When my husband tossed the Saturday newspaper on the kitchen counter yesterday, I was stunned and saddened to read the headlines. (Not having a TV, and spending more time writing online than reading, sometimes I’m a few days behind what’s happening.) All this gun violence in Toronto and Colorado – it’s absolutely sickening.
Despite my revulsion, and being the instinctively curious human that I am, I flipped open the front section to read up on what had happened. Journalists outlined the nitty-gritty details on how the various shooters went about their grisly business. There were stories about survivors, and one particularly tragic young girl who narrowly escaped Toronto’s Eaton Centre shooting last month, only to die in the Colorado shooting.
And then there were the countless speculations on what would lead a young person to commit such an atrocity. Video games were cited as a motive behind the Columbine shooting, according to one writer, and apparently the latest Colorado perpetrator was an avid role-playing gamer. Is there a connection, some people wonder? Could video games actually be having enough of an influence on young people to cause them to blur the lines of definition between fantasy and reality? Could video games be making young people so accustomed to extreme virtual violence that they must seek fulfillment in extremism elsewhere, i.e. real life?
I don’t know if there’s a direct link. I’m not enough of an expert in psychology and/or gaming to make that claim. But I do believe that there’s a deep societal disconnect in the way we feel about violence and the way we treat violence. We all condemn gun crime and wish it didn’t exist on our streets, yet we allow our children to play at being pretend gangsters and terrorists on their computer and video games. We tell our kids that aggressive behaviour is not appropriate, yet their minds are being filled with it by watching action movies. Encounters with blood and guts give us the creeps, yet that’s all we see on the news and read about in the paper. We’re obsessed with the very things that we’re scared of and know to be fundamentally wrong.
This is my lament. Too many kids nowadays are being raised on a diet of incessant violence. Images bombard them from every direction – TV, Internet, movies, games, news. Not only is it portrayed graphically, it’s downright glamourized. For example, why does a national newspaper feel the need to outline the Colorado shooter’s precise attack approach, from photos of his car parked outside to his route into the movie theatre? Not only does it increase my own paranoia, but it sends the clear and dangerous message that high-profile violence gets media attention; it makes a person instantly famous; it will never be forgotten. (See post Down with Sensationalism.)
If we truly want violence to decrease in our everyday life, people need to start eliminating the potential influences on the younger generation. If that requires tossing the TV, out the window and spending a bit more time playing with your kids, just do it. If it means putting drastic limitations on the kinds of movies your kids can watch, just do it, despite the fits of protest. If it takes refusing to let your kid play extremely violent video games, just shut up and do it. Imagine how ridiculous it would be to tell our kids, “Smoking will kill you,” while giving them fake plastic cigarettes to carry around the house for fun! How are violent games any different?
Why have we become so complacent and accepting of what’s ‘normal’ for kids to do? Why not stand back and truly assess what we’re feeding their brains? Living even a little bit more deliberately and consciously can only help, and it’s only common sense that reducing ‘pretend’ violence will likely reduce deadly violence.