With the shooting Monday in Virginia that claimed the lives of 12 victims, and that of the shooter, many left in the wake have begun the search for answers. How could this happen? What could we have done to prevent it? The same questions are brought up each time a tragedy such as this occurs. Often, the warning signs were there, but they were completely looked over. No one put the pieces together quick enough to realize what could happen.
Once the shock of the violence wears off, people begin to look for a cause to champion — a scapegoat to blame for what happened. Often misguided, many turn to video games as the cause. The fact that the poster boy — or whipping boy — for violent video games, “Grand Theft Auto” released this week, one day after the shooting, only exacerbated the issue. Fox News pundit John Dickerson even went as far to craft an editorial calling out “GTA V” and its record sales as the cause for so many senseless acts of violence.
The entire crux of this ridiculously tired argument is that if someone plays a video game in which killing is involved, that person will be more inclined to go out, get a gun and shoot someone. I’m getting dizzy just trying to rationalize this in my head. But I’m an open-minded person, and I’m willing to accept scientifically-backed studies that support this hypothesis. Where are these studies? Is that a cricket I hear?
A new paper was published in August in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence detailing the study of 337 children with attention deficit and depressive symptoms — the very same symptoms that have often been found in various people that have gone on mass murdering sprees, such as the one in Virginia earlier this week. The study, part of a much larger study of violent tendencies in children, found that video games actually calmed the children down while they were playing and after they had shut off the game. This is the complete opposite of the assertion of many that video games create anger and violent tendencies. Researches believe the game awards a measure of catharsis — or emotional purging.
These findings were backed up by a recent U.S. Secret Service study of 37 non-gang and non-drug-related school shootings from 1974 through 2000. This study included the notorious Columbine shooting, which really kicked off the modern violent video game debate. The Secret Service found no accurate profile relating to video games.
Another study was published in 2011 by a pair of Brock University professors, in which subjects were asked to play violent and non-violent video games. They were then tested for aggression levels. The study concluded there was no difference observed between non-violent and violent video game play. The study did conclude that there are heightened levels of aggression following competitive play in many games — including “Marble Blast Ultra,” one of the most non-violent games I have ever played. If we’re going to lambast competition as a scapegoat for aggression, let’s ban every single sport at the school level. Let’s see how that flies.
The problem with editorials like the one Fox News published, and the comments made by the dozens of 24/7 news channel pundits needing to fill space after the lack of any missing cute white girls or sexy boyfriend murderers, is that they’re completely missing the point the situation entirely. For one, why are you immediately turning a national tragedy into a statement for your various political agendas? I’m not just talking about those that are calling for the ban of violent video games, such as “Grand Theft Auto.” I’m also talking about the people on the left side of the aisle, that are immediately crying for increased gun control before the bodies of the dead have even been buried.
Instead of looking at some misbegotten correlation between video games and violent tendencies, why don’t we look at the real source of that problem, mental health? If someone’s mind is “weak” or fractured to the point where the person cannot discern the difference between reality and the digital world of a game like “GTA,” they are obviously in need of healthcare of some sort.
According to a study published in the journal, Health Affairs, in 2011, the United States spends $113 billion a year on mental health treatment. That sounds like a lot of money, right? No, not when that only accounts for 5.6 percent of the total healthcare expenditures. Egypt, the country that is currently undergoing its second revolution this decade, spends more of its budget on mental healthcare than the U.S. does. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-partisan healthcare research firm, 60 percent of mental healthcare spending is for prescription drugs and outpatient care. Essentially, most people with mental health go see a psychiatrist, are prescribed some pills and are sent on their way.
According to the same foundation, 45 percent of Americans that need mental healthcare do not seek it because of cost. State governments used to offer subsidized or free mental healthcare services to those in need. But when the recession hit in 2008, those were the first programs to be cut. The National Alliance on Mental Health estimates $1.8 billion in government spending has been cut from mental healthcare services and facilities. It’s not bad enough we’re not treating them already, we’re going to go ahead and cut off the few that we do offer help for.
Why, yet again when we have a major shooting perpetrated by someone with obvious mental health issues, are we continuing to ignore that talking point? It’s America’s dark little secret. When something like that does happen, everyone positions themselves on either side of the line of gun control and video game violence. These cries get repeated again and again, and yet mental health is never brought up.
Our society has become so averse to mental health issues that we think anyone who is not “right in the head” is either “emo” and looking for attention, or is “crazy” in some varying degree between needing an adverse amount of prescription drugs or a straitjacket. Millions of Americans suffer from some degree of mental health issues. Many either don’t know it, or simply try to hide it to avoid being made a pariah of modern society. When one ultimately does break and go on a rampage, most are content to sit around and say “I knew he’d do it one day” or champion their favorite cause. We shouldn’t be looking at violent games, no more than past societies shouldn’t have looked at violent movies, rock and roll music or comic books as the cause for issues. We should be looking at ourselves and how we can take care of each other.