I really shouldn't have to do this, but with all of the histrionic newscasting surrounding the shootings in Connecticut, I feel like someone has to say this out loud: Video games are not to blame.
Any time a person loses their life at the hands of another human being, everyone on Earth should do a bit of soul searching. But with much the planet being in a perpetual state of war, it takes something particularly terrible, like the deaths of more than twenty children, to make us take stock of our own behavior. It's natural for parents and policy makers to call for sweeping societal changes in the wake of something so terrible, but let’s make sure that our changes are being focused correctly.
When news started emerging about the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, initial reports indicated that the shooter's name was Ryan Lanza. Well, this little morsel of misinformation led a mob of torch-wielding morons to the Facebook page of a Ryan Lanza from Connecticut who may or may not be the brother of the real shooter, Adam Lanza. Outlets like Fox News managed to mangle this lead into a nitwitted game of pin-the-tail-on-the-video-game, because Ryan Lanza was reportedly a fan of Mass Effect.
However, we now know that Ryan Lanza had nothing to do with the shooting, so his gaming preferences are pretty inconsequential.
But news outlets shouldn't be allowed to get off the hook so easily. Not only did they misreport the shooter's name, they bent over backwards to find fault in a video game. And Fox News isn't the only culprit here. CNN, Slate, and the Huffington Post all tweeted links to the Ryan Lanza's Facebook profile. Unfortunately, we live in an age where speedy reporting often trumps fact checking, which means that this kind of garbage is going to continue into the foreseeable future.
And for some reason, video games are still an acceptable scapegoat. Like Ryan Lanza, Mass Effect had nothing to do with this shooting. Even if Mass Effect had been Adam Lanza's all-time favorite video game, or he'd written a 1500-page manifesto about Call of Duty's influence (like Anders Breivik, the 33-year-old who killed 69 people in Norway last year), video games would still be entirely innocent.
49 percent of the American population owns some kind of video game console, and the majority of those people own two. So, if video games really were a violence-inciting medium, we would expect to see thousands of shootings like this every year, but we don't. In fact, the number of murders has declined by nearly 40 percent since 1980. We're becoming more civilized, not less.
The problem here is that we live on a planet with a growing population. The more people who exist, the more murderous assholes walk among us. They don't make up a higher percentage of the population than they ever have, there are just more of them.
And this is compounded by the fact that we have instant access to news from all around the world at any given time. So, when a violent crime takes place, we're dealing with it in real time, not reading about it the next day in the newspaper. The more connected we are, the more emotionally significant these events become. The world isn't becoming worse, we're just more aware of its enormity.
So, let’s not play psychological hopscotch to try and figure out which of society's faults are to blame for the shooting in Connecticut. The responsibility falls on the shooter's shoulders. It's our job to deal with the fallout, which means supporting the victim's families, and one another.
So get to work.
Date: December 17, 2012