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Buck-stopper: Sandy Hook puts games back in the dock

Tuesday, 18th December 2012 13:26 GMT By Dave Cook

The Sandy Hook school shootings have raised real concerns over US gun law, and elements of the press have (inevitably) cited gaming as their cause. VG247′s Dave Cook calls for time on buck-passing.

We should start looking at research carried out on affects of in-game violence without the cynical tone I often see used in such articles. Only then can we start to form insightful, genuinely meaningful stances on these complex and growing issues.

Games let us do horrific things, actions for which any civilian would be jailed and demonised. Murder, drug-use, property theft and vandalism run rife through games today, but these are condemned crimes in decent society.

Games are also a form of empowerment. They let us do these things without recourse, without guilt, and give us the power to slaughter digitally-crafted victims we will never know personally.

It would be foolish to deny that there is a lack of sympathy in games today, where squeezing a trigger or wielding a blade often takes precedent over simple objectives such as collecting things or solving a puzzle.

The triple-A industry has become besotted with the idea that high kill-counts and acts of violence are what you want in games.

Those of you who have broken away from this guided landscape to pursue abstract, passive experiences – think Journey and the rest of its artistic brethren – may look to the big budget market and scoff at the ‘sheep’ being fed the same old power-trip year-in-year-out, but mocking can gloss over the seriousness of some content. It’s actually, genuinely troubling at times.

Sandy Hook

On the morning of December 14, a gunman – who I won’t name here, as I personally feel that naming and giving press to these killers is part of why they do these despicable things in the first place – entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people.

The press swarmed over the shooting, naming and shaming the killer, plastering his name above newspaper folds and all over their red tops. They called him a monster.

He won. He got his 15 minutes, and will go down in history as a household name. What struck me as sad was just how much press the killer got, while the victim’s names received little coverage by comparison. This is par for the course following this kind of event, however, and won’t change any time soon.

It wouldn’t take long before a scapegoat was offered, and, as usual, gaming has been named as a potential cause of the killer’s motivation.

Here in the UK, one newspaper cited the killer’s ‘obsession’ with violent games – most notably Dynasty Warriors – as probable cause for carrying out his attacks. The publication called the killer a ‘coward’ in the first line of its article.

Another widely-loathed paper led with a headline on its front page that named Call of Duty as the catalyst for the killings.

Refreshingly, a US publication has issued a sober account of the shootings and has taken an objective and thoroughly-researched look at the correlation between gaming and the killer’s motivation.

Over on Facebook, a campaign has asked that gamers lay down arms and refrain from playing shooters on Friday in memory of those killed – although I can guarantee that the majority of people who take part will be unable to name a single victim from the shootings. I’m not exempt from this, and it worries me.

The Games Press

I chose to leave the sources of those examples unnamed as the games press is guilty of rising to the goading call after these tragedies.

This is how events like the Sandy Hook shooting have historically played out. First, the factual news reports come out after the shootings have taken place. Next, politicians and celebrities show their faces or put fingers to keyboard to express their condolences and either issue sincere regret or try to curry favour with whoever they need to curry favour with.

What follows is a spate of finger-pointing and questioning – who’s to blame? What needs to be done? Are our children safe? Is gun control required? Lastly, the games press – when games are yet again held accountable – dip their pens in acid fountains and write scorching rebuttals about how they are sick to death of their industry being placed in the stocks.

This is just as bad as the tabloid reaction.

Both game critics and gamers alike often reply with rapid-fire rebuttals that ask the media and politicians to back off, to leave our prized hobby alone, and that there is no way games like Dynasty Warriors or Call of Duty could ever make us kill innocent, real people.

Both sides are as bad as each other. Don’t forget that the games industry is still in its infancy when stacked against other, long-standing media such as music and film. Research on the ties between violence and gaming is just as young, and it’s clear there is still much work to be done.

I’m of a generation that grew up before the internet was available, where games were nothing more than blocky experiences with little resemblance of reality. We didn’t mature alongside realistic games, so it’s easy for us to scoff at the impact of violent, photo-real experiences on young minds.

Widespread media black-out of events like the Sandy Hook shootings in the gaming press aren’t the answer, but I do feel we need to stop rising to the bait of the tabloids and keep coverage of the gutter press off our pages. We should start looking at research carried out on affects of in-game violence without the cynical tone I often see used in such articles.

