Edit: I wrote this 2 days ago and was in the process of cleaning it up/editing it when the NRA released their statement. Since their statement lined up with what people expected them to say, I decided not to alter what I said since it addresses their claims.
Hello everyone, Josh here. First of all, on behalf of everyone at Add-A-Tudez and Team KAIZEN, I’d like to extend the deepest condolences to the victims and families in the tragedy at Newtown, CT. It’s a terrible wound for so many people to bear and there doesn’t seem to be words that can make it less painful or heavy.
With condolences extended, please realize everything else from here on out is purely my own opinion and not the opinion of the TK Crew, other members of Add-A-Tudez Entertainment Company or the ECA or any other group we’re often affiliated with.
My first reaction to the tragedy was, of course, horror. This was quickly followed by disgust as people of all political persuasions were quick to get their 10 cents in on why the tragedy was happening –all while the police weren’t even sure how many dead there were yet. It saddened me that, at a time where we should be securing the living, treating the dead with respect and consoling those left behind some people saw a quick and easy way to score political points, and this behavior pattern seemed to exist on all sides of the political spectrum. So the first thing I’d like to say is, in the midst of tragedy, we should all agree to focus on the victims first and foremost. Tragedy often brings up opportunities for us to examine ourselves and how we approach social issues, but as with practically everything else in life timing is everything.
That being said, now that we’re further away from the date of the actual tragedy, people are turning more and more to those opportunities to explore ourselves and see if we can prevent future tragedies. We’ve seen commentary on guns, video games, religion, mental health and more. I feel that, while not an expert in any of these areas, my life experience kind of puts me at the cross roads of a lot of these topics. Firstly, I live in a state (Montana) that has a higher-than-average percentage of gun owners and hunters (and, it should be noted, most gun owners here know their guns are for hunting and, God forbid, self defense, not to be used as a political tool or method to harm other humans). Secondly, I run a start up video game studio that’s involved in everything from work in schools all the way up to developing a fighting game tech demo we assume will be rated M for Mature once the final game is made off of it.
In the case of religion, I’m a Christian with a fairly unusual walk towards my faith. I grew up in church going circles, but was disenchanted by a lot of what I saw and what I took to be phoniness on the part of many people who claim God. At one point (after I graduated high school), a friend challenged me on my beliefs and I did some research. This research could easily be the subject of a different post so I’ll suffice to say that it ended with me asserting I believe in God, believe Jesus is the risen son of God but I do NOT believe in many people who claim faith. (Of note, I also believe in Science, don’t believe Evolution and Christianity are at odds like many say and believe homosexuals are equally-created children of God, thus Add-A-Tudez being an equal opportunity employer.)
In the case of mental health, my life story is even more crazy. When I was very young, my mom and dad took a job at a group home for juvenile delinquents. Their job required them to work 24 hours a day 5-7 days a week, which meant I lived in a group home and had my own room there (with what I viewed as a constant stream of older siblings coming through, mostly boys). Trev (6 years younger than me) was born into this and we didn’t leave until I was 10 years old. The reason we left is one of the residents went into great detail telling one of the workers (my father actually) the fantasies he had about raping and murdering Trev and I. It was at this point Mom decided we needed to live in a separate house and they had their schedules changed so they could be home every night. Through those 8 years of living in the home, we saw hundreds of kids ranging from good kids with rough lives all the way to psychopaths. Mom wanted to arm Trev and I with knowledge so, from early on, she taught us how to read behaviors. By 3rd grade, I knew what sex is and what a sex offender was, and how to behave around a sex offender to lessen the risk to myself and others. It wasn’t until high school that I realized this might be a different life experience than that of my peers. To this day, Trev and I can sometimes get a vibe about a person just by looking at them, and the vibe usually turns out right (it’s not a specific way a person looks, but rather how they carry themselves and how they react to others around them). By the time I was in 7th grade, I was reading books like Ken Magid’s High Risk: Children Without A Conscience (which covers how sociopathy forms in early childhood and deftly dispels the Nature over Nurture argument-you can see more on it at http://ow.ly/ggx92) to understand some of the more severe home residents a little better. I’m not a licensed expert, and I don’t claim to have that level of knowledge. However, I have had licensed experts flat out tell me they wish they had my childhood and I do feel my background here gives me some insight I’d like to share here.
