(equips “serious” hat)

Let me start by saying this post will be an outlier; I have no desire to comment on politics or push any political view/agenda. I think that’s boring, it’s manipulative, and no one in their right mind really wants to read it except those who use it as ammo in debates with people who don’t share their point of view. But I do want to briefly address some of the comments made by President Trump regarding the impact of violence in video gaming on troubled individuals. I have been playing video games since I was a kid. While I spent most of my elementary years on consoles like the SNES and Sega Genesis, I was eventually exposed to first person shooter games when I was 7, with titles like GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark. It was also around this time that the Columbine massacre occurred in Colorado. I remember hearing President Bush and the news talk about how the boys were obsessed with video games and how it was one of the “leading causes of violence” in teenagers. As a result, my parents started to become more concerned about the games I was playing and would look up reviews about games I wanted to buy, trying to filter out anything with gore or violence. Fast forward to when I was 17, owned my own Xbox 360 and sat in our basement until 5am playing Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and even darker games like Dante’s Inferno. Anyone who knows these titles knows how vulgar, gory, and violent they can be, and anyone who knew me at the age of 17 also knows I was an angry, hateful, and bitter spawn of Satan. However, contrary to the beliefs of our President, I do not believe those two things are correlated.

I was blessed to grow up in a large family where my parents have stayed together through their entire 30+ year marriage. My mom stayed home to raise us while my dad dedicated as much time as he could outside of work to be with us. My family and I have moved 3 times in my early years, from NY to PA and then PA to TN. The last move occurred at one of the hardest times in my life: junior year of high school. Even though I grew up in a loving home, I still struggled to find my identity in a new city where everyone had grown up together and built their own friend groups. Eventually I made some close friends, but I still often felt alone and depressed, as many young men and women feel at that age. And it could be due to a multitude of reasons: dating and sex, school, popularity, social anxiety, etc. Anyone going through that period of life knows they need an outlet to express themselves. Some turn to sports, some turn to sex, drugs, and/or alcohol. I turned to gaming.

Over the years I’ve played some extremely violent games, but also some of the most beautiful and emotional. For every Gears of War and DOOM, there’s a Life is Strange and Firewatch. Gaming at its core is an art form to be interpreted by the individual. Can it glorify violence? Absolutely. You cannot make an argument that DOOM has any other interpretation than slaying the forces of hell in the most violent gory way possible. But I never walked away from a session of DOOM with violent or even hateful intentions, just like I didn’t walk out of John Wick with a deep desire to kill everything in sight. I think that’s an ignorant view towards violence in media. For young men, games like these are a great outlet to release the excess testosterone raging through their veins. And while I’ve played many games solely for the violent and gruesome gameplay, I’ve also played many games for the emotional stories that are told. I’ve never cried more during a game or movie than at the end of Life is Strange. There are a ton of disturbing and tough subjects that the game walks the player through, but at the end it’s a story about friendship, love and humanity. Valiant Hearts: The Great War is another great game that immerses the player in World War 1, and talks about not only the hardships of being a soldier or civilian during that time, but also the cost of doing the right thing. Gaming provides an immersive experience unlike any other. But, like every else, it can have a positive and negative effect on it’s audience.

Do I see how these violent games and movies can be used as a trigger for those dealing with depression or anger? Absolutely. I think anyone who doesn’t agree with that point is either stubborn or ignorant. But violence in gaming isn’t the root of the issue. It’s just an easy thing that politicians and media personalities can point to instead of discussing the real, much harder problem. I grew up angry and depressed; that was my life from the ages of 16 to 22. And believe me, I’m not the type of person to walk into a room and bust out crying about how hard life is. I’m more the person who compartmentalizes everything and tries to deal with it all on my own. But when I did truly need someone, I had a community that supported me through those times. My parents, my siblings, my close friendships from both high school and college; I’d unconsciously built a support system to fall back on when times were hard. And that’s what I think most people that do the things that horrify us don’t have. I don’t want to make any stereotypes the individuals that perform these acts of violence, but I would bet there is more than video games and guns that pushes them to that level. Think about it: recent studies show that one in three individuals in the world play video games. About 20% of them show interest in violent games. So after some brief calculation, that’s about 500 million people. Sorry to break the news to you, but there aren’t 500 million potential mass murderers in the world. But I do believe there are at least 500 million lonely, depressed, and angry people in the world who could use someone that would listen to them.

My purpose here is not to provide a solution. I’m not trying to say that if everyone had a therapist or if everyone was just nicer to each other these things wouldn’t happen. I know for a fact that they would. I don’t know what the solution is to preventing mass shootings. But one of the first steps to solving a problem is recognizing the issues, and video games are not the root cause, or even one of the leading causes of these horrible acts of violence. And until we move past that fact and start to focus on the bigger causes, these terrible events are going to continue to happen.

-The Unfiltered Nerd