Missing the Point? An Examination of Reaction to Newtown

The following is a guest post from Dakin “Chilly” Lecakes:

Chilly has been playing videogames since their beginning as a commercial product.  He has a longtime perspective on gaming and tries to add a voice of sanity to the diverse issues surrounding the modern gaming culture.  He has been participating in various gaming communities and forums for over a decade trying to be a light shining in the darkness when all others fail.

On Friday, December 14, 2012, I sat at my computer, horrified, reading the news of a mass shooting at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut.

On Monday, December 17, I found out that I knew someone very well that was immediately impacted by the tragedy.  Someone whose sister was a victim of the incident, a teacher at the school.

I remember when I was told that it took more than a brief moment to process the information.  It was incomprehensible to me.  Suddenly I knew someone who was directly affected by this horrific event and the surrounding mass media frenzy.  It was a subtle change, but I found myself now evaluating each related story that appeared in a slightly different way, having a bit more empathy for the point of view of the surviving family members.  It is a heightened sensitivity that I had never experienced following one of these events.

I include the foregoing only to explain how my thoughts on this particular event have caused me to want to write about the issue.  To offer, in what way I can, my own plea for sanity, a loaded word.

The first mention after this occurrence that I saw questioning whether video games had any involvement was a piece discussing the reaction of some Facebook members.  Still under the media mistaken impression that the older brother had committed this atrocity, some Facebook vigilantes took to blasting BioWare on its Mass Effect facebook page.  The reason?  Because someone, possibly the older brother (who was initially reported by some outlets to be the gunman), possibly someone that just shares the older brother’s name, had offered a Facebook “like” on the Mass Effect page.  A powerful warning of how the rush into the new era of social media can sometimes have unpredictable consequences.

The next mention was Stephen Totilo’s piece on Kotaku mentioning the emails he received from two people regarding the tragedy.  The first from a gamer calling for a day of remembrance, respect and sensitivity by asking gamers to put aside violent video games for a single day in a show of solidarity with the victims and their families.  The second from former attorney and virulent video game antagonist Jack Thompson, blasting Totilo, Kotaku and gaming media in general, for contributing to the cause.

Thereafter, there was a United States senator calling for a study on the effects of violent video games on young children, the NRA’s extraordinarily bizarre and wholly inappropriately insensitive response to the mass shooting of first grade children and their caretakers, and a call from one of the surviving school children to other children to throw away their violent video games.

As to any study, if done responsibly and with the appropriate scientific process and peer review attached, I absolutely welcome it and hope that it can be extended to include all violence in media.  More knowledge regarding the topic of how, and if, children’s exposure to violence in all forms of media produces any effect is welcome.  Scientific knowledge and understanding is a good thing.  Having such knowledge can allow society to produce appropriately tailored policies that are informed while helping society avoid dubious, knee-jerk, reactionary policies that are grounded in emotion rather than fact, ultimately providing no value to society beyond making some people feel good about having prescribed an otherwise irrelevant thing.

As to the call for children to discard violent video games, all I can say is that I understand where this particular child is coming from and I wish him and all the families involved peace and love to replace the terror they have recently experienced.  I do believe that parents should be informed and that they should take seriously the ESRB, or other, labeling on all video games.  They should not rely solely on a letter code or single word description, but should investigate why the label was selected to be put on that individual product.  In this age of internet ubiquity, there are very few valid excuses for not researching the information necessary to insure that parents are making appropriate choices for their children, choices that align with their own parenting values and beliefs.

As to the NRA, in my opinion they should have demonstrated restraint and exercised their right to remain silent.  If they chose to speak at all, then they should have hired whatever public relations people are advising the beer and alcohol companies that have pushed the various “Drink Responsibly” campaigns.  Acknowledging that a product has flaws that can lead in some cases to devastating and unacceptable consequences, but that might otherwise be handled in a responsible manner by appropriate individuals, is not a weakness.  Denying that very fact by some sleight of hand attempt at misdirecting blame on other sources is truly a case of the emperor has no clothes.  Even to that type of public relations campaign, I would argue that the devastating reality is that an inappropriate person having easy access to the kinds of weapons used in Newtown can create unprecedented levels of violence in an unacceptably short amount of time.