Of the four main issues people bring up (Gun Control, Mental Illness, Religion and Video Games), I believe 2 are more appropriate to discuss (Gun Control and Mental Illness) while the other two are, more or less, red herrings. However, for the sake of argument, I will cover all 4 and, keep in mind, if you think I’m wrong that’s OK! I’m only trying to add my own personal views to a conversation, not say that these views are the only ones to be had in the conversation. One last thing before we jump in: often (especially in Gun Control) people will tell you that a conversation is only one extreme or another. If someone is telling you that, you can bet money they have stake in one of those extremes and looking at the true nuances of a debate would take the wind out of their sails. Very few things in life are truly as easy as column A or column B, and if you truly feel strongly for a certain position you should be able to easily explore the nuances of all arguments for and against without getting aggressive or feeling threatened.
So yeah, let’s start with the most controversial one out of the gate. Gun control is an age-old debate in our society. Back in the day (noted, before the advent of assault weaponry) our forefathers made it so that American citizens have the right to bear arms. This is a good right, and there are millions of hunters and gun enthusiasts of all political persuasions who do this right justice by taking the responsibilities that come with it. Gun ownership isn’t a right or left thing, it happens across the board and most gun owners aren’t the problem.
However, when we speak of sensible gun control, two extremes try to be the loudest voices in the room. One side says all guns are bad and all should be taken away (this extreme is very small) and the other says that anyone mentioning gun control just wants to take all the guns away (still a small group, although larger than the first). Both spend the time shouting at each other until all the people in the middle are so tired of the argument they want to shove it under the rug until the next tragedy happens.
The reality is most people, including most gun owners, agree that there should be some gun control or weapon control in place. The nuance comes from having an adult debate to figure out exactly where the line is. From a blurry perspective, we can all essentially agree that it’s in the public’s best interest that individuals shouldn’t be allowed to obtain enriched radioactive nuclear materials. That may sound smart mouthed in nature but consider the implication of that: by all of us agreeing to that we are all agreeing a line exists out there somewhere where a right to own a weapon is trumped by the public’s right to be safe.
Since we all agree on this line’s existence, we can then move forward through adult debate to dial in the exact location of that line in a way that celebrates both personal freedom and public safety. I believe we can do it, our society has overcome similarly heated social debates in the past, but doing so requires us to get to the real heart of the debate and ditching the tired rhetoric of the extremists on either side who want all their way or nothing.
With that being said, I believe (again, personally, and it’s OK to disagree) one of the best ways to start dialing this in is to look at assault weaponry. By assault weaponry, I mean assault rifles and guns with high capacity clips that were initially invented for law enforcement or military use. These guns aren’t great for hunting necessarily, the job they were built for is to mow down large groups of people in an efficient manner. For home defense, they’re way overkill, these weapons were built to be offensive in nature and turn a person into a potential one man or woman army.
In the Newtown tragedy, the killer used Bushmasters (assault rifles) and unloaded 200 rounds in 10 minutes. That is 1 bullet every 3 seconds, and this firing rate is unnecessary for self defense or hunting. That being said, if a potential assault weapons ban included pathways to own these kinds of guns for certain people I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I think members of the general public should only be able to own these weapons if they get some sort of special certification/licensing (of which felons and severely mentally ill people would be barred from getting) and all assault weapons in America be tracked with ID’s and background checks. It’s kind of a social secret, but you only have a background check performed on you if you buy a gun from a gun store, other gun selling venues are exempt.
This is perplexing considering we have to do background checks for other things, to be employed by a school you usually have to pass one and many employers do them too. Heck, many people who are in their 20’s and 30’s have to show an ID to buy an M rated game but they don’t need a background check to buy a real fire arm!
I think the right to own guns is a right to be celebrated in the US because, again, most gun owners are responsible people. However, a right to own a gun isn’t a right to be free from a background check or the consequences resulting from what that background check finds. We all have a right to not live in a prison until we break the law and land behind bars. All rights come with responsibilities, if you cast aside the responsibility I submit you don’t have the right anymore. To me this is the same as cars, we assert people have a right to own a car if they so wish. However, this right can be taken away if an individual shows, through their behavior, that they’re not responsible (whether it’s through DUI, vehicular manslaughter or driving repeatedly without a license).
