On both sides of the Atlantic there is rousing debate about gun control and the need to prevent further school shootings. The arguments range from: ‘It’s people who do bad things, it’s no use banning guns’ – to: ‘If we didn’t allow guns, we wouldn’t have mass shootings’.
Enough people have commented on this issue already, so I’d like to focus my attention on the story from a different angle. It’s time to talk about violent gaming.
Many of the people decrying the ownership and use of guns in America are quite happy to play realistic, violent games such as Call of Duty and World of Warcraft, or to allow their pre-teen children to play them.
Immediately most readers will groan as they hash up that old argument in their head: “Just because I like to pretend I’m a soldier wielding guns and knives in video games, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to go out and kill someone in real life. It’s just a game!’
I agree. Read my lips, I mean print; I agree.
YOU are not likely to go out and kill anybody after hundreds of hours of playing such games.
But one sad, lonely, emotionally stunted or mentally challenged individual is.
And therein lies the problem.
I call it the ‘One in a Million Theory’ (though the odds could quite likely be the 10 or 100 in a million theory). Of all the millions playing such games, a very small proportion will be obsessing over their love of virtual killing. They may be reclusive types, loner types, angry types, or as one former classmate of Adam Lanza said ‘one of the freaks’.
Such individuals are storing up the images in their head and becoming inclined towards wanting to kill in real life. When they will strike may depend on a variety of influences and current mood. But death is lurking within them, way before they strike out to harm someone or many ones, as in Newtown, Connecticut.
Murder doesn’t happen in a day.
I’m convinced that the desire to kill begins as a small seed in a person’s psyche or heart before they ever pick up their weapon of choice.
The Bible talks about the desire to sin, and how what starts in our hearts can lead to death. [James 1:14: Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15These desires give birth to sinful (evil) actions. And when sin (evil) is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.]
I believe that playing violent video games waters and fertilises the seed, encouraging thoughts of killing to grow. Other influences or family dysfunction also play their part. But once the seed is fully grown, the perpetrator strikes out.
‘So what’s that got to do with me?’ You might ask yourself. ‘I don’t have a desire to kill anyone and I’m not watering anything!’
Again, correct. But if one in a million players is a psychologically disturbed individual, then we could potentially have dozens of budding Adam Lanzas lurking out there. Think about it: dozens of others willing to enact such brutal destruction and loss in just a few moments of action.
Admittedly, the banning of guns would reduce the scale of death, but even with a couple of knives, Lanza could still have killed several before being restrained or detained.
The one in a million is still capable of inflicting excessive pain and loss.
I think it’s time to not just think about gun control, but think about fascination with virtual killing. Children, in particular, are more influenced by what they see on a screen, than rational adults who have already learnt empathy, kindness and, hopefully, self control.
In the last few years, I have noticed an increase of stories in the media about young men, ranging from teens to those in their 30s, who have never committed any crime before, lashing out to kill their wife or girlfriend or family member. In the UK, this is usually a knife inflicted murder. Stories such as this or this. And more recently, this. (An horrific killing in front of the couple’s young son)
Ordinary men. Often responsible men with children. Middle class men. Decent employees. These were, in fact, not weird or reclusive individuals.
Yet in a moment of madness they have killed. Perhaps they were angry with something their partner said or did. But instead of leaving or working through the conflict, they did the thing they so instinctively found easy to do: They reached for a knife and killed.
It would be interesting to know what they had in their dvd or gaming collection.
I find it hard to believe that the correlation between spur of the moment killing and violent gaming is considered ludicrous. Yet mass killer, Norwgian Anders Behring Breivik even boasted that he had practised on Modern Warfare 2 (part of the CoD games) for around seven hours a day before carrying out his killing spree on the island of Utoya in the summer of 2011. (Reference) Likewise, it has been reported that Lanza liked to play violent video games.
Do we really think that there are not any others like him out there? Even if it is only one in a million players, do the calculations. Around one billion dollars of revenue from Call of Duty – Black Ops II, that means around 16 million games sold, if the item costs around 60 dollars. That means 16 budding killers according to my modest, hypothesis. If you think that ten in a million players could be disaffected, disturbed people, that figure jumps to 160. Sounds alarming.
In the same way that people wish to see gun restrictions enforced for the good of the many, I would like to see video game restrictions enforced to help reduce the cultivation of killing among so many young people, an obsession that has potential to translate into killing in real life, at some point in the future.
In the same way, that gun owners are encouraged to lock away their weapon, I’d like to see parents lock away their 18 (or R) rated games, and game producers to tone down the level of violence.
I once read that during WWI, many soldiers found it hard to kill human opponents, having just practised on circular targets. Thereafter, the military trained soldiers to shoot lifelike, stuffed figures, that resembled people. The soldiers responded as expected – shooting their opponents came more naturally to them; they no longer flinched or held back during WWII battles.
Now we have high tech, visually realistic killing scenarios, surely it is much easier for the one in a million to enact what they’ve done on screen countless times: wipe out a human life. A precious human life.
Blood and gore doesn’t faze them; they’ve seen it all before. How utterly horrific.
Outside legitimate settings of war or training for war, what business does entertainment have with the promotion of graphic, realistic killing? Not just a few seconds in a movie, but scenes played over and over and over again in the comfort of one’s bedroom or living room. Where the player is the perpetrator.
We wouldn’t dare suggest that children should play with AK47s or knives. So why is it OK to let them play with such weapons in a virtual world (that is now highly realistic in its depictions of action, gore and death)? (For the record, I am not against toy guns or paintballing and the like – these pursuits do not involve gore.)
For those of us who are parents, it’s a tough call. Ironically, what is OUR call of duty? To succumb to group pressure from the rest of the class and let them play such games, or to buck the trend and stand up for what we know to be right: Children and young teens shouldn’t be spending hours every day killing people on screen.
Violent gaming is effectively a social experiment that could be brewing a whole host of future killers.
I’m no mathematician, but if there were an equation for a killer, I’m certain that violent gaming would be one of the variables. Yes, there are other parts to the equation – ‘isolated and withdrawn character’ perhaps one of the constants – but if we could remove one part, perhaps the formula might crumble a little and not result in multiple deaths.
One thing is certain: gaming has played a part in several massacres.
Endnote – An interesting article addressed to parents about the latest CoD installment, Black Ops II.
Another article discuss the same issue here, mentioning nine year olds who play CoD with their fathers.