So now you know where I personally stand on these issues, but here is the thing, I am not entirely sure from where these particular conversations got started.  Unless I missed it, which is entirely possible, discussion about the role of any video game or gaming whatsoever in relation to the Newtown tragedy is tangential, at most, to any evidence or even speculation regarding the motive or impetus of the shooter.  I have not read any media report establishing any video game or other media connection at all.  I can make the same statement about the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting, as well as the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Tuscon, Arizona.

Rather, there is one fairly solid thread connecting these three fairly recent shooting incidents, as well as a number of other serious shootings and crimes, the subject of mental illness.  And, yet, despite that connecting thread, no one in politics, media or otherwise seems to be making any pronouncements about the need for research and funding into mental illness as a result, nor does anyone seem to be calling for an in-depth look at social policy regarding mental illness.  To me, it is an inexplicable omission.

Well perhaps it is not so inexplicable.  The common thread connecting the discussion centering on guns, or video games, or violent movies and television shows, or even media sensationalism and the like, is that they are either inanimate objects or non-sentient concepts.  The moment one starts talking of mental illness is the moment the discussion focuses on a living being, one accorded rights by law and nature, if not betrayed by both.  It is by far the hardest discussion to have, but it is certainly the most important one.  To not have that discussion may not by inexplicable, but it is absolutely inexcusable.

In closing, I note that the Glenn R. Atkinson Memorial Scholarship Fund, is accepting donations to help the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. One hundred percent of all donations will go directly to the Newtown community and the Sandy Hook victims. As with any charity, please do whatever due diligence you feel is necessary to assure yourself that the proceeds will be used as indicated.  Send to: The Glenn R. Atkinson Memorial Scholarship Fund Inc., P.O. Box 3322, Newtown, CT USA 06470.  http://bennyatkinsongolf.com/home

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21 Responses to Missing the Point? An Examination of Reaction to Newtown

  1. Saozig says:

    “The moment one starts talking of mental illness is the moment….”

    …we start scapegoating an entire group of human beings, the vast majority of whom never are violent and are at no risk of being violent.

    Let’s cut the crap. I’m 40. My first console? Pong. Loved video games all my life, but around the mid-90’s I began to feel alienated by the video game industry and culture. Why? Because I am a woman. More specifically I’m a woman who likes games that don’t focus excessively on hypermasculine themes. I loved Frogger and Tempest. Stargate–OMG. Duke Nukem? Doom? Not so much. Primal Rage? OK, fighting dinosaurs, pretty cool. But Street Fighter, eh, no thanks.

    I saw themes in games changed significantly during the 90’s and the following decade. While we had things like the Sims and Civ, the games driving the industry were too often hypermasculine, with themes of vengeance, glory killing or “kill them all”. There was the rise of the FPS games that were heavily dominated by all that. Those games shaped the industry as we know today. I was so troubled and disappointed by how the industry had evolved that I gave up console gaming for almost 20 years.

    When I check out new games now, it’s always so disappointing. Despite promising efforts for more diverse game themes, I still find myself wading through commercially successful games that are little more than troublingly realistic hypermasculine killing sprees, in the hopes for something that that I might want to play. I don’t want to spend hours of my life in a virtual world when my primary goal is to kill, kill, kill amid themes I personally find propagandistic as well as exploitative. While I do not play those kinds of games and I know those aren’t the only games on the market, I also known–and will not deny to protect the image of gaming–that they are wildly popular and a lot of people, especially young male gamers, play them. A lot.

    Our experiences shape us and how we see ourselves and the world. This includes our choices of entertainment. We don’t stop developing as human beings when we sit down and play 10 hours of Black Ops. We are learning something from our entertainment, always, whether we are aware of it or not. That’s ultimately the evolutionary purpose of games–to teach. We have to be honest and recognize that what we learn from our forms of entertainment is a factor–one factor amid many others in a very complex problem–and stop trying to say “it’s gun control” or “it’s mental illness” or whatever easy answer that conveniently absolves our personal choices of entertainment.