One last caveat for this section: I’m speaking about Gun Control in a more general sense at this time. I believe this should be the law/approach of our society because I really do believe it, not because this is some sort of knee jerk reaction to Newtown. We can’t prevent all tragedies, and, looking at Newtown, gun laws likely wouldn’t have helped. The Bushmasters the mother had were unregistered and obtained through other means. Whether or not tighter gun registrations on assault weapons could have helped is something that can be debated, I guess. However, in crafting any legislation on any topic, we need to realize there is no magic solution that can end all crime or tragedies. We can make it harder, we can make the punishment for those responsible more fitting and we can do more for victims, but we can never fully remove danger from this world and approaching law making from any other mindset could create false expectations.
On to the second issue I feel deserves to be a part of the conversation. Recent reporting by the Huffington Post and others has shed light on the events that may have triggered the tragedy: the mother of the killer was going through the legal proceedings to have him committed. Apparently, upon finding out about his upcoming treatment, the killer decided to end it all violently and on his terms. This makes a bad tragedy all the more sad, but it also raises the importance of the dialogue in our society on how we approach the mentally ill. One quick and easy point for people to jump to is to suggest it should be easier to commit someone. This might be a valid point, I honestly don’t know the process. However, one caveat we must fear is people who would abuse this (such as people seeking an inheritance by declaring a family member needed to be committed). There should be a careful process to make sure the only ones being committed are those who need to be, but at the same time if a mentally unstable person finds out someone is doing this it’s not likely to help their unstable condition.
Others have called for easier access to mental health help. I can agree with this, I’m of the personal view that a basic level of healthcare is a right not a privilege and it definitely serves the public’s best interest on top of the individual’s to get a mentally ill individual the help they need. However, most mentally ill people are either not aware of their illness or are not aware of the severity of it. Many who know they’re ill take their meds, feel more balanced and then stop taking the meds thinking the condition is gone (which causes a relapse and never ending cycle). This means we need people in society, both in the families and in the social services like schools, who can act as advocates to the mentally ill.
On the personal side, I think we need to institute a social change. We need to work with people, from a young age, to remove the social stigma of being mentally ill. I believe we can teach people to identify the signs and, in the right circumstances, notify an adult and also take action that doesn’t make the potentially mentally ill person feel the world hates them or is out to get them. We can also do more to educate people on the fact that mental illness doesn’t automatically equate violence and that being a help to a normal mentally ill person is very different than being a help to a person who is showing violent tendencies. Right now, we have hotlines people can call for everything from suicide prevention to quitting smoking, I believe such support lines should be available to people who live with mentally ill people so they can get support and expert advice. In general, we need a better reporting system for people to either get information to find out if their loved one is mentally ill or to report behaviors they see that could potentially be violent so they can get help. Right now, many families are left adrift in a sea they know nothing about and I suspect the mother of the killer sometimes felt this way. You love this person, you want to help them but you aren’t trained and have no one to turn to. This needs to change. The vast majority of the public isn’t equipped to deal with mental illness either in a personal way or by knowing who to contact, if we fix this we can head off many problems before they fester into a tragedy.
On the social services side, it’s back to my assertion we need more things like support lines and services to turn to. I do want to add another thing here, throughout my experiences in the group home and some limited work I do with schools I have seen a dangerous thinking pattern rear its’ head once in a while. This thinking pattern happens in the minds of those who work with criminally minded people or mentally ill and, either way, is something worth noting. The thought process centers around this idea that nothing bad will happen in your own personal sphere of life. People who think this think things like Newtown only happen in the newspaper, they only occur to other people.
When people who think like this talk about things like Newtown or September 11th or wars, they are willing to accept on an intellectual level that there are dangerous people out there (whether the dangerous people are tragically mentally ill or straight up evil), however this intellectual knowledge fails to cross into the everyday thinking of the person. This means that, when an individual they work with exhibits severe warning signs, they spend the time coming up with excuses as to why those signs should be ignored because they’re so sold on their view that nothing bad will happen around them.
One such case centered around a kid admitted to my parents’ group home. This kid was admitted on a minor crime, but during his time he showed severe signs of a sexual deviant. It got to the point where the home staff had to take all the ads out of the Sunday paper because he’d take all the ads of children and women for his own purposes. Mom was among the people raising the alarm, saying he was showing signs of a future predator. However, one of the higher ups involved in his case said that the kid claimed to have found Jesus (note: as a Christian I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that one) and he was OK. Now, many years later, he is a frequent in the Most Wanted section of our paper for sexual assault related crimes.
