Violent Video Games vs. Guns: What’s the Bigger Threat to Your Safety? (UPDATED)

A recent survey by Public Policy Polling showed that, of those polled, 67% thought video games were a bigger threat to safety than guns.

67%.

Here’s a link to the official release of the survey results: PPP Results. As you can see, the survey itself is mostly a generic political poll, a testing-the-waters sort of thing about upcoming elections, and what issues are going to be important to constituents. So why is this question nestled in amongst the herd? For the same reason it’s phrased the way it is: Because every political Tom, Dick, Jane and Harry has a hard-on right now for finding something to blame concerning events like the ones in Aurora and Newtown. Unfortunately, pointing the finger at guns pissed off the people holding the purse straps at the billions-in-campaign-contributions National Rifle Association; they then responded with a press release  in which their CEO Wayne LaPierre showed just how desperate they are by trying to tie these tragedies to video games using some of the most out-dated and irrelevant examples possible. Jump to the 7:00 mark to see for yourself.

Gaming media – and gamers in general – had a field day with this situation, with responses ranging from serious rebuttals of every word **he** said to memes and comics about how foolish this all sounded. I personally weighed in with the following analogy, which I can’t help but be proud of: The NRA trying to blame violent video games for mass shootings while suggesting that schools need more armed personnel to keep children safe is like McDonald’s blaming the game Cooking Mama for obesity while suggesting that everyone eat more so that fat people feel less alienated.

Then, though, a not-so-funny thing happened: Instead of seeing this farce for the sickening buck-passing it was, mainstream media and everyday citizens somehow bought this load of garbage. I’m not just talking about your Glenn Becks, Ted Nugents, and rebel-flag tattooed Toby Keith fans. No, folks I know personally who are rational, well-informed individuals from all backgrounds and with political views from across the board are talking about gaming like it’s some kind of disease. Erin Burnett of CNN’s OutFront almost begged a psychologist to say that games can cause violent behavior, and when he wouldn’t she cut the segment off with snide remarks about his answers.

If you’re confused as to this turn of events, let me clarify with the words of President Andrew Shepherd from The American President. I’m going to replace the name of Richard Dreyfus’s character with the word “they” – as in the media, and lobbyists, and politicians – but I think the effect remains the same:

“I’d been operating under the assumption that the reason they devote so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that they simply didn’t get it. Well I was wrong; their problem isn’t that they don’t get it; their problem is that they can’t sell it. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, they are not the least bit interested in solving it. They are interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.”

Video games are currently filling a role that has been filled by rock ‘n’ roll, movie theaters, dancing, and showing your ankles in public. They’re a bastion of youth that middle-aged and elderly citizens don’t have the same connection with, therefore the whole industry can be easily demonized by the media, politicians, and special interests groups. This is only exacerbated by the fact that very few members of the target audience for this kind of misinformation are going to take the time to actually research the issue.

Anyone who disagrees with me should take note of the following: The night of the Sandy Hook shooting, numerous media outlets incorrectly identified the shooter, and then ran the Facebook and Twitter profiles of that young man. Somewhere along the way, the fact that he “liked” the page for Mass Effect came up, and that was all the media needed: This guy had killed kindergarteners because of video games. EA / BioWare literally had to shut the page down because of all the negative comments that started appearing, some of which were threatening in nature.

Want to know what Wikipedia has to say about Mass Effect? “All three games have received critical acclaim for their storyline, characters, romances, voice acting, choices and the depth of the galaxy.” A cursory Google search pulls up that information, but apparently the hate-mongers leaving these comments couldn’t be bothered. When it was finally revealed that the profile in question did not belong to the shooter, many fans took to the restored page to ask those who had defaced it for apologies. I’ll let you guess how successful those requests were.

Before I go any further, I do want to step back for a second and address something: I own a .40 caliber Walther PPQ handgun that I got for my birthday last year. Her name is Miss Solitaire, after my favorite Bond Girl; Walther manufactures the PPK that Bond has used in most of his exploits. My girlfriend owns a 20 gauge Mossberg pump-action shotgun (Charlie) which she purchased after her first trip to a shooting range while visiting where I grew up in Alabama. My brother owns an arsenal the likes I which I will not disservice by giving incorrect information on.

My father taught us how to shoot using his .22 rifle before we were even in double-digits; our grandfather continued that teaching, and bequeathed us both several firearms. I feel about as comfortable with a gun in my hand as I do a video game controller, and have shared the joys of recreational shooting with numerous friends and family over the years; watched the eyes of professed anti-gun acquaintances light up as they obliterate a clay pigeon mid-flight or bulls-eye a target 100 yards down range. The sound of a chamber locking into place makes me smile; working the action on my brother’s .308 makes me feel like a king.

The reason for these feelings of joy is not complicated: When you hold a gun and wield it effectively, you hold death itself in your hands.