Only then can we start to form insightful, genuinely meaningful stances on these complex and growing issues, rather than responding to cheap, eye-grabbing news-stand fodder.

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27 Comments

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  1. Dragon246

    First of all, psychopaths are formed not just of a single factor, but a multitude of them compounding to form such a person. Games may well have played a part, but it could only have acted as a minor one, just like other mediums would in most cases.
    These people cant separate reality from fiction, and this not the responsibility of the medium, but of the person playing these games that they understand its a work of fiction.

    And of course, I don’t think any big shooter publishing pubs are bothered by this, because as saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. The media has got its bit of sensational headline, and the pubs get the money. Everyone is happy.
    As people pointed out, the problem is not a entertainment medium that started 4 decades ago, but a pathetic law (2nd amendment) that is existing for 4 decades+ 2 centuries and has outlived its use.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. theevilaires

    Video games will always be a source of blame for tragedies like this. Its unfortunate what happened and I can image what the victims are going through but this is the society we live in today. There are many sources besides video games that could have caused this.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. OrbitMonkey

    Well let’s be objective.

    He was a mentally disturbed young man.

    His mom was a survivalist, convinced apocalypse was around the corner.

    He had access to his mom’s impressive arsenal of firearms.

    His mom & dad had gone through a bitter divorce.

    Theirs a lot of pressures there… And personally I believe this guy was gonna pop, even if he’d never touched a gamepad. Or saw a action movie, or read a comic book, or had access to any media that is usually used to disguise a simple fact.

    When someone decides to burn it all down, living in a country where you can buy a bazooka, really increases the carnage they will do.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. Badger

    Great article, Dave. I had much the same thoughts running through my head when seeing the front page of “the widely-loathed”.

    As you’ve basically already said, if they’re going to be blaming video games for putting ideas into the killers head, then only the same can be said about the media itself. I hate the way these killers are put on pedestals, and the way the press cherry picks words and facts to create headlines, but at the same time I understand why this has to happen.

    I agree that some individuals may well be affected by these violent video games, but they are an absolutely tiny minority, and I hate being painted with the same brush. It makes me feel ashamed to be admit to being a gamer sometimes, because people will immediately assume I’m some dungeon dwelling future psychopath.

    I think the average person, though, will dismiss most of the papers speculations and only concentrate on the facts. And the fact of the matter here is that twenty seven people were killed by an unstable individual in a horrific event that needs never to happen again. In my opinion, gun control needs to be tighter and mental illness needs to be more widely understood and treated.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Ireland Michael

    Video games are simply one of many outlet for these kinds of people, not the cause. They were already mentally deranged to begin with.

    Undoubtedly, exposing yourself to this sort constant violent media will have long term effects on someone who is already severely mal-adjusted, but it can just as easily be violent movies, violent literature, or violent music as it can violent video games. People invest in things that relate to their own personal psych. Some people vent their aggression through video games. Some people vent their aggression through contact sport. Some vent it through shooting up a school full of elementary children.

    The whole thing is tragic, either way. My heart breaks for the children and the parents. That’s where our attention should lie.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. humanfish

    Nice work Dave. I have always been of the opinion that games have little to no impact on whether someone flips and becomes a mass murderer, much like many others, basing that on my own long history of gaming and lack of desire to kill. However, as you initmate, perhaps with the photo realism of games these days, and the additictive rush for many, perhaps in some small way it does contribute and impact on the decisions some already unhinged folk make. It is not the reason, but maybe part of it. It is certainly a debate that needs to be had, and research is required. Maybe unlike music or movies, being in charge of what is happening does change what is going on in some peoples brains.

    As for the media, i think Brooker best summed those vultures up
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PezlFNTGWv4

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Cobra951

    Great call on the sick (and endless) progression of events after every such tragedy, Dave. I applaud leaving out the names of all miscreants involved. I’ve been calling for that for years. My personal reaction has been a self-imposed news blackout, because like you, I knew exactly how this was going to play out. Once I knew what happened, where and when, anything that follows is not legitimate news anyway. And since the American media forget that the rest of the world exists for up to a week after such events, there is nothing but tabloid-like attention getting to see anyway.

    There is nothing to see, and nothing to be done. We cannot go back and change what happened. We cannot deliver painful justice to the dead perpetrator. We cannot prevent the next senseless slaughter with gun laws, game bans, or endless jawing on the subject. Only fighting fire with fire has any chance of working, and that is beyond the imagination of our soft society. Arming and training a select group of school staff will never happen.

