Violent Video Games Did Not Cause Newtown Tragedy, But Parents Shouldn’t Ignore Them

video gamesIn the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone will be hoping to find a reason for this senseless violence. We all want to know how it could happen and how we can prevent it from happening again. As a nation, we started discussing gun laws and school security. Hopefully, we’ll begin a conversation about mental health care and stigma. And in the rush to find a possible trigger that we can control, plenty of parents and media personalities have clung to the idea that violent video games are at the root of our problem.

Violent video games. They have been the bane of good, wholesome families since as long as I can remember. I’ve heard these admittedly graphic forms of entertainment blamed for all kinds of crime over the course of my lifetime. There are experts who will argue both sides of the issue at any given time.

When it comes to the facts about violent video games, I believe that MIT professor Henry Jenkins sums it up nicely:

If there is a consensus emerging around this research, it is that violent video games may be one risk factor – when coupled with other more immediate, real-world influences — which can contribute to anti-social behavior. But no research has found that video games are a primary factor or that violent video game play could turn an otherwise normal person into a killer.

Personally, I’m not a fan of most video games. If I do choose to play, I’m more Mario Brothers than Call of Duty. What’s more, I think that parents need to consider what types of games their kids are playing and how much time they spend absorbed in these alternate realities. Like most social influences, I think that parents need to discuss violent video games with our kids. We need to make sure that they are separating fantasy from reality and that they understand the real-world dangers of violent behavior.

It’s extremely tempting to say that the lack of those conversations about violence as entertainment is what caused this horrible tragedy. Parents want there to be a culprit that we can blame. We also want to believe that there’s something we can do to protect our children. We want to be able to proudly proclaim, “My kids can’t play violent video games anymore!” and feel like we’ve provided security to our family.

Tragedy is never that clear-cut. As much as I believe that we need stricter gun control, there is no conclusive way to say that an assault weapons ban would’ve stopped or lessened these killings. Plenty of parents believe that armed guards at schools would be beneficial, but you could provide a police officer for every school and still experience tragedy. And violent video games might have an impact on those already prone to violence, but they are not responsible for turning Adam Lanza into a killer.

Sure, parents need to be aware of their children’s exposure to violent media of all kinds. It’s our job to monitor the entertainment our kids consume and discuss their choices with them. But let’s not attempt to assuage our own fears by simplifying the causes behind Newtown. It’s a complex crime and it doesn’t have any easy solutions.

(Photo: Charles Knox/Shutterstock)

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  • rebecca eckler

    I’m not sure if it’s because I’m Canadian, or not (probably not) but I absolutely hate guns. Won’t even allow my kids to play with water guns. My fiance however is a fan of violent video games. Hate them. This is a mental health issue and needs to be dealt with. I find that doctors don’t take some things like this seriously. Even when I had PPD, no one would listen to me for a very long time. I am so saddened by it all, I can barely read about it. It just makes me want to cry all the time.

    • LindsayCross

      Rebecca, you aren’t alone there. We’ve all been crying all week. And I think you’re right that mental health issues have a big role to play here.

  • Narmowen

    I love video games – especially RPG’s where violence is a given. I’ve been playing violent video games from age 12 or so. And I’ve never had a problem knowing right from wrong.
    Even mario is a violent video game. Granted, it’s not a realistic violence like Halo or Gears of War, but it is a violent video game. There are very few video games that don’t depend on the player killing something of some-sort. Mario, Zelda etc. You kill things in all of those games.
    While we’re blaming video games, why don’t we blame books as well? We already blame the TV. Movies have been blamed.

    • Jessie

      I too have been playing violent games since I was FOUR (Super Nintendo, Mortal Kombat, aka one of the games that is the reason we now have the ESRB), and have never had trouble knowing that I can’t REALLY go around hurting and killing people. And let’s not forget that good old scapegoat standby, rock and roll/metal/otherwise off-beat music that has themes of violence in it.
      Honestly, every time something like this happens, the media and everyone else is quick to jump on the “violence in games/movies/tv/music” bandwagon. Every single time. Drives me crazy.

      Lanza did what he did because he is mentally ill, and that’s all there is to it when you get down to it. Our country should be focusing on the state of our healthcare system (particularly when it comes to MENTAL health, of which the vast mentality still appears to be of the “lock them in the asylum” variety) and possibly tighter gun control laws, not blaming the entertainment industry.

  • real world

    there was and is a reason for insane asylums sorry and keep on playing T ball with your kids and dont teach them that life is hard and there are rules

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  • Johnathan C

    As a PhD Psychology student I’ve been working on a violent video game research paper for some time. There is a big difference between something being a “risk factor” and being a direct cause.
    Here are some interesting things to consider when trying to blame video games for the violence that we see today (even just a little):
    More than 30 Million people play violent video games in the US. This is roughly 10% of the US population. If the “risk factor” involved here were very significant, even if only 1% of all people who played violent games had their actions influenced by it, then it would be more than 300,000 crazy people running around shooting things up. But the stats don’t support that.
    In fact, the stats, as deplorable as they are, don’t show much out of the ordinary. There are direct correlations between an increase in violent video game sales and a decrease in crime (just as there is a proven correlation between an increase in the availibility of pornographic material and a decrease in rapes and sexual assaults). In some psychology circles the belief is that rather than fueling their desire to go out and harm people, video games allow people to channel such urges into a safe alternate outlet.
    Also consider that as far as school violence is concerned, this decade is NOT the most violent time our nation’s history. That notation goes to 1930-1940. The difference is that the violence seems more prolific because it’s more televised, it’s in-your-face, and the networks can’t seem to stop playing it over and over and over. So, you think about it more. Just because you didn’t know about it, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen before.
    Violent crimes have happened throughout human history; long before the advent of video games, movies, or TV shows. In the “Wild West” and colonial era America it was common practice for families to go down and watch hangings and executions together. There were countless children exposed to actual violence as opposed to simulated violence, and they didn’t turn out to be murderers by the thousands. That practice had persisted since the medieval era. The truth of the matter is that humans are an intrinsically violent species by nature. Modern day humans who have no access to TV or games still develop violent personalities. Jack the Ripper certainly wasn’t persuaded by electronic media. What does it say about human nature when the oldest in-tact human remains ever found, Otzi the Iceman, were of someone who was murdered; shot in the back with an arrow and cudgeled over the head? Clearly humans do not require media to influence our behavior or our actions. Violence is a part of human life. It always has been. Even if all violent video games and TV were suddenly banned, violence would persist. In fact, the emperical evidence suggests that it would get worse. Food for thought.