Video games battle undeserved violent criticism

by Caitlin Johnson

When I was a staff columnist for my high school newspaper in 2005, I remember covering the idea that violent video games contribute to real-world violence. This was eight years ago. I’m almost surprised to be revisiting this topic once again. The demon of social anxiety in response to recent shootings across the nation has once again reared its ugly head, and I find myself picking up my pen in defense, hopefully for the last time.

Let me begin by defining myself as a gamer. I have been stomping Goombas with Mario since I was old enough to hold a controller. For years I’ve ventured with Link across many different incarnations of Hyrule. I know my games, and I know the industry. I know its role in the media and I can understand its influences on society. What I can’t understand is why, after 25 years of study, we cannot seem to reach a conclusion about whether or not playing violent games fuels a person’s desire to kill.

Perhaps no evidence is a good thing. For one, it has allowed the gaming industry to regulate itself, which arguably protects free speech. But this is not an argument about whether or not additional studies should be funded.

If another study is going to help people sleep better at night, then I’m all for it. What we seem to be missing is the reason for these studies. Instead of trying to find a correlation, we need to search for a cause. There is an underlying trend among the recent tragedies and it isn’t a few emotionally unstable people picking up a controller.

Video games have carried the stigma of being the root of negative emotional reactions for years. Those who don’t play fear what they don’t understand. I will be the first to admit that yes, playing games can cause anxiety and frustration. Anyone who has ever played a platformer or a fighting game where another player shamelessly cheats can attest to this. However, games can also inspire beauty and enthusiasm. Like a good movie, video games can amplify emotions. I’m an emotional person. Poignant scenes in games make me cry. I can understand how a person with deep-seated psychological issues and violent tendencies could potentially react aggressively to such stimuli. The key here is most of us don’t have such disorders. We are able to control our emotions, and as a result can maintain a normal lifestyle. Even the faintest notion of curbing such materials—which isn’t limited to video games—is an unnecessary punishment for all of us. Yet often the majority must suffer because of the acts of the few.

The problem is the media. The moment I saw the first news clip of the shooting in Connecticut, I was angered. Not because of the incident itself—which is an entirely different level of outrage and sheer devastation—but because of the media. I knew this would be another feast for those vultures, another car wreck they can’t drive by without staring at. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Some journalist, she doesn’t even realize she is one of them.” But this is where you are wrong, because I do realize it. I realize it and I’m ashamed.

As journalists, it is our responsibility to reveal the truth. Everything else is just fluff; padding to a story. Once it began circulating how the game “Call of Duty” was found in Adam Lanza’s room, I knew the fight against such media was renewed once again.

I have argued this point before, but it needs to be argued again. The reason so many kids are exposed to aggressive media is because they are allowed to. Certainly not by the retailers—the Entertainment Software Rating Board makes sure of this—but by the parents. During the time I worked at GameStop in 2006, I cannot tell you how many parents didn’t give two licks about the “mature” game they were buying for their 8-year-old, despite the time I took to tell them of its content. They just didn’t care. They still don’t. And here is where the true problem lies.

I feel as if I’m beating a dead horse, so to speak. For years, we as a community have dissected this issue, and we still have yet to reach a conclusion. Labeling video games as a catalyst for violent behavior is only going to divert us from real problems.