Waypoint is doing a series on guns and video games. It features some very interesting reads from varying perspectives, and I highly recommend it. I felt I should add my perspective as a gun owner and avid gamer, as well as to provide a place for some discussion here at GB. For some personal background, I'm 33. I grew up both using guns and playing so-called "violent" video games, yet turned out normal and well-adjusted. I've lived in various parts of Texas my whole life (both rural and urban), and presently reside in Austin. I have people I count as friends who are gun-nut types and friends who are militantly anti-gun. I own seven video game consoles (Nintendo, N64, PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Xbox One X). I own four guns (Remington 870 shotgun, Mossberg Maverick shotgun, 1911 .45 pistol, and a Winchester Model 70 .257 deer rifle). I am fairly passionate about both hunting and gaming as hobbies. While I'm pretty apolitical and moderate in nature, I get that this thread is going inherently involve some political perspectives, and that's fine. We can cross that bridge when we get there, but for the record, my intent here is not to push my politics or dismiss those of others, rather to have an open discussion on the subject.
Waypoint's series ably explores some of the racial/societal angles far better than I, as an upper-middle-class white male who admittedly has faced very little adversity in his life and recognizes that reality, ever could. The following post won't feature much of that, not because I'm dismissing that facet of this discussion, but because I don't feel equipped to speak in a particularly educated manner to that due to my background. I would be pleased to hear from others who could speak more from personal experience there in relation to guns/video games, whether positive or negative, to hopefully broaden my perspective beyond the lens I've known over the years. Otherwise, out of respect for others and an acknowledgement of areas in which I believe myself to inherently have some ignorance, I will limit this post mostly to that which I feel I can speak with some knowledge to.
I get the sense that much of the gaming community doesn't use actual guns (an observation, not a criticism). This thread can serve as a sort of "ask me anything" if y'all wish there, as I'm an open book. I have experience both pulling the trigger on something virtual as well as on something alive. I can describe the difference between playing some FPS video game (I won't explore that one very much because the audience here should generally be familiar with that) and aiming an actual firearm at a paper target, at an animal, and at an actual person (more on that later). I can't say that I know what it's like to use a gun in malice or hate, which is of course a good thing, but also means that I'm going to struggle to understand the mindset of those who have committed some horrific acts of late. I will, however, do my best to present a perspective of someone who is both generally pro-gun and pro-video game and attempt to explain my reasoning why on both counts.
Guns, for better and worse, are part of American culture, and have historically served to both harm and protect. Sadly, more often the former than the latter, especially of late. I do still support the 2nd Amendment in general. A disarmed citizenry is susceptible to tyranny, and I simply do not trust our government enough not to seize more power/influence if given the opportunity. That may sound a little tinfoil hat or whatever, but I have truly lost faith in our political system to work for the betterment of its citizens, regardless of which party is in power. The only things they can agree on are what serves their interests, so I'd prefer citizens retain a major check and balance. Moreover, I value hunting tremendously as a hobby. I get that there are people who don't like it or understand it, but the appeal of hunting to me is not satiating some kind of weird bloodlust, it's about unplugging from everyday life, restoring proper habitats, controlling populations for the betterment of the ecosystem on the whole, and just preserving the purity of the country itself. There is significant value there, both for me in enjoying it now and for helping to pass down a portion of the world that's largely unspoiled by what we as society term "progress" of urban lifestyle.
Speaking of urban lifestyle, over the past few weeks, there was someone terrorizing my home city of Austin with package bombs, which created a general sense of dread that I've been fortunate enough to be largely sheltered from in my life. Honestly, it wasn't what I ever would have predicted would be something of real concern, but that's the sort of random danger that exists in today's world. I similarly can't help but recall the attack in Nice where a box truck was used as a tool of mass murder. There are areas where guns indeed present the looming spectre, so in no way should legitimate fears there be marginalized, but the sad fact remains that those who truly wish to harm others will find a way. Short of building a fortress that you don't leave, the concept of being truly safe in this day and age is fairly unrealistic. To this point, I will relate a personal anecdote here as to the flipside of what people generally think of when it comes to guns and safety.
Several years back, when I was living in a condo complex, a creeper guy followed a neighbor girl home from the bar. Mistaking our unit for hers, he tried to break into our home at 3 a.m. Waking up to someone fumbling at your doorknob and then scratching at your window trying to force it open is a feeling I don't wish on anyone. I opened the fingerprint lockbox under my bed, grabbed my 1911, chambered a round, and ran up to the door. The wife called 911, and I yelled through the door that I had a gun trained on it, and that if he stepped foot in our place, he was getting shot. He kicked a potted plant outside out of frustration, and moved on the the next unit, which actually belonged to the girl he had followed home. Unbeknownst to me, she had a shotgun of her own and told him the same thing. (Trying to break into houses in Texas is dumb, guys.) By this time, the cops showed up and arrested him in our courtyard. No one got shot, and no one got raped. Guns protected people that day, including the criminal himself.