    • Nefa says:

      “When I check out new games now, it’s always so disappointing. Despite promising efforts for more diverse game themes, I still find myself wading through commercially successful games that are little more than troublingly realistic hypermasculine killing sprees, in the hopes for something that that I might want to play. I don’t want to spend hours of my life in a virtual world when my primary goal is to kill, kill, kill amid themes I personally find propagandistic as well as exploitative.”

      Yeah, I agree with this. The game industry can throw their hands up and say they don’t directly cause it, but the array of games which are directed toward this type of entertainment are in the majority.

      It feels like its too much to ask for a game not to be a FPS or involve killing people. (maybe that’s why my Steam list is filled with indie games?)

    • Ari says:

      I’m a decade younger than you, so perhaps I missed out on the games of the 80s and my perception is skewed, but in my experience there have been games with hyperviolent, hyper”masculine” themes as long as I can remember. You yourself mentioned Doom, and Duke Nukem, in the 90s. But there were also Wolfenstein 3D, and Space Hulk, and Quake (with its myriad mods and sequels), and GoldenEye. Those are just the most famous ones I can think of off the top of my head.

      And honestly, how different are these from flying around in a ship to destroy countless thousands of enemy ships in 80s side-scrollers? Graphics? A third dimension? The whole point of the game is still to shoot, and kill.

      The only major difference from the 90s FPS games and those of the 2000s is the expansion of multiplayer. Even then, the original CounterStrike mod was released in 1999. It had a player base as full of vile, racist, misogynist, screaming kids as CoD does today – the only difference here was that they had to type insults into a chat window rather than shout them into a headset.

      I just don’t see how the industry has changed all that much, frankly. There are still puzzle games, and RPGs, and even art games aplenty. But there has always been, and probably always will be, a strong market for violent ones. Human nature, perhaps.

      • Matt says:

        I’m the same age as you but I also remember a lot of light gun games and beat-‘em-ups in the arcades (where I did the bulk of my gaming before I got a computer) long before Wolf3D.

        That said there was a lot less tying in to real-life military-industrial-complex and associated politics no matter how violent the games got – I don’t think anyone over the age of 12 seriously thought the fatalities in Mortal Kombat were a genuine attempt to simulate the death throes of real human beings.

        And I would say there is a major distinction, (most of) humanity being a non-interstellar, pre-First Contact species, with games that involve killing robots and monsters and blobby things. We just don’t have the same expectations of morality with respect to an obviously fictional, fairy-tale (I bring up fairytales deliberately) monsters as we do wrt actual people who might well have been one of your coworker’s relatives from the old country.

        The only major difference from the 90s FPS games and those of the 2000s is the expansion of multiplayer. Even then, the original CounterStrike mod was released in 1999. It had a player base as full of vile, racist, misogynist, screaming kids as CoD does today – the only difference here was that they had to type insults into a chat window rather than shout them into a headset.

        Takes us long enough to grow out of it too…

        • Ari says:

          That said there was a lot less tying in to real-life military-industrial-complex and associated politics no matter how violent the games got

          You think so? The aforementioned GoldenEye came out in the 90s (you’re certainly not killing aliens or demons there), as well as the aforementioned Counterstrike. As did the original Rainbow Six, the first games of the Spec Ops series, Delta Force, the SWAT series – again just the ones I can think of. Ghost Recon and Soldier of Fortune were both developed pre-9/11, too.

          Then on the Japanese side you’ve got Metal Gear Solid in ’98, sequel to games that came out in the 80s – you’re killing real foreign (or domestic) nationals there, too.

