Okay, I am going to have to buy a new video card to play Call of Duty: Ghosts. Just when I thought I was out, they lured me back in. I did not finish the last Call of Duty game. I admit that fact. I found the game tedious. Will I purchase Call of Duty: Ghosts on the first day it is available? Yes.
But, will Call of Duty: Ghosts encourage me to go out and commit mass murder with a gun? I most certainly hope not.
Gun violence is a function of a complex mix of factors. Aaron Alexis's murder of 13 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday has subsequently allowed for much hypothesizing and speculation as to the factors which drove him to commit such a heinous act.
Because of Alexis's supposed hobby as an avid gamer and fan of first person shooters, it is not unreasonable for pundits and others to wonder about the role that his choice of entertainment may have (or not) played in the Washington Navy Yard mass shooting.
Do video games encourage gun violence?
The answer is not a simple one. There are insightful and expert voices who would suggest that yes, video games are an important element in how and why young men kill others in mass with guns. Such a conclusion is based on a reasonable intuition. The military industrial entertainment complex has skillfully been able to use popular culture to recruit and train war fighters. Moreover, the government, through agencies such as DARPA, have been instrumental in developing consumer technologies that have immediate and ready application for the military--and vice versa.
For example, the video game America's Army has been a very effective recruiting tool for the military. The targeting and gun systems of drones, as well as armored vehicles such as the Stryker, are modeled after video game controllers, and in many cases their displays are indistinguishable from what a player would use in an electronic game.
Is this a mere coincidence? Or is it a convergence of the military's need to recruit and train citizens through supposedly harmless "games" that later on have lethal applications?
As I discuss with Cory Mead, author of War Games: Video Games and the Future of Armed Conflict, in the second installment of season two of the We Are Respectable Negroes podcast series, video games can help develop familiarity with weapons systems, develop users' muscle memory, train them in language skills, treat PTSD, and desensitize them to violence.
These results may not necessarily have any causal relationship to gun violence by civilians.
However, we must consider the opinion of thinkers and experts such as psychologist and military consultant David Grossman. Is he correct in his argument that video games are part of a culture of violence, one which is training and encouraging people to kill?
The puzzle that is the relationship between video games and gun violence is not an easy one to solve. Critics of the guns-mass violence-video game hypothesis highlight the empirical research by psychologists which suggests that playing video games has little to no relationship with gun violence and mass murder.
Media Matters has summarized this work as follows:
While media figures are predictably pinning blame on video games for yet another mass shooting, academic studies tell a different story. A 2013 study in in the Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment &Trauma studied environmental influences on violence and concluded that "Media use was not associated with either increased or decreased risk of adult criminality."
Previous research into this topic has produced similar results. First Amendment watchdog group Media Coalition summarized past studies on violent video games, writing, "Reviews by the governments of Australia, Great Britain and Sweden have all studied the research claiming a link between violent video games and aggressive behavior and concluded that it is flawed, flimsy and inconclusive."
Media Coalition also noted that in the course of striking down a California law seeking to restrict the sale of violent video games, "the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 noted that the scientific evidence the state relied upon had been rejected by nearly every court to consider it, and that 'most of the studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.'"
The Washington Post's Max Fisher analyzed the data on video game sales and gun-related killings internationally, writing that, "Looking at the world's 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings."
In fact, Fisher found that "this data actually suggests a slight downward shift in violence as video game consumption increases" and concluded, "video game consumption, based on international data, does not seem to correlate at all with an increase in gun violence."Video games are now part of what social scientists and others have described as "moral panics" in how they may (or may not) actually have any explanatory power about the cause of mass shootings, and gun violence, more generally. The claim remains infectious; the logic is compelling; it provides a ready answer to a vexing social problem...even if said answer does not hold up to critical scrutiny.
The ready availability of guns in American society coupled with woefully inadequate mental health services are the best explanations for the tragedy that occurred when Aaron Alexis shot and killed 13 people on Monday at the Washington Navy Yard. The Gun Right and its defenders want to find any other explanation--besides the most obvious one--for the increase in mass shooting events, and the extraordinary rate of gun violence, as compared to other countries, in the United States.
A denial of Occam's Razor as it relates to mass shootings and gun violence was demonstrated by Fox News in this video clip:
Guns are inanimate objects. They are a means towards an end that human beings animate and give life to based on our desires and drives and motivations. Guns can be regulated and controlled. To not choose to properly regulate the access to firearms is a choice--one that we must be prepared to live with.
Small and influential interest groups such as the NRA which sabotage reasonable gun control policies, and its related allies who want to reduce government services and programs that could have helped folks like Aaron Alexis get help for his demons, share a great deal of responsibility for the murder rampage at the Washington Navy Yard.
In all, the American people have surrendered to the gun gods. The children are its sacrifices. Moloch loves their blood.
Video games are a neat and ready explanation for mass shootings. Not so long ago, in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were moral panics about role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, and also heavy metal music.
As argued by their detractors, these types of popular culture were forces that corrupted our children and led them to Satanism, murder, drugs, premarital sex, and violence.
To point. A then quite young actor named Tom Hanks starred in the 1980s movie Mazes and Monsters. Now he is now 57 years old and facing off against Somali pirates. Where does the time go?
And just as we can now laugh at Hanks in Mazes and Monsters, I hope that in the future reasonable and responsible people will look back on the moral panic regarding video games, and see it as a watershed moment when Americans finally became disgusted with mass gun violence and forced their elected officials to pass effective gun control laws.
As John Stoehr observed in the Washington Observer, gun violence is at its heart a public health crisis:
Just before Monday's rampage, in which the shooter, Aaron Alexis, was among the dead, The American Journal of Public Health released a study that's being called the largest and most significant its kind. Researchers looked at gun-related murders and suicides in 50 states from 1981 to 2010 and concluded what's obvious with 300 million firearms in circulation.More guns means more death.
The study found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had higher rates of homicide. The researchers couldn't point to a causal relationship, of course, and they did account for an array of other socioecoonomic factors affecting violent crime, such as race, age, income, education, etc. But the study takes in so much data that outcomes are predictable: "For each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9 percent.
This is just one study. The Harvard School of Public Health survey the entirety of scholarly literature on the gun ownership-gun violence connection. The message is clear. The more guns we have, the more death by gunfire we have. It's like an outbreak of cholera. You or someone you know is going to get sick. It's not a matter of if. This is a public health crisis.The ready accessibility of guns in the United States has nothing at all to do with hollow screeds about defending "liberty" against "tyranny". In reality, such rhetoric is a claim about the threshold number of innocent people that we as a country are willing to see killed and slaughtered at home, in schools, and elsewhere by guns for some illusory type of "freedom".
How many killed, maimed, and wounded innocent people, are necessary to protect such a "right?" Clearly, the price is much too high. Why are so many willing to pay it?