Granted, part of this story is a talented con artist who knows who to play and how to play them, but there was still the thinking pattern I’m talking about involved. A second one involves me directly. After I graduated high school, a local mental health firm asked if I would be willing to mentor some of their kids. It sounded like a dream set up playing off of my life experience so I took it. One of the first jobs was a severe one, there was a child we will call X.
X was first admitted to the mental health system after, at age 5, being caught raping a 3 year old sibling. X was a severe behavioral problem in class (X was in a normal classroom with all other kids who were normal kids) so the mental health system asked me to sit next to X in school all day every day as a sort of monitor and study buddy. The teacher was a very nice lady, but woefully unequipped to deal with a child like this. X would often challenge authority and do things in front of adults like slamming other kids with desks. I would constantly butt heads with X trying to make sure other kids weren’t getting hurt, and the teacher’s response was to let X do whatever X wanted (including playing games like checkers during math time) in hopes that letting X have this free reign would take X’s attention off of hurting the other kids.
My contention to this was that this sent a clear message to the rest of the class, since X was so extreme behavior wise there was no punishment for behaviors only appeasement and the rest of the kids had to follow a much more strict set of rules with less reward. The teacher felt I was being too judgmental of this set up, but it broke my heart for the other kids. You could tell it had an effect on them, they were afraid of X’s outbursts and got to see him get rewards left and right for behavior they’d be sorely punished for.
Then came the big one: X made some sexually oriented threats that X promised to follow through on if I didn’t stop inhibiting X from doing whatever X wanted. I first advised the teacher of this, who said X was only trying to build a relationship with me by cracking a joke. Keep in mind this child’s history, and keep in mind had any other elementary school student made this kind of threat they’d at the very least be serving detention and possibly even having authorities called to see if something was up at home causing it. I had a sit down meeting with the mental health place and explained what happened and my fears, they echoed the teacher’s sentiment that X was just trying to crack a joke as best as X knew how and I shouldn’t take it seriously. I respectfully quit on the spot.
The reality was, in the case of X, we had a person who we knew had a history of assaulting others and these people, as nice as they were, talked themselves into a fantasy world where even severe comments are nothing to take seriously. On the school side, we do need to educate teachers on how to handle severe students (and to catch the signs in case the child hasn’t been offered help yet). However, on the professional side the workers at the mental health place just back up my assertion that this thought pattern of ‘nothing bad can happen in my world’ is very dangerous.
I think one thing we need to make more public knowledge is that bad things can happen in all our lives and warning signs aren’t a thing to sweep under a rug. This doesn’t mean fearing every person around you and cowering as you wait for the sky to fall, it just means respecting that this world can be a dangerous place and that being aware and educated is far better at combating that then forcing yourself into a self induced fantasy. If you see something in your life you feel might be dangerous, educate yourself as much as possible and reach out! We all make the world a safer place when we educate ourselves about danger more and take steps to protect ourselves and those around us, and in the case of children from at-risk environments it could potentially positively alter the course of their life.
Long story short, the more we educate people both on mental illness and people who are from at-risk environments the more we can remove the stigma and take appropriate person-by-person action. Most mentally ill people aren’t violent, and most at-risk environment people can rise above their past. If we educate society as a whole we can help those people as well as identify the small percentage of people who are exhibiting the signs of violent behavior so we can take the appropriate steps. It’ll be a long process, and one that should be done arm-in-arm with revamping how our society’s health infrastructure approaches mental illness. Like gun control, it won’t prevent all tragedies, but it will go a long way towards making us a more compassionate and safe society.
In the intro you learned a little about me and my faith. Needless to say, I’m not exactly a run of the mill Christian (although I’d argue there is a lot of people out there who believe in God and Jesus and don’t fit the stereotypical right wing church going Christian paradigm). In one sense, it makes sense that religion got tied up in all of this. Theology, after all, is the search for deeper meaning of things in life, and in a tragedy many people turn to faith to try and find comfort and meaning in a very chaotic life event. However, there is a warped and disgusting way faith has gotten involved in this tragedy that I feel needs to be taken head on.
