Since the December 14 massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook
Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 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? 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
But assigning blame solely to video games is a mistake, Royer
"Based on my own research ... some of the information is more
conclusive that it's family issues - and I hold to that," she
"Nothing ever is just one thing. It's always a combination of
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 like the Sandy Hook
Elementary School shootings.
Last month, President Barack Obama asked for $US10 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
"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.
Saying all of that though, 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.
To learn what local young people think about the influence of
violent video games on such crimes, we asked the Beacon
Journal's young readers group, our go-to source when it comes
to issues involving children and adolescents.
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
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.
One of the most violent games is "Call of Duty," a wartime
role-playing game that Lanza reportedly played in the
basement of his mother's home. Some are even suggesting that
games such as this one 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.
But finding help can be a problem.
"There's a lack of providers (therapists, psychiatrists),"
Royer said. "For instance, 4 KidHelp is the only true child
and adolescent psychiatry practice in Stark County. And when
we go to Dover once a week to see clients, we are the only
provider in a five-county area" south of Stark County.
"We need more providers and a safe place for the mentally
ill," she said. "Places like halfway houses or group-type
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 their 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.
But it has gotten to the point, she added, that some parents
are fearful of their child's reactions.
"I talk to a lot of parents and they are afraid to discipline
their kids ..." she said. "I have never seen so many kids who
are disrespectful, and mouthy, and nasty.
"Often, my job ends up being a cheerleader and support,
saying ‘Go ahead and be a parent. Discipline your child. Quit
being afraid of your kids.'"