Maffeo: We must stop blaming video games for real-life violence

Micah Maffeo

It seems that every time there’s an active shooter at any school or university, or every time an active shooter is under the age of 30, the media pulls out their favorite go-to, which is: let’s blame the video games. Let’s say the games desensitize children, let’s blame the creators and not the consumers and let’s say anything to promote our agenda so we don’t have to get to the bottom of the real problem — which is, some few out of millions get enjoyment from killing the people around them. Cain didn’t kill Abel because he played the newest “Call of Duty,” he did it because he was sick of Abel’s crap and thought, “Killing my brother is a more appropriate way to handle this than talking it out.”

Sassy Bible paraphrasing by the world’s worst Catholic notwithstanding, the fact is that there is no tangible correlation between gun violence and violent video games. Over 150 million Americans play video games which is around 59 percent of the U.S. population. Granted, not everyone in the 150 million play violent video games like “Call of Duty,” but “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” was a top seller and “Call Of Duty: Ghosts” was in the top 10 of bestselling video games of 2014 — many of which were also violent games.

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We can safely assume that a large portion of the 150 million gamers do play or have played a violent video game. If, then, violent video games are responsible for shootings and a generally more violent youth, why are there not more shootings? We should see hundreds instead of dozens of shootings and other violent crimes if games like “Assassin’s Creed,” “Grand Theft Auto V” and “Call of Duty” desensitize people to the point where they cannot tell the difference between real life and the games they play.

My analysis is that there is no real correlation. It is virtually impossible to numb a healthy — and even a developing mind, for that matter — enough with video games to where a player can no longer feel a difference between lines of code and a living human being. I stress healthy because I’m aware that some with mental disorders do not have this ability, and those who kill children, students and movie-goers at random and in large numbers with no specific reason or target are mentally ill — to put it politely.

Anyone who has killed, either in the military, while hunting or by unfortunate accident can attest that watching a life flee its body floods one with many emotions — it can be frightening and overwhelming. When one “kills” a Non-Playable Character (NPC), he or she is attacking a line of code. (Actually, the line of code that created the NPC itself isn’t ever under attack for it creates the infinite enemies that players destroy. So, literally, gamers kill nothing — not even zeros and ones.)  The only reason nothing becomes something is because as a society we assign value to these zeros and ones called virtual killing. A living, breathing human being, however, is a lot of real, tangible something. When one kills, one destroys not just the person but what they were, what they could have been and what they ever might have been, only leaving an empty husk as proof that they existed. A healthy mind fundamentally understands this even when young and developing.

For an example of the normally-minded gamer, which describes the majority, I will modestly use myself. When I was about 11, my parents got me the first “Medal of Honor,” which was a World War II shooter. It was rated M for mature audiences, 17 years old and above — did my parents really pay attention the rating? No, which will be something I will get into soon. However, as an 11-year-old playing a mature game, my brain didn’t get fried and I retained the ability to separate life and video games. Flash forward to today: I am 21 years old, so over 10 years I have played more mature shooters, action games and adventure titles than I can remember. I live alone, I am a responsible gun owner and it is safely stored. I even own an assault rifle which never has, nor will, take the life of anything other than paper targets. My point being, kids can play games — even ones inappropriate for them — and as a result have no desire to recreate the Columbine, Virginia Tech or Aurora scenarios even with the capability to do so any day.

Although gaming should not be addressed only when a young violent offender goes on a rampage, there are aspects of gaming that should be addressed.

Like I mentioned earlier, parents should understand a video game’s ratings and then decide if they want their children playing a game with a certain level of content. This is most important when the child is so young that they are completely dependent on the parent to purchase the games, such as 12 and under. With older teens who can go to the store themselves and purchase their own games, parent policing is much harder but less vital.

Parents must understand that two mature games could be mature for very different reasons. There is a difference between a gory shooter and a game with nudity, drugs and other adult themes, even though both are M for mature. I want parents to complain less about the damaging effects of video games and step up to be the first line of defense and take responsibility for their child’s media consumption. Because parents are, in fact, terrible as a whole at policing their child’s games. Fortunately, video games don’t turn children into mindless, bloodthirsty killers like the media suggests.

Another video game misconception that needs ironing out is wide-spread blaming of the producers of games for violence. We just covered that the consumer needs to step up and not buy the games for their children if they deem them not suitable. Companies that make games are constantly under fire for the games they produce and are labeled as violence pushers. The most infamous of these are Naughty Dog and their “GTA” series, which is very ironic. “GTA” is known for allowing players to have sex with hookers then kill them.

Ironically, the same game, however, also allows players to practice yoga, tennis and water sports and go shopping, exercising, flying and more. These benign activities in the game go unnoticed because they’re not as good a headline as killing hookers and players choose not to do them when they can blow something up instead. “GTA” provides the player everything they need to be a law-abiding citizen, but players choose the rampage because they didn’t buy the game to be a life simulator. They want to do what they can’t in real life — not do more of what they do every day.

I could nitpick more on how video games are the pit bulls of digital media, misunderstood and assumed to be dangerous. The bottom line is, video games are not directly linked to violent crimes or shootings because millions play the games and don’t shoot up schools. Also, the average age of a gamer is around 31, so assuming a link when a teenager becomes an active shooter and assuming no link when an older person goes active is baseless and prejudicial.

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For more statistics and fun facts of gaming all over the world, check out Dr. Lisa Galarneau’s article “2014 Global Gaming Stats: Who’s Playing What, and Why?” and Krista Lofgrens “2015 Video Game Statistics & Trends: Who’s Playing What & Why?,” both online at Big Fish Games. 

 Collegian Columnist Micah Maffeo can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @micahmaffeo.