Video Violence

After the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, the government has been attempting to understand gun-related violence and trying to amend current gun legislation to prevent future atrocities. Much to everyone’s surprise, Congress isn’t exactly getting along, as Democrats in the House are fighting back against Republicans who claim that video games lead to gun-related violence.

This isn’t exactly a novel claim, as video games have been under fire for quite some time.

Those in the spotlight include ones that involve violence such as the popular “Call of Duty” and “Halo” series. Attempting to understand the motivation behind the recent proliferation of gun violence in America, the government has been looking for a tangible scapegoat for these outbursts of violence, with the victim being video games. Many government officials have been quick to correlate playing video games to displays of aggressive behavior.

Science disagrees though, and many scientists are forced to keep in mind that correlation does not imply causation.

Just because executors of violent acts play violent video games doesn’t make the video games the instigator of such aggression. Critics of violent video games have anchored their claim in instances such as the Columbine and Oslo massacres, where perpetrators and analysts cite video games as the reason behind these rampages.

Let’s take a look at the Columbine incident, specifically. In 1999, two teenagers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, opened fire at staff and students at their high school, Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Harris and Klebold both had a history of playing violent video games, which led many to jump to the conclusion that the video games the boys played contributed to one of the most horrific high school shootings.

Do video games have the influence to encourage a person to commit murder? Two boys don’t simply go and kill their classmates, friends and themselves because they were cooped up in their rooms playing too many video games; that gives video games a bit too much credit and is awfully shortsighted.

The reason video games take the heat is understandable. Naturally, everyone wants to jump on the most visible explanation of a shooting. Violent video games are easy to point fingers at, which paves the way for the government to swoop in and save the day with legislation preventing video games and bottlenecking violence.

But the problem is much deeper than virtual violence. And to see that, we have to get over our preoccupation that violent video game players will become instigators of the zombie apocalypse. Video games are a scapegoat for a bigger problem, one not addressed nearly as much as it should be: mental health. Aggression isn’t something that is encouraged through video games; it’s a deep-rooted psychological issue that we cannot afford to ignore. However, because psychological diseases are not something that legislation solves, it naturally gets swept under a rug (one which I am convinced covers a black hole).

Harris and Klebold already had pent up aggression towards members of their school that wasn’t promoted by playing violent video games.

Hypothetically, if Harris and Klebold didn’t play violent video games, would they still have committed the heinous act they did? Probably. The level of aggression and violence needed to kill their peers and themselves, people who they know and interact with on a daily basis, is a sentiment more complex than the violence video games provide.

Trying to beat around the bush is a pretty immature way to deal with mental health. If the government really wants to try and prevent aggression and future tragedies, then blaming violent video games wouldn’t cut it. Video games don’t alone contribute such atrocious murderers. Our attention and resources in this battle should be geared towards the issue of aggression and mental health and understanding the psychology behind murder.

The mission to end violence through blaming video games will end in failure. But if Congress is willing to accept it, the mission to curb acts of violence through addressing mental health issues, such as aggression, appears more promising.

Aliza Asad is a first-year international studies major and can be reached at aasad@uci.edu.