With President Obama’s recent announcement of 23 different gun control-focused executive actions, violence and its causes are back in the national discussion. Examining violence in America is something that needs to be done, especially as we see more and more extreme violent scenarios taking place. In the wake of the events at Sandy Hook Elementary, Americans, the media and the government have all been looking for someone to blame, as people often do in the wake of tragedy.
I have been disappointed to see video games, particularly violent video games, re-entering the national dialogue. In a press conference last month, the NRA misdirected the blame some were placing on guns, instead partially blaming violent video games and Hollywood. One of President Obama’s 23 executive actions calls for a Center for Disease Control study examining the relationship between violence and “media images” including video games.
As what some refer to as a “millennial,” I have always lived with video games. After playing Super Mario Bros. with my father when I was five, it has always been one of my primary hobbies. I have been playing video games of all kinds, including a number of violent video games, since I was in elementary school. I have never committed a violent act against another human being. I have never thrown a punch or shoved someone to the ground. Rarely have I ever felt the desire. There was never a moment in my life where I believed a single thing I experienced in a video game to be real or to be somehow simulating the real world.
That said, looking only at one person is not an accurate barometer for how video games could be affecting America’s youth. I am sure that is President Obama’s rationale in calling for a $10 million CDC study on the matter. Interestingly enough, the U.S. Dept. of Justice already funded a $1.5 million Harvard study examining video game violence seven years ago.
While the popularity and accessibility of violent video games have increased over the years, youth violence, particularly murder, has plummeted dramatically. In cases like the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the media was quick to blame violent video games when in fact, Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter, was never seen by his roommate playing a video game, something other students found strange as it was socially normal to play them. A U.S. Secret Service study examined 37 non-gang and non-drug related school shootings and stabbings between 1974 and 2000 and found that there was no accurate profile for perpetrators of violence. In fact, only one in eight shooters showed any interested in violent video games and only one in four enjoyed violent movies.
Like any product or form of entertainment, there is room for video games, if left uncontrolled, to do harm in a person’s life, but how many more government studies will it take before organizations and politicians decide the facts are unavoidable and that violent video games do not create violent children? Since reasonable and informed examination and debate seems to be impossible, I say it’s time for a new scapegoat.