Some of you, I suspect, are thinking of Westboro Baptist Church. Losers to be sure, but I’m not talking about them even. WBC is so psychotic it has gotten to the point where I’m not sure they believe what they say anymore, I’m more convinced they do what they do purely for the attention it gets them. They get media coverage time most non-violent churches could only wish for and, on top of it, they can play the victim card and feel like everything out there from soldier funerals to a school shooting is ultimately about them. They’re very self centered and I think the decision making process is based first and foremost on what gets them spotlight and anything faith based a very distant second. Regardless, Jesus’ precedent of love and self sacrifice is lost on such self centered individuals and I feel slightly dirty even giving them a paragraph.
What I AM talking about, is this assertion in some circles that the shooting is the result of people taking forced prayer out of schools. Noticed I said forced prayer. Real faith is this idea that you, as an individual, are building a relationship with your creator. Relationships are personal, and most of what I’ve heard of the old times prayer in schools doesn’t fit that. What the old school style does fit however is this method of acting out religious stuff to please the adults/those in authority. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this behavior pattern. Even in my generation, I knew many kids and adults who were/are church darlings. During a few hours every Sunday (and some special occasions), they say all the right words, sing all the right songs and act very holy. Outside of church they’re mean spirited and deviant, but since they act right in church they get a lot of respect and power. Faith, in their section of the world, has been warped from a personal relationship with God to learning what to say/do for a few hours a week to manipulate people.
I’m not saying all who took part in prayer in schools are like this. However, when you teach people to take part in faith related things solely under the pretense of, “Do it or I’ll spank you/give you detention”, you’re not teaching faith. You’re teaching people to act a certain way solely to please the adults with no depth behind it. Real faith is a choice, and you don’t celebrate God by forcing the choice on people who aren’t aware of alternatives.
After Jesus’ earthly ministry, Christianity took off in a way that surprised many people. It spread like wildfire. It didn’t spread because the apostles and converts went around forcing kids to pray, it spread because they shared their beliefs openly and the passion they showed in their faith convinced those around them to take a deeper look of their own choice and volition. When faith is spread this way, it can be a very beautiful thing. When it’s done as a series of dead procedures on a checklist, it mainly serves to turn people VERY off on faith and teach others how to play the adults/people in authority.
There is definitely room for faith clubs like Youth Alive in schools, and I believe people of faith can have an impact on any environment (just as much as Agnostics and Atheists too). However, the key difference is students choose to be a part of Youth Alive, it puts faith back into the healthy category of being a choice and an intellectual/spiritual pursuit.
As a Christian, I do feel I have found enlightenment and truth through my faith, and I do feel faith is a good thing. However, to me forcing people to pray because it looks or feels good is not the same, it’s a facsimile that ultimately serves to violate students’ First Amendment rights.
Another thing that bugs me about this is that many of the people putting this theory forward hail from older generations. When these older generations were in school, we had such things going on as the Civil Rights Movement where black churches were often targeted for violence. Were these churches bombed because they didn’t pray enough? Would Dr. King, one of the single greatest American voices in societal change, have been spared his fate had he (a minister no less) prayed more? What about Jesus? Would the son of God been spared one of the most gruesome executions ever recorded had he just said 1 more prayer a day?
Prayer is a beautiful thing, and I believe a heartfelt prayer gets in touch with the heart of God. However, using prayer as a political tool like this is to achieve a level of inhumanity that is tragic and sad. It doesn’t line up with Jesus teachings or his actions. Jesus didn’t prance about the countryside looking for people to judge, he lived a life of hardcore love and had a major impact on all whom he came in contact with. These people that make claims like this subscribe to a phony self-serving version of faith and, had Jesus’ earthly ministry been today instead of 2,000 years ago, smart money is on that these people would be grabbing 2×4’s and nails to beat him up since his teachings are so in violation of what they consider convenient.
It should be noted that, within the faith community, there is debates on different things. Within Christianity, about the only thing all Christians agree on is that there is a God and that Jesus is his son. Past that, there is many debates, and that’s a good thing! Normally, debate is how we all grow. However, to suggest that the kids and teachers at Newtown suffered because they didn’t engage in forced prayer is not taking part in adult debate. Instead, it’s suggesting that by not facilitating forced prayer the students and teachers somehow earned their misfortune. Attacking the victims for not being the exact same shade of faith as yourself does not give glory to God, all it does is engage in a quest for self glorifying chest beating at the terrible expense of the victims. History has shown us people of faith have had to endure hardships and tragedy too, so this point of view is horrifically bankrupt from both a logical and theological perspective.
