Once again, we find ourselves unjustly branded with the scarlet letter V for violent.
Adam Lanza was a sick son of a bitch. I think it’s a safe bet to say that I won’t find many arguments to this fact in the comments section below (although you’re welcome to try if you wish). On December 14th, 2012 he walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 20 children (and six others for a total of 26). These are the facts. They are undisputed (that is to say, these innocent lives were snuffed out). However, as with most things in life, there will always be conspiracies theories, and a sensible hunt for motives in what was clearly a senseless act. When tragedies like this occur, even though the details may vary from incident to incident, there is often one constant -- video games. Our industry is continually drug in and strung up right in the middle (seemingly as an example) for all the world to see.
After almost a year, it would appear that the Sandy Hook fallout is, once again, blowing in that direction.
A report recently released by the DanBury State Attorney’s Office was the proverbial match that set fire to this familiar brush pile. The report gives an extensive account, but the one section in particular that caught people’s attention most comes on page 25. It lists the games that were found in the basement of the shooter after the events took place. It reads as follows:
“Numerous video games were located in the basement computer/gaming area. The list of video games includes, but is not limited to: Left for Dead, Metal Gear Solid, Dead Rising, Half Life, Battlefield, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Shin Megami Tensei, Dynasty Warriors, Vice City, Team Fortress and Doom.”
If someone were to cherry pick, they could easily point to any of the first-person shooters, or one of the GTA games on that list. However, what many would consider a smoking gun came later, when one line from the report (found on page 26) was overlooked by many news and gaming sites that reported on this initially. A game called School Shooting for the PC was also found in his home. This led to speculation of it being the Half-Life 2 mod of a similar name that made headlines a few years back. However, new reports suggest that this may not be the case. Regardless of where this particular game came from, one thing is clear; it pours gasoline on the already stoked fires of tying games to real world violence.
So, before we go off the rails on this crazy train, I’ll attempt to reign in the insanity with a bit of perspective (hopefully before it explodes into its usual state of hysteria).
I have no real issues with the Sandy Hook report itself. They seem to do a good job of detailing the facts of what transpired before, during and after the shooting (as the report presents things with a “just the facts” attitude). My concerns stem from the nature of the reporting after the fact. I’ve seen countless headlines of online articles and many stories done via the sound-bite media that all push the same narrative. Sure, they may vary in how they present the story, but inevitably, they all seem to do so with the same hook: “Video Games Found in the Home of Sandy Hook Shooter!”
Explain to me why, anytime I read articles or watch the news covering this story, the video games that were found in his basement are usually placed somewhere in the very first paragraph, or opening monologue? Of course, I know the answer to my own question. It’s done so because there are those who don’t care about the big picture; they just want to push an ideology. As Tony Montana would say, “You need to point your fingers at us and say…look…that’s the bad guy.”
Why doesn’t anyone bother to mention that most of the video games found in his basement were among the LEAST OFFESNEIVE content? A myriad of deranged items were present in the shooters home including: pictures of dead bodies, books and newspaper clippings of mass shootings throughout history, documentation advocating for the rights of pedophiles and videos depicting both real suicides via gunshot and dramatizations of children being killed.
You see? The headlines should read: “Video Games Most Normal Thing Found in Shooters Basement!”
This brings to light the issue that has always been at the core of the Games=Violence debate. When you take a step back and see the whole puzzle (rather than focusing on just a single piece), things don’t boil down to one simple influence. I could easily make the same argument against violent movies if I were to track down exactly what films Lanza watched leading up to the attacks. But I won’t. That is no more fair to that industry than it is to ours. The same can be said for violent music lyrics, books, etc. I could go on and on. The fact is that people do evil things. We now hear that Lanza may have also had some type of mental issues as well. I’m not saying that’s a built-in “get-out-of-hell free” card, but what I do know is that gaming didn’t do this. Games are no more responsible for this than the DMV is reasonable for drunk driving deaths in this country.
As I’ve highlighted in the past, studies have shown that games don’t typically generate a violent response in those with mental deficiencies, but rather, they produce a calming effect (a fact you will not often hear brought up). However, this same debate arose when it was discovered that Eric Harris (along with Dylan Klebold) had constructed a level in Doom that was a precursor to the actual Columbine shooting. I know that we currently don’t have all the details of this “School Shooting” PC title, but frankly, it doesn’t matter. Whether he lived vicariously through this game, or physically built an obstacle course in his backyard (as others have done in the past), Lanza simply wanted to hurt people. A person like this didn’t need a video game to achieve his goals, nor is it responsible for planting the seed in his mind. I propose that seed grew from a far deeper and more twisted root.
So, as you read the commentaries or listen to speeches made from soap boxes on talking-head television, ask yourself one very important question: “Am I getting the facts?” It could be that you’re just getting THEIR interpretation of the facts. Trust me; there’s a big difference when coming through that kind of a filter.
Also, remember this is the holiday season. Take a little time to be thankful. Pull your loved ones close and be grateful you’re surrounded by those you care about. Oh, and be sure to play some video games.