Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Let's Teabag the Bullshit About Violence and Videogames
Just a few days prior to the posting of this blog entry a man named Aaron Alexis entered the Washington D.C. Navy Yard and went on a homicidal rampage that left many people dead and the rest of us wondering how this could happen yet again.
Immediately, as with prior mass shootings, we got a 24 hours a day news cycle of misery-porn dealt to us by cable news stations sensationalizing the story around the clock to boost ratings. In these news cycles we inevitably get so-called experts talking on screen to spread moral panics about whatever forms of media they happen to not like, be it rap music, heavy metal music, rated R action flicks and, of course, videogames.
Videogames have been blamed in every shooting spree I can remember in my lifetime, from the allegations of DOOM helping to train the Columbine shooters to World of Warcraft and Call of Duty being blamed for the massacre in Norway perpetrated by Anders Breivik. Aaron Alexis is no different, with pundits from the NRA and Fox News, as well as many tabloids, claiming that he was influenced by marathon sessions of Call of Duty, simulating his killing techniques over the digital space before enacting it in the reality space.
But is there any truth to the claims that all of these mass shootings of the last 20-ish or so years are being caused by some minds being warped by DOOM, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty? Seeing as how the videogame industry in the past decade surpassed the movie industry as the top revenue generating entertainment form in the world, surely one should expect there to be quite a few studies linking this extremely popular media to criminal activity if the pundits are correct.
But that's not what we find, anywhere, except in NRA and Fox News statements. At best study after study shows, at most, a correlation showing that the shooters played some M rated violent games. One of the best sources I found on this topic is the following website, http://videogames.procon.org/, which offers both sides of the argument, along with links to associated studies. Time and time again as I evaluate the arguments, the claims that M rated games cause kids and young men to go shoot people in real life are just rehashes of the same old correlation stats. Meanwhile we have the FBI and other law enforcement agencies releasing figures that violent crime rates overall amongst these demographics are decreasing while the sales trackers of electronic games show that game sales are rapidly increasing since the 90s.
Looking through as many of the sources as I could, nobody could find a causal link between playing a videogame and murdering someone. Law enforcement studies, pediatric and adolescent researchers and psychologists from around the developed world have looked into this for the last 2 decades and have yet found no evidence or hard data linking real life rampages with killing polygonal avatars on a television screen with polygonal bullets. To say that some of these killers playing a game is the cause is about as sound in my opinion as blaming the eating of McDonald's cheeseburgers, because as Americans they likely also did that at least once in their life too.
What is going on here appears to me to be a desperate bid to pin the blame on one easy scapegoat and not evaluate things deeper or deflect criticisms of pet issues by some pundits and so-called "experts". It's such an easy kneejerk for the morality police to simply point the finger at videogames, as they once did at heavy metal, television, gangsta rap and horror flicks, and try and convince people that if we just got rid of this one thing that everything will be alright and we'll have magically solved society's ills overnight.
If only reality were that simple.
The truth is these events are an intricate mess of complicated and hotly debated political issues. Poverty, quality of mental health care and gun access are subjects which are not easy to deal with in a society as polarized as modern America is. Even trying to discuss these topics often leads to shouting matches and accusations of right-wing and left-wing extremism. Without the maturity to deal with these topics in an adult fashion as so many other first world nations have, I fear we'll continue to see these tragedies occur while we do nothing, paralyzed by our own innate tribalism in politics and the easy comforts of rallying behind simple scapegoating answers for complex problems.