I was reading a copy of New Scientist recently (April 11 issue, if you want to find it) and there was a news story that rises in aggression from playing videogames are not restricted to shooting games. Volunteers apparently scored normally for aggression after playing both shoot em ups and driving games, though had lower aggression after playing a virtual table tennis game. However, brain activity in the temporal lobe was most increased by playing the driving game, not the shoot em up, leading them to conclude that “it cannot be assumed that aggression is solely related to violent content.”

After the recent tragic shootings in Germany by Tim Kretschmer, ministers there started tightening up the sale of violent videogames, because it turned out that he had been playing games, specifically Operation Flashpoint if memory serves, but I could be wrong. There’s nothing unusual in this reaction – politicians everywhere like to blame videogames when a tragedy like this occurs. It’s easy, and it’s a viewpoint that fits the older demographic perfectly.

I’ve seen plenty of people respond to this with “I play shoot ’em ups and I’m not perfectly fine,” but again this is a simplistic response. There are several studies that have suggested violence in games leads to a short term increase in the the levels of aggression in the individual, but frankly, that’s fine. Getting stuck behind someone on a street when you need to get past leads to a short term increase in the feelings of aggression, but it doesn’t send people postal. I don’t think anyway; I haven’t seen any studies on this.

The discussion shouldn’t be focussed on this. It should be focussed on the incredibly naive assertions by politicians that correlation equals causality. This is a really simple idea that was disproved by the Ancient Greeks for goodness sake. It’s called Logical Deduction, and the famous version goes like this: All birds are black. All rooks are birds. Therefore all birds are rooks. (Or similar.) You play videogames. You are violent. Therefore videogames made you violent.

What it actually is about, is avoiding asking the proper questions. Firstly, why do mentally ill people get failed by the state and system? Why are they allowed to reach such an extreme state of mind without anyone noticing? To tackle this issue, the failure of the state to protect its citizens, and here I mean the perpetrators rather than the victims (though they by extension have been equally failed), requires an actual solution. It requires actual work on behalf of the government, and investment in services to help people. Much easier to blame videogames.

Secondly, and this does get raised a lot: access to the guns. I would find it incredible if the idea is that without playing a game that includes shooting, Kretschmer would never have considered using a gun. I think all the guns in the house maybe played a part in influencing him. It doesn’t even seem, when the facts come out about these cases, that it is about whether guns should be legal or not, it’s almost always that they have not been kept locked away. As a rule, I think, perhaps children should not be shown where guns are kept, and if they are locked away (the guns, not the kids), how about not letting them have access to the keys? Again, politicians don’t want to go anywhere near the gun lobby – who would? They are armed, after all. Much easier to blame videogames.

So, the politicians rely on Logical Deduction to make an argument sound plausible and lay the blame at the door of our passtime. I only hope that they do this because of politicial expediency, and that it is because videogames are the easy target. Because the alternative is that they actually believe the argument, and really aren’t very bright. Which would be really worrying indeed as they are in charge of the countries. And they have access to guns.

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