When Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and shot 17 of his peers and teachers, everyone from doctors to survivors to legislators focused on how to prevent another tragedy of this magnitude. Whatever people thought of Cruz before he made his decision, nearly everybody could see that he was deeply disturbed.
“Despite his mother’s attention, he just felt horribly unloved, and felt he had no one to turn to,” Paul Gold, a longtime friend of Cruz’s said of him, as reported by the Miami Herald. The Herald also reported that Cruz often felt ostracized by his peers and posted images of massacred animals on Facebook.
Gold also mentioned Cruz’s video addiction. Cruz would spend several hours a day playing violent video games, a fact the Cushman School, a private school in Miami, fixated on when they sponsored a “violent video game dump” on March 2. The event encouraged students to toss their violent video games into a bin next to the headmaster’s office. The headmaster, Arvi Balseiro, cited personal research on video game violence affecting teenagers. The results of other researchers, however, disagree with her.
“I don’t think that a video game can necessarily make someone go to that extreme, becoming violent. I think that’s more complicated. There may be a correlation, but it’s not a causation.” Madissyn Lance, a family and human services major at John Brown, said.
A 2014 study conducted by Villanova University researchers Patrick and Charlotte Markey and Juliana French agree with her. “Contrary to the claims that violent video games are linked to aggressive assaults and homicides, no evidence was found to suggest that this medium was positively related to real-world violence in the United States.” The published study says in its abstract.
Legislators and media outlets have pointed to violent video games for years when tragedies occur. Notably, Doom, the game that popularized the first-person shooter genre, was cited as a possible inspiration for Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
“Obviously it’s one of those case-to-case things. You can’t say that every person who plays video games is going to end up violent. I feel like people who play video games and end up violent—I don’t feel like there’s much of a correlation there.” Caleb Gordon, a veteran gamer, said.
“I can definitely see why people blame video games.” Gordon also said, “There’s definitely more immersion in video games. The difference between a song that promotes violence and Grand Theft Auto is that, in Grand Theft Auto, you push the button and make the action happen.”
Gordon raises a familiar point, one that lawmakers have been making since the controversy surrounding Mortal Kombat and the establishment of the Electronic Services Rating Board in 1990. In 1990, the extreme violence depicted in the fighting game, Mortal Kombat, prompted senators Joseph Lieberman and Herbert Kohl to call on legislation on video game violence.
There is nearly a tradition in attacking violent media after such horrible tragedies. Major movies and YouTube videos catch blame as well. The video game and film industries, however, have their own ratings boards, such as the ESRB. Most video game consoles also have parental controls that limit the type of content available on that platform. YouTube also has parental controls that limit what children can see.
While it is true that many of these shooters did play video games, it is universally agreed that all of them were also very disturbed and had various antisocial tendencies. While it is true these people spent a great deal of time playing video games, the research suggests this is less an effect of video games and has more to do with the mentality of the person playing the game.