Attack of the Violent Video Games: The Art and Science of Missing the Point

demo1024x768Recently, I’m sorry to report an eight-year old child took a gun and blew his grandmother’s brains out. This event apparently happened shortly after he played Grand Theft Auto IV. The media, always ready to go with hook over substance, has taken its cue to trot out the familiar “violent video games are the cause of all the mayhem and destruction in the world” meme. I’ve already talked about the nonsense studies most often cited in these cases in my  Violent Media Linked to…Stupid post, so there’s no need for a point-by-point refutation again.   However, since the entirety of the debate seems to be focused in the wrong place, let’s take a moment to go back over the basics.

We see this story time and time again. Back in 1999 in Columbine, Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold collected an impressive array of firearms and went on a killing frenzy in their high schools before turning the guns on themselves. Their parents sued the video game manufacturers, because apparently deeply abnormal, violent psychopathy is a result of playing the popular video game Doom. Less than a year ago, Adam Lanza armed himself to the teeth before going to Sandy Hook Elementary and murdering 26 people. Reports say authorities discovered a “trove” of violent video games in his basement. The implication there is clear.  And now we have an eight-year old killing his grandmother supposedly right after a Grand Theft Auto IV session.

Video games causing violence is the pinnacle of lazy reporting. Sure, the studies most often brought up in the debate are nonsensical and in some cases prove the exact opposite point, but if we all just believe enough and click our heels together three times, I bet we can make it true. The are so many problems with this line of thinking that one doesn’t know where to begin.  But let’s start with Columbine.

In Colorado, this particular kill-crazy rampage didn’t happen after an all-nighter filled with Doom and copious amounts of Mountain Dew. It actually happened after the parents took away the game. Again, if one wanted to make a lazy causative related analysis, you could make the point that not having the violent video game was the cause of the violence (because…video game withdrawal = guns?).  As for Mr. Lanza, he already had a bevy of mental issues and was mostly described by family members with phrases like “deeply disturbed kid”, “ticking time-bomb”, and “unstable” according to the NY Daily News. Apparently Lanza was also totally obsessed with Anders Behring Breivik, the mass murderer from Norway who killed 67 people. It’s like wow, remember that kid that we were all a little freaked out by, the one who was prone to both depression and anxiety and idolized a mass murderer, turns out he killed a bunch of people before killing himself. Must have been those video games. Most recently we have this unnamed boy from Louisiana who killed his grandmother. Let me let the mainstream media in on another similarity between these cases — something that I believe is the actual cause of these murders — EASY ACCESS TO FUCKING GUNS!

Let’s see, the Columbine kids got their shotguns from an unlicensed dealer from a gun-show and purchased their TEC-9 pistols from a pizza employee. Something to remember whenever the NRA says guns control legislation that includes things like background checks wouldn’t stop any gun violence. Adam Lanza’s mother was a survivalist, which is a euphemistic way of saying that she’s a nut who thinks the world is going to end and therefore stockpiles guns and ammunition. Hence the arsenal of two hand-guns, two hunting rifles, and a .223 semi-automatic rifle. Intense mental problems aside, the question isn’t what types of video games these people enjoyed — but why on earth do they have such easy access to firearms?

This goes double, triple, quadruple with the case of an armed eight-year-old killer. I have no idea if he had any sort of mental health issues. But even if he were the best-behaved, most docile kid in the world, here’s what you don’t do: Leave a loaded firearm where that child or any other child can access it. Why the father hasn’t been brought up on charges, I’ll never understand. But keeping a loaded .38 caliber handgun in a pouch or purse as the District Attorney described to CNN is not what’s known as “securing” a firearm. It’s more accurately described as “completely irresponsible.” These incidents are obviously all tragic, but these tragedies had nothing to do with video games.

Reading the news, though, you’d really never even think about the glaringly obvious Occam’s-razor angle to this story. Articles entitled Did ‘Grand Theft Auto’ turn an 8-year-old into a killer? just drive better traffic than “Irresponsible parenting ends in tragedy for Louisiana family.”  To be fair, the actual article has a lot more nuance than its title would suggest. Still, I don’t understand how we’re at a point where a very young child kills somebody with a gun, and rather than looks at the guns themselves, widespread access to firearms, the importance of gun safety, etc., we skip right on over to pop culture. Because in our enlightened day and age, we judge a family not by the quality of their common sense but by the content of their video game console.

Let’s make one thing very, very clear: Violent video games do not make people kill other people.  Easy access to violent video games does not allow people to kill other people, it does not encourage people to kill other people, it does not create incentives for people to kill other people. Violent video games have about as much to do with real-world, actual violence as Michelangelo’s David has to do with criminal incidents of indecent exposure. Guns, on the other hand? Those actually do kill people. Easy access to guns creates an environment where people are more likely to get injured or killed by gun violence — including children, who are increasingly becoming the collateral damage of our inbred, stuttering cultural procrastination in accomplishing gun control reform.

In a country where guns aren’t so omnipresent and casually distributed, it is very, very likely that we wouldn’t have stories like the Louisiana boy who killed his grandmother, the three-year old Michigan boy killed himself with a gun he found in a broom closet, or the five-year old Kentucky boy who accidentally shot and killed his two-year old sister. But even if those tragic anomalies still slipped through the cracks, we definitely cut down the number on the 7,766 children that were “only” hurt from 2001-2010 in accidental firearm discharges.

But then again, mainstream media, we all know how this works. You’ve totally given up on the fight about actually regulating access to guns. But can we at least talk about the people who own them following some very basic safety protocols? You know, stuff like if my child is underage or has a history of mental instability, he won’t get access to things that will enable him to kill bunches of people — or even just one? It’s a really low bar, but in this country, that alone could be a game changer.

But why do that when there’s this convenient patsy that people already don’t like — violent media, so charming, always ready and willing to please? Stupid counterproductive violent media meme, we just can’t quit you.

So consider this my final call, until the inevitable next time: media, I know you’re a junkie for what’s grabby, easy and already-understood-to-be-true, but try to do a little better in your messaging, analysis and focus. You can start with one rule: if your arguments resemble anything that Wayne LaPierre says, ever, you should not only rethink your argument but possible the entirety of your life. If you can get that one little thing down, who knows what you might accomplish next.

Categories: Geekery, Politics Fix

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