Monday, 19 March 2012

The Columbine High School Massacre: A Case Study of Violence and Video Games

             Whereas last week’s lecture focused on violence in Christianity and sports, this week we looked at violence in Christianity and the media; more precisely, we examined the effects of violence in video games.

Several violent incidents reported in the media have provided Christian groups with what they believe to be justification for this claim that there is a positive correlation between video game violence and real life violence.  We can look to the Columbine High School Massacre of 1999 as an example.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – two grade twelve students at Columbine High – shot twelve students and one teacher, as well as injuring twenty-four others in what has been classified as the fourth-deadliest school massacre in the history of the United States.

In search of a rationale, US psychiatrist Jerald Block explained the killers’ actions as the result of their immersion in the video game Doom, a popular first person shooter game.  Rumours then began circulating that Harris had created Doom levels resembling Columbine High – with his fellow classmates and students as characters of the game – and it was believed that Harris then practiced the massacre by playing these levels repetitively.

Prior to the massacre, the two teenagers got themselves in trouble with the police – including being arrested for theft – and consequently their computer access was restricted. It was after being arrested and banned from their computers for about a month that the two teens began documenting plans to attack the school. Block believed that with this extra time on their hands, the two boys began projecting the anger they previously expressed in the game onto the real world.

Although Harris did design Doom levels, they were not actually simulations of Columbine High School.  Furthermore, as Michelle Brown argues, there is no substantial evidence from media effects studies that proves this assertion that violence in video games translates into violent acts in real life. 

While Christian groups certainly do have good reasons for being so deeply concerned about the influence that violent video games have on youth, perhaps they could better use that energy to critique the other cultural factors behind violent behaviour, such as poverty, low educational attainment, social structure, lack of family support and the like.  In the case of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the video game Doom was ruled out as the primary cause for the massacre as the two young adults suffered from depression and psychopathy; furthermore, the social climate of the high school and bullying were considered influencing factors.

Why then, do video games continue to be subject to criticism when the evidence points in the other direction? It comes down to a matter of public scrutiny. While some Christian groups do in fact concern themselves with the broader issues that stand behind violent behaviour, they don’t get the same amount of attention as – for example – the Parent’s Television Council or the American Family Association when it campaigns to ban video games.  Therefore, due to the of the lack of attention, Christian groups and the mass population falsely attributes violent behaviour as the result of violent media: in this case, video games.      

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