The day Aaron Alexis opened fire at the Navy Yard in D.C., even while “breaking news” details of the tragedy were sketchy, I heard the words “violent video games” on TV. I changed channels and listened until those words were uttered again, and then surfed to another channel only for this to turn into a vicious cycle. Then the phone rings and it’s my mother, calling to tell me that violent video games are to blame . . . as in throw out all the video games and consoles. Sheesh. Steam practically came out of my ears as I tried to explain that no sane person would think about taking their first person shooter (FPS) gaming experience out into the real world.
Every time there is a large-scale shooting disaster, it only takes a few hours for some media outlets to dump the blame on violent video games. Some people who aren’t gamers do not know any better than to buy into the crud that is spewed by "experts" as the “truth.”
People do crazy and stupid things, and that includes – but is not limited to – gamers. For example, at Staten Island Mall’s midnight launch of Grand Theft Auto V, three men posed as cops so they could cut in front of hundreds of people in line to buy the game. One man was an auxiliary New York Police Department officer and another was the son of a retired officer. They pulled up in a car, which was purchased at a police auction, with lights and sirens blazing. Court documents said it was "an exact replica of an unmarked police vehicle." Then they flashed badges in the mall, cut to the front of the line and purchased the game.
“The alleged ruse fell apart, though, when the group left the mall,” an unnamed cop told Silive. “They got back into the car and pulled a U-turn -- in front of a real police officer in an unmarked car.” Busted!
However, just as not every gamer who attends a midnight launch will have a mysterious “flu” and miss work the next day, not every gamer related to or acting as an auxiliary cop will pull a ridiculous stunt to get hold of new a game. Not every IT worker will go on a shooting spree. Put another way, just because one woman stabbed her ex-boyfriend for listening to the Eagles, doesn’t mean women everywhere will stab people for doing to the same.
“The Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis played violent video games including Call of Duty for up to 16 hours at a time and friends believe it could have pushed him towards becoming a mass murderer,” claimed The Telegraph’s exclusive. “The darker side to Alexis's character saw him playing violent ‘zombie’ video games in his room, sometimes from 12.30pm until 4.30am.” A friend of Alexis stated, “He could be in the game all day and all night. I think games might be what pushed him that way.”
On an episode of Morning Joe, as the lines were being drawn between Grand Theft Auto and violence, Yahoo news columnist Jeff Greenfield interrupted and pointed out, “There are millions of people that use video games that don’t do anything.” In fact, in the 1950s the boogeyman was “comic books.” Greenfield stated, “Every time there’s a new medium, it is pointed to as the source of horrible behavior. It’s comic books; it’s rock and roll; it’s video games. Back in the days of Pac-Man… I guess it was supposed to desensitize people’s brains.”
Time predicted, “We’re about to have that conversation again. The one that goes: something something shooter something something Call of Duty something something violent video games made him do it….We can expect the usual hand-wringing about guns, and if Alexis so much as played Pac Man we can expect the usual warbling over violent video games.”
Indeed, there are people who blame mass shooting on guns, to which Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert responded, "Blaming this on guns is like saying the big problem with obesity is we’ve got too many spoons. It’s not the spoons, it’s not the guns. It’s the people who have them.”
“Do violent video games lead to greater violence amongst those who play them?” According to Dr. John Grohol, an expert in online psychology and behavior as well as the CEO and founder of PsychCentral, “While the actual answer is complex, the simple answer is easy — of course not.” He concluded, “Violent video games might have a small correlation with aggressive behavior, emotions and thoughts, but it’s a weak and ultimately meaningless connection that makes little difference in the real world.”
In the real world, security at the Navy Yard where the shooting occurred was weak, with history of reports about “poor entrance controls, video dead spots, inadequate lighting, malfunctioning alarms and other problems.”
There are plenty of questions still unanswered, including those about background checks and clearing Alexis for a secret government clearance, but I for one am utterly disgusted with hearing how violent video games are to blame for mass shootings. While the NRA pointed to violent video games, not guns, as the cause of killing sprees, the Entertainment Software Association claimed, “Scientific research and international and domestic crime data all point toward the same conclusion: entertainment does not cause violent behavior in the real world.”
In the end, as families mourn their lost loved ones, wasn’t untreated mental illness – not video games, violent or otherwise – the real problem?