Thirteen years ago, on April 20, 1999, two students walked through the doors of Columbine High School with evil in their veins and embarked on a hellish killing spree that left 15 dead– 13 students, one heroic teacher, and the two gunmen themselves– and countless others injured. It was the worst school shooting in America at that time.
In the aftermath, people struggled to come to grips with what happened and why. They searched for answers, wondering what could have caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to commit such an atrocious act. They wanted to know who or what to blame.
One of the culprits offered up for blame was violent video games. Harris and Klebold were both fans of Doom, a gory first-person shooter. The belief was that the violence in games such as Doom desensitized Harris and Klebold to violence and encouraged their murderous behavior.
People like disbarred attorney Jack Thompson went on the attack against video games, claiming they were “murder simulators”. Studies were released that claimed that violent games desensitized kids and led to increased violence and aggression.
The thing is, these people are looking at it the wrong way. They’ve got it backwards.
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Violent games didn’t cause these terrible atrocities. These killers didn’t commit their nefarious deeds because they played violent games. They played violent games because violence appeals to them.
Look, these are people who thought it was a good idea to go blow up their school and shoot up their classmates. They were obsessed with guns and violence. What kind of games do you think they would play? NintenDogs? It’s highly doubtful that they would take a break from building pipe bombs or writing a manifesto to get their grooves on with Dance Central. They play violent video games because that’s what appeals to them.
Younger generations have grown up with video games. The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in North America in 1985, and video games have only become more and more prevalent since then. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer is 37.
A 2008 survey of kids aged 12-17 found that 97 percent played video games. What all this means is that it’s not surprising that school shooters play video games. Games have become so popular that most kids have played them. If the vast majority of middle and high school students have played video games, yet only a miniscule few have committed acts of violence, then how can games be the culprit?
There are close to 35 million Xbox Live subscribers worldwide. One ten thousandth of a percent of that number is 3,500, and there have not been 3,500 school shootings. Throw in the number of PlayStation, Wii, and PC users out there, and that fraction gets even smaller.
How can the claim be made that video games help cause violence when so many gamers have never been involved in these violent acts?
According to the Entertainment Software Association, the average age of a gamer is 37; yet video games are never cited when adults commit murder despite adult shooting occurring far more often than school shootings.
As for the studies that claim to link violent video games to violence, there are numerous other studies that claim the exact opposite. Many people, such as sociologist Karen Sternheimer, believe that the real cause of violence are factors such as socioeconomic status, domestic abuse, family stability, unemployment, and mental illness.
A study conducted at Texas A&M University in 2010 found that once socioeconomic factors were accounted for, children who played violent games were not significantly more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than those who did not.
The study also found a strong link between violence and depression symptoms. Lead investigator Chris Ferguson said, “The current study finds no evidence to support a long-term relationship between video game violence use and subsequent aggression. Even though the debate over violent video games and youth violence will continue, it must do so with restraint.”
Video games aren’t the cause of youth violence. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold didn’t massacre 13 people and then take their own lives because they played Doom too often. They did it for other reasons. In fact, the FBI concluded that Harris was a psychopath with a messianic-grade superiority complex who was full of contempt for humanity and wanted to punish it for being inferior. FBI psychiatrists believe he may done something even worse had he not died that April day 13 years ago.
Obviously, this was caused by Sim City allowing players to unleash natural disasters on their cities.
Sarcasm aside, gamers are tired of having games unnecessarily blamed whenever a young kid commits a tragic act of violence. The root causes lay deeper, way beyond video games, and it’s time we focus on those issues rather than trying to pin the blame on game developers.
This post was originally written in April of 2012 by Adam Stevinson is a Littleton, Colorado native, avid gamer, and proud graduate of Columbine High School.