I can attest from personal experience it happens a lot too, it has gotten to the point where we have had to sometimes be careful who we talk to about Trev’s kidney problems. In one sense, our lives are an open book so we didn’t mind talking with people, especially if it could increase understanding. However, some people who claimed Christianity have jumped on it in very wrong ways. We’ve had people tell Mom and I that Trev is suffering because we don’t pray enough, we’ve had some people we know disown us/refuse to pray for us because we’re obviously bad Christians if Trev is sick and Trev has even had people tell him to his face he should do America a favor and die (although this person was saying so more from a political point of view than a religious one). It’s bad enough to act this way towards a kidney failure patient and claim Jesus, it’s beyond inhumane to do the same towards 20 kids and the teachers who gave their lives protecting them. Please realize, if you’re not a Christian and reading this, such people don’t represent Jesus, his teachings or his followers. Their shallow hate is nothing like the real deal.
Now to the second one I’m not sure has a place in the argument. I honestly thought the debate around video games fizzled out in the 1990’s but since people are talking about let’s tackle it.
First of all, let’s focus on this fact: there is no study proving media with violence will take an average person from mild or normal mannered to violent and dangerous. Studies that have been throwing around claiming this have been revealed to have been using flawed approaches (such as too-small sample groups). Also these studies were conducted in the 80’s when games weren’t as violent as they are now, yet violent crime overall has been trending down for the most part since the 90’s.
A great book on the subject is Grand Theft Childhood (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Theft_Childhood) , which was written by the Co-Directors of the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health and Media. While they found that there was a correlation between adolescents owning an M-Rated game and some aggression related problems, they didn’t necessarily find causality. It’s important to note the difference between correlation and causality here because of this: if a M rated game really caused problems all adolescent owners of the game would have problems. However, if an adolescent was from an at-risk home (at-risk meaning a somehow dysfunctional home), they’d already have aggressive tendencies and would gravitate to games (even age-inappropriate ones) that fit in with their tendencies. The authors backed this up when they said that, “focusing on such easy but minor targets as violent video games causes parents, social activists and public-policy makers to ignore the much more powerful and significant causes of youth violence that have already been well established, including a range of social, behavioral, economic, biological and mental-health factors,” on page 190 of the book.
Grand Theft Auto, the most often attacked game, has global sales of 125 Million Units. Call of Duty, which features high powered weaponry, has over 100 million units sold and 40 million active monthly users. When Call of Duty Black Ops came out, it made more money in its’ opening weekend than The Dark Knight and James Cameron’s Avatar’s opening weekends combined. Yet, there is no spike in violence when these games come out. If these games were indeed so powerful as to alter the moral compass of their players, we’d see huge spikes of violence surrounding such huge sales periods of those games. Call of Duty has a release every year, but there is no such spike when the annual release hits.
I think part of the confusion here too is from a cultural misunderstanding. If a game says M for Mature, only someone over 17 can buy it (the game industry is actually the most self-regulating industry in America, most game shops will fire an employee who tries to sell an M game to a minor and some even put their supervisor on written notice). Some people, honestly misunderstanding the industry, think games are toys and, as such, who would buy an M game except an adolescent? I understand where they’re coming from, games did kind of start as a spin off from the toy industry. However, the game industry has exploded since those rudimentary beginnings into something totally different now.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA www.theesa.com) is the biggest industry trade group and they run the famous industry-only E3 Expo (www.e3expo.com). They have collected some statistics that we may find helpful here. First of all, the average age of a player is 30 years old and they have been playing games for 12 years or more. Next, 47% of all gamers are women. Adult women gamers actually outnumber the stereotypical pre-pubescent male 2-1. Twenty-five percent of all gamers are over 50 years in age. The average age of a buyer is 35 and 73% of all games sold are E for Everyone or T for Teen. The industry is much bigger and varied than most people realize, according to Peter Hart Research Associates there is about 145 Million gamers in America, which comes down to about 48% of our country. Pure numbers alone state that, if video games were a behavioral modification tool causing violence, our problems with violent people would be significantly worse.
