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Banning Video Games Will Not Save Children’s Souls

As in the case of guns, video games don't kill people. More: Video Games Are Good For Your Brain

Walter Hudson


April 25, 2013 - 7:00 am

Gun control emerged as the primary political battlefront in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook murders. While the battle to retain our Second Amendment rights remains a superior consideration, statist nannies push on other fronts as well.

A former writer for the Huffington Post, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, claims to have broken ties with the publication after its refusal to publish a piece he submitted regarding the influence of violent video games on troubled teenage males. Self-publishing on his personal blog with the provocative title “On School Shooters – The Huffington Post Doesn’t Want You To Read This,” Hoffmeister reveals his own troubled past while building a case against certain games.

As a teacher, I’ve spent a lot of time this past week [December 27, 2012] thinking about the Newtown shooting, school shootings in general, their causes and possible preventions.

It’s scary now to think that I ever had anything in common with school shooters.  I don’t enjoy admitting that.  But I did have a lot in common with them. I was angry, had access to guns, felt ostracized, and didn’t make friends easily. I engaged in violence and wrote about killing people in my notes to peers.

But there is one significant difference between me at 16 and 17 years of age and most high school shooters: I didn’t play violent video games.

But Jeff Weise did. He played thousands of first-person shooter hours before he shot and killed nine people at and near his Red Lake, Minn., school, before killing himself.

And according to neighbors and friends, Clackamas shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts played a lot of video games before he armed himself with a semi-automatic AR-15 and went on a rampage at the Clackamas Town Center in Portland, Oregon last week.

Also, by now, it is common knowledge that Adam Lanza, who murdered 20 children and six women in video-game style, spent many, many hours playing “Call of Duty.”  In essence, Lanza – and all of these shooters – practiced on-screen to prepare for shooting in real-life.

Hoffmeister ends his retrospective with a call for government action. He encourages readers to “support the bill introduced… by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller, directing the National Academy of Sciences to examine whether violent games and programs lead children to act aggressively.”

Video games don’t come with loaded firearms.

Let us table, for at least a few paragraphs, the fundamental problem with Hoffmeister’s desire for government action. The notion that violent video games have some enchanting effect which leads to shooting rampages neglects to acknowledge the host of other real problems the perpetrators of mass murders repeatedly possess.

In Hoffmeister’s account of his hateful youth, he divulges several intolerable circumstances which should have alarmed the adults around him. He carried weapons both in and out of school, apparently without parental knowledge or meaningful challenge from school officials. He endured no discipline or follow-up after it was discovered he had brought a loaded, stolen handgun onto school grounds. He suffered from psychological problems, was diagnosed as a “failed joiner,” and had suicidal tendencies. He indulged in homicidal fantasies and began to carry a larger array of concealed weapons to school, including a sawed-off shotgun, a knife, and a hammer. Hoffmeister imagines that his life teetering on the abyss of criminal violence might have been given the final push had he been influenced, like the many rampaging shooters he cites, by violent video games.

Are we truly to believe that a child so misguided to begin with needs, more than anything else, to be kept from gaming? Hoffmeister’s own account admits that the eventual corrective influences in his life were healthy adult relationships and other “maturing experiences.” Does this not affirm that the best prescription for troubled youth is caring mentorship and reasoned guidance?

Hoffmeister hardly proves the best judge of the effect of gaming upon young minds. He admits to having no experience with it, and imagines an experience which fails authentication. He refers to gaming as “practice,” as if the average gamer regards their digital entertainment as practical training for a real-life experience.

Just add parent.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, the most recent military first-person shooter in that franchise, sold 11.22 million copies in its first week of release. The previous entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, sold 13.45 million. Those numbers add up to the over 100 million units moved throughout the franchise’s history through 2011. It may not be clear just how many minors are playing these games. However, we can safely assume the number would impress. Of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of school-aged gamers playing games like Call of Duty, should we not expect more than a handful to engage in murderous rampages if indeed the games are making them do it?

In truth, games do not serve as homicidal practice among mentally healthy gamers anymore than violent films, television, or books serve as homicidal triggers among mentally healthy patrons. The problems marbling the lives of disasters like Adam Lanza or Jeff Weise can be summed up in disengaged, absent, and incompetent parents, to say nothing of mental disorders.

