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Same Old Song and Dance

Written By mista sense on Monday, April 30, 2007 | 4:22 PM

Here's an article on Slate resurrecting the tired idea of video games causing increased aggression-- and thus being a factor in violent crime. The article cites as examples Lee Malvo, the beltway sniper who was a Halo enthusiast, Harris and Klebold of Columbine, who played Doom, and VTech killer Cho Seung Hui, "who may or may not have played CounterStrike" (no evidence was found).

Even if a study finds that kids who play Wolfenstein are more likely to behave aggressively than kids who play Myst, it's a huge leap to assert that this also makes them dangerously violent. Are hockey players more likely to be murderers than chess champions? Is someone with a hot temper more likely to kill than someone with a mild manner? On the contrary-- isn't it the quiet ones you gotta worry about? Wasn't Cho Seung Hui a nerd who barely ever spoke to anyone? He demonstrated creepy behavior prior to the killings, sure-- but nothing that could be construed as aggressive, at least not beyond the natural spectrum of human expression.

The second fatal flaw in this tiresome argument is the fact that Harris, Klebold, Malvo and Hui were all aged such that they fell squarely in the market demographic most likely to play games. Something like eighty percent of males aged 12-17 play, or have played, a video game; two thirds of males 18-34 play. Therefore, if a young man commits a violent crime, the odds are two to one that the Feds will dig up some evidence of prior gaming in their investigation. Does that mean you can blame the game?

Not to mention the fact that correlation is not causation. Perhaps violent individuals with deep-seated emotional problems prefer violent games, enough to make them more excited during a study. Additionally, individuals who spend a high number of hours gaming are spending fewer hours doing other things-- such as adaptive, healthy socialization. Is the game depriving them of their sanity, or is the fact that they spend so much time playing, or focus intently on games of a particular nature evidence of the fact that they were on the edge to begin with?

Either way, I'm tired of hearing this. Twice this week, I chatted briefly about games with individuals who don't play, and both said, "but aren't they pretty bloody and violent these days?" This excessive, nauseating media scapegoating is affecting objective perception of what has actually become, "these days," a more diverse and interesting medium-- and I can't think of many violent games wherein I haven't seen something more gory, or more violent, in movies. Did anyone try to find out whether Cho Seung Hui ever watched The Hills Have Eyes? Not that it'd be any more relevant to blame the movie.

To be fair, the article skews a little more in the direction of objectivity toward the end, but I'm not in the mood to feel kindly towards a piece titled "Don't Shoot: Why Video Games Really Are Linked to Violence." Enough already.

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