Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Video Games or Murder Simulators?

Once again we find ourselves in a time of national tragedy. We see the same patterns. Mass media 24-hour coverage. Photos of the killer and victims. Tear-stained faces barely able to keep it together as they are bombarded with interviewer questions. Experts and psychologists attempting to explain the how and why of this event.

Before I dig into this, through no point in this article will I mention the names of any suspected killers. I feel every mention of their names functions only to create celebrity and mythos about them, when really they do not deserve the attention put to them. I would prefer that these mass murderers gain nothing from me.

Greg Hughes from the O&A show puts it in a much better light than I do:

I believe that there are some things that happen that go beyond our understanding and comprehension. We, as humans, have a natural curiosity or need to find causation, especially when the events are so horrific we hope to prevent them from ever happening again. 

But events such as these do not have simple causes, nor do they lend themselves to simple solutions. How can we prevent this from happening again? I have no answers.

Would gun control help? 2nd Amendment! Ban guns! And that is about as deep as we get as both sides are reluctant to give even the hint of political ground to lead to a compromise. The NRA has announced that they will be rallying against gun control this Friday. Their argument? "If we're going to talk about the Second Amendment, then let's also talk about the First Amendment, and Hollywood, and the video games that teach young kids how to shoot heads." So to paraphrase, we will not discuss limits set on one Constitutional right until we revoke another Constitutional right.

But what about those violent video games? Aren't we just teaching our kids how to be psychotic killers on a nightly basis? What kind of sick mind would play these "murder simulators"? Hasn't everyone heard of some scientific article from somewhere that showed violent video games leads to violent behavior? People don't get extra lives, so we must be breaking our children from the consequences of reality. 

This argument comes up all of the time. By my own rough observations, news of the Newton shooting hit around 10am. By lunchtime social media was loaded with gun control arguments  By 2pm, national media was discussing how the killer played violent video games. How'd they know this fact? I'm assuming they learned the killer was young and male, and decided to go with lowest common denominator information. COD:BO2 sold $500 million in the first day so chances are the killer had the game, breathed air, and ate food. 

What you really don't hear on the news that often is the difference between causation and correlation. The news states facts as if every detail is set in a long chain of dominoes (causation), so every new piece of information will uncover a new pathway and new explanation of the events that occurred  It makes sense from the business model of the 24-hour news cycle. They want you attached to the TV, so every new insight must be important and revealing so that you stick around to let them sell you soap. But after a while, you run out of details and need to trump the other networks. And one of the go-to articles is violent video games.

So let's take a moment to discuss correlation. Have you ever noticed how storks are used to symbolize the birth of a new baby? Well why a stork? Because in northern Europe, storks would nest in rooftops. They get the most shelter by nesting between the roof and chimney. Where are the warmest chimneys for the winter? Where new born babies live. Want to find the house with a newborn, then you can look for the stork. Did the stork cause the baby? No. 

What about that scientific study about the connection to violent video games and violent behavior? We've been hearing about this since the NES days. Surely science cannot be argued against. If you were to argue against science, you may as well become a Creationist.

Well hold on. You can actually argue about science. Scientists do it all the time. I do not buy into Creationism as a valid concept, but I am open to discussing the finer details of how evolution works and has happened over the course of existence. Scientists are constantly proving or disproving previous studies to eventually find out new discoveries on why things work the way they do.

And for the articles that make the connection between games and violence? Well I highly doubt most of the free world actually reads those articles, but here's a list of them: 

Four unrelated scientific articles from over the last decade. All of them telling the same story: that scientific studies that show causation between video games and violent behavior are flawed from bias samples and lack of proof. Science, doing science-y things, proving that video games are NOT creating a generation of killers. We're creating a generation of gamers. The chances that a mass murderer would have played a violent video game is just as likely as an Eagle Scout that has played one. I AM an Eagle Scout and I've made one.

Still not convinced? Have you watched teens play a first-person shooter and wonder why they can be enthralled for hours shooting random people they do not know? Well here's the big secret of why it is so entertaining: we're not training people to kill; we're training people to play tag. 

Every see kids play tag outside in the yard? Ever see the game escalate so they use sticks, fingers, or whatever to pretend to shoot each other rather than make a physical tag? Just like that good ol' fashioned, wholesome Cops & Robbers or Cowboys & Indians that kids used to play back when computers were the size of Olympic pools and we didn't have to deal with this rise in violence. Well we, the video game developers, have made the exact same experience, but now you can play from your living room and not argue about whether I "shot" you or not.

And that rise in violence? It isn't happening. In fact we are seeing a reduction in gun violence since the early 90s. You could make a clearer connection to bad hair band music and gun violence than you could with current video games.

From the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
So what is on the rise? Media coverage of these violent events. It feels like we are experiencing it more because you hear about it more. The second a 911 call goes out, you receive live feed information of the incident over all the news stations, Twitter, Facebook, and such. Then you get in-depth analysis of what happened, computer simulations, expert opinions, images of victims, discussions of what was had for breakfast to the point of absurdity until the next news event happens.

So thanks to the modern news media, for milking us in this time of grief. It is an unfortunate time when the only respectable journalists on TV is the guy on Comedy Central and one-half of Dumb and Dumber.

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