Columbine anniversary and videogames

 Img Killers-Caf
Ten years ago today, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered their campus armed to the teeth and killed 12 students and one teacher, and wounded 23 other people. Then they killed themselves. In the hysteria following the tragedy, many people attempted to blame video games for the violence. A decade later, Youth Radio's Noah Nelson looks at whether the correlation between video games and violence correlation is still all the rage. From Youth Radio:
“What we’ve found is that violent crime has decreased dramatically starting in 1996 while video games sales have soared. More than doubling last year,” said Dan Hewitt, a spokesman for the Entertainment Software Association the trade association for the video game industry. He cites a report that contrasts the Department of Justice numbers on violent crime and sales figures for games. Hewitt contends that “if there was some type of causal connection between video games and real life violence that the rate of real lifer violence would actually be going up, but actually the opposite is true.”

(Dr. Karen Sternheimer, a professor of Sociology at USC and the author of “It’s Not the Media: The Truth About Pop Culture’s Influence on Children”) says that because a game is “interactive it seems like logically that it could cause some kind of casual effect.” She notes that the decline in the rate of violence “is most notable in youth, especially juveniles.” While the data and the perceived connection don’t agree, the perception remains “compelling because it’s really easy for us to understand.” The professor points to Dave Cullen’s recent book on Columbine that paints a picture of Klebold and Harris as “not just everyday kids who played video games, and just kind of became crazy from too many video games. These were seriously disturbed individuals. We make a really big mistake when we overlook issues like that.”

In many ways what happened at Columbine High is a kind of prologue to the wave of violence that has shocked the country in recent weeks. A wave that adds weight to Professor Sternheimer’s assertion that “we don’t just have a health care crisis-- we have a mental health care crisis in this country.”
"Legacy Of Change: Gaming After Columbine"


  1. That study is clearly un-American. The American way is to find something to blame besides the culture or the individual. We HAVE to blame the video games, the guns, or something! That gives us the illusion that we can erect a “quick-fix” to this type of problem, instead of tacking the real issues that cause people to do this.

  2. We can still blame Marilyn Manson, right? Or bowling? Somebody should make a documentary about that.

    1. Almost everything that was reported about the incident was incorrect. They weren’t bullied; they were the bullies. And psychopathic ones at that. If they hadn’t been such incompetent bomb-makers, thousands would have died.

  3. “””Hewitt contends that “if there was some type of causal connection between video games and real life violence that the rate of real lifer violence would actually be going up, but actually the opposite is true.” “””

    His remarks were followed by the resounding of nobody being surprised.

    Recommended reading: “The Culture of Fear”. All about the various completely artificial scares of our society, the reasons behind the existence of the scare and the reality of the situation (in every case, completely at odds with what people are afraid of).

    Dancing > Rock and Roll > Dungeons and Dragons > Video Games. What’s next? New headline will be “Is twitter raping your childrens?”

  4. From what I understand it is coming to light that many of these incidents recently involving teens/kids where violence is perpetrated to this degree that some kind of mental drugs were being used/stopped using.

    We have a generation of kids using anti depressants, anti ADHD, mind focusing drugs and various reports are citing them as causing young people to have psychotic episodes.

    I feel like there are others out there drawing this same conclusion but I have not looked this topic in a long time. Glad we’re talking about it again.

  5. @ HeavyStarch #6:

    We’d be best not to immediately jump to that conclusion either. “Kids and their damn psychotic drugs today” smells like an easy scapegoat too. It also ignores the reality that teen violence has been dropping since the mid-90s instead of increasing.

  6. Antinous,

    Can you recommend a good one-volume assessment of that horror? I have avoided reading about it for ten years. One picks and chooses among such tragedies…

  7. if there is a correlation between violent video games and violent behavior, then why can’t the relationship be what the data suggests, exposure to violent video games decreases violent behavior. Perhaps present day game simulations are real enough to express violent urges in a non-harmful way. When/If fully submersive VR is ever developed I wouldn’t be surprised if violent sociopathic behavior is played out in that forum as well. Of course most likely with this actual situation its important to remember that correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causality, there is probably no truly causal link between video games and violence, but it may be a sign of what is to come, perhaps technology can be used to eradicate actual violent behavior against actual human beings if a sufficiently real VR surrogate existed. Maybe it could even be a form of treatment. Twisted, but doesn’t seem too far fetched.

