The FBI Says Violent Games Don’t Cause Violence, So Why Are We?

An Ex-FBI profiler says that she doesn't believe violent games create violent people. She is just one of the many experts to cite factual evidence proving so. So why are people still blaming video games for violent tragedies? And if not in games, then where should we be looking? Find out what I believe and tell me if you agree....

No one really says it outright anymore, but the reason why everyone’s suddenly taking a really good, hard look at the relationship between video games and children is because of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary shooting back in December.

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However – even though that is why everyone is up in a flurry about video games and gun control – the truth is that this happens every time a tragedy occurs. Something painful and terrible beyond belief happens, and the whole nation mourns with the victims’ families. Then, like any other grief, we go through the stages.

Right now, people are still looking for someone or something to blame. It has caused an outbreak of attacking, defending, researching and enacting laws with the best of intentions: to prevent further tragedies like the past ones from ever occurring again. But like with anything else, conclusions are sometimes drawn out of emotion, and we have only our logic to prevent us from creating more senseless tragedies.

It is this kind of logic that former Federal Bureau of Investigation senior profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole tried to explain on CBS’ Face The Nation. If you’re not familiar with profiling, profilers are criminologists that try to understand criminals’ minds, thereby attempting to predict their movements and reasoning. You can easily see why a profiler must consider all factors when trying to figure out who is likely to be a criminal and what their motives may be.

As such, O’Toole was invited to share her own experience and resulting opinions on the relation between video games, violence and mental illness. O’Toole had what might be considered a surprising opinion, stating:

It’s my experience that video games do not cause violence. However, it is one of the risk variables when we do a threat assessment for the risk to act out violently. And my experience has been [that] individuals who are already contemplating acting out in a violent way – if they are also emerged 24/7 in violent video [games], to the exclusion of other activities, and they’re isolated, and they’re actually using these videos as planning or collateral evidence in terms of how to do it better, what equipment to buy, how to select the victims, how to approach the crime scene – if their use is educational materials for the offender to do the crime better, that’s what we take into consideration… But again, it’s important that I point out as a threat assessment and as a former FBI profiler, we don’t see these as the cause of violence; we see them as sources of fueling ideation that’s already there.

That’s a lot of “ifs”, and I don’t think anyone can disagree with her. If someone wanted to be malicious and use video games to help them commit a crime, they could, but they could also just watch a movie or use the Internet for that as well. How often does that really happen compared to the amount of people who play games simply because they enjoy them? O’Toole seems to imply that it is not very often and we can see for ourselves how common these occurrences are compared to the number of gamers there are.

Another speaker on the panel was Parents Television Council president Tim Winter. He agreed that video games do not by themselves cause violence. But he pushed that the topic is very important to address today, thanks to children being constantly exposed to different media.

“It’s not just a parent’s obligation. I think the industry has to have a responsibility,” he said. “When you have a video game that allows a player to shoot a police officer, walk up to that police officer and urinate on him, douse him with gasoline and set him on fire, and listen to him scream as he burns to death, what kind of sticker do you put on the box to warn a parent about that?”

The game Winter was referring to was 2003’s Postal 2, one of the most controversial games ever created due to its level of violence and the obscene things you could do. New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia, Germany, France and Brazil banned it, refusing a rating for the game. So, Winter picked an old game he heard about that was outside the norm and used it in the conversation.

Ignoring the fact that picking an outlier wasn’t exactly being fair to video games as a whole, while “going postal” and doing obscene things was encouraged, you could play the game without doing any of those things. It is a choice. If we ignore that fact, one look at the game itself will tell you it is clearly labeled M 17+ by the US’ ESRB, meaning it is only for Mature audiences ages 17 years or older. So why is a parent buying such a game for their child anyway?

If a parent decides to ignore the content rating, or lets their child play some Mature games but not others, then they can certainly do their due research and find out about the content of the game themselves, especially now with the widespread use of the Internet. My point is that Winter wants parents to be babied; spoon-fed information rather than trusting the rating or even looking at the back of the game or researching it online.

He clearly seems to hope this will solve the problem of these violent games reaching children’s hands, and that therefore they can hopefully go on to lead a industrious life, instead of murdering innocent people because of video games (and if it was true, I’d be all for it).

It’s an innocent hope, but the fact of the matter is 1. It’s more that parents are negligent than that there is a lack of information and 2. Many acts of senseless violence comes from easy access to highly dangerous guns combined with mentally disturbed individuals. Neither of which is the games industry’s fault.

At least in ex-FBI senior profiler Mary O’Toole’s opinion, it seems that she is saying that the proof is in the pudding. That is to say, correlation is not causation, and even the correlation between video games in general and criminals is very weak.

Instead of letting parents off the hook by fining or imprisoning retailers who sell Mature and Adult rated games to minors (which is a bill that is being pursued again) or spending $500 million on even more research on the relationship between virtual violence and real-world violence (Obama just announced it), our focus should be on first and foremost gun control and helping those with mental illnesses.

With professionals even citing research that says otherwise, there’s no conclusive proof that video games cause these kinds of tragedies. I believe and sincerely hope that we stop searching for answers in the wrong places and stop trying to take the easy way out. I hope is that we instead focus on protecting children and thereby raising productive adults later by helping parents learn to take responsibility and raise their children well now.


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