Some of you may have caught this opinion piece that crept up on CNN this week, in which the author posits the idea that playing videos games on a regular basis is going to help train the next mass shooter. The article wildly claims that video games, VR titles especially, help train players in what it’s like to be in a real-life combat situation because the mechanics have become like “real ones”. He says the video games of today are training a new breed of killers that will ultimately go off on their own shooting spree after logging hundreds of hours with a virtual gun — despite the fact that they can only cite one case in the past 15 years where someone claimed to use video game skills as a training tool.
This argument is tired and is the very foundation of using a form of media as a scapegoat instead of looking at a real problem.
I’m old enough to remember playing the original Mortal Kombat when it was the most sought-after arcade cabinet in the country in 1992. I’d watch people pour $20 a day into the machine to play a game that had blood on the screen instead of just impact graphics. Learning every move they could and discovering fatalities where people were set on fire and had their head and spine ripped from their torso. At the time, people were appalled. Wait, let me correct that… a lot of people over the age of 40 were appalled. So much so that it caused Congress to hold hearings over the matter, which eventually led to the ESRB rating system we know today that serves the same purpose as ratings on films and TV.
Here’s the thing that’s glossed over a lot and never gets taken into consideration from those original hearings: no one was able to produce actual reports of violence caused by video games. In all of those hearings, no one ever mentioned a single person ever becoming a blood-thirsty fighter by playing Mortal Kombat. My muscle mass didn’t grow by playing, I didn’t learn kung-fu, I didn’t gain immortal powers to freeze people, and I sure as hell never developed the skills to rip a person’s head off their torso with the spine attached. (This game also wasn’t a great teacher of anatomy.)
As I grew older and played MK2, MK3, MK Trilogy, MK4, and so on, I never found some renewed sense of fighting and an urge kill or to inflict harm on people. Did I rage over losing and throw a controller once or twice in my life? Absolutely! But last I checked, my friends and family never died because a controller hit the floor. At best, it probably improved my hand-eye coordination and desensitized me to watching horror movies, but that’s about it.
This is the problem that those who blame video games have to contend with and prove, but always come short of doing so. You have to actually prove there’s a track record of video games correlating with violence. No smart gun owner is going to look you in the eye and tell you that firing a semi-automatic in GTA is the same as actually holding a real one and being able to aim it properly. I’ve fired shotguns in H1Z1, COD, Overwatch, PUBG, Fortnite, Star Wars, Gears Of War, Halo, the list goes on… and I’ve fired real shotguns, as well as an AK-47, a revolver, a hunting rifle, and an old machine gun in my lifetime.
A video game does not prepare you for the kickback to a gun, for the weight and the ability to carry it, to reload a clip faster than three seconds, to aim properly, to re-aim properly after you’ve shot, to have control over what you’re firing. Sitting in a chair with a controller or throwing on a dumpy helmet with finger controllers does NOT prepare you for the real thing. And I’m pretty confident if we took a poll of people who have seen actual combat in the military, they’d echo those statements. This all requires real hands-on training, and a game is a poor teacher and a worse excuse — especially when the game didn’t come with its own gun to train with in the backyard.
Calling top names in the gaming industry to the White House isn’t a solution. I’m sure many going will welcome the chance to tell Trump face-to-face how wrong he is, ultimately leading into a decree that they will “take action” without the industry’s help. Because that’s the way this administration works: if you don’t agree to do it by choice, they try doing it by force. But trying to put video games on blast for Parkland is a farce at best and negligent at worst.
This country needs a real discussion about gun violence in America, and it’s not going to come by dragging Nintendo and Xbox heads into Washington D.C. to scold them and ask for different games. Trying to pin it on gaming is a stretch, the same as how spending $60 on a video game and spending $1,200 on an AR-15 is a stretch. These are two different realities, and we need to get back to talking about the one where people are actually buying real guns that kill multiple people with ease, and put a stop to it.