Even Violent Video Games Are a Healthy Outlet for Teens

Seventy-nine years ago, Germans gathered in Berlin's Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Platz one May evening. They piled the books of Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht and August Bebel (for whom the plaza would later be renamed), and burned them in the name of eliminating "un-German" ideas.

On Jan. 12, 2013, a group called SouthingtonSOS, a Connecticut neighborhood collective near Newtown, is planning to accept and destroy copies of violent video games turned in by locals.

Seemingly, this is Southington's way of helping Newtown recover from the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shootings and prevent similar attacks elsewhere. However, there's only questionable evidence that shooter Adam Lanza was a devoted violent-game player. And statistically, young men like Lanza play fewer video games than their peers.

Although researchers have worked for decades to reveal some kind of connection between violent video games and real-life violence in kids and young adults, the science just isn't there. At most, those who study the effects of violent games have found signs that players feel slightly more aggressive right after they play -- but haven't shown that these effects last, or are any different from that excited feeling people get right after an intense game of tennis.

On an international level, there's no correlation between video-game consumption and gun-related violence, according to a recent Washington Post investigation. In countries like Korea, whose populace is even more devoted to video games than ours, gun violence is near zero.

Just before news of the SouthingtonSOS video-game drive broke, there was a rumor that a German group was planning to collect and burn violent video games in Berlin. Although that now appears to have been a misunderstood hoax, Germany's example provides more than one lesson on the topic of media deemed "dangerous" by the German authorities.

In 1994, the year Doom 2 was released, Germany banned the sale of games in the gun-heavy Doom franchise. The ban, enacted by the Federal Department for Media Harmful to Children, made it illegal for minors to possess copies of the games. The injunction was lifted in 2011, a few years before it was due to expire.

Did taking Doom out of the hands of German youth prevent mass shootings? If it prevented any, it didn't prevent all of them.

In April 2002, Robert Steinhäuser fired a 9mm Glock 17 into the Gutenberg Gymnasium in Erfurt, Germany. He killed 16 people and injured 7, then took his own life. In July 2003, Florian Klein brought a gun to school at Realschule II in Coburg, Germany. He shot a psychologist in the thigh as she tried to take his weapon, then shot himself to death. In March 2009, Tim Kretschmer opened fire at a secondary school in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, in southwestern Germany, ultimately killing 15 people and wounding 11 before turning the gun on himself.

Statistics from German police (PDF, see page 2) show that violent crime among young people rose between 1984 and 1998 -- and that there was a sharp increase after 1994, the year the Doom games were banned. Of course, there's no proof that ban led to an increase in violent crime. Nor can we say that allowing minors to play them would have prevented two mass shootings and a third attempt. Mostly, the statistics seem to reveal just how little connection there is between violent video games and and real-life gun violence.

Most people feel helpless in the wake of a tragedy like Sandy Hook, and understandably want to feel as though they're doing something to prevent another one. Destroying games -- long a scapegoat in the national conversation about mass shootings -- can seem like the right idea.

However, here's a little-spoken but inconvenient truth: video games -- even violent video games - are a healthy outlet for teens, especially ones struggling to make sense of an inexplicable and sudden violent act. Taking games out of their hands does nothing to resolve the much more scary, much more violent world they must navigate daily.

Letting them battle enemies on the screen is no more dangerous than letting Germans read Marx, Brecht or Bebel. Let them play. There's plenty more we can do for the people of Newtown, and for young people teetering dangerously on the brink of violence. Destroying games is no more than a distraction from the real work that needs to be done.




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2 comments
Anthony J. Fabry
Anthony J. Fabry

violent television broadcasts/films: just an activity or do they lead to crimes ?

Maria Nelson
Maria Nelson

I think we should go a step further. We should burn all books, make no movies, and basically allow no one to leave there respective dwellings with the exception of work past 2pm! Oh and don't forget that all women must be accompanied by a man! Sounds good right?? I think not...

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