By Esther Cepeda
CHICAGO — As I type, my 17-year-old son is online with his friends playing a game called “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege.” It’s your standard shoot-’em-up game with tough military types in black tactical gear with powerful guns. Quiet, hyper-realistic situations ratchet up the tension, my son tells me. I hear the occasional screams emanating from the basement as he or his teammates suffer onscreen deaths.
I wish my son had more wholesome pastimes. But the comradery, teamwork skills and relationship-building that go on in his virtual playscapes spill out into his real life, to his benefit. Let’s face it, not every kid is into physical team sports, but the problem-solving skills and the friendships that are forged during online game play can be very powerful.
As so many have said: Violent video games alone do not cause people to go off the rails, arm themselves and open fire on innocent people in public places.
But there’s also no question that there is something wrong with a multibillion-dollar video game industry that sells to young men the ability to virtually assassinate a foe as an escape from real life. And parents often find themselves wishing that the skills of perseverance and tedious hard work that video game players exert over hours and hours of gameplay would replicate themselves out in the real world. We worry over how invested our kids are in these games.
Typically, after a shooting tragedy, some elected officials on the right make it a practice to criticize and implicate video games. Doing so is easier and less of a political risk than admitting that some types of gun-control measures can both uphold the spirit of the Second Amendment and simultaneously make it harder for disaffected individuals with serious mental health issues to abuse the privilege of owning a firearm.
Some cynical folks on the left rush to the defense of video games and argue that the Republican Party is never going to acknowledge the value in commonsense gun reform — particularly as long as they remain beholden to the NRA’s lobbying. In a way, the knee-jerk reaction of defending video games after a mass shooting ignores how the mega-rich corporations peddle games to very young men. It takes some of the heat off of game creators who ship out titles featuring graphic violence, explicit sexual references and detestable behavior toward women and people of color.
And these games — with their immersive, addictive qualities and experiences of empowerment — are especially appealing to young boys.
When I taught fourth and fifth grade in 2018, Fortnite — a super-violent game rated as not suitable for kids under 13 became an overnight obsession for my 8-, 9- and 10-year-old students.
Business is business and video game makers give the people what they want, often with little pushback from those who complain about potential effects. Everyone involved, from parents who buy these titles for their kids to gamers who don’t want their pastime infringed upon, cop out by merely citing research that absolves video games of a role in the development of violent people.
I banned explicit and violent video games from my kids’ home lives until it became pointless: They’d just go to other friends’ houses to play or use their school-issued Chromebooks.
When Grand Theft Auto V, and its characters’ deplorable treatment of women, especially sex workers, became popular among my son’s circle of friends a few years ago, I recall several uncomfortable dinner-time conversations about the importance of treating all women with respect.
While no specific study has found a direct and causal link between the most deplorable video game behavior and violent crime, some researchers have observed a correlation between violent video games and physical aggression, such as hitting.
But even if violent video games can’t be tied to real-life mass shootings, ask yourself: Should teens or preteens have easy access to a “game” that graphically depicts domestic violence against women, children and infants? Or encourages the perpetuation of racist stereotypes?
Next time there’s a tragedy and a politician blames video games, recognize that the he or she has a self-serving agenda to avoid gun reform. And admit that too many kids are virtually playing out some of the behaviors we’re horrified to witness when young men take their shooting fantasies into our real lives.
Cepeda is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.
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