Within hours, the media tried to connect violent video games to the horrible massacre in Newtown, CT that saw 26 people – most of them children – murdered. The attempt to make that connection wasn’t surprising by any means, as well as the revelation that the guy everyone thought was the killer – he actually wasn’t – played Mass Effect 3, thus causing people to call for a ban of the game they obviously know nothing about.
It does create an important question to look at, though: how do gamers defend their hobby against zealots that make snap decisions and judgments, when our biggest annual titles do, in fact, feature violence prominently? Whether it’s The Walking Dead, Call of Duty, Mass Effect, or, heck, even Mario games, one thing is the same across all platforms: violence is necessary to win. Opponents like Jack Thompson and certain politicians say all the violence desensitizes us to real-world violence; I’d argue that so do violent movies and watching the news on a regular basis, yet these are not pointed at, mostly due to the fact that video games are much more interactive than those mediums.
So do they have a point? Not necessarily. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been playing games since the 1980s… and yet, there hasn’t been a glut of serial killers all at once. While exposure to violent content does desensitize a person – that’s a fact – one could argue that if it truly did create a generation of murderers, then we’d have a whole lot more mass-murdering foul-mouthed 12-year-olds out there.
Other things killers have in common: they all eat, breathe oxygen, sleep, drink, etc. My point? We don’t try to ban those things because they’re seen as normal. Perhaps we should, as a society, start to think about games the way we do other media: normal. Trying to find a cause is sometimes pointless. Sometimes, like in the case of this twisted individual, they’re just evil. Sometimes they don’t have a reason, sometimes there wasn’t a cause, just an effect.
Are games too violent? Do they glorify violence? Maybe. But they’re also beautifully artistic, they build our hand-eye coordination, they teach us, and above all, they entertain us. The burden should be on parents to teach their children that the media we consume – whether it’s games, movies, music, books, whatever – is there for entertainment purposes, not necessarily to mold us into something or someone. If you’re looking for someone to blame, blame the individual for making the choice to kill. Not the games. They’re there to entertain, not brainwash.