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It’s taken them longer than normal, but the people who usually rail against violent video games after a mass shooting have finally shown their faces. Yes, these individuals believe that this shooting — like many others — was inspired by violent video games. Despite the lack of scientific evidence supporting this theory, they excoriate violent video games and those who play them as if they are contributing to the problem. Unfortunately, they are barking up the wrong tree.
Even President Donald Trump has gotten into the act. He plans to meet with leaders in the video game industry to discuss the impact of gaming on kids. Conservative Christian Blogger and columnist Matt Walsh recently published a piece titled “Stop Pretending Violent Video Games Are Harmless Just Because You Like Playing Them.” In his piece, he makes a series of faulty arguments explaining why violent video games are detrimental to society and how they increase the likelihood of atrocities such as the Parkland school shooting.
Of course, his headline is a straw man — nobody is arguing that video games are completely harmless. But there are several other absurd arguments that he makes in his piece.
Are Mass Shootings Inspired By Violent Video Games?
Early in his piece, Walsh brings up the example of Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook school shooting. While acknowledging that not all mass shooters were gamers, he writes about how Lanza played video games:
“Adam Lanza was obsessed with video games… He made 83,000 online ‘kills’ before he went out and killed 20 children. Are you going to tell me that you’re positive his hours upon hours upon hours spent stewing in virtual violence had nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with his murder spree?”
In that last statement, he challenges us to make an absolute statement about whether or not his 83,000 virtual kills motivated his shooting in any way, shape, or form. That’s a silly argument, and I’m sure Walsh knows it. None of us were inside the killer’s head — including Walsh, who would be intellectually dishonest if he said that he was positive that video games played a part in the Sandy Hook shooting.
In situations such as these, we must look at what is likely, rather than making all-encompassing statements. So, is it likely that playing video games pushed Lanza to commit mass murder? According to the studies — the type of which Walsh dismisses — the answer is no.
As most of us know, violent crime has been on a downward trend. This is especially true of crimes committed by minors. The Justice Policy Institute states that the arrest rate for juveniles fell in 49 states between 2001 and 2013. In 26 states, it dropped more than 50%.
Jake Horowitz, the state policy director for Pew’s Public Safety Performance Project, told the Institute why the amount of juvenile arrests has declined. “For one, the drop in juvenile violent crime arrests almost matches the drop in juvenile commitments,” he said.
There you have it. Minors are committing less violent crimes. But that’s not all. Since the early 1990s, video games have increased in popularity. More and more minors and adults are playing video games — especially violent ones. If Walsh’s argument were valid, wouldn’t we see an increase in juvenile crime?
Do Violent Video Games Harm One’s Psyche?
After arguing that violent video games contribute to mass shootings, Walsh goes on to discuss the impact of video games on our mental health. He implies that playing these games makes us worse people. He wrote:
“It’s not good or healthy for anyone to play graphic, disturbing, gory video games. Certainly it won’t make you a better person.”
“Everything we do either makes us better or worse. Hours a day pretending to kill people in virtual reality must logically fall into the ‘worse’ category.”
Once again, he’s wrong. Some things make us neither better, nor worse as people. I went to see Black Panther because I thought it would be a good movie — which it was — but not because I thought it would make me a better person. Conversely, seeing the movie did not make me a worse person.
The same holds true for video games. Playing Call of Duty for a couple of hours is not going to turn you into a horrible person. Obviously, spending too many hours playing video games can have a negative effect on one’s health. So can eating five Big Macs every day. Or watching thirty seconds of CNN. However, this does not mean that video games are inherently harmful.
Next, Walsh attempts to shame us degenerate gamers because of our fondness for killing bad guys in video games:
“We all know it’s pretend. We all know the images are digital. We know you are not a serial killer. But the fact remains that you still enjoy pretending to kill people. Your favorite recreational activity is to pretend that you are killing people. You probably will never kill a single person in real life, but it’s still not good; it’s still unhealthy; it’s still pretty disturbing that you find so much joy in simulated death and destruction.”
He also goes on to state that he makes the same argument about “people who love bleak, graphic, torture porn movies.”
Wow. Well, I suppose I have a confession to make. I like pretending to kill people. There, I said it. I don’t get to play video games as much as I’d like to anymore, but when I do, I like to sneak into terrorist camps and blow them away in games like Metal Gear Solid. I get a certain thrill when I take out a violent extremist with a sniper rifle in games like Splinter Cell. These are a few of my favorite things. And I can assure you that I — and millions of other people — don’t have any urge to cause harm to our fellow man.
Walsh Isn’t All Wrong
While I disagree with most of what Walsh wrote, he did have some valuable arguments. “Here’s what common sense tells me: A moderate video game habit, not involving graphic and violent games, will not harm a child,” he writes.
He also points out the fact that even when many kids are not playing video games, they are on another device. Walsh states that kids today have too much screen time. I agree. There are violent games out there that are too graphic for children. And many kids spend far too much time gaming.
But there’s an effective solution for that. It’s called parenting.
Would you let your child eat ten helpings of ice cream in one sitting? Of course not. You would place limits on what your son or daughter could have.
Tragedies like Sandy Hook and the Parkland school shooting always have Americans asking one question: “Why?” We wonder what could push someone to commit an act such as these. However, it’s important that we look for real solutions — not scapegoats. Blaming violent video games for mass shootings is as erroneous as blaming the gun. Instead of looking for scapegoats, let’s put our energy into finding actual solutions.