    I cannot agree, however, with your conclusions. I find any suggestion of blame beyond the actual participants in such events to be scapegoating. We don’t have the real bad guys. We seldom if ever can deal with them directly. And we have an instinctive need to find and excise the source of our fears. Since we can’t get to it, we need to manufacture it. That human frailty is the only psychology I feel needs to be studied, published and understood. The bad guys are dead; we can’t prevent future bad guys. We can only try to stop them when they reveal themselves. If we’re soft and unprepared, they’ll prevail again, much like terrorism.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. TMRNetShark

    Smoking a cigarette, or smoking 20 cigarettes, a day will give you cancer eventually. The thing is, the person smoking one cigarette can get cancer while the person smoking 20 cigarettes will die at the ripe old age of 90.

    My point is, a vast majority of people who play video games are not violent people. When a shooting like this happens, everyone blames video games… but when a gang banger whose played every Call of Duty game shoots up a convenient store… “Oh, it’s because he’s a gang member.” Does anyone ever stop this think that these people maybe turned to video games as an escape for their lonely lives? Each one of these shooters seemed to have reclusive lives and played video games because they were bored or it kept their minds off of their real lives.

    I mean, if there was a correlation/causation between violent video games and violent acts… then lets go back to the smoking example. There are a great deal of functional people who play significantly more video games than these shooters can ever dream of playing. Yet these people don’t shoot up schools or even have a violent bone in their body. When compared to the number of people who smoke to the number of people who get cancer, it’s pretty freakin’ high (450K die from smoking related dieases/cancers each year). When you look at the number of people who play video games (in the hundreds of millions) compared to the 3 shooters of this year… A ~200 million to 3 chances cannot be considered “causation” or even correlation for that matter.

    PLEASE READ THIS:
    What we CAN look at, is how our society views people who are socially inept. We have bullies and we have the do-nothingers. Why do you think these shooters go after schools or large groups of people? Because no one was willing to accept these people! Any normal person would feel lonely and unwanted if you went through 12 years of school having no real friends or being bullied because of how you look or the way you talk or what you are interested in. Think about how many times some of those socially reclusive people tried to reach out to others only to get waved away. So what do you think these people did with their free time if they had no friends to go hang out with? Play video games maybe? So no, video games are not to be solely blamed here… society at large and how kids treat other kids really reflects how the bullied or unwanted grow up and development mentally.

    But hey, I’m no sociologist. I just play video games, happily go to college with great grades, have a loving girlfriend, and a wonderful family. I play tons of video games… and not a single moment has gone by where I thought my life was worthless to ever be violent towards one other person.

    So please, “rationalizing” the irrational is pointless… and trying to find a scapegoat… guns or video games or whatnot… will not solve the underlying problem that our society has.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Dave Cook

    @8 all interesting points, well said. I think we need to forget about gun crimes for one second though. What if early exposure to violent games leads to a rise in the number of domestic abuse cases? What about drunken fights on the street?

    There are so many probable influences of violent games on young minds that we may not be aware of. It could be a simple case of a child who is exposed to them being unable to play well with others, or it could lead to them being abuse in later life – the same goes for violent films of course.

    Yes there are many gamers out there and relatively few shootings, but violence can make many forms, just like there are many forms of cancer than come from smoking.

    Again ace post mate, let’s keep the discussion rolling :)

    #9 1 year ago
  10. TMRNetShark

    @9

    Oh? We are talking about parents who irresponsibly are clueless about what their child is playing in the confines of their own home? So if we drop out everyone who is 18+ who plays violent video games and focus solely on kids who play solely violent video games?

    Guess who is to blame there? The parents! Beyond a careless electronics/gaming store employee or older sibling, who else is buying violent video games (that clearly have the ratings on the front and back of the covers) for these kids? Then, are the parents so clueless that they don’t see their kids playing and doing violent acts in these video games for hours and think… “Uhh, this isn’t healthy.”

    How clueless can you be where you don’t realize or even know anything about your children! I am not a parent, and will likely not be one for another 10 years, so I have no similar experiences to support why parents buy violent video games for their kids.

