By: Jonathan Bryant
Following in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and the revelation that shooter Adam Lanza might have indulged in a game or two of “Call of Duty,” violent video games have once again become a hot topic of discussion for politicians.
But guess who else plays “Call of Duty?” Virtually everyone.
Your mailman probably does.
Ask the pest control guy that visits your place every once in a while. He probably does, too (I know mine does).
The fact is that tens of millions of people have purchased a “Call of Duty” title in the past few years.
If one is going to act apprehensively around “that possibly-dangerous person that plays ‘Call of Duty’ or ‘Grand Theft Auto’ games,” then good luck venturing outside… or functioning in society, for that matter.
More importantly, that elusive link between playing violent video games and the potential for violent behavior seems to be the metaphorical golden snitch in this back-and-forth game of Congress Quidditch.
Anyone old enough to remember the Columbine tragedy knows that this research is nothing new. Ever since the spine-ripping, decapitating, immolating antics of “Mortal Kombat,” “Doom” and others back in the early 90s—and even before then—researchers have conducted dozens of studies with the purpose of discovering whether violent video games lead to signs of aggression.
The means for doing so vary wildly, but the basic gist usually involves selecting a variety of test subjects to play violent and non-violent video games for a set amount of time, and then monitor their behavior in one way or another to find a correlation.
Some studies asked the subjects to write the conclusion of a randomized story, often leaving the main character with a moral dilemma (such as a fender bender, etc.). The findings suggest that those subjects that played violent video games developed more aggressive solutions to the scenarios provided.
Other studies used color association, visual and aural stimuli and a plethora of other means to establish a connection but, after more than 25 years of testing, there is still no conclusive evidence suggesting a link at all.
President Obama recently asked Congress to allocate $10 million to the study of violent media (this obviously includes video games), but one has to ask—before we attempt to find a solution, shouldn’t we first understand the problem?
Here are a few disturbing, recurring trends. First, those who criticize violent video games often only have a passing familiarity with them at best or, at worst, have never touched them. The portrayal of violent video games in the media (see the “Mass Effect” fiasco with Fox News in 2008) is often either skewed or downright inaccurate.
Secondly, why do these issues only arise after a national tragedy? Why must Columbine, Virginia Tech and, most recently, Sandy Hook be the stimulus for intelligent discussion?
It’s almost as if violent media have become a scapegoat of sorts for America’s problems. Regardless of whether this is indicative of a serious problem with America’s youth and their consumption of adult media, or a rather lazy attempt of finding an easy and temporary answer for a complicated problem, one thing is clear—so far, we’ve been going about this thing all wrong.
But maybe there is something that we gamers can do, as well.
The gaming community doesn’t exactly have the most approachable reputation. Online communities often devolve into veritable cesspools of kids resorting to language worthy of those salty seafarers in the days of yore.
Gaming lobbies are filled to the brim with mean-spirited racism and sexism, neither of which help further the case that gaming is a respectable form of entertainment.
Perhaps it’s time that we as a community grow up. Maybe then we’ll be deserving of the respect that we so adamantly crave.