          I can definitely see how the war on terror could have increased interest in the tactical shooter genre. But I’m not sure the evidence is all that convincing that it in fact did so. In the early 2000s the most popular shooters were by far and away fantastical (HALO) or nostalgic (the first CoD installments, MoH, Battlefield, Enemy Territory, etc.). It wasn’t until 2007 that CoD4’s release turned the tables and made modern, “realistic” military shooters the genre powerhouse they are today. Devoted fans of series like Rainbow Six and Spec Ops always existed, but their sales were utterly dwarfed by HALO and the WWII FPS games at that point. Not only is 2007 awfully late in the game to capitalize on world events, CoD4 rose to such prominence because it was a groundbreaking, (at that time) virtually peerless installment in the genre, spawning hundreds of copycats in terms of style and mechanics even in games that have nothing to do with modern warfare. It was, simply, excellent. It was the military shooter’s Street Fighter, kicking off years of pre-eminent popularity for its genre – it sold so well that everyone wanted a piece of the pie, and, unfortunately, rather than realizing that it was the high quality everyone wanted, many thought it was the content.

          Though with MoH: Warfighter tanking badly and poor sales for games like Homefront, maybe we’ve finally seen apex of the modern military shooter, and another king will be crowned.

          • Shannon says:

            Eh, don’t know if I’d count MGS counts, that whole game is a parody of military movies and games. Plus they actively reward you for not killing people…

          • Matt says:

            I think we’re talking about slightly different periods here – early ’90s/late ’80s versus late ’90s/early ’00s.

            I considered Goldeneye (and of course Wolf3D) in my comment. But the first is based on a movie series known for its campily casual treatment of lethal violence, while the second was deliberately cartoony in aesthetic and I think it was telling that the developers in their very next game went from “the super-evil guys you compare an objectionable idea to to discredit it” straight to “monsters spawned from a kitschy pop-culture understanding of metaphysical Absolute Evil”. There’s still a deliberate distance, I think, reflected here that was eroded later on when FPS backstories became much more militarized.

            Which brings up the whole discussion about how the “realistic” R6-style tac-sim games eventually yielded the spotlight to the current regen-health, everyone-on-full-auto style we see so prevalent now – which seems to combine the big-hero player-flattering of the older FPS with the real-human-being enemies of the tac sim, which I would say is the most morally reprehensible combination possible (and perhaps thus the appeal).

  2. Bolegium says:

    I’m assuming good faith behind the author’s reasoning, but well intentioned examination of “mental illness” and whatever causality it may have in regards to mass murders is problematic, especially if you are engaging in this discussion with a misinformed general public. As Saozig posted, it is scapegoating a large portion of humanity when people claim something so meaninglessly broad as “mental illness” is a primary factor behind mass murders. In any case, my experience is that “mental illness” has always been frequently discussed as a contributing factor of murder – e.g. in their legal defence arguments, or as a prescriptivist tautology “they must have been crazy to do such a thing”.

    I suspect one of the main reasons why guns & games are the most discussed topics is because of the huge consumer base that enjoys and pays for these things. The combination of entitlement and money is powerful. As much as the proposed solutions to these issues may be considered going after “easy targets”, it is also a matter of simple pragmatism.

    Unfortunately the common thread between most arguments is that they are reactionary and unscientific. Even in Saozig’s comment, for all the talk on how complex the issue is, they are oddly dismissive – focusing solely on game violence. As much as I wish for social responsibility in the production and consumption of media, there is very little evidence that violence in media is a main cause of “actual” violence, the link being even more tenuous in these specific mass shooting cases.

    Guns are not dangerous just because “inappropriate people” have easy access to them – guns are always dangerous. Violence in media isn’t a problem just because it might cause “actual” violence, lack of diversity and self-ignorance is the problem. Discussion about “mental illness” isn’t imperative because it poses a mortal threat, it is imperative because we have an ethical obligation to ensure a standard of life for all.

    I’d love to see more discussion, and particularly action, about “mental health” in general, alas I don’t have much hope for any such discussion to rise above the usual reactionary ignorance.

