Do violent video games play a role in the development of some mass killers? Speculation along these lines is common. Lance Liebl observes: “When violent tragedies like the Aurora, CO shooting that resulted in the death of 12 people happen, media — and often people who know nothing about video games — try to somehow tie in video games as the cause of the tragedy. We saw it with the Columbine shooting and the Virginia Tech shooting. So does it come as any surprise that Fox News is trying to report that the suspect, James Holmes, played World of Warcraft?” Liebl maintains that: “World of Warcraft is no more a contributing factor to James Holmes mental state and reason that he shot people than him once eating a Hot Pocket that burned his tongue. Or him watching the horrible programming on Fox News... which is probably a lot more responsible for any national tragedy.” See here.
Liebl might well be right. Not all correlation is causation. And most people who play violent video games do not become killers. Nonetheless, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Psychiatric Association were not speaking purely out of their imagination in issuing statements deploring the developmental effects of violent video games on children. And the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics in separate statements have expressed that some of the effects on aggression are unique to interactive violent video games as opposed to the depiction of violence in other media. Consider, for example, the game of Manhunt in which: the “player sneaks around a 3-D environment and commits heinous acts of murder as a sadistic form of entertainment. Decapitation, steel-object-to-the-brain impaling and even the ability to jam a sickle up and unsuspecting victim’s ass” is part of the Manhunt experience. Another popular game called Postal calls on players to “burn people alive with gasoline or napalm; decapitate people with shovels and have dogs fetch their severed heads; beat police to death while they beg for mercy; kill bald unshaven men wearing pink dresses (in an ‘expansion pack’ called Fog Hunter); slaughter nude female zombies; urinate on people to make them vomit; and shoot players with a shotgun that has been silenced by ramming it into a cat’s anus.”
I am not surprised that in Columbine, Virginia Tech, and apparently Aurora, the killers were participants in, if not addicted to violent video games. We will never know if they were merely attracted to the games or if the games played a role in pushing them over the edge from fantasy to reality. Liedl is speaking purely out of his imagination when he claims to know. I do not believe that the most gruesome of these games are age appropriate for anyone. But it is obvious to me that the self-regulation of the industry is not working, that many of these games are not appropriate for young children, and that these games are so far removed from the core of the First Amendment that to say corporations have a right to sell these games to young children transforms a great principle into a piece of stubborn stupidity. Indeed, that is exactly what the Supreme Court did in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association.
It takes a village to raise a child. By permitting the sale of particularly gruesome violent video games to children, we have not only abdicated our responsibility to build a culture promoting positive social development, we have elevated that abdication into a constitutional principle.