Columbine survivor looks back
Sean Graves was shot 6 times at Columbine High School in 1999. He reflects on how it and other school shootings will affect his daughter’s generation.
When they weren’t in their classrooms at Columbine High School in Colorado, two twelfth graders, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were “gamers.” They especially played a lot of “Doom,” an interactive video that often makes the list of most violent games in this more-than-ever ascendant $250 billion industry.
“I find a similarity between people and Doom zombies,” Klebold wrote in the spring of 1999. “Everyone is just another monster from Doom,” chimed in his buddy Harris, who named his shotgun after a Doom character.
Doom was in their heads when on April 20, 1999, the duo entered the high school library and unleashed their fury on classmates and teachers. “It’s going to be like…Doom.,” Harris said of the massacre. They proceeded to kill 13 and wound 21, and, like so many mass killings, the siege only ended when they committed suicide.
The Columbine High School massacre was a watershed moment — the worst mass shooting at a school in American history. Now, it ranks fourth. This year, there have been 27 acts of gun violence on school campuses; 42 last year. And 185 children, educators and others have been killed in assaults, with another 369 injured.
Overall, we’ve had 300 mass shootings this year; 692 last year.
Congress — finally — has passed modest guncontrols and added money for school mental health. And yet, the “doom” culture goes on. Young people spend 2 hours and 20 minutes video gaming daily. Experts label it video game disorder addiction. They watch gobs of gore, death, dismembering, destruction. Satisfaction comes when you kill your virtual opponent. It piles up in the mind — and leads to bodies at parades. We need to tackle it head-on — now.
Media violence — and parenting
I will not tell you the cause of this mayhem is media violence because as I read about the father of the Highland Park shooter, who applauded his son’s dark world, we know parenting counts most of all, what researchers call “protective factors.”
But research over decades and hundreds of studies is very, very clear:
- “Media violence is a significant risk factor for aggressive (and even violent) behavior.”
- “Those who consume more violent media tend to be more aggressive than those who consume less.”
- “Exposure to media violence is related, in a small but significant way, to aggression.”
- And video game violence, “the most interactive and engaging to young people, possesses the highest risk of creating aggressive behavior.”
Those conclusions come from “Game on! Sensible answers to video games and media violence” by Craig Anderson and four colleagues. Anderson, an Iowa State University psychology professor and perhaps the foremost expert in the country, has spent the last 30 years on research. He now worries about the effect on his own grandchildren.
I called Anderson and found him pessimistic that we can stop an industry that has created a generation of console warriors who see violence as a solution, who lack empathy but know how to suit up — and use deadly weapons to “win” the game.
“We need to realize as a culture that electronic media is one of the most important socialization tools we have,” Anderson told me, adding, “We’ve turned over the socialization of youths to an industry whose primary goal is to make money, not raise prosocial citizens.”
The industry understands: the money makers are violent video games.
“Double Dragon” and “Mortal Kombat” first pushed the boundaries of violence and became all-time best sellers. Do not expect stricter labeling or less violence from that industry.
“Large moneymakers, no, they have everything they want,” Anderson said.
Freedom of speech and video gaming
States takes aim at Supreme Court gun ruling
After the U.S. Supreme Court allowed more people to carry concealed weapons, California and other states are moving to limit where firearms may be carried and who can have them. (July 13)(AP video by Haven Daley)
The government could help if the Supreme Court hadn’t tied its hands on freedom of speech grounds. California passed a reasonable state law that prohibited access to violent video games for those 17 and under. Anderson’s research was key when the challenge to the law came in 2011.
Anderson wrote in 2007, “The scientiﬁc debate about whether there are harmful effects of media violence is over. Early exposure to violent media (including violent video games) causes an increase in later aggressiveness.” Seven years after Columbine, there was hope that public policy could stop the phenomenon that was sweeping youth culture – and alarming public health officials.
But Judge Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative, intervened. Anderson’s studies “do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” he ruled. And yet, by 2011, dozens of studies had made the link. The science spoke loudly.
Professor Anderson still recoils a decade later at Scalia’s decision. He insists Scalia never read the science or the other side’s briefs. Anderson is not naïve about the problems and reality of linking violence and media content. He knows multiple factors cause human behavior; that separating video games from, say, movie content is all but impossible and efforts by parents and educators in countering violent messages can be effective.
But, nonetheless, he knows that “decades of research supports the idea that media violence of all types increases a person’s risk for aggression. The effects have been observed across virtually every type of media studied.” And there are real reasons to believe that violent video games are a bigger risk factor for aggression. That is why California tackled the problem, trying simply to prevent young people from buying the games. In the same way they cannot legally buy sexually explicit material.
Dissenting Supreme Court Judge Stephen Breyer disagreed with Scalia, asking, “What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?”
Reasonable question. But it’s also reasonable to ask why anyone is making such a video. “The money certainly plays a big role,” Anderson says. And the First Amendment does present a high bar for banning such material, if we could even define it.
Scalia said to ban content the government “must specifically identify” an “actual problem” and show that “curtailment of free speech” is necessary. Houston, we have a problem. Hundreds of people are being shot. Media violence plays a role. Not the only role, for sure. We need to control assault weapons, bullets, armor. And we need to flood the schools with counselors. But tackling video violence is part of the package.
“The evidence supporting this link is as strong as the link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer,” Anderson writes.
Something else Anderson said scares me even more. It might get worse. Games became overly aggressive around 2000. The cumulative effect of that starts showing up 10 to 15 years later. That is now. We have been feeding the violence beast. Where will he roar next?
Rob Miraldi’s writings on the First Amendment have won numerous state and national awards. He teaches journalism at the State University of New York. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @miral98i