard.

As an avid gamer, I’m sure you all know where I stand on this issue. I believe we can easily poke some holes in the most arguments raised against video games, however, some of them are more serious than the others. I think ultimately video games are a target of people who don’t want to see the real problem.

Wayne LaPierre, the president of NRA, issued a statement today in which he blamed video games, among other things, for the disaster. He has said that:

And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like ‘Bullet Storm,’ ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ ‘Mortal Combat,’ and ‘Splatterhouse.’

Every sentence of that statement is simply false. First of all, the media has never attempted to conceal such a thing. I believe any unbiased person can attest that media is quite negative when it comes to video games. Every mass killer with the exception of Bin Laden was somehow linked to a video games. We were told Adam Lanza may have played Starcraft and Call of Duty. We were told that the Norwegian mass killer played World of Warcraft, even while it was completely evident his own ideology had led him to such actions. Every research showing a negative side effect is fully reported and the researches which demonstrate the positive side effects are either downplayed or ignored. Secondly, video games are not a “shadow industry” the last time I checked- they seem to be working in public and heavily regulated too. We now come to the third claim, that video game industry “sells and stows violence”, which I’ll discuss later.

Wayne LaPierre is hardly alone in this opinion. LaPierre is clearly a pro-gun, but the other side of issue is not better. Senator Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat and he is in favor of gun control, but he also hates video games. He introduced a bill to target video games, saying:

Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians and psychologists know better. These court decisions show we need to do more and explore ways Congress can lay additional groundwork on this issue. This report will be a critical resource in this process.

As you can see, what is evident is that both sides are willing to make video games the scapegoat here. So do games lead to violence? Should we blame them for what happens? The answer is a resounding NO. First of all, there’s no scientific basis to such a claim. Look at this study. It clearly states that no such connection can be made. Also, look at this article, by the same scientist. It cites many studies which have reached the same conclusion. If you can’t go to these sites, here they are: one, two, three, four. Here is also the fifth one. There is no evidence.
But apart from scientific inquiry, there is also common sense. In the same article linked above he says that “almost all young males play violent video games at least occasionally, it’s playing the odds to say Lanza did too”. But notice that phrase “almost all young males”. If the video games led to violence, wouldn’t we have been reduced to a state of Hobbsian War of All against All now? Are gamers less empathetic? Are they more likely to vote for Hitler? Exactly how they can be so destructive and yet so ineffective?
Also, we can easily poke holes into this assertions from the point of view of literary criticism. Truth is, a reader or a gamer is not a tabula rasa ready to be shaped by what s/he reads. S/he is active, and brings his/her own mental, cultural, and historical background to the text. I don’t mean that video games don’t have the power to shape gamers- that’s their blessing- but ultimately, the act of playing is an aesthetic dialogue between a gamer and a game. I play Grand Theft Auto and all I see is social criticism. Someone else might play the same game and say “Wow I wanna do that”. But that person is already screwed before walking to his/her controls. Texts are not static and they don’t mean a single thing.
Also, we are able to differntiate between fantasy and reality. I love to be an assassin in Hitman– I love to kill people that way, because I know it’s something I’ll never experience in real life. Video games are illusions. No matter how realistic they become, they are still illusions. If someone is unable to distinguish between books or movies or games that someone is already lost, and it’s not the fault of medium s/he deals with. If a crazy person watches Mary Poppins and the he picks up an umbrella and falls to his death, then you can’t say Mary Poppins leads to death. People who blame video games for violence are making many interpretive mistakes: they’re limiting the interpretive range to one reduced single one, they’re ignoring the role of the reader, and they’re simplifying the act of interpretation.
And this is nothing new. There has always been a cultural scapegoat. Movies, rock and roll, metal, pornography, and now video games. But the truth is, what causes the problem is the society. Bad parenting, bad teachers, bad priests, and bad presidents. The role models. The respectable citizens. You have led to Sandy Hook, and I have too. Your parents and mine have led to Sandy Hook. We have a sick global society. And always, ALWAYS, what get blames is what unveils this ugliness and sickness. Whether it’s great art such Lady Chatterley’s Lover or The Catcher in the Rye or Taxi Driver or Grand Theft Auto, or if it does so unintentionally.
Tragedies like Sandy Hook will happen again. Whatever needs to be done to prevent them is bigger than us as a generation. But it can get better, the situation has always improved and it will continue to do so. There are many first steps we can take. Democrats and Republicans have their own suggestions. My humble suggestion is this: Stop blaming the video games and look for real causes.
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One Comment

  1. This is a really great article and thank you for writing it. From the videos I’ve watched on youtube and the articles I’ve read all over the internet, it seems like no one is saying that it’s both democrats and republicans that are blaming these tragedies on video game violence. That, to me, is alarming. Everyone is downplaying their sides blaming video games. If you’re a a democrat, don’t mention that Lieberman and Rockfeller are on your side, but stress that the NRA is right-leaning and vice versa on the other side. It’s really frustrating.

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