    • Chilly says:

      Thank you for the benefit of the doubt as you have nailed precisely the point I was trying to make. I apologize to the other commentors if it was not clear from what I wrote above. I am not blaming mental illness for the incidents, I was merely pointing out that in contrast to video game usage of which there is no evidence for any of the three cases of Lanza, Loughner and Holmes all have that single thread of known mental illness. I was simply saying that is where the discussion should be focusing, rather than strawmen such as media reports or video games or even guns (for the record I am a supporter of strict gun control).

      The thing is there is a whole universe of what is considered mental illness, but people do not understand that point, or they don’t understand the degrees of mental illness that can exist. Mental illness gets ignored in conversations, and sadly because of that many people remain ignorant about the global topic, let alone any specific topic related thereto. A striking example is the whole debate over the recent United States affordable health care act. I do not recall in any discussion that I have ever read or heard about the Act that mental health is even a part of its provisions, and certainly not how it is incorporated into the act if it is there.

      Saozig posted in response to my piece ““The moment one starts talking of mental illness is the moment….”…we start scapegoating an entire group of human beings, the vast majority of whom never are violent and are at no risk of being violent.”

      If, in fact, that is the end result of the conversation I am urging, then that conversation completely and utterly failed.

      As for the incidents in question, ignoring the problem of mental illness, as so many discussions of these incidents have, does not make the issue go away. Nor does it dismiss all the pertinent issues that desperately need discussion, but for which people seem to have no time or desire to discuss.

      Korva, below, says “As far as I know (I’m not from the US), the overall mental health care situation is pretty damn abysmal over there. People who suffer from these issues need help and support, they need for the public to be educated — they certainly don’t need to be conveniently scapegoated, which is bound to incite more contempt, mistrust, and violence against them.” Exactly! That is the point I was trying to make above. These discussions need to happen, and they need to happen now. The discussions about the state of mental health care situation in the US. The discussion that will lead to the “public” being educated so that when a common thread is noticed people do not start scapegoating an entire set of people desperately in need of better care.

      Additionally, the conversation needs to come out into the public precisely so we can erase any stigma that is attached to being generically labelled mentally ill so that people are not ashamed or embarrassed to seek the treatment that is available. To remove the stigma attached to seeking the help of a mental health professional.

      The other point that I would like discussed is the overall level of funding and research that mental health issues get, which from my layman’s point of view seems absurdly low when compared to other health issues.

      I am not quite sure how it automatically became assumed that I was of the latter mindset. I have reread what I posted above and I see no indication that I even hinted at that mindset. The mistake I see is that I was, perhaps too vague and neutral, but again, I am thankful for your giving me the benefit of the doubt and not making assumptions about what I intended. Thank you.

      • Mental Gamer says:

        For starters, intent is not magic. You may not have intended to draw the connection, but the wording of your article explicitly does so. (“Rather, there is one fairly solid thread connecting these three fairly recent shooting incidents, as well as a number of other serious shootings and crimes, the subject of mental illness.”) Also, as you yourself point out in the comments, mental illness is not a monolith. You can’t really draw that kind of a connection between violent individuals with different MIs, without implying that we are an undifferentiated violent mass.

        More than that, however: I’m a bit baffled at the (at this point, continued) assertion that mental illness was not part of the conversation. That day, even as I was waiting on line in the Behavioral Health Clinic, chatting with other patients from group, my twitterfeed was flooded with talk about the mentally ill. At first it was sympathetic, if mired in the fear and othering essentially inherent in these conversations. While talking with a couple of my sane friends, I mentioned how as much as I liked the idea of people balking at how inaccessible treatment can be, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. When it will go from the somewhat paternalistic talk of helping “the poor dears,” to a full-blown witch-hunt.

        And drop they did, in the very NRA statement you’re apparently talking about. Exactly how did talk of a national registry of the mentally ill slip past your radar? The NRA stated in no uncertain terms that a gun registry was unconstitutional, and a violation of our civil rights. However, us crazies? We need to be on a list. We were literally referred to and characterized as monsters. No. Really. To quote LaPierre, “We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets.” We’re in YOUR TOWNS. Walking AMONG YOU. An INVISIBLE THREAT. (There’s lolcat material in there, but I’m really too exhausted to bother.) You claim that no one seems to be “calling for an in-depth look at social policy regarding mental illness,” yet my state, NY, has just now passed gun control laws which, among other things, directly target mentally ill individuals.

