Well, once again video games are to blame for the most recent act of violence. As we have all heard by now, there was a mass shooting at a Madden 19 tournament in Florida on Sunday, August 26. The gunman, 24-year-old David Katz, took part in the tournament for the chance to go to the finals in Las Vegas. After losing to his opponent, Katz left the Chicago Pizza restaurant and returned with two handguns, a 9mm with a laser scope and a .45 caliber to eliminate his competition, Elijah Clayton, 22, and Taylor Robertson, 28, who were the top two competitors in the tournament. Another 12 people were wounded with a 13th who was shot while trying to flee. David Katz suffered from, according to his mother Elizabeth Katz, depression and other “affective disorders.” In May 2006, David Katz, who would be between 12-13 at the time, received psychiatric treatment, however, his father Richard Katz disagreed with the medicating of his son because antidepressants “may increase suicidal thoughts in young people.” Mr. and Mrs. Katz disagreement of proper treatment of their son led to negative response from David, who refused the treatment. Elizabeth Katz was giving her son psychiatric drugs but some of these were known to increase suicidal thoughts and violent tendencies in young people.
So, why bring this up you ask?
Because, once again, videogames have been placed at the forefront of blame when it comes to mental health.
FOX news discussed in a recent panel hosted by Martha MacCallum following the tragic incident that videogames and smartphones should be regulated because they believed that these forms of entertainment played some role in David Katz carrying out his rampage. This is claim that has been talked about before and has been debunked numerous times over. There is no correlation between playing videogames – violent or otherwise – and metal health. In fact, it is quite the opposite. In 2008, records held by the US Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and Office of Justice Programs indicated that arrests for violent crime in the US had decreased since the early 1990s in both children and adults. This decrease occurred despite increasing sales of violent video games and increases in graphically violent content in those games. Henry Jenkins, an academic in media studies, has said, “According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population.” This translates to the fact that video games have no influence over a person’s behavior. Jenkins went on to state that the panic over violent video games leads authorities to be more hostile to kids who feel cut off from the system. In short, blaming video games can actually be more harmful. For Martha MacCallum and her fellow panelists, Dr. Carol Swain and Steve Hilton, to quickly place the blame on something that is supposed to fun and enjoyable is just plain ridiculous and, furthermore, they seem to dance around the real issue that should be addressed – mental health and home stability.
Since 1998, researchers and mental health experts have been conducting studies regarding youths playing violent video games and the impact on behavior. While these have yet to find any link between the two, many mental health experts did find, however, that the juveniles who did commit crimes had little stability in their home and suffered from mental health issues that were not properly addressed. A report by the U.S. Surgeon General in 2001 point these out as the strongest risk factors for violent behavior in youths over exposure to media. Such as the case with David Katz. His parents were going through a divorce when he was of a young age and they could not agree on the proper treatment for David’s mental instability. David’s father refused to use medications while David’s mother used medications, some of which have been known to cause violent behavior, to treat her son. This disagreement is more than likely what led to David’s downfall and his violent rampage on Sunday.
But why blame video games? Because it’s easy. As with the Mortal Kombat controversy and other media supposedly being responsible for behavior patterns in young people, people find far easier to blame media entertainment rather than the issues at hand.
Do you recall the PMRC incident in the mid-1980s’? Most of you probably don’t. So here’s the story. Tipper Gore, wife of then Senator and later Vice President Al Gore, formed the PMRC, or Parental Music Resource Center, with the goal of increasing control over access of children to music deemed to have violent or sexual themes. You know those “Parental Advisory” labels you see? Yeah, that’s these guys. Many songs by music artists were misinterpreted and their meanings turned into material more outlandish than originally intended. Twisted Sister’s iconic “We’re not Gonna Take It” was deemed, by Tipper Gore, to promote acts of violence. Another song, “Under the Blade”, was said to contain references to bondage and sadomasochism. Lead singer Dee Snider refuted this, stating that “the only sadomasochism, bondage and rape in this song is in the mind of Ms. Gore.” He says he wrote the song about impending surgery and the fear that accompanies it. Snider concluded that, “The full responsibility for defending my children falls on the shoulders of my wife and I, because there is no one else capable of making these judgements for us.” This statement could not be any truer. Responsibility to regulate children, whether its music or video games, falls squarely on the parents. It’s the parent’s responsibility to unsure that their children are aware of the world around them and help them differentiate fantasy from reality. Placing the blame on video games – violent or otherwise – really needs to stop. It’s ridiculous and redundant.
Here’s another example of injustice against video games. Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, initial reports mis-identified the shooter as Ryan Lanza, the brother of the perpetrator Adam Lanza. When word got out that Ryan had liked Mass Effect on Facebook, an internet mob immediately attacked the game’s Facebook page, calling the developers “child killers.” This outburst occurred before Adam was recognized as the real killer. Interestingly, Adam Lanza did play video games – mostly Super Mario Bros and Dance Dance Revolution, two of the most non-violent video games everyone knows. So, how does playing a dance simulator correspond with Lanza’s actions? It doesn’t. Adam Lanza was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome and severe OCD. He was receiving treatment until 2006 when he stopped seeing doctors. He was placed on the antidepressant Celexa but stopped taking medication three days later due to it having an adverse effect on Adam, putting him in a vegetative state. He had isolated himself from his family even up to the shooting at Sandy Hook. Again, ignoring mental health issues and lack of providing proper treatment are major factors, not video games.
It’s a shame that some people are quick to judge something before learning the truth. And for the record, a small town near Sandy Hook organized the collection and burning of video games in exchange for a gift certificate. Really? But, there is a bright side. Studies have shown that video games can be used to lower anxiety levels for those who suffer from chronic anxiety issues. Moreover, a study done on children with mental disorders showed that playing games that provide a “lifelike alternate reality” can help treat problems such as schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and ADHD. As a parent of children with Autism and ADHD, this hit close to home for me. Thus, my personal example of video games and behavior. My 13-year-old son has ADHD and loves to play video games, mostly Super Mario Bros and Pokemon. Lately, he has moved on to playing games that I enjoy, such as Tomb Raider, Twisted Metal and Mortal Kombat. While I am concerned for his mental health, I am less concerned about video games being a part of it. True, the latter two games can be seen as violent video game but my concerns, both as a gamer and a parent, are not elevated. My son doesn’t see the violent nature but seemingly accepts the games for their entertainment and, overall, truly enjoying playing these games with me. I also have a daughter who is on the low functioning end of the Autism spectrum. She also has a metal condition where she unconsciously picks at the skin on her fingers. Like my son, my daughter also plays video games, and this has helped to decrease this behavior. Though she still does this, the activity has lessened. And the best part, they are still the same lovable children. Once more, parents – my wife and I – are solely responsible for the behavior of their children.
With all this, can we stop the injustice against video games and see them for what developers intended them to be – as forms of entertainment, in the same light as music, movies and books? Can this be the end of this ridiculous and pointless argument? More importantly, can we bring mental health into the limelight and the lack of proper treatment and truly fix this issue?
The long and short of all of this is parents need to take responsibility and please address any and all mental health issues their children may have. Even if your child does have good mental health, still educate them on the world around them and understand that video games – violent or otherwise – are to be treated with the same regard as sports, movies and reality television – as forms of entertainment.
For the full ABC News report about David Katz, click here.
For more on the PMRC vs music, click here for Dee Snider’s testimony.