Why Video Games Don't Cause Violence

We very rarely cover current, non-tech events on this site, simply because they don’t often overlap with our mission to bring tech news to a broad audience. However, I’ve decided to post on the various reactions to the Virginia Tech shooting from pundits who blame violent behavior on video games.

Like the gun-control issue, which I won’t even begin to comment upon, the link between video games and violence is fraught with conflicting and staunchly-held views. As a new parent and gamer, I, too, am unsure as to where I stand on “mass murder simulators” as Clive Thompson described some of the games available today. But I do know they are important.

I know the adrenaline rush of a Counter-Strike headshot just as I understand that these things are not real, that war games have been played for centuries — probably since we separated our instinctual predatory instincts from our social instincts — and that they are valid release that can potentially defuse violent conflict in real life. I know this because gaming, in my teen years, was my refuge from a world I did not nor could not understand.

I was reading a report in the New York Times that struck me:

Joe Aust, who shared Room 2121 at Harper Hall with [Cho Seung-Hui], said he had spoken to Mr. Cho often but had received only one-word replies. Later, Mr. Aust said, Mr. Cho stopped talking to him entirely. Mr. Aust would sometimes enter the room and find Mr. Cho sitting at his desk, staring into nothingness.

Nothingness. He wasn’t staring into Doom or GTA. He wasn’t raging against monsters on the screen — he was raging against monsters inside himself.

I’m still unsure how and when to expose my son to video games, violent or not, but I know that with care and parenting I can make him understand that the images on the screen don’t reflect the rules of real life. Fantasy and violence will always be with us and one of the few ways we have expressed this is through storytelling. I don’t think these games simulate mass murder, they simulate dreams. Anyone who has woken from a dream of flying will understand the fantasy value of games like Lost Planet and movies like Superman. Anyone who has dreams of frightening things or of doing frightening things will understand the cathartic value of GTA and films like Grindhouse. These products of imagination give us sensation and experience without forcing us to resort to jumping from high places or, much more tragically, waging war. Unfortunately, to many who do not understand them, these simulations also seem like rehearsals for real life, a horrible misconception that has branded many books, movies, and now games as “immoral” throughout the ages.

Games, books, and movies are communicated thought. While many will say that playing games rewires our brains to do bad things, video games are the products of human effort and intention and reflect our frailty, failings, and violence. Games, unlike weapons, are not tools. They do not bring our intentions into the physical world. Instead, they are a paltry reflection of the real and offer solace and comfort to many who fear or do not understand this selfsame world. Disturbed individuals don’t use games to train for violence — the violence is already in them. To say that gaming stimulates only evil is like saying reading the Bible or any other holy book stimulates only good. Reality is too complicated to blame polygons, moving pictures, or letters on a page.

Here is a list of links I’ve found commenting on this topic and I encourage you to add your opinions as well. What happened at Virginia Tech was a tragedy, but rushing to judgment on any of the myriad, granular facets of that tragedy is wrong and wrong-headed.

When will the video games industry fight back against Jack Thompson? [Infendo]
Did Va. Tech Murderer Learn From Video Games [Newsmax]
You Grew Up Playing Shoot’em-Up Games. Why Can’t Your Kids? [Wired]
Rush Limbaugh DOESN’T Blame Games For VT Shootings [FiringSquad]
Feature: Dissecting Jack’s Lies [Kotaku]