Video Games: The Violence Scapegoat

Tragedy struck Cleveland on Easter Sunday after a disturbed man livestreamed himself on Facebook walking up to a stranger on the sidewalk and shooting him in the head.

Apparently the killer was upset about his troubles with women and decided to take his rage out on an innocent person who had nothing to do with his personal problems.

This blatant, senseless execution of an elderly man walking home with groceries in hand was enough to make my blood boil. But things get worse after these crimes happen as the media often decide to blame such violence on the easiest scapegoat they can think of: video games.

Not long after news of the Cleveland murder broke, a CNN anchor said of the murder video, “There is an element to this that makes it look like a video game. If you think about video games, they’re first-person shooters. People in a game, they have a controller, their gun is in front of them and they’re firing. That is how a lot of young people experience weapons. They experience guns as video games. Unfortunately, a video like this, it has that same perspective.”

Based on the correspondent’s comments, CNN wasn’t necessarily trying to blame the shooting directly on video games. But after years of the media going out of their way to link killers and gaming, any mention of video games related to actual violence leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Ever since gun violence became “normal” in our society, video games have been pointed to as a reason to explain real-world murders. I’m not here to say what causes people to shoot each other down in the streets, but I know one thing: Video games are not the problem.

For every “scientific” study out there that says playing violent video games makes people violent, there are just as many that have found no link.

In fact, there’s an argument to be made that playing violent games might reduce real violent tendencies. Have you ever heard a school counselor tell children to punch pillows instead of other people to release their pent-up aggression? I’ll bet there are plenty of people who use violent video games as a digital punching bag.

After a major shooting, members of the media like to dig into criminals’ pasts and find anything they can blame the violence on instead of, you know, the criminals themselves. Lots of times, this ends up being video games.

Did you know Dylann Roof, the white man who shot nine black people at a South Carolina church, played violent games? Adam Lanza, who was responsible for the Sandy Hook shooting, apparently racked up 83,000 kills in online video games before carrying out his crime. James Holmes, who shot up a Colorado movie theater in 2012, loved violent video games, too.

My question is: So what? I’m willing to bet most of these men read violent books and watched violent movies, too. Who cares?

Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, just because several mass murderers liked violent games doesn’t mean the games themselves caused the men to become violent.

Isn’t it more reasonable to conclude that mentally unstable men with the potential to kill would be more attracted to violent video games than the games brainwashed everyday dudes into becoming heartless killers? If a seemingly normal person went from playing a gory shooting game to killing people in real life without so much as batting an eye, I’m willing to wager mental illness played a much bigger role than harmless digital entertainment.

I know lots of people—myself included—who enjoy incredibly violent games and are outraged and disgusted when someone perpetuates senseless violence in real life. That’s because enjoying violent entertainment doesn’t make us bad people, and we’re sick of being associated with criminals because we happen to enjoy the same hobby.

This article originally appeared on Jake Magee’s GazetteXtra gaming column, Press Start.

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