Violence and Gaming; By Hazel Moss

 
No one wants to claim that dirty R word - Responsibility
 
(Important Preface:) Almost 9 years ago, I wrote an unpublished (save for a few now dead forums,) piece on the effects of violence in video games. The piece took months to write and compose, I contacted several game developers and publishers, who all declined to comment, and of course, attempted to get an email interview from the infamous (and now disbarred,) John ‘Jack’ Thompson. (The response was so childish and full of foul language, it never made it into the final piece. To give some fairness to JT, he was clinging on to his career as a lawyer by his fingertips, and losing grip badly.) At the time, video gaming was undergoing the traditional backlash, because something bad had happened. It was taking the place of metal and rock music, pulp fiction books, and graphically gory movies, and taking the heat. Blamed for a number of violent and atrocious crimes at the time, the general call to arms was that these evil games were somehow causing our children to lose their shit and kill everyone.  Of course, as time passed, and the furor died down, these claims were laid to the back in the armory, ready to be pulled out and released at a later date. 
On the 14th of December, 2012 Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School, and cruelly took the lives of twenty innocent children, and six of their carers. 
There are no words to describe the anguish and loss the community directly surrounding this tragedy experience. There is little comfort that can be sought. It is not my intention here to belittle or mock the pain and terrible loss the families involved have suffered. I want to make that clear before I continue. My sole purpose here is to look at one thing; how it came to be that video games took the brunt of the blame, when it came to trying to explain Lanza’s actions, or infact, the actions of any similar tragic circumstance.
 
Its been a time old, and often researched quandary. Does exposure to violent content in media encourage our violence to one and other? Parties on both sides will hold their arguments, some of them valid, some of them so nonsensical they are beyond disbelief. But are we missing the bigger picture here? When it comes down to it, does it really matter if we’re left with a momentary fleeting feeling of aggressive superiority against others? If video games, and the violence they contain, have such an impact on us psychologically, surely it stands to reason that all of those out there playing them are actually psychotic rage filled killing machines, waiting to unleash themselves on us all? This is clearly not the case. So what is it exactly that brings this violent media stream into the limelight when these horrific occurrences happen?
 
The USA has some of the highest instances of gun related crime in the world. Its a pretty safe bet that of the most heinous of these crimes, someone, somewhere along the line, has stated that violent video games are associated with the felon in question. It is not, however, (and very surprisingly,) top of the list when it comes to computer game sales.
 
 
 
 
(Original chart taken from: Washington Post, edited by author.)

This shows us something extremely interesting. The USA is only second from bottom when it comes to number of computer games purchased annually, yet it ranks the highest, and astoundingly so, when it comes to violent crime. Its so high in fact, the outlier isn’t even considered part of the trend. 
 
This graphic doesn’t reveal all though. Its missing some key details, the type of video games bought in those region, which people are buying and playing, and perhaps most importantly, are the parents monitoring their child’s gaming habits?.
 
 As a general rule of thumb, Asia is more likely to invest heavily in home grown role play games, the west has a predilection for action and adventure, and the USA is a close run between shooters and action games.You would assume then, that the USA has a higher percentage in sales of mature rated games? This just is not the case. Of all the games sold in 2011, 26.5% were rated M for Mature. Compared to 39.9% rated E for Everyone, Teen and E10+ take the rest of the sales fairly evenly.  So, according to The EESA’s Essential Facts for 2012, America isn’t buying that many Mature rated violent games. 
 
Another quick couple of points, the average age of a gamer is 30, the average age of someone purchasing a game is 35, 85% of parents are aware and recognize the ERSB ratings scheme, and finally, 91% of parents actively monitor the content of their child’s games, and this is important to remember.
 
We can pull all the graphs and point out why the tying video games to violence is wrong, that we like. The unfortunate fact of the matter is, in the USA there is a correlation. The problem is how the media reports that tie. Key details are often dismissed, skimmed over, or omitted completely when it comes to these cases.  The 1999 Columbine disaster, the (now proven,) predatory psychosis of Harris and his control over Klebold, was more conveniently blamed on metal music, social pariahism, bullying, and perhaps one of the most focused on illegitimate points; the video game ‘Doom.’ The same problem raises its ugly head when other, more recent cases, such as the tragic Aurora Cinema shooting, and the inexcusable Sandy Hook Massacre. 
 
In regards to Aurora, CNN was more than happy to jump on the fact that video games like Skyrim, Starcraft, and Oblivion had been found at Holmes place of residence. These are not your usual line up that get dragged into the spotlight whenever these horrible events occur. It was later revealed that, whilst James Holmes played these games, (rated M, T, and Oblivion, originally rated T, was altered to M due to a user created and unofficial game modification released after launch,) his number one, most played game? Guitar Hero (rated E/T depending on release version.) Thats right. The game most played by this sadistic killer was a music simulation game. [As an aside, the cries that are warrant to come of ‘but those games are full of satanic metal music, go play a GH game, or Rock Band, -then- come back to me.] 
 
And this is the problem, once you start digging into the stories behind these claims that the media makes, huge holes are either uncovered from their purposeful omission, or they develop naturally once the gaming habits of these fiends are held up against the rest of their personal lives. In every single case mentioned so far, without fail, either a history of mental illness, or a previously ignored or undiagnosed condition has been prevalent. In almost all cases, the pattern of ignorance and neglect from the parents of the perpetrators runs almost parallel to their immersion in video games. Bullying plays a part too, with the exception of Harris (Columbine) where reports suggest he suffered from a superiority complex that drove him to bully others. 
 
