Much has been said on the topic of video games and violence. I’m not going to quote a bunch of statistics with varying degrees of validity and subjectivity, nor am I going to debate the merits of one study over another. Rather, I’m going to discuss my personal view on the matter based on my own experience growing up as a gamer.
You see that picture up there? That Xbox 360 controller and Berretta PX4 Storm are both mine. Not only am I a life-long gamer, but also a gun owner. I have been playing violent games longer than many gamers have even been alive. The media meltdown over Mortal Kombat feels like just yesterday to me, and I still have the “blood code” for the Genesis version memorized (ABACABB).
Like many gamers my age, I also fell into a certain group of people that was not so fondly referred to as “nerd”, or “geek”. Not in the modern sense where these terms are almost a badge of honor, but decades ago when these titles meant getting bullied in school daily. Where being around other kids your age was a terrifying prospect because of the endless emotional, and sometimes physical, abuse. My point is, I grew up as an outcast, the “quiet kid.” You know, the kind that fits the (and I hate to use this term) “Columbine” stereotype. I was the kid who kept to himself, played videogames all day, got picked on all the time, grew up in a poor family, listened to heavy metal Devil music, and you get the idea.
You know what I have never done? Shot somebody. Gone on a rampage. Committed a violent crime. Never particularly wanted to either. Despite everything I went through growing up, despite all those thousands of hours playing violent video games, I never went off the deep end and hurt other people. I never got done with a bout of playing Syphon Filter and thought shooting someone would be a fun thing to do. I never played Driver, and then pondered going out and running people down in the streets. Turns out that playing violent video games, even if you do seem to fit the perceived stereotype of a violent gamer doesn’t actually fill someone with bloodlust. Imagine that.
You know what makes kid or teenagers go crazy and commit terrible, violent acts? Being a terrible, violent person. Ted Bundy wasn’t playing GTA as a kid. Jeffrey Dahmer didn’t spend hours perfecting his Hitman skills. Charles Manson wasn’t topping the Battlefield leaderboards. Are inherently violent, disturbed people attracted to violent video games? I’m sure they are. Why wouldn’t a violent person use video games as a way to act out certain fantasies? But Call of Duty isn’t the reason your kid fantasizes about shooting up his classroom; you raising a sociopath is.
Kids grow up to be what they are for many reasons. People become violent criminals for a lot of reasons: neglect, abuse, crazy parents, or sometimes just flat out being mis-wired from birth. But chances are playing Halo isn’t the cause. His fixation with the Dark Brotherhood quest line may be a symptom of a deeper issue, but I seriously doubt Lucien Lachance is the reason you found a mutilated cat in the garage.
If you’re convinced that video games really are the cause, well, they have ratings on them for a reason. “Mature” does not mean it’s cool for your 8 year old to play. I don’t care how big of a fit he throws. Would you let little Sammy Sociopath watch Natural Born Killers when he’s 8? I would hope not. Maybe you shouldn’t get him that copy of Assassin’s Creed he asked for on his birthday.
More importantly: be involved. I have been to the house where there’s a 10 year old screaming and swearing into his mic while playing Call of Duty. That didn’t bother me so much as how sickened I was that the parents were sitting in the next room letting it happen. They didn’t care what he did, so long as they didn’t need to be involved. Their apathy towards their child was creating a kid who had questionable morals and no self-control, not the game. All those violent games I grew up playing? I played them with my parents, most often my father. I had guidance, I had limits set, I was made to chill out when I got upset, or walk away when I clearly needed to. There were boundaries. I wasn’t allowed to say, do, or play whatever I wanted as a form of digital babysitter.
The next time you go on some rant about how violent some video game is (that you likely bought and gave your kid in the first place) you should take a good look in the mirror. If you happen to have a gun, keep it in a safe place. Take the opportunity to show your children how to use it correctly and respect what it really is instead of letting it remain a physical manifestation of their favorite video game fantasy weapon. Don’t buy the latest God of War game and then get upset about what you see in it, do some research into it beforehand. When little Timmy comes home from a visit to Jimmy’s house and he says they played The Witcher 2, maybe look up what that is before you decide Timmy should spend more time at that friend’s house. How would you react if you found out Jimmy’s parents were letting your kid watch Eyes Wide Shut?
Don’t blame Activision, or Rockstar, or EA; blame yourself for how you raise your child. Blame your friends for how they raise their children. If they show signs something isn’t right, don’t ignore them and let them hide in the virtual world. Be there for them, listen to them. Don’t pretend nothing is wrong and then blame the video games, guns, and music when they do something terrible. Get them the help they need now. Be there for them, pay attention to them. Be a parent. Infinity Ward isn’t ruining a generation of children. You are.