Now, the talking heads are going to say “Well of course we don’t mean video games physically kill people; we just know deep down that they affect players in dangerous ways.” Which is interesting, because with all of the millions of people playing games every day – games like Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Halo 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Far Cry 3, Dead Space 3, Assassin’s Creed 3, and Hitman: Absolution – you would think more of us would have snapped by now if the effects were really that severe. Just for clarification, that little list is composed of critically acclaimed and monetarily successful M-Rated games with a focus on combat that have come out in the last six months; I could probably compile a list like that for every September-February period for the past five years. Yes, violence is a trend in video games, but as my latin teacher used to say when we didn’t remember basic concepts, “Even a barn door retains some of the crap you fling at it.” Yet despite all of the countless gamers out there expertly sniping noobs, performing double-kill air assassinations, and hacking limbs off of reanimated corpses, there aren’t mass killings on an hourly basis. Why? Because video games aren’t real; they are a form of entertainment, and they are designed to be fun.

You see, when I excel at a video game, I’m really excelling at little more than pushing buttons faster than the computer or other players. There’s more to it, of course; strategy games require tactical skills, puzzle games require logic or deductive reasoning, story-based rpgs require imagination and even moral conceptualizing, etc. I’m a big believer that certain kinds of games can positively affect the player, and there’s been research done to back me up; I’m not so certain video games can make a person more violent, or lead to mass homicide, which is good for me since there is not a single conclusive study that says otherwise.

I am certain that having access to guns can lead to acts of horrendous violence, and I don’t need a study to tell me that. Even if I didn’t have the aforementioned tragedies as conclusive proof, I have the experience of putting guns in the hands of first-time shooters and watching them hit a target with little to no guidance other than “point it that way.” Sure, in order to wield a gun expertly takes an amazing amount of practice and not a little natural skill, but to just use one to kill? Easiest thing in the world, especially when you’re talking about the kind of random carnage perpetrated in these attacks. Why? Because guns are real; they are a form of weapon, and they are designed to make killing easier. I mentioned my PPQ earlier; would you like to know why I got that model and not the actual “James Bond Gun”? Because the PPK is a smaller caliber, and in the implausable event I ever needed to use it for defense, my father wanted me to be able to “put the son-of-a-bitch in the ground.”

I’m not after your guns, just like I don’t want anyone after mine; I’m not saying that owning a gun, or being around guns, makes people want kill others any more than video games do. All I’m saying is that guns do make it easier for people who already want to kill others to do so. When it comes to what is a bigger threat to safety, a video game or a gun, the only people who are going to pick option one are either lying or being lied to. So the next time you hear a politician, or a lobbyist, or a reporter tell you that a video game is responsible for the deaths of innocent people, take a moment to think and maybe do a little research before you vent your outrage. If you find that those same people are lying to you to promote their own agenda, and that just makes your blood boil even more, take that anger and do us all a favor.

“Point it that way.”

***UPDATE***

CBS is reporting that Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was acting out fantasies generated by violent video games. They are also reporting that he was trying to “outscore” the death toll from the July 2011 attacks perpetrated by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway. CBS is citing “law enforcement officials” as their source.

Lt. Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police, however, has publicly dismissed the report AND has spoken directly with CBS concerning the inaccuracies.

I really wish I had a job where I could tell baseless lies to millions of people and then not be held accountable when someone with credibility denounces me


Comments

2 responses to “Violent Video Games vs. Guns: What’s the Bigger Threat to Your Safety? (UPDATED)”

  1. Guns are not the problem. Video games are not the problem. Neither are movies or television or the Internet or junk food or death metal or comic books.

    The problem is mental health (i.e., the lack of diagnosis and treatment of its many forms) and education (i.e., America's continued unwillingness to take it seriously).

    You'll never be able to convince me that NOBODY has ever committed a violent crime based on a video-game, but that person did so because they were either crazy or stupid. Take away the game, they find some other reason to snap.

  2. Did you happen to look at the PPP Results and the wording that they used?

    “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: guns or violent video games?”

    First of all the comparison between these two items is ridiculous.

    Second 72% of the people who voted were older than 45 And 82% of the people polled were conservative and would rather blame anything but their guns for the issue.

    This question is skewed so that you have to pick between two totally different things… Obviously guns are more dangerous than video games but with training and a strong moral base it is simply a tool. Most americans would have a very tough time shooting another human being.

    Consider the following questions:

    “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: Video Games, Books, Movies, or Not Sure”
    or
    “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: Guns, Chainsaws, Knives, or Not Sure”

    The above questions are comparing similar items to one another. Games affect your mind and guns are a tool. I’m not saying that games are going to cause people to start shooting people. However, books have affected people throughout history to change their point of view and begin revolutions and war. If people are comparing games to art, as we see books as art, then the potential for games to affect how people act in this world is not that far fetched. I’m not suggesting that games are the problem but simply pointing out that ideas can affect people just as much as a gun can, but they are much different things.

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