Guns and joysticks

Sam Hays

Video games are a staple of the modern-day college experience. But what role do they play in college students’ lives and the national gun control discussion?

A Pew Internet Research study conducted last year indicated that some 70 percent of college students in America play video games at least “once in a while.” Find a dorm room or an apartment with a TV in it and you’re bound to find an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 close by, often alongside video games like “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield,” or “Assassin’s Creed,” titles whose violent content is no surprise and no secret to anyone remotely familiar with the industry.

Video games, especially the violent ones, have become accepted in our society to such an extent that we often forget that they can model real life courses of action. David Yeager, assistant professor in the UT Department of Psychology, says video games can cause an inclination towards violence but cannot empirically be proven to be the root cause of an event like a school shooting.

“Other events have to happen to tip the scales into a shooting,” Yeager says, alluding to the fact that more serious issues like mental disorders are at play when someone turns to homicide. Yeager also adds, “I don’t think it’s fair to say that the violent media caused the shootings,” the bottom line being that people with mental disorders will inherently have a greater propensity for such violent acts, and playing a video game does not push them that much further towards an act they’ve already conceived in their heads.

A Harvard study released in October 2010 corroborates a very simple fact: Previous studies that claimed video games cause violence did not use methods that prove cause and effect; these previous studies were merely observational and didn’t delve deep enough into the issue. Furthermore, closer looks into offending violent youths revealed that they had personality traits like psychosis and aggression which caused them to act so violently — traits that would have existed regardless of the presence of violent video games.

So why, then, is the National Rifle Association pointing its finger at violent video games? The answer is simple: self-interest. The NRA do anything to steer the discussion of gun violence away from guns. Some might say that’s because the organization is dedicated to protecting the rights of the millions of law-abiding gun owners around the U.S., which would have been true a few years ago before newer, more profitable partners popped up on its radar. The NRA has become the most powerful protector of the $12 billion per year gun industry. For example, after intense lobbying in Congress by the NRA back in 2005, the gun industry was granted immunity from liability lawsuits pertaining to gun violence. That same year, the NRA launched a fundraiser that secured millions of dollars from corporate sponsors, the sponsors being large-scale weapons manufacturers and businesses of the same type — businesses that would be hurt from gun control laws.

So the deal works like this: The NRA scratches the back of the gun industry by doing it favors in Congress, and the industry reciprocates with millions of dollars in donations. Then the NRA blames every potential cause of gun violence except the lucrative firearms that bring in massive profits for both parties. So when listening to the debate, don’t buy into the notion that something as socially acceptable and ubiquitous as playing violent video games causes a teenager to barge into a school and start killing people. You’re hearing a debate that is dodging more pertinent issues, such as the mental health of the shooters or the actual guns themselves.

Hays is a journalism freshman from Dripping Springs.