Games and Violence: Games, Gamers & Gaming | March 15, 2013

Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy has stirred many national debates, including the role that video games and other violent entertainment media played in the shaping of alleged shooter Adam Lanza’s psyche.

After Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris bloodied the walls of Columbine High School in 1999, their avid interest in video games was addressed in almost every news report and editorial. Now that it has come to light that Lanza was a gamer, my reaction is the same as it was back then: Why is this relevant? According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly 80 percent of Americans in Lanza’s age group also play video games, and many of those games are violent. If there were a true, solid, consistent link with the playing of violent video games and aggressive criminal behavior, then 80 percent of American males should be committing murder right now.

Would you blame sports?

call of duty Games and Violence: Games, Gamers & Gaming | March 15, 2013I’m not contending that there is no connection between violent games (or movies/music/books) and violent people, but it’s correlative instead of causative. Individuals with personalities that lead to homicide are likely more drawn than others to media that feed their fantasies. Shooters, sports games, and fighting games do bring out aggressive behavior—hence the profanity and bullying exchanged in a game of Call of Duty. But real-life sports also amplify aggressive behavior, and parents’ groups aren’t fighting to ban high school football or to boycott the National Hockey League because of the inherently brutal nature of contact sports.

Playing violent video games doesn’t turn people into killers any more than playing rugby does.  Video games are about conflict, and a struggle of ballistic and physical superiority is the easiest, most direct way to portray that, especially in a medium that requires active participation. Reading a novel about a married couple struggling with infidelity can be a deep and moving experience; playing video games about the same subject can be an exercise in boredom. That’s why, especially in the age of lucrative online game play opportunities, developers tend to portray wars and tournaments instead of careers and relationships.

More to it than violence

I appreciate that I can live out my fantasies of being a hard-boiled detective, a knight-errant, and a special-ops agent all in one gaming session, but I also admire games like Journey that encourage introspection and sensory involvement more than beating the bad guy. One of my favorite games is Braid, a puzzle-based game that examines the nature of obsession and the self-destruction that comes with it. There are no monsters or stealth assassinations; it’s a beautiful game that is challenging, rewarding, and disturbing without any virtual bloodshed. Would it be such a bad thing to see more games like this instead of the increasingly generic action outings?

The game industry is taking steps to make this a reality, and, as librarians, we should encourage it. It’s our responsibility to connect our patrons to the media and information they need to maximize the quality of their life, and entertainment is part of that. Entertainment is a personal choice; librarians shouldn’t reject games because they’re too dark or too violent. It’s against everything for which we stand. However, we should also circulate games that push the artistic boundaries of what the medium should be and should steer patrons toward those titles even as we make sure they have access to the latest shooter.  We should familiarize ourselves with these games so we can better articulate why they are valuable.

Games shouldn’t be offered up as sacrificial lambs. Any perceived admission of guilt could seriously taint the integrity of an informed debate on the content of games and its effect on society. The “Day of Cease-Fire” sponsored by GamerFitNation in which gamers were encouraged to abstain from playing online shooters as a show of support for the Sandy Hook victims was a kind gesture, but I worry that opponents saw it as a gamer community admission that violent video games can be unhealthy.

Likewise for the Southington, CT, buyback in which violent video games, movies, or music could be exchanged for gift cards—an identical tactic used by police to get illegal weapons off the streets. A gamer participating in this program is essentially admitting that games are as much of a threat to public safety as firearms are in the hands of criminals. Regardless of the spirit behind the act, it opens rhetorical doors that should be kept shut.

It’s censorship

This is another reason why libraries should stay committed to all kinds of video games. Internal censorship is essentially an admission that ideas are dangerous, and that’s not something a librarian should admit. There will always be violent video games. That doesn’t mean that video games can’t be better, but they shouldn’t bear the burden of accountability either. I would much rather hold accountable the perpetrators of travesties.

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M. Brandon Robbins About M. Brandon Robbins

M. Brandon Robbins (mbrandon.robbins@gmail.com) is the Media Coordinator at Goldsboro High School in Goldsboro, NC. He's a member of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders.

