Video games getting blamed for Navy Yard attack is misdirection and irresponsible of mainstream media

I started writing this editorial two days ago, after I saw four articles and videos on Fox News about violent video games with Grand Theft Auto 5 about to release. Then, yesterday, Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 people in Washington D.C. at the U.S. Navy command complex building before being shot dead himself. It's a terrible tragedy by a disturbed man, and my condolences go out to the families of the victims.

Of course, mainstream media is all over this story, and they've uncovered a vital piece of information: Aaron Alexis played violent video games. It's not that he was able to get a shotgun, glock and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, but that he played video games, which is most important. It's not that the man was paranoid and carried a handgun everywhere he went, but that he played zombie games. The fact that he played video games will get hyped even more with the release of GTA 5, and it'll be reported to a misinformed American people that don't really have research to base their opinions on in regards to the effects of violent video games on behavior. But, a couple of well-placed, over-the-top, scare-tactic quotes will send people into a frenzy. 

The three worst culprits I've found with video games being blamed for the Navy Yard shooting are the Telegraph, MSNBC and Fox News. UK news site the Telegraph had an article today called "Aaron Alexis: Washington navy yard gunman 'obsessed with violent video game.'" Their exclusive reads, "Aaron Alexis played violent video games including Call of Duty for up to 16 hours at a time and friends believe it could have pushed him towards becoming a mass murderer." Sure it did. The article does mention that he felt racially discriminated against since 9/11, and that he was angry at his employer, in addition to being paranoid that people were trying to steal his things. 

aaron alexis

But the Telegraph describe the "darker side to Alexis's character" — the side that saw him playing violent "zombie" video games in his room for hours at a time. Alexis' former employer and friend said, "He could be in the game all day and all night. I think games might be what pushed him that way. He always had this fear people would steal his stuff so that's why he would carry his gun all the time. He would carry it when he was helping out in the restaurant which scared my customers." I'm sorry, but I don't see the link between violent video games and him being paranoid of robbery to the point of carrying a gun everywhere. How would video games push him that way? Forget that he thought his employer screwed him out of money and that he might have had PTSD from 9/11; video games must've made him this way. That damn zombie mode…

Then there's Michael Isikoff, NBC News National Investigative Correspondent, that said on MSNBC, "The other thing, which is perhaps the most interesting that we've heard so far, is that he was a devotee of violent video games, and I think one of his friends described him as obsessive on that, and playing with them constantly." That's investigative journalism at its finest: "I think one of his friends…" Fine job, Mr. Isikoff. He also connects Alexis to Adam Lanza through video games. How is this the most interesting thing they've heard so far? There's so many factors in play here — 9/11, grief with employer, racial discrimination, mental illness, and access to firearms — but the one thing they also blame in these scenarios is still the most interesting thing?

Friends of Alexis also said he enjoyed watching American Football and sang karaoke last Christmas. Football is a violent sports, so why isn't that getting blamed? I'd say it's a fair bet that other mass killers like Anders Breivik, Jared Lee Loughner and Adam Lanza have seen a football game in their life. It's a reach for me say that football is the cause of mass shootings, but the sport has a field general that bombs the ball over the fight in the trenches. See how ridiculous this argument is? It's the same thing with violent video games. 

Fox and Friends host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, most notably known for not knowing anything and marrying an average NFL quarterback, suggested that "the left," aka Democrats, was trying to make the Navy yard shooting about "gun control, but the real issue is a need for a registry to track video game purchases. The whole Fox and Friends cast of "journalists" went on a war against video games, which pains me to type out, so you can watch it here:

The fact is, video games are the most popular and accessible they've ever been. But when a grandmother buys a violent video game for an eight-year-old that shouldn't be playing it, leaves a gun out and then gets shot, the question should be "why was a gun out near an eight-year-old?" It shouldn't be to blame Grand Theft Auto.

That brings me to Fox News' recent coverage of violent video games, which have stressed that mass killers share an obsession with violent video games. Citing specific instances — Seung-Hui Cho killing 32 people at Virginia Tech played Counterstrike; Anders Breivik using Call of Duty to train for mass murder — the conversation revolves around violent video games instead of mental illness and access to guns.