None of us slept the rest of the night because adrenaline goes through the roof in such a scenario. I have never been more happy to own and know how to use a firearm. The thoughts running through my head were simply about protecting my family and myself, and with some time, I began to consider what I'd have done if I hadn't had a gun and he'd have kicked my door in. Grab a kitchen knife? A bat? I'm a reasonably capable guy, but taking chances on getting the upper hand in physical combat doesn't sound great. Then I thought about, what if guns were illegal, and what if he, as a criminal didn't care and had one illegally where I as a law-abiding individual did not? What then? Plead with him not to shoot me? My pistol paid for itself there, and far beyond staving off potential governmental abuse of power or my affinity for hunting, guns demonstrated some very real value to me that day.
That's not to say that guns are great or that we as a society can't do better with managing guns. I'm not typically inclined towards "reactive" measures, but at a certain point, it's time to acknowledge a clear issue. It is quite arguably past due for us to close some loopholes with improved gun control. I would support restricting assault rifles to Class 3 licensure. Class 3 is currently what automatic weapons, suppressors and the like fall into, in that they are quite difficult and expensive to obtain. This would at least limit the legal sale of ARs to your average citizen, and thus, their prevalence. There is actually a use case for civilian ARs, FWIW. In my state, where the feral hog population is becoming a very real issue, ARs are a favored hog gun. Unfortunately, the same properties that make it a good hog gun make it a "good" choice for mass shootings, so I'm fully on board with people having a tougher time getting their favorite hog gun if it means it's tougher for people bent on killing others to get an AR.
The pessimist/realist in me would be remiss not to point out massive shortcomings in such a measure, though. Heavily restricting ARs would simply lead to a different weapon like shotguns, pistols, or standard rifles becoming used in mass shootings, and their "efficacy" is not much worse, if at all in "capable" hands. (That sentence was incredibly difficult and disconcerting to write, despite its veracity. And again, using guns is far from the only method for committing horrific acts as mentioned above, but guns are the topic at hand here, so I'll stay on topic.) Also, the biggest pitfall in gun regulation is that it only regulates legal gun purchases. The idea that someone who has decided that they don't care about laws against mass murder is going to obey gun laws is utterly asinine. However, perhaps stricter gun laws on ARs help prevent some adult from buying an AR that their kid takes to a school, so I ultimately can get behind such a measure.
Austin and company over at Waypoint hit on the (accurate) point that violent video games don't cause violence, despite a billion studies that have tried to prove that, only to discover the occasional correlation, and nothing definitive in the way of causation. Still, when mass shootings happen, we understandably search for answers. It would be nice if it was as simplistic as we'd like; if the solution was video games or guns or something similarly tangible that can be easily addressed to obviate tragedies. What drives a person to the point of flipping a switch to commit unthinkable atrocities? Is it even a switch, or was it always there within them? What external stimuli factors in, and to what degree? What is applicable to only that particular individual, and what can be applied accurately and broadly to others? We don't have these answers, and psychologically, we're typically grasping at straws after it's already too late.
It is also overly simplistic to just say "they're crazy" and leave it at that. It seems like multiple people, agencies, etc. missed the mark in preventing the latest incident, but there have been many others where people didn't really see it coming. The mind is a complicated, whimsical thing (especially the adolescent mind), so diagnosing violent tendencies isn't as straightforward as you'd think. Adopting said diagnoses towards legal restrictions is further fraught with issues. Privacy laws are part of what kept local/federal entities from intervening more meaningfully in the last shooting, so unless we're ready to give up some freedom there and demonize mental illness (both of which are highly questionable ideas), how do we address this? Not only that, when you're talking about kids who may well have appeared "normal" until they weren't, making life more nightmarish for the mentally ill doesn't even help with prevention there.
Demonizing the inanimate object of a gun is similarly misguided and unhelpful. I often see people express thoughts against "gun culture" or worse, "gun fetishization". Comments of such ilk don't really help anyone or anything, they simply serve as an effort to group and label others as the problem while smarmily absolving oneself of any and all societal responsibility, which is a ridiculously unhealthy mindset. The "gun fetishization" one particularly irks me, as if daring to have fun with guns, appreciating quality craftsmanship of guns, etc. is the mark of some outcast freak who should be shunned by "civilized" society. I've found the VR stuff to be particularly interesting, because so many of the VR games are centered almost entirely around simulating the mere act of shooting guns, and you can strap some of the most staunch anti-gun folks in VR and watch them gleefully play action movie star.
If I were to levy one criticism towards video games in this regard, it would be that they do tend to glorify or at least encourage using guns and/or committing violent acts. That many games force you to do so to even progress the story is something that should give us pause. Video games are obviously a world of fantasy, and I believe that the general ability of people to compartmentalize virtual violence to that virtual space is grossly underestimated, but we should perhaps consider why that's what we consider fun. I love that people take the effort to do things like pacifist runs, as well as that there are games that are built to allow you to do so. I would like to see more of this player agency, where people are given a playground and can choose a playstyle that best suits what they're looking for.
