Video Games & Movies Don’t Cause Violence, But We Should Make Them Less Violent Anyway

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Video Games and Movies Don’t Cause Violence

But We Should Make Them Less Violent Anyway

By Kaitlin Konecke

Following a devastating weekend of mass shootings in the United States, in which at least 32 people were killed and dozens more injured in less than 24 hours, President Donald Trump held a press conference in which he attributed these murders to poor mental health, a lack of immigration reform, and violent video games.

Refusing to state the obvious-- that racism, white nationalism, and access to guns caused these shootings-- Trump instead chose to continue to demonize the already stigmatized mentally ill and the immigrants on the U.S./Mexico border. The claim that violent video games had anything to add to these incidents is baffling, as well as irrelevant. 

The idea that playing violent video games or watching violent television and movies contributes to violence is an old argument that doesn’t hold any water. Following the Columbine shootings in 1999, which left 12 students and one teacher dead at the hands of their classmates, the media was quick to latch on to the narrative that the two shooters (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) were bullied and ostracized by their peers. At the same time, everything those boys consumed--from first-person shooter video games such as Doom, to heavy metal and shock rock music by artists such as Marliyn Manson, to the black comedy film Natural Born Killers--was put under scrutiny and blamed for contributing to this senseless act of violence. Black clothes, trench coats, and other goth attire were demonized, and Harris and Klebold became a symbol of what bullying and the influence of dark and violent media can do to a person. They were murderers, yes, but they were also a cautionary tale. 

We’ve known for years how ridiculous that idea is. Anyone who has attended the first lecture of a Psychology 101 course knows that correlation does not equal causation. Millions of people played Doom, listened to Marilyn Manson, loved Natural Born Killers, dressed in black, and were bullied, and of all of those millions and millions of people, only several, including Harris and Klebold, turned to mass murder. 

Playing violent video games and enjoying violent movies does not turn you into a murderer. What impact they might have on a sociopath (as it is theorized Harris was) is up for debate. But it was only Klebold and Harris’ murderous intent and their access to guns and their own choices that caused the deaths of those 13 people that day. 

I don’t believe for one second that violent video games or movies cause violence. But I do think they desensitize us and retraumatize us the more we play or watch them. As a nation with a gaping open wound that is never allowed to heal, I now wonder what value these violent narratives provide.

Look, I get that explosions and bangs and relentless action are entertaining. And as technology, computer animation, and special effects have become more and more sophisticated, what we are able to gaze upon on a movie screen is unprecedented: Dinosaurs and robots and monsters that look strikingly real fill our households as we watch characters shoot them or run from them or blow them up or die at their hands (or claws). I get why it’s considered entertaining, but I don’t want to be entertained in that way anymore.

When I was 13, I watched 2,000 people die on live television when the Twin Towers fell. It was one of the defining moments of my life. And since that time, America has seen two wars, watched the stock market crash, and been ravaged by storms so destructive they’ve leveled cities. America has lost classrooms upon classrooms of students to gun violence, ranging in age from the children at Sandy Hook to the young adults at Virginia Tech. George Zimmerman hunted down Trayvon Martin and murdered him and then walked free. Innocent black men are disproportionately killed by police at an alarming frequency with no consequences. Sexual predators are elevated to the highest courts in the land. The government wants to regulate and dictate every uterus in America. Children are in cages on the border, separated from their parents. And over and over again we are hearing about more deaths at the hands of mass shooters: shootings in sacred churches, at concerts, in movie theaters, at Walmart. And each day, we must wake up to more racist rhetoric and fear mongering from the leader of the free world.

With reality being that bleak and that unbearable, why do we want to retraumatize ourselves in our escapism? Video games, television, and movies should be safe spaces in which to get away for a while. I no longer want violence or guns to be in that space with me.I don’t need to see it, I don’t want to see it, and I don’t understand the value in continuing to create that kind of content in film and television today.

I’m not saying that violence has no part to play in storytelling. Movies about the Holocaust, for instance, must depict the real violence that was done to the Jewish people in order to convey the truth and horror of what happened, and to remind us to never forget. That depiction of violence is not gratuitous, but narratively necessary.

But you know what isn’t? A bunch of white guys shooting each other in a Quentin Tarrantino movie. Or Black Mirror’s, “Metalhead,” in which robotic dogs kill off humanity in an artsy black and white episode with a message that’s not unique. I’m so sick of movies about gangs in Boston, or World War II soldiers, or the mafia. If one more procedural cop drama gets greenlit on television, I will lose my mind. I’m over it.

America, as a whole, should be over it, too. If it’s not telling a new, fresh, profound, or important story, then we don’t need it. 

What we do need is to work on changing the nightmare that has become our reality, and to heal. In the face of hopelessness and evil, we need some good, and we need some hope. We need inspiration. We need stories from women and minorities about women and minorities. We need to see stories of hope in order to keep fighting for justice. Journalists have had their heads cut off in the middle east in pursuit of stories that are important. I don’t need to watch a comic book villain bash a beloved character’s brains in on The Walking Dead. There’s no value in that. Not anymore.

By Kaitlin Konecke