On January 19, Nehemiah Griego, age 15, shot and killed is mother, father and three siblings. He then planned to go to the local Walmart to randomly shoot some more people in order to eventually be killed in a hail of gunfire by the local authorities. While the killing of his family is tragic, it’s fortunate that his plans to take a firearm to a crowded Walmart never came to fruition and he is now in custody being held without bond.
Authorities have stated that Griego had been “annoyed” with his mother and had been harboring homicidal and suicidal thoughts. He stated specifically that the reason for his plan to shoot up a Walmart was to commit suicide by law enforcement.
Fast-forward ahead a few days to January 22, and you will find headlines like “New Mexico teen accused of killing family ‘involved heavily’ with violent video games, sheriff says” on news outlets such as FOX News, MSNBC and Associated Press. Much like how rap music received blame for inciting violence in young people, video games – most notably first-person shooters such as Call of Duty, Halo, and Battlefield – are now seeing themselves under the spotlight as the scapegoat for inciting violent tendencies in kids, teens, and young adults.
I don’t know about the rest of you gamers out there, but I am already tired of it.
While the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary (and the planned violent media burnings that followed) seems to have re-sparked this discussion, it isn’t a new one, but this time around it does seem to be gaining more traction. Wrath.o.Tron covered this topic in an excellent way, and I’d encourage you to read what he had to say; myself and the other members of the Big Shiny Podcast also discussed this in our latest episode, which you can listen to here.
The media is starting to paint a picture of gamers that is that of an unstable and violent class of people, and while I take personal issue with this as being a fan of these games myself, I more take issue with the fact that there is no supporting evidence for this. Instead of labeling a person like Nehemiah Griego as being unstable and violent with some mental health issues that went untreated – and oh, by the way, they played first-person shooter video games, a person seems to be labeled as someone who is unstable and violent with mental health issues because they play first-person shooter video games. The simple fact is that Griego is a 15 year old boy who specifically cited “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as one of his games of choice to authorities. Last year, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ sold 8.8 million copies in its first month of release and the population of kids ages 12-17 in 2012 was estimated to be 25.4 million. Chances are, if you ask any 15 year old boy who owns an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 they probably own this game, or have at the very least played it – the fact that this game is rated as suitable for ages 17 and older and how appropriate this is is another story, and a much longer one.
I understand that for some of those out there who are not familiar with video games or the culture, to see a game in which people are shooting each other and to hear kids – some perhaps too young to be doing so – are playing these can make for an easy jump to think “This is what’s ruining America’s youth”. Well, I have news for you: The United States is hardly the biggest consumer of video games out there, but our gun violence is far and above the highest. I’ll refer you to this chart from Wrath.o.Tron’s previous story:
So, how to those out there who are ademently positive that violent video games are turning our young adults into a bunch of mass murderers argue this? To me, this is the biggest problem, and the thing that bothers me the most; they argue statistics and facts with personal thoughts and feelings on the matter. Two personal encounters with this come to mind to illustrate my point.
Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, I was listening to my afternoon radio broadcast of choice, Talk of the Nation. The host, Neal Conan, was taking calls to talk about violent media and what effects people thinks it has on our youth. A woman called up and began to rant about how “shoot ‘em up” games were desensitizing children and making them think it okay, and just a game to go shoot people in real life. Neal Conan calmly noted that there have been many studies done on this subject, and statistics out there show that there is little to no correlation between these two. The woman then began her next statement with “Well,studies aside…” She didn’t care about the facts or figures, she had an agenda in her head and there was no changing her mind.
Another instance of this sort of behavior happened to me personally at my place of work. I was discussing my holiday break from work with a co-worker and since the Sandy Hook tragedy happened over this time, the conversation turned to this. We were casually chatting about how awful it was (and how poorly the media reported on it), when she just blurts out, “I’ll tell you, if kids didn’t play those games like Halo where you shoot everyone, these types of things would not happen!” Again, no amount of graphs or pie charts would ever convince this individual otherwise.
For those out there that may not be familiar with the gaming culture: We are not all a bunch of unstable sadists, locked up in a basement somewhere playing a shooting game fantasizing about how it would be to act these scenarios out in a local department store. I have been playing video games since I was a teenager and have never once had a desire to pull a gun on another human being, and I firmly believe that people like me are the rule, not the exception. We are not disillusioned to the fact that death is real, guns can kill people and war is an awful thing. We are able to separate the fact that what is on our television screen is simply a form of entertainment, created by people for that simple fact – there is no agenda to glorify anything. We are well-adjusted people who work hard and contribute to society. Unfortunately as of late, it seems that any time violence occurs and a young adult is the perpetrator, the media begins digging for the connection to video games.
Just like with many things, don’t depend on the Government to ban something just because you take issue with it. Be responsible and talk to the young children in your house about these games. The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) provides a handy rating guide for every game, so if it has a rating of MATURE stuck to the label you may want to educate yourself on the content of that particular game before you buy it for your 12 year old because, yes, killing people over and over in a video game may not be the best thing for them – but that responsibility rests on the parents of the child, not the rest of society, not on the Government, on you, the parent. Just like any form of entertainment out there, not everything is going to be suitable for all ages.
The answer isn’t ban violent video games, question the moral integrity of game developers, or hold a violent video game burning. Video game retailers, stick to those ratings. If you need to be 17 or older to purchase a certain title, make sure you see some ID. Parents, if your kid wants a violent video game and you feel he/she is too young to be playing such a game, then be the parent and don’t purchase it for them, but have a conversation about why. As someone who was a young teenager not terribly long ago, I know if my parents told me “No” to anything I was always more apt to obey when they had an open dialogue about why with me.
But for hell’s sake, let’s all stop trying to find that one mythical, single scapegoat to why tragedies like these happen and placing all the blame there.