Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Blame: It Must Have Been Video Games

By Brett Conklin

On the morning of July 20, 2012, only hours after the Aurora, Colorado shooting, criminal profiler Pat Brown appeared on CNN to discuss the incident. During a brief interview, with the limited information available at that time, Ms. Brown offered a hypothetical profile of the shooter that included the suggestion that he was “probably spending his time in his apartment playing one video game after the other—shooting, shooting, shooting.” The interview got the attention of the gaming community, and gaming-oriented media outlets went on the attack. Gengame.net published an article entitled, “CNN Contributor Suggests Video Games Contributed to Colorado ‘Dark Knight Rises’ Shooting,” while an article from egmnow.com read similarly: “CNN Guest Blames Video Games for Dark Knight Rises Colorado Shooting.” A more accurate, but still misleading, headline appeared on forbes.com: “CNN Guest: ‘Video Games Help You Get In The Mood To Do The Killing’.”

Did Pat Brown actually blame James Holmes’s actions on video games? Well, sort of. What Ms. Brown certainly did not do was fall into the sensationalized trap of claiming that video games were the sole—or even primary—cause of Holmes’s actions. Ms. Brown qualified her statement by saying, “And I’m not saying video games make you a killer. When you’re a psychopath, video games help you get in the mood to do the killing.” In that sense, Brown recognized that video games, in and of themselves, do not lead to violence. However, she still made unsubstantiated and unsupported claims about both the killer and the negative effect video games have on certain individuals.

It’s of note that there is no real indication that James Holmes even played violent video games. In a video that has surfaced of Holmes at the age of 18, he is introduced at a science camp as enjoying “soccer and strategy games”—some sources have misquoted that as “soccer and strategy video games.” Even if the quote does refer to video games, neither soccer nor strategy games are known for their violent content. A classmate of Holmes at the University of California commented to TMZ that he and Holmes used to play “Guitar Hero” together “for hours” at a time. Another classmate spoke to the Daily Mail, saying, “James was obsessed with computer games and was always playing role-playing games. I can’t remember which one, but it was something like 'World of Warcraft,' one of those where you compete against people on the internet.” Again, games such as “World of Warcraft,” referred to as Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), are seldom known for their violence, especially when compared to the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre. “World of Warcraft,” for instance, is rated “Teen” by the Entertainment Software Rating Board for “Violence,” but it is animated and stylized, unlike many FPSs. MMORPGs, despite the student’s quote, also tend to promote cooperation with those online as often, if not more often, than they promote direct competition.

A similar phantom link to violent video games occurred in regards to the Virginia Tech shooter in 2007. During the breaking coverage of that shooting, now-disbarred attorney Jack Thompson, a man notorious for his anti-video game views, made claims to both Fox News and MSNBC that the shooter would have had a fascination with violent video games, using them to “rehearse” and “train.” Dr. Phil McGraw appeared on CNN’s “Larry King Live” and provided a similar hypothesis, stating, “[…]the problem is we are programming these people as a society. You cannot tell me—common sense tells you that if these kids are playing video games, where they’re on a mass killing spree in a video game, it’s glamorized on the big screen.” When police searched Seung-Hui Cho’s room, however, they found no games, nor game consoles. A search of his computer, likewise, revealed no evidence of gaming. Cho’s roommate confirmed that he never saw the shooter playing any games.

So, why video games? What’s the stigma that causes people to wrongfully associate violent youths with violent video games? Well, besides the obvious rhetorical link, one might consider how the misrepresentation of statistics plays its part. When a man like Jack Thompson lists off young killers and the video games they played, he does not stop to suggest that the correlation might have more to do with being young males than it does their violent tendencies. He also doesn’t ask you to consider that those experiencing urges towards violence might first seek out socially acceptable methods of release before attempting more high risk ventures. In that sense, video games wouldn’t be a disease—a cause—so much as they would be a possible symptom.

Another possibility is the all too common phenomenon that minority populations are discriminated against—out of ignorance, out of fear, out of “otherness.” A 2005 article in The Economist titled “Defending video games: Breeding evil?” suggests something along these lines. The article argues that the discrimination occurs across generations, that “opposition to gaming springs largely from the neophobia that has pitted the old against the young for centuries.” It recalls, “novels were once considered too low-brow for university literature courses[…]waltz music and dancing were condemned in the 19th century[…]and rock and roll was thought to encourage violence, promiscuity and Satanism.” If that’s the case, if what we’re seeing is simply the result of an older generation rejecting the media of a newer generation, then at least the time for video games as a scapegoat has an impending expiration. Or, as the article put it, “Eventually, objections to new media resolve themselves, as the young grow up and the old die out.”

No comments:

Post a Comment