Hoffmeister cites anecdotal testimony from his own students, who say that they routinely play video games for 30 or more hours per week. Accounting for sleeping, eating, and attending school, gaming consumes nearly every waking hour of their lives. Who is letting this happen?! Who provides the environment where this occupational gaming occurs? Can game developers really be held responsible?

In an effort which evokes Queen Gertrude’s line regarding too much protest, Hoffmeister insists he is not an anti-video game crusader. Be that as it may, he certainly advocates government action. The aim of Rockefeller’s bill, ordering government research into the effects of gaming on children, can only be to inform restrictive regulation. Like an environmental impact survey, it’s just a precursor to rationalize force.

Practiced dragon slayer.

That brings us around to the fundamental issue. How does another person’s inability to self-regulate, be it a teen’s inability to refrain from homicidal rampage or a parent’s inability to raise and discipline their children, place a claim upon another’s liberty? Let’s say Rockefeller’s research finds what it is designed to, and video games actually have some degree of unhealthy influence upon children. How does that justify government action? How does that grant anyone the power to tell game developers what they can produce, and gamers what they can buy?

The mentality on display mimics that which dominates the gun control lobby. Instead of recognizing the agency of human offenders, blame gets assigned to inanimate objects. Regardless, the point is moot. Individual rights require that game developers remain free to meet consumer demand. Whether the scapegoat is guns or games, that’s the end of the argument.

Rather than misdirect their effort toward restricting the rights of innocents, Hoffmeister and Rockefeller ought to encourage parental responsibility and, where parents are unavailable, mentorship. Hoffmeister testifies to the therapeutic role outdoor activities played in his transformation from troubled youth to respectable school teacher. Why not end his prescription there? Why are certain people never satisfied until a law has been passed?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get back to practicing galactic conquest with my army of clones.

More: Video Games Are Good For Your Brain

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the boards of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, Minnesota Majority and the Minority Liberty Alliance. He maintains a blog and daily podcast entitled Fightin Words and co-hosts the weekly podcast Liberty Tree Radio. He also contributes to True North, a hub of conservative Minnesotan commentary, and regularly appears on the Twin Cities News Talk Weekend Roundtable on KTCN AM 1130. Follow his work via Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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Top Rated Comments   
Thank you. I see too many people going "it's not the guns, it's the violent video games!" No, it's neither. It's bad people, bad parents, and the creep of moral relativism into our culture.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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As usual, Walter shreds the straw man and guides focus to the heart of the matter. Guns or games only become issues when that of abdication of parental responsibility is ignored.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Lest we forget, it was the White Album that "caused" Charles Manson to incite murder to cause a race war. Why haven't we banned the White Album for the love of God!!!!!!!!
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
We have many problems in our society and more laws is not the answer. Video games are not the problem.
We need real schools with real rules and real punishments and this takes real teachers and real parents all involved with the students.
In our throw away society we have thrown away our responsibility to our children, our schools and to our civilization.
Wake up and smell the coffee, Children need limits and adult supervision to grow up into real people.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hollywood violence is worse than video game violence as the game provides feedback for failing to follow the rules (such as they are) There is concrete proof of Hollywood's accidental firearms training. Line soldiers pulled back for Rest & Recreation in Vietnam were sometimes given marksmanship testing and then refresher training. Against paper targets 50 meters away, they averaged pumping out 300 rounds a minute. Target scoring revealed they averaged one hit per minute. This is a worse hit record than the Continental soldiers with smoothbore flintlocks from the American Revolution. In the stress of live fire, the Army rifle training flakes off and they revert to the accidental Hollywood Marksmanship Training. They look fierce and spray like Rambo or George Peppard or John Wayne or whoever. By Vietnam days, the guys must have seen over 10,000 examples of Hollywood gun usage. Imitate Hollywood and you will not hit anything. If an officer would take any of those feckless shooters and scream into their face that they must shoot the Army way, then their target statistics go up by at least thirty times.

No studies are needed. The proof exists.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Related: my brother was a cop on the NYPD and worked a foot post in the 80s and 90s. He said more than once that he hoped whatever movies were teaching the hoodlums to hold their pistols sideways he really hoped they'd keep watching them.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've been thinking about the debate over what causes young males to become violent and commit murders for some time, now. I'll be the first to admit I have no conclusive answers, but I wonder if it isn't that modern social norms are just contrary to the natural tendency of young males to be aggressive and engage in violent activities?