        And that’s what really gets me out of all of this, aside from the fact that this was pretty much the last place in the gaming community that I expected to be making this comment. Do I really need to start pulling up and linking all the massively dehumanizing “There-I-Said-It” articles talking about how people like me oughta be locked up, and why are we concerned about the rights of crazy people, anyway? (Looking at you NYTimes.) I ask because they were so prevalent that it, unsurprisingly, but amusingly, started taking its toll on my mental health.

        I’m faced with two options here, neither of which are appealing. I can believe that you are aware of all of that, and still felt that it was much more important to keep the conversation focused on us, in the interests of keep our video games out of the discussion. Essentially, throwing us under a bus to save games. Alternately, I can believe you actually missed all of this. That this wasn’t even a blip to the sane world, meanwhile I was terrified of what might happen to me and others like me.

        Is there another interpretation here? Because I’m not seeing it.

        As an aside, I do see a missed point with regards to the mentally ill in all this talk that has been running back and forth, but it’s not the same one. I see people repeatedly neglecting to mention that the severely mentally ill – the most demonized among us – are not just more likely to be a victim of violent crime than a perp, but that they are ridiculously more likely to be on the receiving end of violent crime than the general population*. That for many mentally ill, being victimized is so common that it is normalized. That in all this talk the NRA makes about guns being necessary for protection, they also deny them to the very individuals most in need of some sort of protection from violent crime. That the media and pundits continually point to dramatic corner cases while casually & consistently ignoring the violence experienced on a daily basis by the very same mentally ill people they’re targeting. That our experiences are so thoroughly disregarded that it took 5 years of reports for the FDA to look into the possibility that a generic antidepressant was not bioequivalent to the brand. (Oh, and it wasn’t. And they didn’t bother telling people for months after they confirmed this.) That the distrust fostered towards us makes it more difficult for us to seek the help that everyone talks about us so desperately needing. That all this talk actually exacerbates all of these issues. And so on. Those are the issues I see repeatedly getting skirted, dodged, and otherwise ignored, for the sake of an easy target. And while games are certainly on the list of easy targets, so are we. To say otherwise, is nothing short of privilege-denying.

        *From Teplin et al. Crime victimization in adults with severe mental illness. Archives of General Psychiatry.2005 Aug. 62. 911-921: “More than one quarter of persons with SMI had been victims of a violent crime in the past year, a rate more than 11 times higher than the general population rates even after controlling for demographic differences between the 2 samples (P<.001). The annual incidence of violent crime in the SMI sample (168.2 incidents per 1000 persons) is more than 4 times higher than the general population rates (39.9 incidents per 1000 persons) (P<.001). Depending on the type of violent crime (rape/sexual assault, robbery, assault, and their subcategories), prevalence was 6 to 23 times greater among persons with SMI than among the general population.”

        • Mental Gamer says:

          (… And I broke my first link, apparently. This should work. Hopefully. If the original can be edited, great. If not posting this is fine.)

        • Matt says:

          More than that, however: I’m a bit baffled at the (at this point, continued) assertion that mental illness was not part of the conversation.

          Thank you. I’m reminded of nothing less from the buzz around Newtown wrt: mental illness, than 9/11 wrt: Islam.

      • glitchy says:

        I just realized why it bothers me when people bring up mental illness in the discussion surrounding these mass murders, even when they are talking about it in a way that is sympathetic and understanding towards those who have mental illnesses. Even if what you are saying is that we need more care and support and understanding for the mentally ill (which we do), the fact that it’s being brought up in this context means that the discussion still feels like it’s framed by the question “How can we keep crazy people from killing people?” (And then of course, other people will answer that question, have already answered that question, by saying that there should be a registry that keeps track of the mentally ill, that the mentally ill should not have the same rights that other people do, and so on.)

