(Source: On Violence)
Would the real exploitative journalists please shut up?

The year was 1927 and in a sleepy town in Michigan horror was unleashed.  After a bitter defeat a former school board treasurer -- once thought to be a blue blooded American -- plotted "murderous revenge" bombing a schoolhouse and killing 38 children.  He then detonated a truck bomb, killing himself and at least six other adults.  At least 58 other people were injured in what was the deadliest attack on a U.S. school in history.

Since thorough records have been kept, mankind has a long and trafic history of breeding an occasional psychopath.  These individual walk amongst us and often show little to no signs until something triggers them to embark on a murderous rampage.  The latest such incident is the tragic shooting that occured at the Washington Navy Yard this week, claiming 13 lives, including the shooter's and wounding at least fourteen others.

I. Members of the Media Dredge up Deceptive Diatribe About Video Game Violence

Nobody can know what the families who lost love ones in the shooter's disgusting, cowardly attack are going through now.  That's why it saddens me to see members of the media yet again engaging in the same tired, wrong-headed rhetoric; implying either subtly or not-so-subtly that the shooter's love of video games somehow contributed to his murderous rampage.

Aaron Alexis
Aaron Alexis playing video games. [Image Source: The Telegraph]

This angle was perhaps first picked up by Barbara Starr, Ed Payne, Catherine E. Shoichet, and Pamela Brown of Time Warner Inc. (TWX) who wrote a story on the shooting that was picked up by News Corp.'s (NWS) Fox sites, CNN, and other online outlets.  In that piece they write:

But Ritrovato said his friend never showed signs of aggressiveness or violence, though he played a lot of shooting video games online.

"It's incredible that this is all happening, because he was a very good-natured guy," Ritrovato said. "It seemed like he wanted to get more out of life."

If this first report was subtle about its indictment of online gaming, others quickly became less so, sinking to such lows that even Jack Thompson would be proud.

II. The FUD Pile Rises

Brandon Formby, Tristan Hallman, and Sarah Mervosh of The Dallas Morning News, an A.H. Belo Corp. (AHC) publication parrot this tidbit in slightly more sensational terms, writing:

One of 34-year-old Aaron Alexis’ neighbors told Fort Worth police that he terrified her. Another said that he liked Alexis and that his only flaw was that he often immersed himself in violent video games for hours at a time.

If the shooter liked action movies, would these reporters have described that Mr. Alexis "only flaw" was watching Arnold and Bruce Willis shoot up "bad guys"?  I doubt it; as usual video games holding a special place in the heart of some members of the media as an enternal scapegoat for drugs, sex, and violence.

DC Shooting
A timeline of the DC shooting [Image Source: The NY Post]

The Telegraph, however, managed to set an even lower bar, publishing a story by Fort Worth resident Nick Allen whro writes "Aaron Alexis: Washington navy yard gunman 'obsessed with violent video games'".  The story states:

The Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis played violent video games including Call of Duty for up to 16 hours at a time and friends believe it could have pushed him towards becoming a mass murderer.  Aaron Alexis played violent video games including Call of Duty and Resident Evil for up to 16 hours at a time. 
[Alexis's] addiction to violent video games and guns was at odds with his devout commitment to Buddhism, which saw Alexis spending half the day every Sunday meditating at the Wat Busayadhammvanaram temple in Fort Worth, Texas over a period of several years. He also spent a month in Thailand in April, The Daily Telegraph can disclose
The darker side to Alexis's character saw him playing violent "zombie" video games in his room, sometimes from 12.30pm until 4.30am.

[Nutpisit] Suthamtewakul [(purportedly Alexis's "best friend")] said: "He could be in the game all day and all night. I think games might be what pushed him that way. He always had this fear people would steal his stuff so that's why he would carry his gun all the time. He would carry it when he was helping out in the restaurant which scared my customers."

Alright, that's enough, this is making my stomach turn.

Call of Duty
Some have suggested that playing video games such as Call of Duty may have led Mr. Alexis to kill -- I say "rubbish". [Image Source: Activision]

At this point some of you may be sitting at home panicked, recalling your child loves to play Battlefield or Call of Duty or Halo.  Take a deep breath -- your child is not a psychopath.  This is another sad instance of heartless exploitation for profit by some members of the media in the wake of another senseless tragedy.

III. Video Games are Far From the Only Violence in the Media

Let's face it mankind, since the dawn of time has fought wars and killed each other.  There have always been murderers that shocked their towns big and small.  These things upset mankind, yet on some level viewing them in a ficitionalized context is a cathartic release.

Norse poets fanticized about murderous half-humans in the epic tale Beowulf writing:

Of the Victory-Scyldings, need little dismay him: / Oaths he exacteth, not any he spares / Of the folk of the Danemen, but fighteth with pleasure, / Killeth and feasteth, no contest expecteth.

Modern media is less subtle.  In Die Hard Bruce Willis's character John McClane famously remarks, "Yippee ki-yay motherfucker" before blowing up a plane full of bad guys with a lighter.

Eminem raps in his song "Role Model":

Now follow me and do exactly what you see
Don't you want to grow up to be just like me?
I slap women and eat 'shrooms then O.D.
Now don't you want to grow up to be just like me?

Me and Marcus Allen went over to see Nicole
When we heard a knock at the door, must have been Ron Gold
Jumped behind the door, put the orgy on hold
Killed them both and smeared blood in a white Bronco

But when video games depict murder or violence -- even against villainous sorts and their henchman, suddendly people think this form of entertainment has some precious and special role in turning law abiding citizens into murderous madmen.

