A friend recently shared a story with me regarding the perceived role of video game violence when it comes to outward acts of aggression by young people.
The author of the story (which you can find here), a high school teacher, recounted his days as a troubled youth and his obsession with weapons and killing – an obsession that found him going so far as to carry loaded guns in his backpack at school or knives in his pocket, and write about killing others.
As the story progresses, it is revealed that after making it through the worst of his youth and experiencing some “maturing moments” in his life, he was able break away from his violent tendencies and recognize the folly of his actions.
I was enjoying the story quite a bit.
That is, until he cited a difference between himself and some of the individuals who have carried out violent acts against peers/innocent victims: He didn’t play violent video games.
This is where he lost me. And here’s why:
While I get what he’s trying to say, and I’m glad that he was able to turn things around, even this is example is difficult to use as validation that violent video games are the catalysts that drive teenage shooters to commit such horrible acts. To be honest, I don’t really think it’s valid in this case.
The reason I say this is because when I was in school, the majority of my time spent between 5th Grade and around my junior year of high school (by my senior year, no one really cared), I dealt with bullying/teasing/prodding/etc as well. I, too, had access to weapons – including shotguns, pistols and a small rifle. And yes, I even played violent video games at this time (I bought my first PS2 using money from a summer job between my freshman and sophomore years). Of course, I never brought any of those weapons with me to school. Nor did I ever fantasize/talk about killing people.
My friends and I would engage in games of Halo on the original Xbox or I would play the likes of Half Life and Resident Evil and Medal of Honor on PS2, which allowed me to basically kill anything that moved. We’d talk about how we were going to headshot the other or kill the other with a sword. But beyond the aggression it created between friends/siblings, I don’t ever recall having the desire to use the sequences in which I was engaging as a means of “practice.”
In my honest and obviously non-professional opinion, the man who wrote this story had some major psychological issues while in school. Like I said, I’m glad he was able to turn things around, but it seems like a cop-out to me for him to suggest that the only reason he didn’t snap was because of not playing violent video games. I don’t believe that for a single moment. “Look, I know I carried guns around in my backpack at school, carried a knife on me a lot of the time, had an obsession with weapons and fantasized about killing people – but at least I didn’t play violent video games!”
No. That feels like a contrived place to direct the blame instead of saying what he should be saying: “I was never pushed to the point of breaking and I’m damn lucky to not have been.”
I would also be interested in knowing what his home life and extra curricular life were like, as I believe that has a great deal to do with how you view what life beyond your own problems (i.e. high school, social circles, etc) is actually like. I had a great group of people around me while I was dealing with the aforementioned rough spots in life. Despite my low self esteem, my family, friends, church family and even co-workers when I started work were positive influences on me. Now, I’m not saying I would have committed some horrible act against my peers, but it’s easy to say that given the direction my life took and the people who helped me see it. Had the people in my life not been there, I shutter to think about the type of person I would have been.
Because he doesn’t really delve into this very much, save for talking about his mother’s disdain for games, it’s hard to say. But, if anything was the difference, I would find it more believable that it was the individuals in his life more than his lack of video game interaction.
For sure, he’s free to justify his lack of action any way he pleases. But as someone who was in a similar position in terms of social acceptance and placement, this strikes me as yet another attempt to place the blame on something else instead of looking in the mirror and seeing where the problem really is: The person.
People aren’t talking about the mental health aspect of these shootings like they should be. And as long as people keep looking to place the blame on violent video games, I fear we never will.