Donald Trump says he will be meeting with heads of video game companies next week to discuss violence and video games. This is in response to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida that was carried out by a former student who’s believed to be mentally ill. The topic of mental health and access to firearms has been a topic of debate since the shooting at Sandy Hook but one thing always comes up that makes records scratch; “it’s the fault of video games.”
This has been a topic of debate since the ‘90s, do video games cause crime? Well, this goes back a bit more, 1979 to be exact when a strange incident was blamed on a board game. Back in 1979 child prodigy, James Dallas Egbert III vanished from his dorm room at Michigan State University leaving behind a suicide note. While the search for the boy was underway it was theorized by a private detective working for Egbert’s family, that the boy was obsessed with the game Dungeons and Dragons which students at the university are said to play a “live action” version of the game in the steam tunnels under the campus, a mix of playing the board game and what we now call Larping. As soon as this theory reached the media, the story flew out of control where experts and amateurs claimed that it was the fault of D&D for young Egbert’s disappearance.
The truth was more heartbreaking, Egbert attempted to kill himself via poison in the steam tunnels under the school, when the attempt failed he went into hiding, moving from place to place before arriving in New Orleans where he attempted suicide again by poison and failed. After leaving New Orleans, Egbert contacted the private investigator his family hired and told him where he was. The investigator met up with Egbert and heard his story and was promised to secrecy. Egbert was left by the investigator in the care of a relative. A year later, Egbert ended his life with a shot to the head. The child prodigy’s death was still blamed on the board game while the official report concluded that Egbert suffered from depression, drug addiction, loneliness, pressure from his parents, and possibly difficulty with coming to terms of being a homosexual (according to the family private investigator).
Fast forward to 1997, 13-year-old Noah Wilson was killed by a friend who stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife. The circumstances surrounding Wilson’s death is murky but his mother claimed that his friend was obsessed with Mortal Kombat 3 and believed he was a character from the game, the courts ruled against Wilson’s mother’s claim.
Since then there were roughly 15 cases in the United States where video games were blamed for violent acts but among this one was used as part of an insanity plea by Jack Thompson in the case of Dustin Lynch in 2003. Thompson who’s an outspoken critic of the Grand Theft Auto games stated that Lynch was obsessed with Grand Theft Auto III which led to him murder a young woman. Lynch eventually recanted his insanity plea and was found guilty and sentenced 20 years to life. Thompson’s views on gamers, in general, are pretty negative especially when it comes to anything GTA.
If claims made by Thompson and other video game critics were true, that games train/make people violent, then with all the people playing Grand Theft Auto 5 online, or playing the first-person shooting games like Call of Duty (nearly half the world’s population), the world should look like a scene out of The Purge. If video games are not causing people to become violent, then what is? Remember James Dallas Egbert III? He had some unresolved issues, one of which was drug addiction, video game addiction is a real and like any addict, there’s always the possibility of violence. Semel Institute of UCLA says that addiction causes rational people to become irrational and violent, heck if you’ve ever watched the show Intervention you see it!
We’ve all heard of addictive personalities, where someone is prone to becoming addicted to something and sometimes addiction can be a symptom of passive-aggressive personality disorder that has other symptoms that could be intensified while playing violent video games. Many of the symptoms of passive-aggressive personality disorder appear on pages 17-19 in the FBI’s school shooter threat assessment that was written after the Columbine school shooting. In the assessment it’s mentioned in the social dynamics section that one has to look at the school shooter’s choice in what they do outside of school, this included activities and entertainment…that’s it, no elaboration or specifics mentioned.
You look at the Sandy Hook shooter; he played both violent and non-violent video games but seemed to play more non-violent ones. One game he seemed to play most often for hours (4-10 hours at a time) at home or in public was Dance Dance Revolution. This actually correlates with a study done by the Secret Service in 2002 where they studied 41 school shooters and found that only 12% of them were “attracted” to violent video games, the 5th volume of the Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling stated the number was low compared to the number of “non-criminal” youths who seem to be more attracted to violent games. I’m not saying all people who play non-violent video games are social ticking time bombs but this seems to be poking more holes in the claims.
The scientific and psychology fields have become a battlefield of debate where findings are being published without peer review (a big no-no in the scientific community) causing other research to be lost in the shuffle due to biased findings (for both arguments) being presented as fact. I’ve noticed in some of the research that they’re not considering other factors while doing these studies, for example, that violent video games raise stress, was it this individual’s first time playing this particular game? Did you do a baseline observation of their stress/aggression levels playing a violent video game that they are familiar with, and what about their home life and mental state?
When it comes down to it, with the millions of copies of video games sold yearly, the hours spent playing, how pretty much everyone plays video games in one form or another violent or not. Because of this, in theory, there should be more violence right? Do video games really make people violent, do they? When a big tragedy occurs and there’s a massive loss of life, there’s topics and questions we should really be looking into or asking but we’re very uncomfortable to do so.
Maybe the solution to the problem is in front of us but instead of tackling it we go in a completely different direction like a parent walking in to an all-white room and seeing blue paint splattered on the walls and two kids standing in the middle of the room covered in the same paint, but instead of yelling at the kids they go to the microwave and scold it for not stopping the kids from playing in paint. That’s what this sort of feels like. Yes, I love video games, I’ve been playing for years, I also have clinical depression, diagnosed at 14, and as weird as it sounds to you, along with medications and support from loved ones, video games help me, even the really violent ones.
Like many people I play violent video games as a form of stress release, I thought I was weird for thinking that but it turned out I’m not alone before you say “that’s not healthy!” well what’s the difference between that and having me actually punching a pillow? I know the difference between fantasy and reality, I know falling from great height hurts, trust me I have the screws in my knee to prove it!
I’m not downplaying the tragedies that have occurred, not at all! Contrary to popular belief, when it comes to real-world violence (not virtual violence) it really bothers me, especially when it happens to kids. Things like this contributed to me deciding not to have any of my own, I don’t want to bring a life into this world with the possibility of standing by helplessly as it’s ripped away. I don’t want to look to lawmakers for answers to how it happened, even though I most likely would know the answer, and be given some half-hearted answer that turns into attempts to pin the blame on movies or video games instead of answering truthfully “I as well as others failed to do our jobs.”
That’s what all this really boils down to; no one wants to admit they’re the broken cog in the machine that is the system, the wrong note that ruined the entire symphony of public trust. It’s easier to have someone else at fault instead of looking at the actual problem and saying “we need to fix this!” Today its video games, then when it happens again whose next to blame?