  8. @ COREY #5:

    They’re already ahead of you, at least in England:

    And to see the thrilling and depressing conclusion:

    Title of some of the articles mentioned in the above:

    “Facebook and Twitter ‘make us bad people’”
    “Twitter and Facebook could harm moral values, scientists warn.”
    “Twitter can make you immoral, claim scientists”

  9. Buddy,

    I read an article in the last two weeks about it and I can’t find it again. I’ll keep looking.

  10. Correlation does not imply causation.


    Some people play violent video games.
    Some people shoot up their schools.
    People who shoot up their schools like violent video games.
    Therefor, all people who like violent video games shoot up their schools.

    Extra credit if you can name the logical fallacy that I just perpetrated.

  11. This is kind of a strawman debate because these kids have been proven post events to simply be raging sociopaths and their main goal was to set off bombs and that the shootings were not the main plan?

    And now that I typed that I see Antinous posted a link to a sidebar that explains it all. Tada!

  12. And on this day, Jack Thompson gets officially ignored by the Supreme Court, ending his tirade against video games.

  13. I recall them fairly sucessfully blaming black trenchcoats. Tons of highschools banned them after columbine, due to the whole “Trenchoat Maffia” thing, aparently on the theory that clothing makes you crazy.

    To make it even sillier, Eric & Dylan weren’t even part of the Trenchoat Maffia – they just happened to know a guy who was.

  14. Gilbert Anonymous here:
    It’s been ten goddam years. Let the grief be a private affair for the families. Or is this going to be added to the slow-news-day-get-the-Jon-Benet-Natalie Holloway file?

  15. I’m always surprised at the knee jerk response around here of, “it can’t possibly be the video games! what a stupid thing to suggest.” why not? children learn behaviors all the time from external influence. couple this with bad parenting and who knows? i’m not saying columbine was caused by video games but who here honestly believes that kids simulating shooting other humans all day is a good thing? do you really believe that?

  16. @#23: Rob, I would be sincerely interested in that citation, if you have it handy. I know Ferguson has done a couple recently showing no effect, but he simply threw out all studies showing a positive association by alleging “publication bias.”

    Here’s an interesting single study using biometric feedback to measure desensitization to violence:

  17. These arguments are always full of straw men.

    Crazy over the top people cry “VIolent video games made kids kill other kids!”

    Game players respond “I play those games and never killed anyone! VIolent games have no effect!”

    Video game companies fund research slanted to knock down the strawman that games make people killers.

    But the actual clinical research such as done by the authors listed in 24, and other researchers operating at U of Michigan, Iowa State University, in Holland, and in Singapore indicates that exposure to violent media does have an effect. That effect is not to turn everyone into wild killers. The effect is to increase levels of aggression as measured by indicator chemicals in the body and brainwave patterns.

    Double blind studies also show statistically significant changes in behavior between people who play aggressive games and people who play cooperative games.

    None of this equates to “Games make you kill people!” just as it does not equate to “Games are harmless.” Violent games and other media make observable changes in behavior, and that is something to be considered but not something to be freaked out about.

    (I have no cites, as I get my info directly from one of the researchers of the paper in 24 who is a friend. If you want to follow the research, those authors are some of the leaders in the field as well as Craig Anderson at ISU.)

  18. Maybe there’s nothing to blame in this situation. I think we’re looking at something to blame in hopes that “if X is to blame, and we regulate/eliminate X somehow, then this never would have happened.” This seems to be the way of thinking for everything these days. Every problem has to have a solution.

    Maybe it’s just the way of the world. Maybe they were just way too disturbed beyond repair. Maybe this was inevitable. Sure, in hindsight, all of the signs were there, but that’s hindsight. In the last 100 years, there have been two video game playing, KMFDM loving, trench coat loving bullies who have gone on a school shooting rampage. There are certainly tens of thousands of other kids who fit that profile who never have or never will commit such a horrible act.

    I’m not minimizing the tragedy here. It’s awful, truly truly awful, what happened to those who lost their lives that day.

    What can we really do to fix it? We can ramp up our parenting and watch over our kids more, but there’s so much that kids can hide even still. Are we allowing it to happen any more frequently by not doing anything to stop it? Or are things like this just a freak occurrence that come with life as it is?

  19. gun control would have helped. Or rather, the absence of a gun culture. No guarantee of course, but it couldn’t hurt.

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