Comments

  1. James Bradley says:

    This article is full of so many disingenuous and fallacious arguments in favor of a shaky proposition that one is left with the impression that the author himself is a video game addict flailing desperately in an attempt to deny the obvious fact of his addiction. If the link between video game violence and violent people is “correlative instead of causative,” as he so confidently claims, then where were all the mass shootings twenty years ago, before the rise of the absurdly-intense first person shooter? I’m not making the simplistic argument that video games alone are to blame, rather, it is our entire culture which has gone down the same dark path. Video games have become a prominent and exemplary component of an irresponsible culture of escapist, decadent wish-fulfillment and narcissism.

    The author claims “there will always be violent video games.” This is a narrow-minded, normatively-biased worldview. Who can claim with such self-assuredness that anything will “always” be around, let alone something as trite and fleeting as a mere cultural phenomenon? In truth, the author’s misguided defense of the violent content of video games has little or nothing to do with the issue of censorship. It only serves to weaken the position of the advocates of intellectual freedom.

    • Christa says:

      “This article is full of so many disingenuous and fallacious arguments in favor of a shaky proposition that one is left with the impression that the author himself is a video game addict flailing desperately in an attempt to deny the obvious fact of his addiction.” Do you realize that you just took the author’s calm, rational defense of not censoring content because some of the public is afraid of it, complained that it was “disingenuous and fallacious,” then made a personal attack on the author for defending a policy that’s clearly laid out in the ALA Freedom to Read Statement? Your accusation that the author is “a video game addict flailing desperately in an attempt to deny the obvious fact of his addiction” is as silly as calling an author for a wine enthusiast magazine an alcoholic.

      “In truth, the author’s misguided defense of the violent content of video games has little or nothing to do with the issue of censorship. It only serves to weaken the position of the advocates of intellectual freedom.” I think that personal attacks on the author of an article defending the idea that no game can make somebody’s hand pull a trigger is a saddening thing to see at the top of the comments on a Library Journal article. Familiarize yourself with the meaning of intellectual freedom: http://www.ala.org/offices/oif/statementspols/ftrstatement/freedomreadstatement .

      I think a lot of people here are missing the author’s point. It is the job of librarians to provide a well-rounded collection, regardless of any community witch hunts to remove supposedly dangerous material. Games like Call of Duty are indisputably popular, and a videogame collection that excludes first person shooters cannot be considered well-rounded. As long as these games meet the standards in a library’s collection development policy, they should not be removed. Sweeping, long-winded, unsupportable claims such as “it is our entire culture which has gone down the same dark path. Video games have become a prominent and exemplary component of an irresponsible culture of escapist, decadent wish-fulfillment and narcissism” have no place in this dispute. Whether or not people think they are dangerous is irrelevant unless that is proven and the games are made illegal.

    • Alan says:

      I’m not sure if you were actually seeking an answer to your question about “where were all the mass shootings before video games?”.
      But here. Here they are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers:_Americas

  2. Melissa Belvadi says:

    The author clearly does not understand the concept of multiple causative factors. ” If there were a true, solid, consistent link with the playing of violent video games and aggressive criminal behavior, then 80 percent of American males should be committing murder right now.” The tobacco companies were making exactly the same claims regarding the connection between smoking and lung cancer. Today we are very sure that heavy smoking is a major factor in causing lung cancer, even though “only” about 24% (2006 European study) of male heavy smokers will actually get lung cancer.

    • Christa says:

      Melissa, what you’re saying about tobacco is true, but we have hard scientific evidence from unbiased sources that shows that tobacco smoke is carcinogenic. This is not the case with video game violence and mass shootings. This Wikipedia article (I know, shame on me for using Wikipedia) summarizes what I’m talking about and, although anyone can write anything on Wikipedia, links to peer-reviewed scholarly articles that support the facts in the article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Video_game_controversy#Crime_and_violence

  3. Sarah says:

    I actually think careers and relationships are very interesting topics to explore in video games. I would play a game about a struggling married relationship in two seconds, and I know a lot of gamers who would.

    I don’t think violent video games create violent people either, but I do think there is a lot of room for other types of video games in the market.

    And PS. there are a lot of gamers out there who aren’t young adult males.

