Over the weekend, we had two more mass shootings to add to the ever-growing list of 250-plus shootings the United States has had this year. At this rate, we've had more shootings than we've had actual days in 2019.
In these moments, we look for answers. We look for reasons. We look for solutions. We seek answers within our community, or a higher power or within ourselves. And sometimes, we grasp at straws to make sense of the senseless.
For decades, one of the biggest straws grasped has been video games.
Already, politicians are citing video games as the root of all evil and the driving force for why these acts of violence happen. Video games have become such a commonly used crutch for all the evils in the world that the rhetoric has become lazy. The figureheads don't even have to try looking for answers anymore because all one has to do is place blame on an old favorite and call it a day.
I have a background in the video game industry. I worked on the Mortal Kombat and Doom franchises for years, two of the most popularly violent series out there. I spent months at a time on a project, sometimes in excess of twelve hours a day making sure every pixel and polygon hit the way it was supposed to. I suppose I can be called out for having a bias toward protecting the work that started my career, but I haven't worked in that industry in years.
And not once, before or since, did I ever feel compelled to cause harm to real people, innocent or otherwise. The mere thought is abhorrent to me.
It's easy to vilify a subject that people don't understand, especially when speaking on a subject that isn't properly researched.
After the Parkland, Florida shooting last year, leaders and lawmakers met to “explore new restrictions on the video game industry, arguing that violent games might have contributed to mass shootings.”
Note the words “Might have.” They can't state this claim with any sense of confidence or certainty. They honestly don't know if it does or not. What it's good for is a headline to incite an emotional response like fear or anger.
But let's not indulge in theories. Let's look at a few facts:
As of this year, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford found no relationship between aggressive behaviors in adolescents and the amount of time they spend playing violent video games. The study based its research on data from over 2,000 British teenagers and their parents alongside official United States and European ratings of game violence. The findings were published in Royal Society Open Science, and is the most definitive study to date.
Since their mainstream growth in the public consciousness in the 1980s, video games have been a popular scapegoat for real world violence. Scholars from the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University established that a mass shooting occurred roughly once every 200 days between 1982 to 2011. Between 2011 and 2014, these statistics have increased with at least one mass shooting occurring every 64 days in the United States.
Gamers from non-U.S. countries also enjoy violent video games. Incidentally, China has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.
Organizations such as the Entertainment Software Association and the Entertainment Software Rating Board have self-regulated the video game industry since the 1990s, placing ratings on every game that makes it to market, along with a description of the game's content.
Christopher Ferguson is the author of "Do Angry Birds Make for Angry Children.” The book focuses on the influence that video games play in the aggression of children and adolescents, and overall mental health, social behavior, and academic performance. His results found that video games have little effect on the players.
Over the years, multiple news outlets have reported stories about how the Virginia Tech massacre shooter regularly played Sonic the Hedgehog. Equally so, the most played game of the Sandy Hook shooter was Dance Dance Revolution.
People become angered when the subjects of gun violence and gun control come up. The topic has become a no-win scenario in the United States. As a citizen, I have no idea anymore if anything will ever be done to properly address the topic, or if this really has become our new standard of living and we simply need to get used to it.
But we can start taking at least one small step towards progress if we quit making excuses and placing blame on things we don't understand and won't make the time to. We need to respect the lives of those lost by not wasting time on theories and accept that some of these troubled people out there are going to remain broken without getting the medical attention and help that they need, and having less readily available access to weaponry that they shouldn't.
Unlike video games, we don't get to blip back to life after being gunned down.