Interestingly enough, HITMAN, of all games, does an excellent job of this. You can play through entire missions only taking out your targets (which often requires some very interesting and fluid pacifist-style gameplay), or you can wipe out the entire map. I have done both. The latter, in retrospect, currently feels a bit uncomfortable given recent events, but that's honestly not how I typically play the game or what I love about it. It is far more satisfying to pull off the Silent Assassin runs, and it's worth noting that you get an achievement for doing so. Conversely, there's no such achievement for murdering the entire level, which is a good thing. That a game about assassination rewards you the less violence you commit is fairly refreshing. It's mostly a puzzle game where you're playing de facto puppeteer with the level and its NPCs, which rewards creativity and somewhat pushes aside the mindless slaughter of enemies that most games arguably lean too heavily into.
That's not to say that using guns in video games can't be entertaining. Obviously there's something there, given the prevalence of them in the medium. It's highly reductive to view such games as "murder simulators" or the like, considering again that there is little to no evidence that people actually apply video game violence to real life. I don't know if it's some ever-present morbid shock value that draws us to virtual shooters, but at this point, even Mario is armed and shooting enemies. The generally adorable Lego games are often shooters at their core as well, so I don't buy the argument that somehow games like Battlefield are offensive and horrible where these games aren't because the graphics are more realistic-looking than those of games where you pew pew totally-not-bullets into something until it "vanishes" and totally-wasn't-murdered. There's something innately enjoyable to virtual gunplay, and I really think it's often as plain as people generally wanting to just role play cool guy action hero.
A cool guy action hero needs cool toys as well. Enter gun modifications, gun skins, and the like. It was, to my recollection, mostly the Call of Duty series that popularized this stuff in the video game world, but many games have adopted it since to varying degrees. Presently, the Destiny games in particular are built almost fully around the idea of creating your weapon. I don't particularly subscribe to the idea that it's horrific to virtually shoot a bunch of enemies, yet fine to take that even further and focus on looking cool doing it. It was then where things sort of shifted towards arguably glorifying gunplay. I don't mean to pick on CoD or Destiny, as they're far from the only culprits. Even deep games like Dark Souls are constructed largely around acquiring and improving weapons, whether that be a sword, a wizard shooting magic from a staff, or whatever. As gamers, most of us are guilty in some respect of wanting "our" character to be a virtual badass with the best weapon who looks the coolest.
Yet owning or customizing actual guns is "fetishism"? Only simulating that is allowed to be fun? Negative. If there is appeal to grinding hundreds of hours and/or paying additional real world dollars to improve and customize virtual weaponry until it looks as cool as it can and is as effective as it can be, then it shouldn't be particularly difficult to understand similar real-world appeal. Guns in the real world can be (and largely are) used for recreational purposes. That is, until some tragedy happens by someone who used a gun, at which point guns are evil, and all those who would dare possess them are for all intents and purposes lumped in with what a psychopath did. "Responsible Adult Uses Gun Safely" has never been a headline. "Student Shoots x People at School" is national news instantly. I'm not suggesting the latter shouldn't be discussed, but I am pointing out that people in general neither hear nor care about the former and thus have an awfully skewed perspective on guns. Ultimately, I do think the media (and society in general) share some blame for making insta-celebrities out of anyone who decides to shoot up a school.
I remember being a teenager. It wasn't that long ago. All you cared about was being noticed and accepted, and your fragile adolescent ego swam in a sea of angst, easily shattered in any given moment. While I can't remotely begin to understand shooting up a school, I can understand how a kid who isn't accepted (or feels like they aren't) would focus then on at least being noticed. The awful reality is that shooting classmates will get you noticed, arguably more than anything else a teenager can do. I don't think that's the single root cause of all these tragedies or anything, but I do think it's a major factor, and probably moreso than mental illness, video games, guns, or these typical things politicians, media, and the public choose to blame. I have to assume many of the highly disturbed individuals who become mass shooters made a choice in which they deemed notoriety to be preferable to insignificance, but I'm admittedly trying to figure out a mindset that's difficult to fathom, and in truth, it's likely not as simple as being only something like that.
Ultimately, we're missing the mark on this, myself included. I don't pretend to have the answer to this problem, and I'm not so sure anyone else does, either (or at least I haven't heard it yet). However, we should certainly try to find it. I do firmly believe that hyperfocusing on some singular, tangentially-related aspect of this like guns (or more ridiculously, video games) isn't really getting us closer to the goal I think we all seek in minimizing the incidence of these tragedies. I'm willing to listen to and discuss with an open mind anything that might help towards that end. Apologies in advance to any mods if this thread elicits some heated responses, but I wouldn't be posting this here if I didn't value the thoughts of this community and wish to hear them. If nothing else, thanks for listening to mine.