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Are violent video games the problem?

Don’t let anyone convince you that the reason for these recent acts of domestic terrorism stems from violent video games.

It’s simply not true.

Since the tragic shootings in the past weeks, I’ve grown more and more frustrated and angry at the rhetoric and stories being told about the gunmen and the culprit for these acts of senseless killings a result of violent video games.

I’ve spoken to a number of media outlets regarding my opinion. And now I want to dive into this topic more in depth so we can begin to understand what is really happening in our country in regards to these shootings.

Are violent video games the problem?

Not A Simple Issue

Let me start with this: the conversation regarding these atrocious crimes being credited to violent video gaming misses the point. As a psychologist with decades of experience, I can confidently tell you that it is too simplistic to say gaming is causing these shootings. The bigger issue — the one that is more messy and challenging that society for some insane reason doesn’t want to put resources towards — are the kids that are growing up totally immersed in their digital world. They are becoming more and more isolated, depressed, anxious and are losing compassion for others. 

You want to know how we create a mass shooter? 

Let’s start by disconnecting them from society. From peers. Let’s remove their ability to connect to other humans and start filling their head with the hate, anger and rhetoric that is available 24/7 in online forums. That may seem simplistic, but have you watched what our children are doing with their freedom online

Yes, for my gaming friends, research does say that all gaming causes an increase in aggression, stifles someone’s ability to connect and reduces empathy … but historically these traits, stemming from heavy participation in violent video games, have not been connected to actual violence. 

In other words, there has been no connection with someone playing Call of Duty going out and committing violent acts like what we have been witnessing. There simply is no evidence that connects the dots to blame them. 

The gaming community has spoken up and said connecting games to these killings isn’t right. Trust me, I am the last person that is “pro”gaming, but I do feel some responsibility to help identify what is actually happening here. 

The Real Issue

The real issue is that the individuals who are committing these heinous crimes are isolated, struggling and are often consuming hate. 

They are viewing and listening to messages filled with hate and are being radicalized by it. 

Even more, these crimes are being facilitated by the power and energy of society’s response to the shootings. The “fame” and “purpose” in becoming a shooter allows these troubled individuals to feel like they finally “belong”.  

Kids who felt like they never fit in now have a tribe. But, the problem is the tribe they are in is isolated, angry, hurt, and discarded from the fast pace of this new digital world where everyone posts how great life is, how awesome they feel and what amazing next trip they are taking (or lying about taking and using Photoshop to pretend). 

They are a fringe group that is forgotten, left behind and filled with loners. When they are together, they follow each other’s actions and become empowered and emboldened by that energy. 

Caution Needed

There is also cause for concern when we start talking about mental illness and mental health issues. There is already a massive stigmatization around anything in mental health. 

I always say we all have a special little sprinkle of something — maybe some traits of anxiety, depression, trauma exposure, obsessive compulsive, etc. If we start to go after people who post things about mental health and mental illness, it will definitely create a larger stigma. 

So, how can we make change? What are the conversations we need to be having? And, with whom?

Let’s start with the President’s idea to call technology companies like Facebook to the table. 

If I’m online and look at a pair of shoes, for the next two months I am bombarded with ads. These companies can monitor every step I take, what I hover on, and then package and sell that data to retailers without question. 

But, when it comes to people posting content that is threatening, their hands are tied? 

This is where they argue they are only a platform and not someone that can abridge someone’s rights … and I get it. They are actually right and they are desperately looking to get some oversight to help them because, despite having all the tools, they feel stuck in the middle. What words do they “report”, what sites do they start to “flag” and to what entity do we call? 

If Cambridge Analytica can have 5,000 data points to create in-depth profiles on people based on what they do online, influence them one way or another in their choices – all from data they receive from say, Facebook, I think we can reasonably assume that with the right reporting system we could potentially stop the violence and get help to someone in need. 

Until then, I fear these shootings and the empty talk that assigns blame without real solutions will only perpetuate the issue further.