Guess what -- there is no proof that it does.

There has been no conclusive scientific consensus from the psychological research community that playing violent video games make gamers more violent -- or even more desensitized to violence.  B.D. Barthelow in 2006 claimed evidence that video game violence was desentisizing individuals to real world violence in a journal paper.  But H.J. Bowen, et al. found no link between violent video games and desentization in a 2011 paper.

IV. My Grandfather Was Obsessed With Shooting Games, and Was a Law-Abiding Veteran

I'll add a personal note to this appeal to reason.  My grandfather served his country in World War II and the Korean War.  Like Mr. Alexis he eventually retired from service and became a veteran, but worked in civilian service for his remaining working years.

He could chain smoke and down a fifth with the best of them, although he later quit the latter indulgence after being told by his doctors after his first and only heart attack that he need to either quit smoking or drinking or he would die.

But like Mr. Alexis my grandfather loved video games.  Yes, surprisingly, my first exposure to violent video games came from my veteran grandfather.

He was one of the first people I knew with a computer and he loved DOS and early Windows video games.  As a child my parents -- pacifists -- wouldn't let me play violent video games, but when I went to gramps's house I would watch wide eyed with wonder as he gunned down Nazis in Wolfenstein and demons in Doom.

My grandfather played Doom, but it never caused him to kill people. [Image Source: ID]

If you wrote a sensational piece on my grandfather in his later years it might be entitled something like "Chain smoking veteran was "obsessed" with violent video games".  And it would be true.

But for all his love of killing in games, never once did my grandfather -- a proud gun owner -- kill another U.S. citizen in cold blood.  Video games were simply an entertainment, and at worst they reminded him of his military adventures "back in the war."  My grandfather had his flaws, surely, but he was a respectable family man, staying faithful to my late grandmother and raising three boys and two girls.

V. Puritanism in the Press: The Specter of Tipper Gore Reappears

Video games don't make a killer.

A much more plausible correlation in my mind is simply the fact that Mr. Alexis was a veteran with combat experience who had been trained to kill; and claimed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 9/11.  Whether or not his claims were valid, studies have linked PTSD in veterans to acts of violence.  A 1997 study on Vietnam War vets asserts:

[R]esults suggest that combat veterans with PTSD exhibit greater interpersonal violence than combat veterans without PTSD, and that there are multiple factors in this population which determine violent behavior.

Unfortunately when veterans with PTSD do erupt in outbursts of violence, they have the optimal training to end their own lives -- and the lives others -- with lethal precision.

Puritanical efforts to ban violence in entertainment such as Tipper Gore's famous effort to block Dead Kennedys musician Jello Biafra's Constitutional right to free speech:

...are powerless to stop violence, while they rob us of their freedoms.  For that reason I think such arguments are despicable and diametrically opposed to the values of our nation.

Censorship sucks. [Image Source: Nation States]

As the Bath County, Michigan incident from 1927 illustrates, sometimes there is no clear answer.  When that killing rampage occurred their were no video games.  And the man who did it was an electrical engineer with no conflict-related PTSD or military training.  The reality is that there are a certain scant handful of individuals in society who might be set off on a deadly rampage by any number of factors that might upset a normal individual, but not trigger such an appalling act.

VI. Stop the Exploitation of the Victims of Violence

Ultimately I'm glad that Mr. Alexis was shot dead, not merely because it prevented more tragic loss of life, but also because it didn't agonize survivors with false narratives.  

For example, in the Norway shootings of 2012 in which a white supremacist terrorist killed 69 people, mostly teens, the shooter survived and went on to spin a wild tale of how he "trained" for the shooting by playing "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2", a wildly popular title published by Activision Blizzard, Inc. (ATVI).  While this is clearly factual, regardless of what Mr. Anders Behring Breivik (the psychopathic Norwegian behind the killings) claimed video games did not convince him to kill people, nor did they give him the proper training to kill people.

Anders Breivik
Anders Breivik, a murderous psychopath and self-proclaimed anti-Islamic Christian terrorist. claimed that he had "trained" for his murders by gaming. [Image Source: CNN]
When so-called "lone wolf" shooters die one can always hope we are spared these false narratives -- their radical views on religion (or lack thereof), their views on entertainment (Manson thought the Beatles told him to kill), or foul comments -- all of which do nothing but further confuse, mislead, and sadden those affected by the tragedy.
Bath Shooting
The Bath County bomber did not play games, but he was every bit as violent as Mr. Alexis.
[Image Source: Wikimedia Commons]

I was hopeful that the victims' families in the DC shooting would be spared such false narratives, but unfortunately some less scrupulous members of the media had other plans.  I hope that the people propogating these narratives -- particularly Nick Allen -- come to realize and regret how exploitative and unfounded the tired controversies they're trying to reignite are.

Video games don't kill people, people kill people.  At the end of the day I believe in the Constitution as one of the greatest documents ever created by man.  And for that reason I say to journalists seizing on the "violent videogames" connection: I respect their right to free speech, just as I respect their right to bear arms.  But they would be wise realize that if they abuse either right -- as Mr. Alexis did -- they alone will be responsible for the pain and deception they have wrought. 

"If they're going to pirate somebody, we want it to be us rather than somebody else." -- Microsoft Business Group President Jeff Raikes

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