Massacres have become commonplace in our society, so much so that we don’t even call them “massacres” anymore. Better mental health care, stricter background checks for gun owners, assault weapons bans and arming teachers have all been thrown out as the solution to the problem. But what if the real problem is far more widespread than high-capacity magazines and AR15s, and is actually in 91 percent of homes with kids — video games? Specifically, first-person shooter video games.

Gun control: Seems like it’s been all over the news lately. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, a new wave of gun-control legislation was introduced, including the Manchin-Toomey Amendment to Senate Bill 649, which was voted down on April 17, 2013. The majority of new laws proposed look to expand background checks for gun purchasers, require more stringent gun registration laws and reinstate the semi-automatic weapons ban (the "assault rifle" ban). Those on the left say stricter legislation will reduce access to guns and make people safer. Those on the right say the stricter laws won’t be adhered to by criminals and will only restrict those already obeying the law. But few up on Capitol Hill are talking about why these massacres are occurring to begin with, and more important, why so many are being perpetrated by kids.

It isn’t the guns

Guns were not heavily regulated, and yet people didn’t go on these massive murder sprees.

Americans have had guns, and their children ready access to guns, since the birth of our country. Up until the passing of the Sullivan Act in New York in 1911, there were no gun laws at all. Gun control didn’t become a national issue until the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and it was just five years after his death that the 1968 Gun Control Act was passed — the first comprehensive federal gun-control legislation on the books. Prior, were there shootings like we see today, the mass killings that have sadly become so commonplace? No. Guns were not heavily regulated, and yet people didn’t go on these massive murder sprees. So what changed in the 1990s to make mass killing so familiar? For one thing, the video game industry introduced home first-person shooter (FPS) video games.

The games teach kids to kill

The early FPS video games were created in the late 1970s to early 1980s, with the games as we recognize them now coming around in the early 1990s. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, one of the world's foremost experts in the field of human aggression and the roots of violence and violent crime, routinely refers to FPS video games as "murder simulators." He says these games "act like police and military simulators, providing conditioned responses, killing skills and desensitization." They train the users in militaristic tactics and teach them to view the taking of human lives as just racking up points. What's worse, these games are routinely played by children, who according to Grossman don’t have the "discipline of military and police training" to help process these acquired skills.

They train the users in militaristic tactics and teach them to view the taking of human lives as just racking up points. What’s worse, these games are routinely played by children who don’t have the 'discipline of military and police training' to help process these acquired skills.

Military and police use the games to teach cops and soldiers, with the U. S. Army even commissioning the creation of "America’s Army" — a free online FSP game aimed at getting kids excited about becoming a soldier. I can tell you first hand, before we had kids, my husband would come home after work, meet up with his friends online and play FPS games for hours. My husband playfully called it training; he's a soldier, law enforcement officer and is on the police agency's S.W.A.T. team. The "friends" he was playing with online? S.W.A.T. members as well. He used to joke they should put in for overtime pay because playing FPS games was such great training, helping them all to sharpen their skills.

The gaming connection is too great to ignore

But the correlation between the shooters and FPS games is much deeper than them enjoying playing the games — they learned from them as well.

A look at just a few of the more memorable mass killings shows interesting FPS gaming connections. The 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, shooter was an ardent Call of Duty player. The 2012 Aurora, Colorado, and Norwegian shooters were both avid World of Warcraft gamers. The 2011 Tucson, Arizona, shooter played Earth Empires routinely. The 2007 Columbine, Colorado, shooters were devoted Doom players. The 2007 Virginia Tech, Virginia, shooter was a devoted Counter-Strike gamer. But the correlation between the shooters and FPS games is much deeper than them enjoying playing the games — they learned from them as well. A chilling detail from the Sandy Hook shooting shows us that fact clearly: The shooter had with him 10 30-round magazines for his rifle. As he went from room to room killing, he would drop his magazine and replace it with a new one, regardless of whether the magazine was empty. That is either police/military training or gamer training because instinct would have you shoot until your magazine ran dry.

In "gamer code," a kill = a point

Even his suicide was believed to be pre-planned, following the 'gamer code' that if someone else kills you (i.e., the police), they get your 'points.'

Even beyond his actions at the scene is a piece of shocking evidence recovered from the Newtown shooter's home. According to sources of a March 2012 New York Daily News article, the shooter had an extensive 7-foot-long spreadsheet documenting virtually every U.S. mass killing in recent years. Each incident was listed according to its body count, and the spreadsheet is believed to be a "score sheet," with the shooter's intent to get his name in the top spot. Even his suicide was believed to be pre-planned, following the "gamer code" that if someone else kills you (i.e., the police), they get your "points."

We need to talk

Will every child who plays these games grow up to be a killer? Clearly not. But we cannot continue to discount the connection these games (and the gamers) have to the horrifying trend we see today. Parents must pay better attention to what these FPS games are teaching and depicting, and use a little more discretion in allowing their tweens and teens to play games rated M for mature. At a minimum, we need to have a national conversation about why these massacres keep happening beyond the simple "because there are too many guns" rhetoric some seem happy to keep repeating.

Author's Note^It is with great intention that this article refers to the brutal murders by location only. This is to avoid any possible glorification of the killers themselves.

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Topics: gun control