Video games targeted in media amidst concerns of gun violence

In the wake of recent shooting massacres here in the United States, I have heard more than one reference in news reports to "violent video games" being a cause for concern. This topic has been mentioned right alongside the need for tighter gun control legislation. I usually try to play "devil's advocate" in most controversial discussions. For instance, I don't think that the shooting in Connecticut last Friday would have been prevented by more thorough background checks. However, I also believe that the "gun culture" in this country (as paraphrased recently by Bob Costas to mixed reaction among sports fans and NRA fans) has grown to a point that needs more assessment. Likewise, I am quick to dismiss video games as a cause of violent tendencies (full disclosure: I am a gamer!), but I also see the value in limiting exposure of these games to young children.

Violent video games and movies may be a part of the American "gun culture" that the NRA ambiguously promotes in their lobbying action, yet diminishes as a potential cause of gun violence. Video games that simulate war, or gang violence, or (worse?) predation on innocent civilians, have for many years been the target of various social-minded groups and parent/teacher organizations. A gamer could cite any number of studies that refute a positive correlation between video games and real-world violence. In fact, there was a correlation study recently that charted a decrease in youth violence as an inverse relationship to the growth of the number of younger people playing video games. This may be a fun fact, but I do not personally place a large stock in correlation. If video games are to be a focal point in the conversation about American "gun culture", then we need to address why people think this is a concern.

While video games with immersive, first-person violence may be relatively new, the childhood fantasy of battles and killing is nothing new at all. Just look at any reference to the golden days of yore, that mythical suburban Americana captured by Norman Rockwell. There are children playing "cowboys and indians", likely dressed up with a holster and six-shooter. Or maybe playing with "army men", re-enacting glorious battles where many, many lives are lost. Is there a single person alive today that at some point in childhood did not pretend to be "dead" after getting "shot"? One could argue that guns are as integral to the American identity as baseball and apple pie filling. Considering our Second Amendment right along with the assumption that violence is inherent in our human nature, there should be no surprise that America would have so many cases of gun violence. It may be that video games promote fantasies of gun violence, but video games also offer a non-violent avenue to enact those fantasies.

I do not own a gun, but I do think about it sometimes. I have a 7-year old daughter at home, and my wife and I aren't quite comfortable with the idea of having a firearm in the house, given the number of accidents that have happened to people in that situation. Video games have provided some anecdotal fodder for a discussion of gun ownership, such as "what would we do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?". This argument, of course, is merely masking the legitimate concern for safety in a state of anarchy. A real natural disaster (Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy) could create a situation where my family could be in mortal danger from looters. I don't think I am off the mark to say that a large portion of gun sales are to people that either don't trust the government to protect them, or who are just plain scared 24/7 of being attacked at any time. People that play violent video games aren't trying to stave off a personal fear, they are more likely enjoying a fantasy simulation because of the very fact that it is SO far from their perceived reality.

Ultimately, I believe violent video games and movies are more of a product of "gun culture" than a cause of it. The idea that video games are a cause for concern is usually promoted by an older adult in reference to a teenager or twenty-something that has committed a horrible atrocity. This is akin to blaming heavy metal music. There may be a platform to discuss the access that children have to M-rated content, but it should not be linked to such an emotional time after a school shooting. It is natural for grieving members of a community to seek blame in a case such as this in Connecticut. But we should be wary when the topic starts to waver into distracting territory that will never address a real solution.