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Video games and their association to violence, specifically mass shootings

Isabel Fontaine, Guest Writer

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Have you ever wondered how video games affect your life? As mass shootings have increased in great numbers over the past year, the relationship between video games and violence has been questioned. According to the American Psychological Association, over 90% of American children play video games, and out of all games sold, 85% involve violence (Scutti). In these games, every aspect is violent. Their titles, “Manhunt,” “Thrill Kill,” “Mortal Kombat” and “Death Race” emphasize killing opponents. In addition, they are designed to be uncontrollably addictive. In many games, a reward is given for each kill, and for each reward given, a young kid is taught that violence is something to be proud of. While these games are riveting for many kids and may keep them busy for hours, they need to ask how does this affects them in the future?

Violent video games are known to desensitize people, especially youth, to violence. In one study by Andrew Grizzard, et al. and reported on by Christopher Bergland, students were forced to play a game for five days in a row, going between being the moral character and the immoral terrorist. By day five, each student showed no guilt when playing the role of the terrorist. With all the recent school shootings, does this exposure to violence desensitizes some kids? After the Parkland High School shooting in Florida last year, the influence of violent video games was questioned more heavily. One factor immediately considered was the way video games receive their ratings. According to The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), the rating system is effective; however, it has been recommended that the ESRB revise their rating system. As of May 2018, the rating system included five grades: starting with “everyone” and progressing to “adult only”. Consider this: “mild violence” is considered appropriate in games that are rated for everyone. Kids of all ages can play video games that involve violent brutality and killing people, as long as sex or gambling isn’t involved. Games with violence are deemed reasonable for play by 13 year olds, though this is a time when the brain is still developing. Based on past shootings, the ESRB should focus on more stringent ratings. During a shooting in 2016 in Munich, Germany, nine people were shot by an 18 year old male. The gunman enjoyed playing first-person shooter video games.

Almost 20 years ago, in 1999, the mass shooting epidemic began. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people at Columbine High School in Colorado. The parents of the two shooters took away their video game privileges in 1998, which was year the two began plotting their plan to open fire in their school. By taking video games away from Harris and Klebold, the parents had taken a positive step, but they were unaware how much of their lives had been focused on gaming. According to Jerald Block, a researcher and psychiatrist, the shooters’ addiction to “Doom” and “Wolfenstein” was an outlet for their aggression. When the games were taken away, Harris and Klebold took action in real life and created a complicated plan to open fire in the school.

Another shooter, Evan Ramsey, also had a history of playing violent video games. In 1997, he shot and killed a student and the principal of his high school in Alaska, wounding two others. In an interview with the Spring Creek Correctional Center in 2007, Ramsey shared his familiarity with shooting people in the game “Doom,” where death would take seven or eight bullets. He explained that he hadn’t realized it only took one bullet to kill someone until after it was too late. Video games have become more realistic, and because of this, the risk of mixing fantasy with real life becomes greater.

The 20 year old gunman, Adam Lanza, who killed 20 children and six adults in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary school, was an avid violent video game player. After the massacre took place and Lanza’s house was searched, many games were found. In addition, some shooters, such as Anders Breivik in the 2011 Norway Attacks, have used games to train for their mass murders. Others simply simulate a video game scene when they begin shooting. In Alabama, when Devin Moore stole a gun from a police officer, he shot and killed three officers and stole a police car to make his escape. His crime vividly simulates scenes from Grand Theft Auto (GTA). This would make sense as GTA was one of his favorite games. He believed that “life is a video game” and crossed lines between the fantasy of the game and real life. With countless correlations between mass shooters and video games in their history, why are young kids still given easy access to dangerous games?

You see the news of countless stars and adults who have lost their lives due to drug addictions; as a result, when we think of addiction, video games are not what come to mind first. Gaming addictions among youth have become similar to the severity of drug addictions in adults. I worked at a hotel in Kennebunkport over the summer, taking care of kids who are on vacation. I had an experience with a violent kid who was addicted to video games. Max, who was 10 years old, used video games including Fortnite and GTA as a method of “stress relief” several times throughout the two hour evening drop off program. Playing basketball and outdoor games were not intriguing to him, and when he didn’t get his way he would hit kids and staff. When he was asked not to hit, Max replied with, “you hit them back if someone hits you.” If Max had spent less time (or no time) playing video games and more time outside playing or spending time with his family, his actions and methods of dealing with conflict would most likely improve. In fact, a study done by the Child Mind Institute, found that “kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors.” However, “the average American child is said to spend 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen” (Cohen). This results in stress and aggression.

There is a large margin between kids who play video games on occasion and those like Max, who are only able to function around others after playing violent games. This raises the issue of drawing a line between healthy, normal gaming habits and addictive behavior in youth, something you should think about next time you pick up a controller. While violent video games are most likely not the only factor contributing to the steep increase in mass shootings, heavy gaming has a strong correlation with all mass shooting cases. While some situations such as home life, abuse, or poverty are hard to change, proximity and accessibility to violent first-person killing games can be adjusted. Could violent mass shootings be curbed completely or in part with more more awareness of their effects and less accessibility?

Works Cited


Bergland, Christopher. “Violent Video Games Can Trigger Emotional Desensitization.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 09 April 2016.

Cohen, Danielle. “Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature.” Child Mind Institute, Child Mind Institute, 18 Dec. 2017,

“ESRB Ratings Guide.” Consumer Research about ESRB Ratings Awareness and Use, 20 May 2018.

Keneally, Meghan. “Breaking down the Debate over Violent Video Games and School Shootings.” ABC News, ABC News Network, 22 May 2018,

Kleinfeld, N. R., et al. “Newtown Killer’s Obsessions, in Chilling Detail.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2013,

Nizza, Mike. “Tying Columbine to Video Games.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 July 2007,

Scutti, Susan. “Do Video Games Lead to Violence?” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Feb. 2018,

“’Training Simulation:’ Mass Killers Often Share Obsession with Violence…”, 22 Aug. 2016,

“Violent Video Games and Aggression.” National Center for Health Research, 27 Mar. 2018,

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1 Comment

One Response to “Video games and their association to violence, specifically mass shootings”

  1. John Jiler on November 5th, 2018 10:27 am

    Dear High School Journalist;
    Autumn is deepening, and seniors are seriously thinking about their next step. For many of us, your generation is the hope of the future. The Parkland high school shootings galvanized young people across the nation to passionately advocate for common sense gun laws. Now, as your attention turns to college, we want to turn our admiration into action.
    With the help of the Brady Center, the new Gabby Giffords consortium, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, we’re reaching out to high school journalists across the country with our list of the NOTORIOUS NINETEEN—the states with dangerous, inadequate gun laws. Many of them condone the open carry of weapons on college campuses, but even those who don’t have encouraged or tolerated a state-wide, lawless violent culture. Our mission is to make these states known to high school seniors, whom we encourage NOT to apply to college in:
    We’ll be following up with letters to college presidents, Governors and legislators of the “Notorious Nineteen.” If they’re curious why their state-wide college applications are down this year, we’ll be happy to tell them!
    Thank you for considering the publication of this letter in your newspaper. This is how the world changes. Good luck throughout senior year…… and beyond!
    John Jiler,
    Committee for Scholastic Action On Guns

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Video games and their association to violence, specifically mass shootings