    Now, “I” passed the buck to parents who neglect to be strong role models or are unaware of what video games their kids play. As a gamer of almost 20 years now, I will not lie and say that my older brother *didn’t* buy me M-rated video games while I was under the age of 17. My first video game was Half Life and I played that as a scared and terrified little 11 year old. I played Vice City and San Andreas, along with all the other “popular” video games. Hell, the first game I got for Xbox 360 was Call of Duty 2. The thing is, I’m ONE person and in no way reflective of the norm. I had an involved family, I had friends (who were just as socially awkward as I was… but I felt like the “leader” and helped us branch out to other “normal” people), and I never let myself be reclusive.

    Other people… are not as mentally strong. That’s why they need a strong family presences, good friends, and to be able to socialize with the world. So maybe violent video games have an ill effect on kids… but that wouldn’t happen if there were other people in these killer’s lives that supported them and made them feel like they were part of their lives.

    #10 1 year ago
  11. DrDamn

    Single most common reason parents give is “All their friends are playing it” I think. Heard this recently from a parent of a 10 year old who plays Blops.

    #11 1 year ago
  12. Dave Cook

    @10 Nice. Yeah there definitely is a responsibility there with the parents although I can’t say too much on that front as I’m not a parent myself. I’d like to think that most parents are firm with their kids and bar them from playing mature content.

    I remember working at Gamestation and Game back in the day, telling parents that they game they were buying for their kids was full of guns, crime, sex, drugs or whatever, and the typical response being, ‘yeah, but they want it’.

    So I’d have to sell it to the parents. It always utterly baffled me. But how do we fix that? I’m not so sure.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. OlderGamer

    Jack the Ripper didn’t play video games.

    Games are only one piece of the puzzle.

    #13 1 year ago
  14. SlayerGT

    Excellent Dave. Just excellent.

    #14 1 year ago
  15. OrbitMonkey

    @Dave, Its ALL about the parents mate. The parents are the single biggest influence on any child.

    My son gets a bit excited watching Spongebob, which is actually quite violent, so I step him & tell him to calm down. Simple really.

    Obviously theirs folk who don’t get the simple concept of providing boundaries for their sprogs…

    Or who rather unfortunately fill their mentally challenged offspring Reith talk of the apocalypse & allow them access to the family arsenal :-/

    #15 1 year ago
  16. TMRNetShark

    @12

    That’s a common problem everywhere. Just how pro-gun groups don’t want to do anything about gun control… parents don’t want to be seen as the cause of why their children do such violent acts. You cannot deny the sale of a mature rated game to an adult, even if you know they are buying it for a minor. Yet with cigarettes/alcohol, if they see you buying cigarettes/alcohol for minor… that’s a federal offense.

    Then you look at the differences between substances and a piece of media. One is a creation that can or may alter the way a person thinks… for better or worse. The other is chemical that can or may alter the way a person feels(+how their body reacts)… for better or worse.

    So while drugs/alcohol can never be seen as freedom of speech, video games are. I think it should be kept that way, but we come back to the matter of how do we keep kids from playing violent video games if their parents don’t care… even when they are just as quick to turn on video games if something like this happens? Just how you cannot rationalize the irrational… you cannot reason with the unreasonable.

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Dave Cook

    @16 “Just how you cannot rationalize the irrational… you cannot reason with the unreasonable.”

    Very well said indeed. This is absolutely true.

    #17 1 year ago
  18. Cobra951

    @8:

    Great post. I’ll add that correlation is not causation, or even indicative of causation. I’ll use the very real correlation between sales of ice cream and violent crime rate. The real cause for both should be fairly obvious. Hidden causality is not obvious at all in other correlations. Banning games to prevent school shootings would be like banning ice cream to prevent violent crime. You would be banning an escape, and if anything, making things worse.

    #18 1 year ago
  19. Dave Cook

    @18 Also well said. There are so many levels of blame here that it makes my head spin a bit. Folk saying that guns should be banned outright aren’t really thinking straight either.

    I’m anti-guns, but like I said, why isn’t the entire gun-wielding populace shooting up a school each week? There’s something there to be analysed on a much deeper level that no one seems to be addressing to my knowledge.

    #19 1 year ago
  20. Ireland Michael

    @15 You can have perfectly decent parents and still end up with an emotional wreck of a child.

    @19 Some people are just mentally unbalanced or… well… evil.

    #20 1 year ago
  21. Da Man

    I didn’t know pressing buttons in between premade computer graphics sequences is how people express themselves..