Boys are not permitted to play traditional violent games (cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians); they are severely disciplined for simply pointing their fingers at each other and saying "bang". This is suppressing their real nature; in nature young males of most species are the most aggressive and violent examples of that species. And there is no reliable safety valve for boys to let off this pressure. Athletics could be one way of safely channeling these tendencies. I wonder how many of the school shooters were active in athletics?

If we want to identify the culprit in these incidents, I think we need to look at the way our society tries to suppress natural aggressiveness in boys. I'm not claiming my theory is correct, but I do think it deserves serious consideration. Especially when it's clear passing laws banning guns or violent videos won't solve any of the problems.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Recall that just yesterday we had the story come out that, public perceptions to the contrary notwithstanding, violence is down in the last 20 years. We pointed out, correctly, that since gun ownership has gone up while gun violence has gone down it's now impossible to even argue correlation between the two, much less causation.

Well, you know what else has happened in the last 20 years? Video games have become FAR more sophisticated, and in some high-profile examples have become far more bloody and violent. If "Doom" caused the attack at Columbine then "Skyrim" should be inspiring a new axe murderer every few minutes. But it's just...not...happening.

Some people are just evil and/or crazy, and they'll hurt others because that's what evil, crazy people do. Blaming video games is silly.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Personally, I'm not sure which argument is correct. On the one hand, its likely there wasn't a chance people actually grow violent from playing violent video games. On the other hand, there's also a strong possibility/likelihood that it was. I remember Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty briefly mentioning in one key scene that Liberian children were exposed to Hollywood action films as "image training" to become ruthless killers (note, the main character, Raiden, was a former child soldier from Liberia), and since Kojima usually tries to incorporate social issues into his games, I suspect this sort of thing must have happened (he wouldn't have incorporated it otherwise). So far, I'm neutral on the issue. I'm a gamer, myself, though largely of Nintendo.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recently watched, on A&E, an interview with Long Island serial killer Joel Rifkin. Same scenario - distant dad, bullied at school, etc. He said his turning point was seeing Hitchcock's Frenzy, about a serial strangler of women. It inspired him to become one himself. My point is the same as almost everyone else is making, should we burn all prints of Frenzy? And I, too, think the over-prescribing of psychotropic drugs should at least be looked at as a possible contributing factor to violence among boys.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I disagree with the analysis in this article. The reasoning is faulty on multiple levels. First, the headline: "Banning video games will not save children's souls."

Replace the words "video games" with any other word and that sentence will yield the same empty meaning. If you intend something other than saving souls, say so. Otherwise there is only one way to save _anyone's_ soul.

Next, the argument that violent video games are not harmful because there are millions who watch them without killing others is absurd. I suppose Islam is therefore not harmful/dangerous either? And is your _only_ measure of harm based on whether or not someone takes the life of another?

This is not a serious analysis and it is not good journalism. Walter, you tend to write about, and defend, the things which threaten your world. That deserves your best effort, and more thoughtfulness.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Next, the argument that violent video games are not harmful because there are millions who watch them without killing others is absurd."

How is that absurd? It's the exact same argument we use to argue against gun control regulations. When more than 99% of a product's users harm no one it's really, REALLY difficult to make an argument that the product causes harm.

Look at it this way: 100% of violent criminals breathe an oxygen/nitrogen blend. Can we then conclude that the atmosphere causes criminality?

"I suppose Islam is therefore not harmful/dangerous either? And is your _only_ measure of harm based on whether or not someone takes the life of another?"

Taking a life is not the only measure I use, which is why Islam is a bad example to use for comparison. Islam is not only a religion it's a political system, one that robs freedom and dignity from people wherever it's imposed.

A better example would be Christianity. Some Christians murder people who work in abortion clinics. Some Christians sexually assault children left in their care and some other Christians actively cover that up. Does that make Christianity as a whole dangerous? I don't think so. The problem with those people isn't that they're Christian, it's that they're evil.

Your hysteria about video games sounds exactly like the hysteria in years past about comic books and rock music, and it's about equally valid.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ban chess. The game ends when the king is killed. A lot of "innocent" pieces are killed in the process.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
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