Today a killstreak, tomorrow a murder

Does your selection of violent video games suggest a more sinister future?

Jordan Zy

Whenever a school shooting or mass murder occurs, fingers immediately point to the same array of causes. Firearms and the mental health and home life of the murderer are broadcast across every news station, and somehow violent video games get thrown into the mix every time.

The idea is that participating in digital violence increases players’ aggression, translating into real-world violence. War games like “Call of Duty” or games glorifying crime like “Grand Theft Auto” are regularly put on the spot. Some news sources even linked the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to the sci-fi action game “Mass Effect 3,” claiming it encouraged violence against children.

Nick Gennick, a secondary education major, shares his opinion: “I personally release my built-up anger on my video games, like GTA [Grand Theft Auto]. I don’t think that GTA makes me violent. I think when it comes to kids, the habit of nonstop video games may be unhealthy, but [the video game content] itself is not at fault for the aggression.”

Nick is on to something here. Many other factors need to be considered, such as parenting choices and time spent playing. In the case of mass murders, the killers are often found to have had unrestricted access to firearms as well as violent video games. But do violent video games increase the hostility of the gamers?

Yes. Craig A. Anderson, a leading researcher on the effects of video game violence in children, has found that later aggression could be “predicted” in school-aged children who consistently played violent video games. Additionally, violence in movies, television and video games can increase levels of aggression and hostility in consumers.

Anyone who has taken a psychology class has likely come across these studies. However, this is a correlational increase, and there is no proof that violent video games alone cause violent crimes. Stetson University’s Christopher Ferguson, another leading researcher on video game violence, brings attention to this fact in much of his published work—while criticizing the methods of his peer, Anderson.

In an interview with CNN, Dr. Patrick Markey, an associate professor of psychology at Villanova University, supported Ferguson’s views with further proof. “The profile of most these shooters are males between 20 and 30 years old. The average age of the video gamers is about 30 years old. In fact, it would be more unusual to find even one of these shooters didn’t play video games.”

Consider this: “Grand Theft Auto V” alone has sold 32.5 million copies since its launch a year ago, and according to the USA Today database, 29 separate mass killings have happened since then. To suggest video games, especially any one game, can cause violent crime doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of factors must come into play to explain violent crime, and video games contribute only a small portion, if any, to the motives of the offenders.

We need to stop pointing all the blame at any one factor alone. When you hear a friend discuss high-profile crime in “Grand Theft Auto,” a brother brag about their killstreak in “Call of Duty” or me going on about indoctrination theories in “Mass Effect 3,” don’t interpret our interests as warning signs for violence. Video game players are just fellow human beings with a truly common hobby.

Jordan is a senior studying psychology.