MSNBC Article: Were video games to blame for massacre?

I am glad to see that MSNBC is taking the lead today, and starting a counter argument to all the pundits claims (Jack Thompson in particular) of violent video games being at the root of all school shootings:

Were video games to blame for massacre?
Pundits rushed to judge industry, gamers in the wake of shooting

Jack Thompson was on Fox News the night of the massacre spewing his proclamations that video games are at the root of all of these violent shootings, and that kids are using these games to train for these killing sprees.  He claims that a student could not do this if he had not trained using these games.  I saw one interview Tuesday where he claimed that a public domain Role Playing Game (not an action first person shooter) was one of these violent video games that kids used to train with. 

Updated:  Found videos of his appearances on Fox News from the day of the shooting making claims about the gunman:

Jack Thompson phone interview on Fox News, 4/16/07, 3:12pm ET

Jack Thompson Live Interview on Fox News, 4/16/07, 7:28pm ET

Press Release from Jack Thompson predicting violent video game cause in Virginia Tech Shooting, 4/17/07

Night before last Chris Mathews on Crossfire interviewed Jack Thompson and called him to task on his claims that this gunman was a violent video game addict (there’s a video linked from the MSNBC story above).  When pushed on his claims he said that he knew someone who claimed that the gunman played Counterstrike back in High School, and that he had to still be playing, as all college kids are addicted to Counterstrike (never mind that this game was released in 1999, and is years out of favor with most gamers). 

Jack Thompson has since sent a letter to Microsoft CEO Bill Gates claiming that he was at least partially liable for this killing spree at Virginia Tech because Microsoft published a version of Counterstrike for the XBox. 

Updated: I found a page with a copy of the letter to Bill Gates:

Letter to Bill Gates on Virginia Shooting, 4/18/07

The Washington Post had an article published with the claim of this gunman playing these games as well, and they silently withdrew the claim (while reference to it remained on another area of their website that could be found using “search”) the next morning on their website.  They did not however print a correction to that claim in the next edition of the paper. 

And now Dr. Phil has weighed in with his insightful claim:

“You cannot tell me — common sense tells you that if these kids are playing video games, where they’re on a mass killing spree in a video game, it’s glamorized on the big screen, it’s become part of the fiber of our society. You take that and mix it with a psychopath, a sociopath or someone suffering from mental illness and add in a dose of rage, the suggestibility is too high. And we’re going to have to start dealing with that.”

It has since been discovered that there were no video games or video game consoles found in the gunman’s dorm room, and nobody at the college has said that they have ever seen him playing video games. 

Where did Dr. Phil and Jack Thompson get their evidence that the gunman had been addicted to these games, and using them to train for this massacre?  The answer is from their own delusional self promoting rhetoric.  This kind of proselytizing at a time of tragedy like the Virginia Tech massacre gets them air time, it feeds their egos, and it allows them to play expert in something that they know very little about.

There’s an excellent article at Kotaku (a gaming website) by Heather Chaplin that is well worth a read:

  Op Ed: SmartBomb Author on Va Tech Shooting

She sums it up quite nicely at the end of her article:

“To blame violent videogames for this, let alone videogames as a medium, is short sighted, hypocritical, absurd, and, frankly, a little desperate. It’s an argument made by people who fear a medium they don’t understand and want a bogeyman more than they want real answers.”

I personally do not allow my children to play violent video games.  That is a choice I make as a parent in the raising of my children.  I do think there is some correlation to playing these violent games and acting out of violent behavior in some children.  And I believe that we as a society need to address these issues in all of our entertainment and pop culture.  But there are proper times and places where intelligent debate can be pursued in these matters. 

The time and place for a debate on the effects of violent video games on our children is not on the evening news the day of a violent massacre of innocents.  The “experts” that rush to the TV cameras after a school shooting claiming that violent video games are at the root of this evil, even before the gunman is identified, are worse than ambulance chasers self promoting themselves after a tragedy for a quick buck.  They are feeding themselves at the public media trough at the expense of people who are mourning the tragic loss of life caused by these deranged and psychotic murderers.

Many things have gone wrong in the lives of these killers.  Many cries for help have gone unanswered.  Major warning signs have been missed by many professionals.  And often these loners have fallen through the cracks of society, often suffering from severe mental illness.  Trying to hang all of the blame on a single factor like video games is simply wrong.  If it were really that simple of a correlation there would be thousands of these killings every single year with the number of students who play these games on a daily basis. 


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