people blaming video games for the shooting at Virginia Tech

20 04 2007

It’s not surprising that video games are being blamed for the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.  But what is this accusation founded on?

The indiscriminate lawyer Jack Thompson was the first to jump on this (predictably), saying the killer probably played Counter Strike, and even going so far as to say Microsoft may be partly to blame for the deaths.  (Which is ironic because they didn’t make the game.)  In an open letter to Bill Gates, Jack Thompson said, “Mr. Gates, your company is potentially legally liable (for) the harm done at Virginia Tech.  Your game, a killing simulator, … trained him to enjoy killing and how to kill.”  But once again, Jack Thompson has egg on his face for his unfounded accusations — gaming was in no way involved.  When the police searched Cho’s room, they didn’t find any video games.  Cho’s suite-mate at the university said he had never seen Cho play video games.  But proof isn’t required for Jack Thompson, because he understands so much.  (Note the sarcasm.)  Thompson said, “This is not rocket science.  When a kid who has never killed anyone in his life goes on a rampage and looks like the Terminator, he’s a video gamer. … He might have killed somebody but he wouldn’t have killed 32 if he hadn’t rehearsed it and trained himself like a warrior on virtual reality.  It can’t be done.  It just doesn’t happen.”  To that I have to ask, what video games trained Hitler, Genghis Khan, Stalin, Mussolini, Jim Jones, etc.?  What about the barbarians who pillaged cities and took no prisoners?  The people were just evil.  You don’t need video games to know how to kill people.

Even Dr. Phil joined in on the bandwagon : “You take [videogames] and mix it with a psychopath, a sociopath or someone suffering from mental illness and add in a dose of rage, the suggestibility is too high.”  Someone online made the comment that almost anything could be mixed in with “a psychopath, a sociopath” with “a dose of rage”, even things like coffee, PMS, and Twinkies.  Obviously the problem wasn’t the video games but the person himself.

On the topic of legislation, I agree that kids should be protected against buying violent video games without their parents’ consent.  That’s why the ESRB rates them.  Stores should observe this rating, like they do for R-rated movies, and parents should watch what their children entertain themselves with.  But, there’s something else about this case that seems to be often left out : Cho Seung-Hui was not a child.  He was 23 — an adult.  So the laws to protect children from violent video games wouldn’t apply to him anyway.  Yet we are hearing this agenda pushed by several people this week, and I think it’s bad timing for that.

There were also statements made that this was the worst school shooting ever, but it wasn’t — that was at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966.  Which, by the way, is before any video games were invented.  Dr. Karen Sternheimer has written a book about today’s youth, and she said :

“One thing that people often don’t realize is that in the years since video game sales have really exploded, not only have youth violence rates decreased but violence rates in the U.S. have declined precipitously.”

Even if Cho had played video games, would that surprise anyone?  How many 23 year old males these days haven’t?  But blaming video games this quick and without proof is irresponsible and damaging.  I know everyone wants to find a simple solution for what happened, and it makes people feel better if we can find a “scapegoat” and legislate it.  But the solution to what happened is not that simple.  Why won’t people look at the real causes?  Are we scared to see what the real problems are?  I suspect that’s the issue, because the problem is not video games, nor is the problem guns — it’s our society and (the lack of) morals and values.

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6 responses

24 04 2007
thacker

I totally agree with you… I dont think video games can make anyone violent… however, you need to make one correction; in the shooting at the university of texas in 1966, 16 people lost their lives & 31 were wounded. So the shootings at Virginia tech is indeed the deadliest the U.S. has experienced. But as you mentioned shooter in ’66 had no video games to play.

24 04 2007
Mrs. Fab

Sorry, gentlemen. I have to respectfully disagree with you on this one and say that it’s just plain bunk to say we aren’t influenced in the least by visual stimuli, in both positive and negative ways.

Now, please don’t misconstrue the argument I’m about to make. I agree that evil acts have been committed throughout the ages and will continue until Jesus returns regardless of what is shown on tv or played in video games. Also, I don’t in any way transfer the blame from the people who actually commit evil deeds to tv, movies, or video games. BUT– I am not naive enough to think they have no bearing on our thoughts or our actions whatsoever.

If what we see doesn’t influence us, why are there disclaimers at the bottom of every television commercial advertising the latest cars and trucks to come on the market? Every one of them includes the statement, “Professional driver on a closed course. Do not attempt.” or something along those lines during the length of the ad. Why would those disclaimers be necessary if someone hadn’t seen something “cool” in an ad and tried to duplicate it with their own vehicles, seriously injuring themselves or others in the process?

Why are all ads for the Jack*** movies prefaced with a variation of “Don’t try this at home or you’ll really hurt yourself.”? I seem to recall reading articles a few years ago, when the show was first airing on MTV, about lawsuits being brought against the show and/or its producers and/or MTV. Apparently, viewers were trying to perform stunts they’d seen on the show and seriously hurting themselves. If memory serves me correctly, one instance involved a man setting himself on fire while trying to copy a stunt he’d seen performed on the show.

How many young people died as a result of trying to imitate Saddam Hussein’s execution? I remember reading article after article about young people accidentally killing themselves while trying to copy what they’d seen on tv.

Do you still believe that what we put in front of our eyes doesn’t affect us or our actions?

In case you do, let me try another tactic.

Would you say that we can be affected in a positive way by what we view on a regular basis?

If I watched a news story on the sad plight of a local family needing assistance of some sort and decided to get involved in helping, would you agree that it’s safe to say I was moved to act by something I’d seen on television? Hopefully I would be the type of person who would feel compelled to show compassion anyway, but could actually seeing someone in need be what finally spurred me to action? Why, then, do we try to say that it isn’t possible for someone with evil in their hearts to be moved to act in a negative way by something they’ve seen on television (or played in a video game)?