On top of this, many M rated games feature violence but not necessarily in a glorified way. Ken Levine’s Bioshock, for example, is a shooter at its’ heart. However, the star of the game isn’t the violence, it’s the setting in which it takes place (the undersea city of Rapture) and how the game acts as an essay on the ideology of Ayn Rand. While violence is present, the game is far from a ‘murder simulator’ that people often try to classify games as. If a person was to sit down and try to list all the video games that truly have an M rating just because they glorify violence for the sake of glorifying violence, they’d actually come up with a very short list. Most M rated games use violence as one of many tools to forward a narrative of some kind or another. While there is some games that are purely for the sake of glorifying violence, they are few, far between and don’t actually sell as well as some other games.
It should also be noted that games are held to a much more severe standard than other entertainment mediums. Some of the people saying games need to be regulated because of Grand Theft Auto turn immediately around and applaud The Sopranos as some of the best on television, despite little differences between the game and the show content wise. Some old cartoons held up as classics have everything from blatant racist material to one Merry Melody I saw (a black and white Looney Toons short) where a boss was forcing himself onto a secretary and she was screaming, “No,” over and over again to a rhythmic beat. If a game had contained any of this material and been sold to minors, we’d have a national outcry.
Another example comes from my favorite Pixar movie, The Incredibles. Of note, The Incredibles is a great movie and perfectly fine for young people, but for the sake of argument please consider the following. Throughout the film, we have a scene where it’s revealed that the bad guy is killing other people and, in full view, is the skeletal remains of a hero he killed. We have dialogue explaining how the bad guys would have no problem harming children, and several scenes of person-on-person violence including a young girl getting shot at with an automatic weapon. We have a scene of the main hero grabbing a much smaller woman by the neck, apparently set on killing her until she gives him good news. We also have a scene where all the heroes have a family moment while watching the main bad guy die in a plane engine with no emotion to his demise.
Keep in mind, I love The Incredibles. With a kid in a normal family, this film would not be a problem at all. However, the point I’m getting at is what do you think the outcome would be if a video game featuring all that was made and sold to children? People would be flinging the term ‘murder simulator’ right and left, yet children’s movies can get away with this. The content of The Hunger Games would easily warrant a M rating, yet it’s considered a pre-teen classic. Again, I’m not taking issue with The Incredibles or The Hunger Games, both are great films. I’m just taking issue with how video games are held to such a strict standard while other forms of media are given passes left and right.
Another thing to note is that, in all our school libraries, we have the Bible in easy access for kids to read in a non-censored form. I personally don’t mind this, if a kid was doing research that somehow involved the Bible it’s probably better to have a non-censored version. However, certain sections (such as Jesus’ crucifixion or the death of David’s son Absolom, who was gutted while hanging from a tree) are certainly significantly more violent than most media kids are exposed to. That’s kind of why toddler Bibles cut huge sections out, and the point is that, with proper adult guidance, young minds can process violence (both fantasy and historical) in healthy ways.
Which brings me to another point, some people concede that video games alone don’t cause violence but could possibly be bad in the life of someone who doesn’t have positive role models. I agree with this to a degree, but I must throw in the caveat that attacking violent video games won’t give those kids a positive role model. In order to fix that problem, our focus shouldn’t be removing violent media from society but rather providing positive influences in the lives of at-risk youth. Positive influences will help them build better mental filters to understand the difference between fantasy and reality as well as right and wrong. The big negative in their life isn’t the presence of violent media, but the lack of a person to connect to in a healthy way. It’s a human shaped vacuum best filled by a human, and being involved in their life and modeling proper and healthy behavior is far more powerful than trying to limit their access to violent media.