    Apparently psychedelics alter the way your body reacts and how you err, ‘feel’. And alcohol does that too..

    Smh. In the realm of the internets things are either true or they become true.. I wonder if internet alters the way some people think.

    Oh well, you learn new things every day.

    #21 1 year ago
  22. DSB

    I haven’t seen anyone linking this to games, so that’s some kind of progress.

    @19 That’s no kind of logic on guns, though. The fact is the countries with the most guns have the most deaths as a result of guns.

    It’s never going to be a majority, and besides, I don’t think it’s an argument that’s worth angling as “Why shouldn’t we have guns?” – How about a decent reason for it? It was included to secure a militia against the British, and obviously people in countries with fewer guns die a lot less from gunshots.

    #22 1 year ago
  23. Clupula

    I don’t think that we should blame any games for actions like this. Nor movies. Nor books. I do not believe that we should have to censor ourselves or limit our creative freedoms because there are people out there who are mentally ill. As a musician and an author, I often handle violent or disturbing subjects in my art and it is not my job to worry that some nutjob may interpret things in a way that leads him to violence.

    That same person could be inspired by anything to do what they did. Games do not make people more violent. If anything, they’re a release. I was a pretty violent kid and having a video outlet to release that aggression saved a lot of damage. Eventually discovering music made me even less violent, because I could make aggressive music.

    Tell me what inspired the man in China who attacked 22 children with a knife? Was it Call of Duty? Was it Dynasty Warriors? Or was it the voices in his head?

    The fact is that violence is born into some people. And mental illness is often born into people as well. The thing that nobody seems to be discussing is that the United States did $4.3 billion in cuts to mental health services last year, alone, and yet everybody wonders why things like this happen. In New York City, you see the mentally ill homeless all the time, all over, and they cannot be committed against their will, by law, due to a lawsuit during the 80′s. The same type of person who just recently pushed a man in front of a subway car, to his death.

    To treat the mentally ill, however, would take effort and cost money, so we look at everything but the actual problem. Let’s take away the weapons they use. Let’s take away the things they watch for entertainment. But let’s never tackle the actual problem. Let’s never try to get these people help.

    One of my ex’s had a violently mentally ill brother who stabbed their grandfather with a fork at Thanksgiving dinner once, and the amount of money it cost her family to try to keep him stable was astronomical. She even said to me, after seeing what happened in Connecticut, that if her brother wasn’t doped up all the time, he probably would have done something like that.

    But the media do not want you to focus on that, because it requires care and money. It’s much better to sensationalize things or to give press to lobbying groups that claim there is a relation between the media and violence.

    We often think the world is becoming a more violent place. Any student of history will tell you it is not. We’re just becoming more media-obsessed and something that happens a world away is on our monitors within minutes. That’s why we hear more of things that before we would have never heard of. In today’s world, the forests of people Vlad Tepses made would have been up on the tabloids before the first impaled person even died.

    That’s why we think things are worse than they ever were. But we ignore what needs to be done, in favor of fear and loathing.

    #23 1 year ago
  24. Clupula

    @22 – I’ve seen quite a few, sadly.

    Joseph Liebermann, who is always willing to jump in front of an camera present, is one of the biggest people calling this the result of murder simulators.

    Also, that’s not true about countries with more guns. Canada has more guns per person than the United States but not even a fraction of the gun deaths.

    #24 1 year ago
  25. Dave Cook

    @22 “The fact is the countries with the most guns have the most deaths as a result of guns.”

    Well yeah, that’s just maths isn’t it?

    #25 1 year ago
  26. DSB

    @24 I don’t really see that as anything worth responding to, though.

    Liebermann is a nutjob, he always was. There may be a few of his kind and a couple of tabloid journalists in the UK trying to sell newspapers, but how is that any kind of attack on gaming?

    Tipper Gore tried to ban heavy metal in the 80′s for the exact same reasons that people are now putting on games. The UK actually prosecuted metal bands based on those assumptions, obviously losing in spectacular fashion.

    This looks to me like a select few “professional indignants” beating the same drums they always do, to the exact same effect; Nada. Validating them with these kinds of articles is lending them legitimacy they never deserved.

    Why give it to them if you don’t want to give it to Adam Lanza?

    #26 1 year ago
  27. Gheritt White

    I agree with every word of this article, good going Dave!

    #27 1 year ago