As a video game enthusiast, I have endless disappointment in political leaders’ fingerpointing at that particular medium as the cause of the nation’s apparent uptick in gun-related violence.
Like clockwork, following the Aug. 3 shooting in an El Paso Walmart and the Aug. 4 shooting in Dayton, Ohio, politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the news media rounds declaring that he sees “a video game industry that teaches young people to kill.”
The problem with his argument and others like it is researchers have debunked it. Repeatedly. “The notion was even dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2011, when Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that violent video games had a similarly minimal effect on children as cartoons starring Bugs Bunny or the Road Runner,” The Washington Post reported.
I grew up playing video games, and I’ve been known to devote months to a single game to either complete it or master it. While I prefer a good first-person shooter — my current go-to is “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds Mobile” — I’ve enjoyed many fighting, racing and massively multiplayer online role-playing games.
Among my all-time favorite game series is “Mortal Kombat.” Known for its gory fatalities, “Mortal Kombat” quickly became a target of parents and lawmakers who feared the game would create a legion of bloodthirsty children. Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl conducted hearings on the matter, and those hearings resulted in the gaming industry creating the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
I spent many hours playing “Mortal Kombat” with friends on the Sega Genesis. And, after its 1995 release, I logged entire afternoons on “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3” on the Super Nintendo. I was a teenager then, and while I got into a fair share of high school fights, none ended with me reaching into my opponent’s back and ripping his spine out. And, for the record, I didn’t turn them into crying babies either (search “Mortal Kombat Babality” online for reference).
I wasn’t fighting because I played fighting games. I fought because I was tired of being picked on. I was an angry kid — my father passed away a week after my 11th birthday, my mother was serving time in prison, and my little sister and I were taken from our aunt by two people who talked my mother into giving them guardianship over us. We lived in a filthy mobile home. I was an easy target because I was overweight, wore glasses and couldn’t afford everything the other kids could.
If anything, “Mortal Kombat” kept me out of more fights than I might have been in because there were many days I went home angry at the things other kids said to me, and I would turn on “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3” and take it out on Baraka, Subzero or Raiden.
Later on, I fell in love with first-person shooters like “Killzone” on PlayStation 2. Then came “Star Wars: Battlefront 2” and “Battlefield 2: Modern Combat.” “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” on the PlayStation 3 was my go-to for more than a year, and “Killzone Shadow Fall” was among the first games I bought for my PlayStation 4.
Now, it’s “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds” on my phone and on my PS4. I even bought attachable triggers for my phone for increased accuracy while playing.
Despite this steady diet of “violent video games,” I have no desire to open fire in reality. I have not been taught to kill, as Patrick suggests.
Look, before it was video games, people blamed violent movies. And before that, they blamed comic books. And before that, “the devil’s music.” And before that, books.
The problem with doing that is it distracts from the real culprit: America’s lack of proper mental health services. There is a real mental health crisis in America, and people are dying because of it.
Every judge, police chief and sheriff knows that right up there with drugs as a leading factor in crime is poor mental health. And if we are ever going to stop the bloodshed, or at least slow it down, we have got to stay focused on developing better services to address those issues. Our lives may depend on it.