  4. Nyama Marsh says:

    Imagine that society blamed violent books instead of music or games?

    Mark David “Chapman later remained at the scene reading J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye until the police arrived and arrested him. Chapman repeatedly claimed that the novel was his statement.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_David_Chapman
    ————————————————–
    Books and Violence: Books, Book Lovers & Reading

    Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy has stirred many national debates, including the role that books and other violent entertainment media played in the shaping of alleged shooter Adam Lanza’s psyche.

    After Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris bloodied the walls of Columbine High School in 1999, their avid interest in books was addressed in almost every news report and editorial. Now that it has come to light that Lanza was a reader, my reaction is the same as it was back then: Why is this relevant? According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, nearly 80 percent of Americans in Lanza’s age group also read books, and many of those books are violent. If there were a true, solid, consistent link with the reading of violent books and aggressive criminal behavior, then 80 percent of American males should be committing murder right now.
    WOULD YOU BLAME SPORTS?

    I’m not contending that there is no connection between violent books (or movies/music/games) and violent people, but it’s correlative instead of causative. Individuals with personalities that lead to homicide are likely more drawn than others to media that feed their fantasies. True crime, sports books, and fighting books do bring out aggressive behavior—hence the profanity and bullying exchanged in a book of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. But real-life sports also amplify aggressive behavior, and parents’ groups aren’t fighting to ban high school football or to boycott the National Hockey League because of the inherently brutal nature of contact sports.

    Reading violent books doesn’t turn people into killers any more than playing rugby does.   Books are about conflict, and a struggle of ballistic and physical superiority is the easiest, most direct way to portray that, especially in a medium that requires active participation.

    MORE TO IT THAN VIOLENCE
    I appreciate that I can live out my fantasies of being a hard-boiled detective, a knight-errant, and a special-ops agent all in one reading session, but I also admire books by Deepak Chopra that encourage introspection and sensory involvement more than beating the bad guy. One of my favorite books is God: A Story of Revelation, a book that examines the nature of God. There are no monsters or stealth assassinations; it’s a beautiful book that is challenging, rewarding, and disturbing without any virtual bloodshed. Would it be such a bad thing to see more books like this instead of the increasingly generic action outings?

    The book industry is taking steps to make this a reality, and, as librarians, we should encourage it. It’s our responsibility to connect our patrons to the media and information they need to maximize the quality of their life, and entertainment is part of that. Entertainment is a personal choice; librarians shouldn’t reject books because they’re too dark or too violent. It’s against everything for which we stand. However, we should also circulate books that push the artistic boundaries of what the medium should be and should steer patrons toward those titles even as we make sure they have access to the latest shooter.  We should familiarize ourselves with these books so we can better articulate why they are valuable.

    Books shouldn’t be offered up as sacrificial lambs. Any perceived admission of guilt could seriously taint the integrity of an informed debate on the content of books and its effect on society. The “Day of No Reading” sponsored by the USLA in which readers were encouraged to abstain from reading shooters as a show of support for the Sandy Hook victims was a kind gesture, but I worry that opponents saw it as a reading community admission that violent books can be unhealthy.

    Likewise for the Southington, CT, buyback in which violent books, movies, or music could be exchanged for gift cards—an identical tactic used by police to get illegal books off the streets. A reader participating in this program is essentially admitting that books are as much of a threat to public safety as firearms are in the hands of criminals. Regardless of the spirit behind the act, it opens rhetorical doors that should be kept shut.

    IT’S CENSORSHIP
    This is another reason why libraries should stay committed to all kinds of books. Internal censorship is essentially an admission that ideas are dangerous, and that’s not something a librarian should admit. There will always be violent books. That doesn’t mean that books can’t be better, but they shouldn’t bear the burden of accountability either. I would much rather hold accountable the perpetrators of travesties.

  5. Alan says:

    Thank you for this well-reasoned, insightful article. Too many LIS professionals are guilty of treating the entire world of games and gaming with suspicion, condescension, or outright derision — an attitude not exactly befitting our profession. I fear the future won’t be too kind to them.

  6. Sue says:

    Librarians interested in non-violent games might like to check out this site: http://www.dharmagames.org/

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