Call of Duty, Back in the Crosshairs

As details emerged about the killer* of 12 at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday, various camps began exploiting the tragedy for their agendas.

The first, of course, were the gun grabbers, with the always-nauseating David Frum (most famous for helping lie us into an unnecessary war) taking to Twitter before all the shots were even fired. With no knowledge at all about the shooter, his weapon, or anything else, Frum started attacking gun rights supporters, even adding preemptive mockery of anyone who might find his behavior ghoulish and inappropriate.

Next up: the game critics. An entire political infrastructure and corporate media machine–both dedicated to the almost-always-wrong idea that “Something Must Be Done!”–started digging into the life of the shooter and found the following details:

  • He heard voices and was medicated for mental illness.
  • He was known for his quick temper and anger issues.
  • He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after rescuing victims on 9/11.
  • He was paranoid and carried a gun everywhere, and would fire it now and then.
  • He said he was the victim of racial discrimination.
  • He hated America.
  • He claimed to have been screwed over by his employers (the US government).
  • He played Call of Duty 16 hours a day.

If you think the media led with any other fact than the last, then you haven’t been paying attention.

Call of Duty has drifted far from its roots. What was once a top-notch military shooter with a Teen rating has devolved into a sadistic blood-fest of mind-numbing violence.

I’ve written against the trend towards hyperviolence in games for a while now, even while 1) asserting the first amendment rights of designers to make those games, and 2) denying the direct linkage between violence in games and violence in the real world. There simply is no such cause and effect link.

The human psyche is a work of such baffling intricacy that we still barely understand its functioning. All the myriad influences, experiences, memories, dreams, thoughts, and biological elements that combine to form our consciousness create complex networks that make it extremely difficult to really trace a motive for anything, from love to racial animus to homicidal impulses. The mind can be at once amazingly resilient and distressingly fragile.

Does the troubled mind drift to violent entertainment to calm it, or does the violent entertainment create the troubled mind? The game industry is so afraid of possible censorship that it’s reluctant to ask the hard questions. Did violent games affect the mind of Navy Yard shooter?

Of course they did.

Perhaps for the better, by allowing an outlet for violent impulses, before those impulses overwhelmed him.

Perhaps for the worse, by allowing dark thoughts to feed on murderous fantasies and thus grow.

Be certain of this: they did something. It’s simply wrong to blame video games for mass homicide, but it’s equally wrong to wave away the possibility that there was no relation between a man playing Call of Duty 16 hours a day and that same man gunning down 12.

The games didn’t cause the man to kill any more than Catcher in the Rye caused the shootings of Ronald Reagan and John Lennon. They are, however, part of the total psychological portrait of a troubled mind.

The mere fact of playing a game for 16 hours a day is already evidence of a disturbed and wicked mind obsessed with violence. His gaming may not have been causal (the game didn’t make him sit there for 16 hours), but it was certainly diagnostic.

Yet the mainstream media will continue to batten on simplistic solutions—games bad!, gun control good!—to the extremely complex matters of human psychology and the real presence of evil in the world.

And the game industry does nothing to help their case when each new release tries to top the last for pure savagery. The same week the Naval Yard shooting took place, Grand Theft Auto V was released to huge sales and critical acclaim. In that delightful little slice of sadism, you can torture someone, even using the game controller to rip out his teeth and waterboard him in a series of minigames.

Just charming.

We don’t need this. No one needs this. It’s garbage. Adults should shun it on principle. And parents who let their children play GTA5 are just bad parents. Period.

Games can’t shoulder the blame for striking outbursts of violence, but it’s way past time that they clean up their act.


*I have a policy on this blog: I don’t use the names of mass murderers and spree killers. They commit their crimes to gain attention and fame. That is their primary motive. I will not help them with this.