Exciting recent studies have shown that video games improve elderly brain function, aid teens struggling with depression, and increase mobility in physical therapy patients. Games could be considered a relatively untapped resource—they haven’t achieved the level of respect that films and literature have, but their potential to help people could be greater than both.
The reputation of video games, however, has been marred by conservative critique and media hysteria.
Games are often singled out by mass media in the aftermath of tragic events, like the Sandy Hook shooting last spring. It is important to try to understand the factors that create tragedies like school shootings, but Michael Levine and Christopher Ferguson write that the focus on games “has the possibility, unfortunately, of causing a dangerous distraction from more important issues.”
Namely, the issues of mental health and gun control.
Levine and Ferguson, both education and media experts, believe that video games are a convenient scapegoat; in times of grief, it’s easy to pick on new media. But pointing to video games as a cause of violence distracts us from discussions on mental health, gun laws, and the other factors that may influence potential shooters.
After the Columbine shootings, legislation was passed to regulate video game ratings. This kind of legislation is necessary. But is that really all we can do to stop violence? Stick a label on some games that, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, don’t actually cause violence in teens?
This is a discussion that producers and users of games—as well as television, films, and books—should be a part of. But games should not be the center of the discussion.
“We lost track of some of the much more vital causes of our epidemic of gun violence,” say Levine and Ferguson. “Namely, the lack of progress on mental health reform and common-sense measures like background checks on all gun purchases.”
Ultimately, the solution is more complicated than “video games make you violent.” We all want an easy way to prevent events like Sandy Hook, but the truth is that none exists. We need to stop distracting ourselves by blaming games; especially when studies show that globally there is no connection between video games and violence.
The reality is far more frightening than violent video games corrupting our youth. The truth is that there is something wrong with America, but it’s harder to change a culture than it is to ban a game.