AKRON, Ohio — Since the Dec. 14 massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., mental health experts, the media, bereavement counselors, grieving parents and others have wondered what wickedness lurked in the mind of Adam Lanza.
One of the issues at the forefront is whether violent video games, which the 20-year-old was reportedly addicted to, could be the problem. But could the games alone have caused Lanza to become so out of control that they made him kill those children and seven adults, including his mother, before turning the gun on himself? Or was it something much more sinister?
“When someone goes and shoots like that, there’s mental illness, and then there’s evil,” offered Kathy Royer, clinical nurse specialist at 4KidHelp Center for Child & Adolescent Psychiatry in North Canton, Ohio. “When it comes to video games, there is some research that says kids playing video games can lead to aggressive behaviors.”
But assigning blame solely to video games is a mistake, Royer said.
“Based on my own research, some of the information is more conclusive that it’s family issues — and I hold to that,” she continued. “Nothing ever is just one thing. It’s always a combination of things.”
In-depth, evidence-based research about the effects of violent video games is rare. Still, the Dayton Daily News reported recently that a new Ohio State University study shows that playing violent video games can make people more aggressive over time, though it’s impossible to link such games to violent criminal behavior such as the Sandy Hook shootings.
Last month, President Barack Obama asked for $10 million to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies to research the causes of gun violence, specifying “research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.”
And Vice President Joe Biden said during a “PBS News Hour” “Fireside Hangout” on Google Plus that there is no hard data to prove that excessively violent video games can cause people to engage in behavior that is anti-social, including using guns.
“Let the CDC, let the National Institute of Health, let these people go out and look at the pathology that’s behind this — if there is a pathology related to gun violence. We shouldn’t be afraid of the facts,” Biden said.
Back in 2011, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not ban the sale or rental of super violent games — noting it violated young people’s First Amendment rights. and left it up to parents and the gaming industry to determine what children could purchase.
Isabella Sparhawk, 18, a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, agrees that video games aren’t the solitary reason for violent acts, though they do help to desensitize kids to violence.
Games “can contribute to a person’s tendency for violent acts because, to them, it is something normal to do that has no repercussions, because that is what they are used to in their video games,” Isabella said.
Some are even suggesting that violent video games be banned.
“I do believe that there should be stricter regulations on who has access to these games,” said Jeanette Lansigner, a Tallmadge High School freshman. “If there were (over time), we could see if there is a decrease in gun violence tragedy.”
Jenny Book, 20, of Barberton, Ohio, said a ban might be going too far — punishing those who would never take a leap from playing a video game to murder.
“I think people who do violent acts are sick and need to get help,” said the University of Mount Union sophomore.
Kristina Viningre, a 15-year-old Springfield High School student, notes that if video games do contribute to violence, it’s because parents are not teaching children the difference between what’s real and what’s fantasy.
Parents need to pay attention to what their children are doing and step up when something seems amiss, Royer said. And if a game is too violent, parents need to get rid of it — even if it angers the kids.