In 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.