OP-ED: Don’t blame video games for Newtown massacre

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By Paul Merritt, 11th Grade

A controversy about video gaming circulated recently among social networks and news commentators, arising from a mistaken report about who exactly had committed the Connecticut school shooting.  Ryan Lanza, now known to have been erroneously suspected, was thought to have committed this mass murder from what he’d learned playing the video game “Mass Effect 3.”

The deaths of 20 children and six adults dead were thus juxtaposed against one of Ryan Lanza’s many “likes” on Facebook, this particular video game trilogy.  Eventually it was learned that Ryan Lanza’s brother, Adam Lanza, had committed the murders, also killing himself and their mother.  Ryan Lanza, 24, lives in New Jersey and works at Ernst & Young in New York.

Avid news readers quickly jumped to blame the games’ publishers, BioWare and Electronic Arts, through strongly worded Facebook posts and emails, for making such a violent game that might be emulated and practiced by adolescents.

As some of you may already know, I’ve been a video gamer since I was roughly 5 years old, and my parents have worried from the outset what effect the games might have on me. According to Wikipedia.com, research published in 2001 suggested that “violent video games may increase mild forms of aggressive behavior in children and young adults. Analyses also showed that exposure to violent video games results in increased physiological arousal, aggression-related thoughts and feelings as well as decreased prosocial behavior.” At the time, the only concern should have been whether Pokémon had any effect on whether or not I’d become a poacher or animal-fighting enthusiast.

Other research – cited in the same Wikipedia article – suggests that the earlier studies were flawed and that video games have no effect at all on crime, or that research is inconclusive. Several major studies, it found – including one by the Harvard Medical School Center for Mental Health —  “have shown no conclusive link between video game usage and violent activity.”

In reality, for me as for most people who play video games, they were an outlet for stress, frustration, and other emotions, as well as an escape into a fantasy where one could take more charge of their actions than in regular life. Video games haven’t had any sort of effect on me, or most gamers, in any violent sense, because we know that the virtual actions we commit are detrimental and punishable in reality, not to mention immoral. There are only a select few of the 100 million gamers, and only in the United States, who have committed such acts of violence.

Why punish a group of people for something that only a few people did? In the Middle East, are all Arabs terrorists? Should we hate all Arabs or Muslims for the small percentage that attacks the United States or Israel? No, that’s nonsense. It’s completely ignorant to relate one person’s reaction to a video game to everyone else’s. Clearly, there are other variables involved, such as the person’s upbringing, mental health, and so much more than just the video game that the one person among a vast population of players has played.

Ryan Lanza was found pretty quickly to be wrongly accused, and BioWare and Electronic Arts never had to make a statement. Many news sites such as Fox and Gamespot retracted their articles related to the video game and the shooting,  Maybe the rest of the video game community can be let off the hook as well.