Violent Video Games: some brief thoughts from a father and counselor

m ratedThe topic of violent video games is one that has become a hot issue since the Newton tragedy.  As a counselor, father and gamer I find the whole thing interesting and also a little perplexing.

Shortly after Newtown I wrote this post on ign, a gaming website, and given the recent government and media attention to the matter I thought I’d post it here:

Personally, I think gaming is only a very small piece of the puzzle here, and that if we are looking to prevent tragedies like what happened in Newtown we need to first look at parenting, bullying, protection in schools, mental health and gun control before games. However, it is a part of the puzzle, and should be looked at.

Violent video games by themselves don’t cause what happened in Newtown. However, research has consistently shown a slight, but statistically significant correlation between guys who play violent video games, and guys who are violent. Now, contrary to what the media would have you believe correlation does not mean causation, so let’s not overreact. That being said, when you look at the mass shootings that have happened over the past decade or so, one of the many commonalities between the shooters is that they played violent video games, so I don’t think it’s a topic we should ignore.

Let me play out a scenario for you: A teenager with mental health problems is ostracized from other kids because of his disability. He’s not obviously disabled, to other teens he just appears odd, so they ignore him, or worse, pick on him. Because of his disability he has troubles determining what is socially acceptable and due to his lack of connection he turns to video games as a way of escaping from reality. He finds first person shooters especially enjoyable and spends hours every day interacting with others on line, and blowing very realistic avatars to bits. At the same time things at school are getting worse. He is being picked on more and more. He does not see a way out, but he sees that the people he interacts with online are increasingly impressed with his ability to win, and want him to be on their team. Oh yeah, and he has easy access to guns through an uncle who is part of a local militia.

In the very hypothetical above scenario, video games are not the most important factor, but a minor factor in a greater constellation of factors that connect many of the young men and boys committing these mass killings. Clearly, video games are not making these boys do this, but maybe they desensitize this kid just enough that he considers gun violence as a way of gaining attention or power.

So what do we do?

let me break this down into a few categories:

As parents:
Know your kids. Some teenagers are mature enough to play M rated games, others are not even mature enough to play T rated games. Where does your child fall. Also monitor what they are playing, and how much they are playing. If your child is getting more than two hours of screen time a day it may be time to consider signing them up for sports, or scouts. Also, watch what they play; video games can present good teachable moments about what is appropriate and inappropriate in real life, take advantage of those moments.

As Mental Health Professionals:
Educate our clients (both the kids we work with and their parents) about the benefits and pitfalls of video gaming. Encourage them to adopt a responsible attitude toward gaming. Also be informed about what is going on in the gaming world, you would be surprised how much more quickly you can build rapport with a middle school client by discussing the intricacies of Halo 4 or Call of Duty Black Ops with them.

As Gamers:
First, educate others about games, especially parents. A lot of gamers don’t want to hear this, but young minds are very impressionable. If you are in Gamestop and hear a parent planning on buying God of War or Call of Duty for their 8 year old let them know about the content. A lot of parents, even in this day and age don’t know what is in these games. We can help with that.

Second, if you hear someone spouting off over Xbox Live or other online games about wanting to kill others in real life, take it seriously. One of the other commonalities between these mass killers is that they leave cryptic clues to friends before they act. Don’t let that go on in your games, and when it does make sure you follow up on it, especially if you hear a specific threat. I know it’s not easy, especially when you just want to get online and have a little fun, but this is happening too much for us to remain happily on the sidelines saying “it’s not the video games”.

Thanks for reading