Asking the Wrong Questions and Looking in the Wrong Places – By Michela Fiorido

Obama calls for game violence research:

It is truly baffling to me that people immediately jump to blame violent video games when a shooting happens and that now $10 million dollars will be spent on game violence research. What ever happened to plain old criminology? There are a myriad of other ways to explain such tragedies but for political leaders to be so quick to point the finger at video games reeks of intolerance, stereotyping, sexism and ultimately disrespect. Violent video games are so pervasive now that, in my opinion, it is akin to saying that there is a connection between young men who wear shorts and violence. Virtually every young man wears shorts. Virtually every young man plays violent video games. There are no actual numbers that I could find regarding the percentage of men who play violent video games but we can assume from the fact that since over 85% of video games include violence (in whatever capacity) that the numbers are high.

But what’s with talking about men all the time anyways?

I take offence to the fact that violent video games are being blamed for shootings because, like a large portion of the gaming culture, it completely disregards the fact that women play violent video games too and make up nearly half of all gamers. 62 mass shootings — defined as a single spree that killed at least four people — have been carried out in the U.S. since 1982. Only one was perpetrated by a female. In 2006, Jennifer San Marco fatally shot her former neighbor, then drove to work and killed six colleagues before turning her gun on herself ( If women play these games too, then why are there virtually no mass shootings committed by women? Probably because there are other criminological factors such as simply being male, having a mental illness (Adam Lanza, Dylan Kleebold anyone?), checking off the majority of boxes on Hare’s psychopathy checklist (Eric Harris anyone?). Or maybe because they interact with anti-social peers (differential association) or  for whatever reason feel they cannot achieve popularity, fame, wealth etc through legitimate means and therefore attempt to obtain these things through crime instead (theory of anomie, strain theory). Or perhaps they do not play sports or have pro-social relationships? (social control theory). These are much more plausible reasons for a mass shooting.

Ultimately, we are asking the wrong question.

The question should not be asking why people commit mass shootings. It should be asking why people don’t commit mass shootings. Since there are so many gamers, we must ask why young men who play violent video games do not commit violent acts if we really want to find out what actually causes these mass shooting tragedies. And I am willing to bet that video games are not the cause.


3 responses to “Asking the Wrong Questions and Looking in the Wrong Places – By Michela Fiorido”

  1. Jon Festinger, Q.C.

    Adding to your piece….

    What seems questionable to me is using gaming as baseline to itself, without cross referencing to anything else. For example it wouldn’t be surprising if gamers feel more violent after playing Call of Duty then not after playing it. But do they feel more or less violent after 15 minutes of CoD then after playing full contact football (or hockey) for an equivalent time (or ROTC training etc.)

  2. lawyer2013

    it seems to me that the underlying issue is that there is a huge leap between establishing a causal link vs. a correlation. the argument that violent video games cause real life violence has not been demonstrated, just as porn has not been shown to cause violence or objectification of women. there are too many intervening factors / variables to establish a causal link (you’d have to conduct experiments that would be unethical) and the human condition is much too complex to boil it down to one thing (violent video games) causing violence against individuals. that being said, I think it would be difficult to argue that these games don’t contribute (at least in some small way with some vulnerable individuals) to violence; this would also be the case for pornography. on a purely subjective basis, it seems to me that the closer violent video games are to real life (with improved graphics and the shooting of people rather than aliens) there is a higher chance that these games (in some people) will play a role in real life violence. this would be the same as the impact of violent movies on this same group. Access to guns (especially in the US) is also a factor, with the same group of vulnerable persons. the larger question is whether the rights and freedoms of the individual (to play these games or own an assault weapon) trumps the greater societal rights (right to not be assaulted or killed). this same balancing act is raised in other contexts, including the right to assisted suicide, where the rights of the individual who is dealing with a serious illness and / or pain issues trumps over the societal value of preserving life. no easy answers.

  3. Jon Festinger, Q.C.

    Some legal perspectives on causality from Watters v. TSR Inc. (negligence suit by parent of D&D gamer who committed suicide) 1990 U.S. App. LEEXIS 8827:

    “Johnny was not known to be suicidal, as far as the plaintiff has told us, and he was not placed in the care or custody of defendant TSR. Accordingly, the plaintiff can derive no benefit from cases such as Sudderth v. White. This is not a workers’ compensation case, so Wells v. Harrell is not in point. Even under principles of workers’ compensation law, moreover, it would have to be shown affirmatively that Johnny would not have taken his own life absent a mental disorder induced by exposure to Dungeons & Dragons. That would be hard to do, and there has been no attempt to do it. The fact is, unfortunately, that youth is not always proof against the strange waves of despair and hopelessness that sometimes sweep seemingly normal people to suicide, and we have no way of knowing that Johnny would not have committed suicide if he had not played Dungeons & Dragons. Finally, of course, it does not appear that Mrs. Watters can show that Johnny was delirious or psychotic, or that he acted under an irresistible impulse or while incapable of realizing what he was doing.

    On the contrary, Mrs. Watters’ affidavit shows affirmatively that Johnny Burnett, who lived in her household throughout his life, never caused Mrs. Watters any problems. He went to school regularly, and he took care of a paper route. The record contains no affidavit from a psychiatrist or similar expert suggesting that he suffered from any psychosis. As far as the record discloses, no one had any reason to know that Johnny Burnett was going to take his own life. We cannot tell why he did so or what his mental state was at the time. His death surely was not the fault of his mother, or his school, or his friends, or the manufacturer of the game he and his friends so loved to play. Tragedies such as this simply defy rational explanation, and courts should not pretend otherwise.”