Video games continue to get the most blame, but violent movies, music preaching violence, and literature gets no blame. The difference, according to the experts that Fox News quoted, is that "movies, shows and books don't have the same level of reward" that a video game does, and that "their interactive nature pulls you into the gore, they argue, and reward you for being a killing machine."

Tech ethicist David Ryan Polgar argues, "The prospect of being Travis Bickle from the movie Taxi Driver or Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye as opposed to viewing them would offer the highest level of altered perception and potential increased levels of aggression. That wouldn't causally lead gamers to violence, but it may blur the lines between reality and the virtual world for an unstable user." I think the "unstable" part is key there, as the majority of gamers I know would like to avoid violence or physical confrontation at all costs. 

In the same article, there is a voice of reason — Chris Ferguson from Stetson University, who researched the effects of violent video games with his study, Video Game Violence Use Among "Vulnerable" Populations: The Impact of Violent Games on Delinquency and Bullying Among Children with Clinically Elevated Depression or Attention Deficit Symptoms. Ferguson told Fox News, "We find no evidence for either violent video games or television having an impact on youth violence. 

"Your brain also releases dopamine when you read a good book, have sex, enjoy a sunset or a nice meal. Playing a video game is no different in this respect from eating a cupcake. It's psychobabble to make a perfectly natural process sound much scarier than it actually is." 

fox news video game violence

He went on to say about the Newtown shooting by Adam Lanza, "How efficient do you need to be when using an AR-15?" And that's the thing — why do video games keep getting more blame than the weapons used to commit the killings? If you have guns and Call of Duty, and you take away the guns, can you still shoot someone with Call of Duty? What about if you take away Call of Duty and keep the guns? Maybe this is just logic speaking, but I think the problem we should focus on is guns. If you need more proof, Dan Hewitt, a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association, uses reports by the U.S. Secret Service, Department of Justice, and findings at the Supreme Court that say games don't cause violence.

"Scientists have found there is no connection between playing games and acting violently […] If you talk to folks in the military, they say games don't teach you how to shoot a real gun. You can play a flight simulator all you want but it doesn't teach you how to fly a 747." 

Fox News goes as far as to compare Grand Theft Auto 5 to drugs. Dr. Kieth Ablow of the Fox News Medical A Team says that games should even have a message from the surgeon general on them. Ablow says:

That's a bankrupt argument that people make. They say, well, you look at all the people who play violent video games, such a vast minority and troubled people end up doing terrible things. Yes, but that's true of any drug and these are drugs. Yes, some people can use cocaine and just have bad judgment. Other people get addicted and still others become violent on drugs. This is a drug and the outliars are at risk.

Yet this drug has no warning from the surgeon general on it, which it should. And it's legal, when most drugs are not. But this is just as toxic. 

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The most concerning part is how quick they are to disregard guns as a problem. Guns and mental illness is part of a cocktail of the problem, but the main component is video games. When asked where the outrage over video games is, Ablow replied:

It's maddening, frankly, because guns are irrelevant to this problem. All of these killers, Adam Lanza, and the rest of them, James Holmes and the eight-year-old who just shot a 90-year-old woman and killed her in August of this year after watching a video game, a violent video game, these people are mentally ill. We have a crumbled mental health care system that can't address them. But more than that, we're exposing people, most at risk to a new and toxic drug called virtual entertainment, and the worst of it are these violent video games.

Oh, it's not just violent video games he called out, either. He also said part of the problem was Club Penguin

Here's the facts: there are no real facts. Yes, these killers played violent video games. But there was violence in the world before violent video games came around. The only difference is that there's more media coverage now and social media spreads stories quickly. Everyone in my generation has played video games, and almost everyone with a smartphone has a game on there; they're more accessible than ever. But so are guns. I've played first-person-shooters since I was in middle school, but if I go to a gun range — and I have — I'm not a marksman. 

The obsession with video games in the wake of the Navy yard shooting is misleading and irresponsible of mainstream media. Without any concrete research to back it up, they make claims that since a new generation of mass killers all played video games, that video games must be the problem. There will always be mass killers, but their influences and reasons from generation to generation will always change. My generation plays video games, but that's not the reason for mass shootings. Stop blaming something because you don't understand it. 

You can follow Senior Editor Lance Liebl on Twitter @Lance_GZ. He likes talking sports, video games, movies, and the stupidity of celebrities. Email at [email protected]