So this is where we come to a head. perhaps its time we all started to take a little responsibility for what happens in our families, our neighbourhoods, our towns, cities, and our countries. It is all too easy, and disturbingly comforting, for our media sources to develop scapegoats for these tragic events. It easier for us to blame something deemed faceless, like a videogame, or a heavy metal song, because that means we, as people, and parents, do not have to come to terms with the fact that these killers had parents. They had people at home that cared for them. (That is to say if ‘care’ can be classified as leaving your child to play computer games unattended for hours on end, as was the case with Lanza.) That makes them like our children, like us. Is there something about the human psyche that cannot accept or is unwilling to process and deal with that kind of information? If we impart some (and I by no means suggest here it is all the fault of the parents,) of the blame to the parents, does that not by proxy blame us, as parents and people for leaving the children in our care to play video games? Does that make us as bad as them? 
 
Another startling problem that rears its ugly head is the state of the mental health care systems in the UK and, most notably, in the USA. Such a high percentage of these culprits are reported to be diagnosed with psychological problems of varying types before these events occur. The question raises itself, is the system ignoring the complexity of these problems, or is it not adequate enough to properly identify and treat the severity of them? Do we here reach the point of scapegoating as a solution to a financial problem? Is it easier to ignore this, than to make the funds available to properly treat these people? Is mental health this much of a taboo that we are either ignorant to it as a species, or we fail to justify the means?  
 
I recently surveyed my small collection of facebook users on their thoughts when it came to violent video games. 100% of those who responded play video games. The overwhelming majority of them declared they found video games to be their number one source of stress relief after a hard day at work. All of them agreed that leaving children to play video games unchecked was a bad idea. Not a single one of them reported that video games made them want to carry out violent actions in the real world. The general consensus was quite the opposite. Because they had this fantasy world to relieve tension, it vastly improved their coping mechanisms in day to day life when it came to high stress situations. At least 1/3rd of respondents have, to my knowledge suffered from a recognized form of mental illness at some time in their life. Not a single one of them said that this made them want to go out into the world and kill. Now, I openly admit this is not a comprehensive, or scientifically viable survey, but its a start. It also corroborates with the vast majority of unbiased scientifically certified surveys already completed. Most interestingly, Jerald Block, (a psychologist that defied the FBI’s theory on the Columbine massacre, and laid the blame squarely with video games,) unwittingly defeats his own argument in his research.
 ‘Following their January 1998 arrest for theft, both youths had computer access restricted. Block believes that their personal anger, which was initially projected into video games, was now unleashed into the real world. In addition, the restriction of their computer access opened up substantial amounts of idle time that would have otherwise gone towards their online activities. Block said Harris and Klebold increasingly used this free time to express their anger, with their antisocial tendencies likewise increasing. This, in turn, generated further restrictions. Ultimately, after the 1998 arrest and their being banned from personal computer access for approximately one month, the two teens became homicidal and began documenting plans to attack the school. Block writes that the plan to attack the school first appears in Klebold's writings, and that Klebold may have considered using a different partner-in-crime than Harris. This person's name was redacted from Klebold's journal by police.’ Jerald Block. Lessons From Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry. July 2007.
 
It seems far fetched, (and considering the mental health situation of both these killers, the question is how long would videogames had the effect,) but the evidence here clearly points to the fact that video games kept their homicidal tendencies at bay. Its only after they are taken away from videogames that the homicidal emotional disturbances begin to become truly prevalent in the real world.
 
So, I come back to a point raised previously. Isn’t it time we ALL started to take a little responsibility for our actions? That we, as parents, stop buying our children Mature rated games, we stop leaving them on their own for hours on end, and interact, as a family, more often? Isn’t it time we lobbied and promoted mental health awareness, and made the treatments and therapies our children and guards desperately need more readily available? Most importantly, is it not time we asked the media to stop is sensationalist reporting? That we demand they report the facts, and do their job by providing us with the information we need to ensure the good mental well being of our loved ones? 
Isn’t it time we stopped blaming everyone but ourselves, took onus for our actions, and worked towards finding a way to prevent another tragic and needless loss of life, or lives?
 
If you need help, or have been affected in anyway by this piece, the following may help: 
www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_tips an online resource for self help and more.
www.nami.org National Alliance on Mental Illness
www.thenationalcouncil.org The National Mental Health Council
www.samaritans.org The Samaritans (available 24/7)
 
Mosside writes for herself and has been gaming for 25 years. You can find her at: 
www.facebook.com/fantasticfreakshow
https://www.facebook.com/ModernGameReviews
Twitter @mossmosside
Sources include: 
http://www.mid-day.com/news/2013/feb/190213-cops-study-violent-video-games-link-in-sandy-hook-massacre.htm
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/sandy-hook-shooter-motivated-by-422271
http://www.examiner.com/article/colorado-cinema-massacre-shooter-guitar-hero-obsessed
http://kotaku.com/5976781/25-video-game-violence-studies-summarized
http://videogames.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=003627
http://www.examiner.com/article/gamers-sigh-relief-as-aurora-shooting-not-tied-to-video-games
http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm?POE=click-refer
These piece may be distributed freely on condition that all acknowledgements to the author remain intact, the piece may not be copied in part, and may only be reused in whole. 
Copyright of all original content: H E Moss 2013