        But yes, the topic of mental illness has been present in the discussion all along (it was brought up in several of the reports I heard in the first few days after the shooting), and it has been making me uncomfortable all along. We do need to have more public awareness of the realities of mental illness, and how we as a society can make life better for those who are mentally ill. But I don’t want terrible incidents like this to be what that discussion is in response to.

        • Mental Gamer says:

          You got to the core of it clearly and succinctly. It’s also what I mean when I refer to the fear and othering inherent in these conversations. I’ve experienced first hand the sort of uneasiness that comes with the revelation that you’re mentally ill, and the entire framing of this issue mirrors it.

          It gets frustrating, especially as I regularly do make a point of speaking up about access to care for the mentally ill. In particular for those of us who also navigate on the intersection of oppressions. However when situations like this roll around, I can’t. At least, not without risking anything I say being used to affirm a narrative in which we are all powder-kegs near a fireplace.

  3. Korva says:

    Seeing as how people with mental illnesses are stigmatized already, and more likely to be the victims of violence, I too have a huge problem with the way the issue of mental health was dragged into this discussion. As far as I know (I’m not from the US), the overall mental health care situation is pretty damn abysmal over there. People who suffer from these issues need help and support, they need for the public to be educated — they certainly don’t need to be conveniently scapegoated, which is bound to incite more contempt, mistrust, and violence against them.

    As for the role of video games, that too is of course a convenient overused scapegoat. Can media influence people? Sure. From personal experience, I know that it can, in both positive and negative ways. But that is true for all media, all forms of entertainment. Certain video games are far from the only source of very questionable depictions of violence and the erasure or dehumanization of entire groups of people.

    The root for these atrocities isn’t something that can be found in one single, isolated thing that is somewhere “out there”, far away from “good, normal people”. I’m pretty damn sure it’s buried in society as a whole. Be it the glorification of guns, power, “winning” at all costs and to hell with the “losers”, toxic gender and “racial” stereotypes, us-versus-them mentality, entitlement and privilege, general lack of empathy … all that is far older and far more omnipresent than even the most popular FPS shooter.

    Incidentally, after the last school shooting we had here in Germany, politicians promised to put counselors in schools so that troubled or worried kids would have someone they could talk to. Guess what became of that promise. Answer: what promise? Cost-saving, man. Cost-saving!

  4. Quinnae says:

    I can certainly respect the outpouring of emotion– grief, in particular– that was the genesis of this post; I think we all shared in some measure of collective horror, in the wake of Newtown. But I am also inclined to agree with others here that the conclusions about vaguely defined “mental illness” are, perhaps, poorly considered. Unfortunately, when most people in the general public hear “mental illness” they think immediately to those comforting, distancing ideas about how “only a madman could do something like this”– and continue to dehumanise the shooter, neglecting to confront the other great edifice in a towering tragedy: that the people pulling the trigger are all too human and all too familiar, much of the time.

    It is hard for people to accept this because “madness” is a convenient repository into which we collectively deposit the undesirable shavings of civilisation, pretending that those who commit fell deeds are somehow not like “the rest of us.” In the process, non-neurotypical people remain stereotyped, marginalised, and cast as violent villains. You intended none of this, I’m quite sure; the heartfelt nature of your peace, a gentle plea in its tone, assures me of this. But sadly the idea that we “have to do something about mental illness” intersects with a very troubled discourse and definitely requires more thought.

    I also have to admit, I don’t think mention of “mental illness” was absent from public discussion. It was a routine trope– reliably mentioned alongside the need to discuss violence and gun control.

    But there is something in the idea you were trying to get at, and it is this: you were keenly insightful in recognising that there’s a difference between talking about inanimate objects (like video/computer games) and human beings, and you were right to point out that the discussion about Newtown and other mass shootings tends to become strangely alienated from flesh-and-blood human beings, save the victims tragically lost, and a thoroughly *de*humanised murderer. But it is rare to see genuine discussion about real people in a very real, complex society: why are we so violent? What does violence signify to us? Why are are a crushing majority of mass shooters white and male? How are we taking care of each other (whether we’re neurotypical or not)?

