Now that the motives of the Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis has been analyzed by everyone in the media that wasn’t directly involved in the case or in his personal life, it’s time to look back on the coverage and wonder again why games like Grand Theft Auto V were even brought into the conversation.
Sadly, this is the case with any mass killing that has occurred in America since the Columbine shootings, where one of the first mediums that the mass media went after to explain the killer’s mindset was violent video games. In the past, the Call of Duty series was the target of the media’s ire, but in recent years Grand Theft Auto has regained the focus. Probably because of the prominence of anti-video game pundits like Jack Thompson, who spent weeks after violent occurrences lambasting the genre on any TV new program that would have him.
There are, of course, always other indicators as to why the shooters do the things that they do as in this recent case where the shooter heard voices and hated America. But of course, it can never be that they are simply unstable, in the media’s eyes and for the sake of their ratings there must always be a more controversial and headline gaining factor that they can turn to. But why doesn’t this trend apply to every shooting tragedy that occurs?
Grand Theft Childhood authors Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl K. Olson argued that in the case of shooters like the D.C. Sniper Lee Malvo, playing violent video games could not account for his familiarity with weapons. In fact the only way to really become proficient and comfortable with guns was to actually shoot them in real life. They also pointed to his antisocial disorder, previous criminal behavior, and the fact that he had a penchant for torturing small animals. What’s interesting is to note that the media followed this train of thinking, as no one dared to mention video games during this time. In fact, the first time that video games were even brought into the discussion was when Lee Malvo’s attorney attempted to use the argument during trial.
Of course this has changed in recent years, as whenever a violent incident occurs there seems to be a race between new outlets to figure out a way to bring video games into the conversation and always as a scapegoat to excuse the behavior. Take Adam Lanza, the man who killed twenty children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I can’t remember how fast it took the media to label him as an antisocial gamer with Joker delusions, but they did. Or what about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed thirteen people and injured twenty-seven others? Back then, the media couldn’t wait to bring up the fact that games like DOOM and Wolfenstein 3D could be a factor in their rampage.
I know that previously, I wrote an article about how parents shouldn’t buy violent games like Grand Theft Auto V for their children. Well, I still maintain that point of view because it’s their responsibility to make sure their kids can’t get the games. After all, it’s not the clerk handing over the title, it’s them at Christmas or on birthdays. Games have ratings, and a lot of parents wouldn’t be so shocked as to what their kids are doing on the consoles if they used things like Google and the ESRB rating system more effectively.
Video games are an easy target for modern day critics who don’t want to take into account personal responsibility, but what about all the deaths that occurred before the era of modern gaming? For example in 1927, Andrew Kehoe killed 30 students, six adults, and injured 58 other people by bombing an elementary school in Bath, Michigan. Video games weren’t around then, so what was the excuse for his actions? Comic books? Or what about Charles Whitman, who killed seventeen people while wounding thirty-two others at the University of Texas in 1966?
One of the first things that I ever learned in Statistics in college was this key phrase: correlation does not always equal causation. Just because two things may be related doesn’t mean that they are. Without the proper statistics and the proper facts, you can’t connect the two. Currently, there is no credible study that suggests that violent video games cause violence in real life. While it could be argued that they can increase aggression, there is no study that firmly places any sort of psychological burden on the medium. So if science can’t connect the two, what makes the media able to do it?
Unless science can thoroughly connect the two phenomenon, then I would suggest that the mainstream media not make the attempt.