On the afternoon of March 15th, 2019, a gunman entered the Christchurch mosques in New Zealand during Friday prayers opened fire on innocent worshippers. Tragedy followed and 50 people were killed, with 50 others wounded in what was an unprecedented terrorist attack that stunned the entire world. What made the attack even more bizarre was the fact that it was livestreamed on Facebook and somehow managed to pass through all the filters unnoticed. The extremely appalling livestream showed the suspect shooting innocent worshippers through a POV-like camera angle that the people described as ‘video game camera’. This, inevitably, opened up the entire debate of video games causing violence again.
With millions of people playing violent video games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, do we actually have a real cause for concern? Can video games actually make someone violent?
Video games have been around for quite some time now. The video game industry is one of, if not the biggest entertainment industry in the world worth trillions of dollars. These days, pretty much everyone has access to some form of video games, whether it is on dedicated gaming systems or on mobile phones. The real issue, however, comes forward when a relatively young terrorist/shooter shows some connections to him playing games or actively participating in the meme culture.
What people seem to forget, though, is that causation does not equal correlation. There are millions of people actively playing video games every single day. Exactly how many of them show signs of aggression or violence towards others? Yes, video games can sometimes get really frustrating but most of the time, that frustration and anger is channelled towards the game itself or the player himself rather than other people. If someone does somehow turn towards violence because of a video game, studies show that there are many other factors at play and the person has much deeper underlying issues beneath it all.
Experiments and Studies:
On the topic of studies, let us look at some of the studies that have been conducted over the years regarding this prevalent issue.
‘Priming’ is the concept that the model of learning in games is built on the idea of exposing players to things like violence in a game which makes it easier to replicate it in real life. In a study involving over 3,000 participants conducted by the researchers at the University of York, it was found that video games do not ‘prime’ players to behave in particular ways and the level of realism in a video game does not result in increased aggression levels.
“If players are primed through immersing themselves in the concepts of the game, they should be able to categorise the objects associated with this game more quickly in the real world once the game had concluded.”, said Dr David Zendle, from the Department of Computer Science at University of York. “However, across our studies, we didn’t find this to be the case.”, Concluded Dr David Zendle.
One of the most extensive studies on video game violence was published by Nature Research in 2018. The study focused on the short-term and long-term effects of exposure to violent video games and involved participants of all ages and genders. The results of the experiments showed that, in relatively rare cases, exposure to violent video games can sometimes result in an increased level of aggressive thoughts. However, these effects of violent video gaming on aggressiveness, if present at all, seem to be rather short-lived; potentially lasting for not even 15 minutes. Moreover, these short-term effects of violent video games are far from consistent as multiple simultaneous studies failed to demonstrate or replicate them.
Involvement of Politics:
Despite all of these extensive studies debunking any correlation of video games to actual violence, why are people, especially politicians, so adamant on shifting the blame towards video games?
In most cases, people need a scapegoat to blame the failure of the systems adopted by our society on. This, sometimes, happens to be video games. Furthermore, it is much easier for politicians and governments to blame video games rather than the racism, white supremacy and other extremes embedded deep inside our culture. Video games can be regulated and controlled relatively easily. However, it would be much harder for the lawmakers to actually have an effect on the unfortunate rise of racism in our society.
The gun laws also need extensive reforms. But then, laws are conventionally made to make the jobs of lawmakers easier and the actual apparent purpose of these laws has always been the second priority. The utter incompetence of the law-making authorities is why we haven’t been able to take any substantial action against the rising threat of extremist elements in our society yet.
Failure of Society:
After the Columbine high school massacre in 1999, over 25 video game companies were blamed and sued by the family members of the victims. After much campaigning by top government officials, the eventual result was the introduction of the ESRB rating system for video games. ESRB put age restrictions on games with violence and sexual/explicit content. It was a much-needed system to restrict access of youngsters to explicit and violent content.
However, the system falls apart when parents decide to allow their kids to access games rated for mature audiences. Rather than directing the blame towards video games every time, we should question the upbringing of our youngsters and the parenting choices involved. As I’ve said many times before, the issues that lead to mass shootings and acts of terrorism are embedded in the roots of our society. Just blaming video games every time and moving on is just not enough.
Does Pewdiepie have anything to do with the attack?
In the livestream of the New Zealand attack, the suspect can also be heard yelling ‘Subscribe to Pewdiepie’. This has also caused people to somehow link this attack with Pewdiepie which, in my opinion, is just nonsense. Pewdiepie is the biggest YouTube content creator in the world with 90 million subscribers. He also plays games regularly on his YouTube channel tying into the whole argument of video game violence etc. His ongoing fight to stay as the top creator on YouTube has resulted in the ‘subscribe to Pewdiepie’ meme. The trend is so widespread that there is literally no way for him to have any control over it. Anyone could say that. Pewdiepie has also tweeted about the incident saying that he is “absolutely sickened” having his name “uttered by this person” and condemned the attack.
People are also blaming Pewdiepie for inspiring racism and white supremacy that led to this attack. Pewdiepie has made some racist remarks in the past. The racial slur he used ‘in the heat of the moment’ while live streaming was not excusable in any way as people don’t generally have racial slurs lined up in their active vocabulary. He has apologised for it many times since then and has accepted that such a thing cannot be excused under any circumstance. As far as the anti-Semitic remarks go, they were taken way out of context and thus, are totally baseless.
The thing with Pewdiepie is that he has a massive audience and people are genuinely influenced by what he says or does. Not everyone watching him is going to identify whether he is being sarcastic or not. He is also human, just like everyone else and humans are famously prone to making mistakes. If he makes even the slightest of mistakes, the effects are multiplied just because of his influence and reach.
There are always going to be people who will interpret his content under the wrong light. There is no possible way for anyone to control that. Another argument that could be made in his case is that people just use his name for fame and to flame controversy. The New Zealand shooter also might have done that to spark some sensationalism and just gain internet fame. People are always going to use the name of someone as famous and influential as Pewdiepie just to gain some traction and attention in the mainstream media. However, this does not mean that Pewdiepie is immune and cannot be held accountable for anything. He just needs to stay responsible and avoid anything that might drag him into a controversy.
Video games and other forms of media do not incite violence, but they do desensitize us to it. However, It’s the people who are violent and would pick and choose violence from anything, be it video games, movies, books or even religion. What we need to care about is eradicating violent elements from our society once and for all. In addition to that, we need to have a closer look at ourselves and where we are headed as a society. We also have to reform ourselves, and our laws to create a safe space for everyone to exist in. We need make sure that we fight against racism and xenophobia and put an end to it. Because, at the end of the day, we are all made up of the same star-dust. May sense and peace prevail.