Don Lloyd recently wrote the Daily Camera blaming the current trend of mass shootings on video games. Nicholas Bernhard then responded by insisting that, in blaming video games, Lloyd is “quite simply wrong.” Now I want to suggest that neither Lloyd nor Bernhard has it right. Shooter video games may not be the primary cause of mass shooting violence, but to suppose they are entirely innocent, as Bernhard seems to think, is extraordinarily delusional.
Bernhard argues that if video games were in any substantial way to blame for violent tendencies in users there would be a direct correlation between the number of video games sold and the national crime statistics. He then points out that violent crime statistics in the United States have declined over the last 20 years while video game sales have exploded. Expanding his argument, Bernhard then notes how new media technology are always found to be instruments of the “devil’s handiwork”—as was the case with the printed book, radio, motion pictures, television, etc. He then adds that he believes art to be more a mirror to society than an agent of change. But then he concludes with the caveat that if art does in fact affect our lives “that means it can affect us for the better, too.” Bernhard seems to have all the bases covered for keeping video games safe from being tagged with blame for violence, but these arguments are worn-out bromides overlooking the obvious, focusing on the trees while ignoring the forest.
Shooter video games help to create a culture of violence because they glorify violence. They do this by setting up conflict situations in which there are “bad guys” needing to be shot and other guys who get rewarded for doing so. Being “rewarded for kills,” with points, scores, or whatever, glorifies violence. Compare this with reality. Ask any U.S. war veteran how much glory and reward there is in killing another human being. If you can find one who, after killing an “enemy,” sees killing this way, I would like to know.
From the National Anthem to the Pledge of Allegiance Americans are raised with the notion that there is glory in defending one’s country and standing up for one’s beliefs. This is not all wrong. But the line between courageous behavior and finding glory in killing is a thin one — a line not easily negotiated by adolescents. A culture of violence is one in which kids are raised to believe there is glory in killing — and this is precisely what the culture of shooter video games accomplishes. Fortunately, most kids have sufficient impulse control and mental stability to avoid realizing fantasies about taking deadly revenge on those who annoy and frustrate them. But a significant minority of persons does not have this control and deadly violence becomes the default choice when stress, frustration, or mental illnesses become too extreme. This choice is the default choice because so much of our movie and video game culture paves the way for “killing” to be the choice of “heroes.” In this process the importance of justice or accuracy in designating the “bad guys” as well as the tragic consequences of any killing are shunted into the background.
In short, video games are not the “cause” of mass shootings but they prepare the cultural ground for these kinds of killings among unstable individuals by making this choice appear to be the most culturally rewarded means of vindication. There has been a rise in “rampage killings” — combined with school massacres, workplace killings, hate crimes, and familicides — not only in the United States but throughout Asia, Central and South America, Europe, and Africa since the 1990s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers). These crimes used to be rare in the United States and very rare in other parts of the world. Their increase lends support to the cultural influence thesis, given the spread of video game technology, not to mention violent films, throughout the world during this time frame.
Greg Desilet, of Longmont, is author of “Screens of Blood: A Critical Approach to Film and Television Violence” McFarland (2014).