Computer games & actual violence – What is it with these people?

I know, I haven’t written anything in a long time, but I really feel the need to vent.

I just came across this article (Edit: Original article got deleted, and there’s no snapshot on, either.) on the website of German public broadcaster NDR (Google translation, not perfect, but you’ll get the gist of it). It’s about some 70 year old criminologist who is going to semi-retire in Germany, but he wants to go to the U.S. to help fight violence. I didn’t really think too much about it, until I came to his claim that “computer games are one cause for violence”, which, according to NDR, he is absolutely sure of.



What is it with these people? This guy is obviously not the only one; every single time a shooting happens, somebody digs out the information that the shooter played Counter Strike or whatever. (I don’t really know any of those games, but that’s certainly the one that’s most prominently named all the time.) And promptly, you get ten “experts” claiming that the reason this kid grabbed a gun, went to his school, shot a bunch of other kids and then himself is a computer game??? Don’t they see how freakin’ bizarre this idea is?

I’m having a really hard time organizing my thoughts on this. I read the article, wrote a little comment and then went to have breakfast. Then I realized that this whole thing is really bugging me, enough that I couldn’t concentrate on my brand new book, so I decided to sit down and write a blog post about it. But as usual I have a very hard time wrapping my head around the logic of some people. So, taking another deep breath and trying to structure this a little bit. How about a nice, ordered list of questions I would like to ask anybody who thinks that way:

  1. Did you ever actually try to play one of those games?
  2. Did you ever sit down and talk to people who play them on a regular basis without going out to actually shoot real people (a.k.a. the vast majority of players)?
  3. And, most importantly, where are all the studies that support your hypothesis?

Especially this last point can’t be stressed enough, as far as I’m concerned. This discussion is obviously not new. You’d think that by now, if there was a link between gaming and actual violence, there would be some evidence which points in this direction. So, what do these people base their claims on, if not factual evidence?

The only fact that is indisputable about this situation is that there are thousands of gamers playing ego shooters who don’t afterwards go out and actually kill real people. Confronted with this percentage, how can you justify a claim that it’s the games that drive the shooters if the vast majority of players are not affected in that way? It’s like saying all people who like wine or beer are alcoholics. The math just doesn’t add up.

There’s an article on Wikipedia on school shootings that doesn’t even mention computer games.

We need to stop looking at statistics and news reports and instead start looking at people, at human beings. What is it that makes somebody pick up a gun or, even worse, an assault rifle and go out to shoot people? It’s a pretty damn long way from the computer screen out into the real world.
The Wikipedia article quotes a psychologist saying that “school shooters typically fall into one (or occasionally two) of three categories: psychopathic, psychotic, or traumatized.” It goes on saying:

Perpetrators who “run amok” in schools and other public settings do also share in common a severe lapse or more pervasive deficit in their capacity for empathy coupled with their inability to contain their aggression—this may be due to their psychopathy, psychotic symptoms (i.e. loss of a sense of reality), and/or to a consequence of significant violent traumatization—such as that of early physical abuse, that contributes to the development of dissociative states of mind (i.e. disavowal of reality, derealization, depersonalization). In short, as clinical psychiatrist Daniel Schechter has written, for a baby to develop into a troubled adolescent who then turns lethally violent, a convergence of multiple interacting factors must occur (emphasis mine), that is “every bit as complicated…as it is for a tornado to form on a beautiful spring day in Kansas.”

The article also mentions bullying as an important factor.

None of this has anything to do with computer games. But computer games are medially very effective. Blaming computer games is simple, and people want simple answers. So that’s what the media give them. Because they need to sell. If you want to sell something, it has to be popular. That doesn’t make it true, but if something is repeated often enough, people accept it for the truth without questioning.

There is another interesting little titbit in this article; at least it’s interesting in connection with the guy’s claim about computer games. The article states that “70 percent of Americans support the idea of beating your kids”, and that in 19 States the teachers are allowed to use violence. That does not come from video games. It’s not 70 percent of Americans that play ego shooters, and it’s certainly not the teachers, either. But what this socially accepted violence does to the kids is not something that people who want to blame everything on computers and the internet want to talk about.

Let me make a claim — or rather, voice an opinion, because this is not based on factual evidence, and I admit it.
I believe that, if you ban all violent video games, movies, comics, etc tomorrow, it’s not going to stop actual violence. Because all you’re banning is a superficial outlet. You would not be addressing the underlying problems.

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