    I think that your insightful idea here is one that gestures to all these wider questions about the Newtown tragedy and others like it. It also allows us to intelligently shift discussion away from reductive causal explanations (be they video games or poorly defined mental illness), and towards the more complex discussions about social structure and culture that need to happen.

    I’d also like to thank everyone for their comments. :)

    • Chilly says:

      “But I am also inclined to agree with others here that the conclusions about vaguely defined “mental illness” are, perhaps, poorly considered. ”

      As I noted above in another reply, yes. A thousand times “Yes”. I think that there is definitely a sociological conclusion that is very in danger of being made precisely along the lines you have stated. And that is not good. It is no different than blaming guns or games or another other “reason.” This is the discussion that needs to happen. To the entent that people are assuming those conclusions are my own, I would humbly submit they misinterpreted what I wrote and made incorrect assumptions of my intent.

      • Matt says:

        If that wasn’t your intent, then you sure did a hell of a job fooling everyone into thinking it was with the words you chose and the order you put them in.

        The intent might be obvious to you in context, but most of us here don’t know you from Adam, especially when the only hard fact you give about yourself is you’ve been “playing videogames since their beginning as a commercial product” (which could put your formative gaming memories anywhere between the 1950s and the 1970s depending on your definition of “commercial product” – but frankly your diction and manner of referring to personal experience, starting from the rest of your brief bio, strike me as signs of someone much, much younger). All we can really respond to is what you’ve posted, and your OP does, I believe, read as ~mental illness is the root cause of these killings, now we must figure out what to do with the mentally ill~.

        Just try to remember you are not the lone shining light in this dark world, and that being a valued voice of reason is more than a matter of people coming to see the inherent truth to the idea you subjectively wish to convey.

        I do appreciate your subsequent elaboration in your reply to Bolegium, however, though I substantially agree with everything in Mental Gamer’s response to that.

  5. Matt says:

    Bringing up “mental illness” without qualification or adequate stereotype-disclaiming made this post well deserving of the resulting dogpile in the comments.

    I stand by my statement here, at least after the first sentence. There are plenty of people with depression or schizophrenia or narcissism or autism or ADHD or OCD or whatever who wouldn’t kill anyone in a million years, because they do not have the particular combination of beliefs, priorities and absence of meaningful outlets for asserting their agency that would cause them to ever think that gratuitous murder is a good idea. The sort of shame, despair, resentment and isolation that would make someone want to kill a bunch of random strangers (at least in peacetime – killing a bunch of random strangers in an act of war is something else entirely) is not a comfortable topic for anyone to try to identify with and understand, and while it is possible that mental illness may make someone more vulnerable to such things that possibility is completely overshadowed by the moral convenience of dodging those labels and diverting them to a nearby group of not-like-us.

    I do agree that we are sorely missing any meaningful discussion about the underlying psychology of these spree killings, but “mental illness” is a buzzword that distorts and conceals far more than it illuminates.

  6. glitchy says:

    Also, I’m not sure how much I like the language of calling for “sanity” in the discussion. It is indeed a loaded word. The voice I bring to this discussion is not a “sane” voice, because I am not “sane”. That doesn’t mean that my opinion is less well-reasoned or compassionate or whatever than the many “sane” voices speaking up about this. Equating “sanity” with reasonableness or even-temperedness is not helpful, imo.

    • Matt says:


      Also the “sane” talk conflates the status of a person with the merits of what they’re saying… which is sometimes appropriate, e.g. when calling out superficially reasonable arguments that turn out to contain code and agendas when you consider the underlying beliefs of the person who’s saying it (“I believe a fetus is alive”; “a person should be free to defend themselves”; “we need to be free to practise our traditional way of life without intervention by the government”; “the federal government has no right over this matter of property that is correctly the domain of each state”), but I think not-sanity here is no more than an ill considered rhetorical slur.

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