The ECA (Entertainment Consumers Association www.theeca.com, the industry’s largest consumer group) has a Twitter feed (www.twitter.com/theeca) that recently had some disconcerting info. (Of note and full disclosure, most Team KAIZEN members are also ECA members and I’m President of the ECA’s Indie Developer Chapter.) According to information they dug up, the National Rifle Association is going to release a statement on December 21st laying most of the blame on Newtown at the feet of violent media. I believe gun owners (the vast majority of whom are responsible law abiding citizens) can and should be a part of all the conversations going forward. However, in regards to the NRA, I do have a problem here and not just because of the finger pointing. We had a very contentious political season this year, no one denies that. I avoided commenting publicly during that time because I know people of all political persuasions and felt it was best to encourage people to vote their conscience instead of overly support one side or another (although some specific comments during the season definitely enraged the political centrist in me). It’s during this season that we find the quote from NRA Board Member Ted Nugent that I take exception to. Nugent was at an NRA function on a small stage when asked about politics. He stated flat out that, if he didn’t get his political way, by November 2013 he would have engaged in a rampage that would end with him dead or in prison. This resulted in Nugent having to speak with the Secret Service and the NRA apparently too busy to care. I think it’s wrong that, now a real tragedy has happened, they’re quick to come out and cast the blame on someone else. Yet, when they joke and treat shooting rampages as a political tool to scare others into voting their way, it’s completely acceptable. Threatening violence to get your way is beyond wrong, and Nugent did this as a Board Member of the NRA at an NRA event. It isn’t like he’s some random troll on Twitter claiming to be a part of something, he was dead center in the middle of it. To me, this has lessened the NRA’s voice in this debate. We can involve the real responsible gun owners-and we should. They have a voice and a right to be a part, but 99.9999% of gun owners didn’t support the idea of rampages when it’s politically convenient. Ted Nugent did and the NRA stood by him in silence. If the NRA wants to be involved, I personally feel basic human decency demands that they release a statement condemning his remarks, plainly and clearly stating that guns are not a political tool to get one’s personal wishes and apologizing for taking this long to get the word out. I know so many responsible gun owners who are adults and amazing people and it’s sad someone like Nugent can claim to represent them.
Bad World Syndrome
Ok, so I’ve talked about some heavy stuff here and I figure it might be a good time to talk about something I learned about in high school sociology class. There is a syndrome called Bad World Syndrome, where people see bad things on the news and assume the world is worse than it actually is. In the days following the tragedy, I’ve seen some FaceBook posts by friends with the general idea that the world is becoming worse and worse. Keep in mind, tragedy (and triumph) has always been a part of our world, just now news is capable of reaching more area in less time so we hear about more stuff. Many people are afraid to fly because they’ve heard of plane crashes on the news, yet they never hear about the millions of people who fly every day without incident so they miss the fact that dying in a plane crash is statistically incredibly unlikely. Events like Newtown or the Gabby Giffords shooting convince people that it’s dangerous to go outside, yet your likelihood of being in proximity to a violent crime is still very small. The point I’m getting at here is that there is indeed bad things in the world, but there is also a lot of good so please don’t let current events cause an emotional paralysis in your life. The good does outweigh the bad, even if sometimes the bad seems to be overwhelming.
The events at Newtown have caused us to enter a new period of soul searching. This is a good thing, and many of the ideas and priorities we arrive at can help us avert many potential future catastrophes as well as increase the quality of life for us and those around us. Nothing can replace what has been lost, but the goal of this soul searching should be to try and find some positive results out of it for those left behind. We can do more as a society to ensure our safety on a multitude of fronts, and through adult debate I know we’ll get there. While we’re walking this long road, I would like to echo the sentiment of a faith leader from a different background than my own, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” In times like this, the world could certainly use more positivity. If you’re a religious person who’s upset that some people are abusing faith in the worst way, reach out to others (including non-faith people) and offer a prayer, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. If you’re a gun owner upset at some of the rhetoric going around, work with people in your area to model responsible gun ownership so more people are aware of the difference. If you’re a mental health advocate afraid of potential stigmas coming out of this tragedy, offer to speak with schools and community groups to build the bridge to understanding. If you’re a parent or teacher and are worried about how your kids are coping with the tragedy, sit down with them. Engage them on their level and let them know it’s ok to vent and ask questions. If you’re a gamer and want people to see how beautiful our art form is, reach out! Do community work, offer to speak to schools and community groups on gaming and how it’s a positive in your life and how gaming has helped in fields like STEM Education. Like I said, the positive outweighs the negative in our world even in dark times like this, and it does so because in large part of all the individuals who pick up the burden and decide to be the change they wish to see.
Like I have said a few times, this is all just my opinion and it’s OK to disagree. Regardless, I hope one thing we take away from this is that we all accept the daily challenge in life to be a positive influence!