Violence has become so commonplace today that we’ve almost become immune to it. When tragedies like the VT shootings do occur, we simply comment about how sad it is then simply go on with our lives. Why don’t we break down and weep instead? Could it be because as a society we are very sadly de-sensitized to the violence around us? We are bombarded day after day with articles about and pictures of horrendous atrocities committed throughout the world, yet we simply accept them as part of life and move on. I’m guilty of this myself.

The point I am trying to make is this:

If we can be affected just by reading about violent acts to the point of becoming numb to other’s pain, how much more so can we be affected by actually taking part in violent acts, even if they’re “just part of a video game”?

When it comes down to it, is simulating a mass murder of your fellow man and getting enjoyment out of it any less disturbing than actually perpetrating it?

24 04 2007
Beppo

Mrs. Fab, thanks for the comment. I agree with almost everything you said. We are influenced by what we see and hear. And our society is becoming increasingly violent. But my problem in this scenario is that some people are saying it’s because of violent video games that people are committing these crimes, especially since there was no proof the shooter even played video games.

The problem is our culture (which is derived from the people). While media is a part of the problem, I don’t think it’s necessarily the root cause. Sure, the media makes it worse, putting more fuel on the fire, but people are choosing to entertain themselves with that kind of material. Ultimately, the problem is that our morals are on a downward slide. Our nation is neglecting God — some people are trying to remove God completely, along with many people claiming to have a form of godliness (that they define) but not really walking with God. And so moral absolutes are getting tossed out, and people rationalize a lot of sinful stuff.

My point is this — the problem is not that there are violent movies, TV shows, songs, video games, etc., the problem is that people are becoming more violent. When people blame video games, it excuses the other stuff, including our own sinful tendencies. It enables people to cast blame on something external (that they don’t like) instead of taking personal responsibility. Notice that seldom are violent movies blamed, nor are violent books, nor is being a soldier in the Army blamed. Now, I realize the Army is required for the safety of our country, but think about it — if people claim that shooting a pixellated person in a fantasy world corrupts, then what about actually shooting people? (Just something to think about.)

People in general have a tendency to blame others for our moral shortcomings. How many people quit Christianity because someone offended them or their parents didn’t raise them right or someone did them wrong? How many people blame their character and attitude on other people or events? How many politicians blame the other party for the country’s problems? How many people blame President Bush for just about everything? How many people blame racial prejudice when things don’t work out like they planned? Of course it is sometimes the other person’s fault for something, but that doesn’t make you change your attitude, nor does it have to ruin your life. The issue is that most people don’t want to accept personal responsibility. That’s why there are so many disclaimers these days — you spill your coffee, or your child fails a class, or you just don’t think things through with common sense so you do something stupid. People sue for almost anything these days.

The societal problems for youth tend to get blamed on something different in each generation. Whether comic books, Dungeons & Dragons, heavy metal, or video games, it’s all casting the blame at something external. We like to have a scapegoat.

Video games can be engrossing, but an in-depth study by the British Board of Film Classification reported that, “People who do not play games raise concerns about their engrossing nature, assuming that players are also emotionally engrossed. This research suggests the opposite; a range of factors seems to make them less emotionally involving than film or television.” They also revealed that most gamers don’t play games as “practice” of a planned reality, but as an escape from reality. That is, they know it’s fake, just like watching a movie is, and that’s what makes it entertaining — it’s a place where you can do things you couldn’t do in real life.

Finally, I have several examples of people who have played violent video games and are not violent people. I’ll admit that I’ve played some, particularly in college. Am I a violent person? I can honestly say I never have the temptation to physically hurt anyone. I have several friends who have also played numerous violent video games. If someone is already violent, then they might find self-expression in a violent video game, but I can’t believe that playing a game makes you violent. If acting out violence makes someone violent, then why is Arnold Schwarzenegger now a governor? He was in lots of violent movies, going through the motions of killing thousands of people. Many actors have played roles like that.

I do agree we should be careful with what we put in our minds. Some video games are so bad that they shouldn’t be played, just like some movies shouldn’t be watched. And kids that don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy should be shielded from mature games (which is why they are rated). But with adults, the main problem isn’t that people watch/play it — the problem is their morals and worldview.

I also agree that our society has become largely de-sensitized to violence (and sexuality). Some video games do contribute to this, just like a lot of TV shows and movies do. I’m not saying we should fill our minds with all that stuff, just that blaming it for our actions isn’t right. And casting blame on things like video games causes people to overlook the real issue — that the moral standards in our society are crumbling.

25 04 2007
Fab

Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe violent video games are popular because of mankind’s increased desire to be violent. Just a thought.

25 04 2007
Beppo

That’s one of the points I was trying to make, except I took the long, scenic drive to get there.

BTW, I read up on the school shooting at the University of Texas in Austin in 1966, and perhaps it wasn’t quite as bad in terms of fatalities. It was still horrible, though. I had seen some sites saying it was the worst, and I should’ve verified the facts more before making that statement.

26 09 2009
update on Jack Thompson’s career « Buffet o’ Blog

[…] Every time there was a school shooting, like at Columbine and Virginia Tech, Jack Thompson was there, claiming video games were the cause.  And even when there was no proof found, Thompson never backed away from his allegations.  He can’t be bothered to let facts interfere with his statements.   I remember when Virginia Tech happened, that Thompson was on TV that day blaming video games before anyone even knew who the killer was or why he did it, and then it was found that he didn’t even play video games.  (I wrote more on that here.) […]

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