In Defense of Video Game Violence

A personal account of the impact of gaming, gun ownership, and growing up.


Battlefield 3

I have played "violent" video games my entire life. I also own a gun, but I don't consider myself one of those "gun owners" the media likes to talk about. Growing up I always had a natural affinity for both. At home I would play on my dad's old-school Amiga computer, and when I wasn't indoors, I was outdoors playing with plastic guns. When I first went to summer camp, I came back with a ton of marksmanship ribbons, which shocked my firearm-averse parents.

The thing is, I never saw this link between the two that the media keeps talking about. Anyone who has both played video games and fired weapons knows that one doesn't translate to the other. Violent video games that focus heavily on multiplayer are a sport without permanent consequence. They require calculated, fast thinking and are intensely satisfying and exhilarating. They also take place in a safe environment. Firing a real weapon at the range requires the opposite skills; you have to be very calm and control your breathing in order to hit your mark. When the weapon goes off, you feel the metal leave the barrel and know something just went downrange that doesn't have an undo button. There is a level of healthy fear involved with firearms, some people call it respect, but a careless moment can end in tragedy. Regardless, it is nothing like sitting at a computer desk with a mouse and keyboard, or on your couch with a controller. You know whatever you hit can't congratulate you on a good play and respawn.

That's not to say that I've ever killed anything with a weapon, because I haven't. At the same time, I've never killed a living thing in a video game. I've shot plenty of digital things: people, animals, tanks, mechs, TIE fighters, but there was never any harm done. No physical thing was injured. The stuff that inhabits digital worlds doesn't have to follow the rules of Newtonian physics, entropy, or even time. Anything I've "killed" in a video game comes back to life either by the rules of the game or on demand when I reload a level.

I could have been one of those kids who caused harm at school if I had been born into a different life with fewer positive influences. I hated school with a passion. Don't get me wrong. I love learning, but having to wake up at the crack of dawn and have teachers pour gallons of useless knowledge down my throat until I wanted to vomit, only to be told that I wasn't going to be shit in life if I didn't do what they said, struck me as the opposite of learning. School, as I saw it, was the process of bludgeoning kids into submission with information, and I was often so bored, so exhausted, and so stressed that I felt physically ill at recess. As a matter of fact, I think the only thing that made me feel anything approaching violent in life was the process of school itself, but I had outlets. I had a good, supportive family, as well as strong morals and physical activities. I also had violent video games.

Video games were always a calming influence and a great antidote for the stresses of school. Video games made me a satisfied person. It's not that I was acting out some violent fantasy; this is a media falsehood. For me, it has nothing to do with actual violence. It's the mechanics, the mastery, and the progress that are satisfying.There's also a level of calm you get akin to leaving it all out on the field in physical sports. Is there blood spray? Yes. Is it real blood? No. Would a non-violent game have helped me as much? Probably not.

When playing violent games, I feel aggression as some of these studies have concluded, but aggression is a byproduct of all competitive sports and endeavors. Aggression is commonly harnessed for soccer, football, and tennis. What researchers and those who would condemn games are likely looking for is anger. Anger is what causes violence and a violent videogame has never made me feel anger. Often they have relieved those types of feelings rather than encouraged them.

My anger over school came to a head in college when I reached a breaking point somewhere in my sophomore year. It was an upwelling of over a decade of hating my job as a student. I was in an Asian studies class with a teacher who embodied everything I hated about bad teachers. He was giving us a test that involved pure and pointless memorization and regurgitation, and I decided to write him some notes, on the exam, about how useless the exam was. The teacher made some nasty comment under his breath, and our less-than-friendly exchange led to an office visit a few days later where I told him to F-off.

I flunked myself out of that class in order to take back control of my life from academics. I needed to prove to myself that a grade had no real power over me. It was an immensely cathartic experience. Sure, I still felt like slashing the teacher's car tires for a few days, but I concluded, as any rational person would, that this was not the moral or correct course of action. Once the anger faded, I felt like a changed person, and most of my anger over our education system had drained away.

The following year, at that same school, a teacher was shot and killed by an angry student. That event has always made me stop and think: What is the difference between a guy like me, who was angry and had access to firearms, but used some unkind words and non-violent actions, versus someone who decides to shoot up a school? It comes down to a lot of factors, but a supportive family, activities outside of the school bubble, and my time blowing off steam and relaxing with video games all played a part in diffusing that moment. When I hear Senators talking about violent video games and the media making false correlations between violent video games, firearms, and actual violence, I want to stop these people from making a huge mistake and eliminating one of the most calming factors of my life.

We live in a time where budgets cuts are displacing, or outright eliminating, healthy outlets for kids--like physical education as well as art and music classes. We are inviting disaster by placing higher expectations on children while simultaneously stripping away sources of happiness and fulfillment in their lives. I survived school through finding positive outlets to cope with real world stress. I'm now a father and have a job that I love. There isn't a magic bullet that's going to stop teen violence; it's something that hopefully my children will never have to face, but as a nation we can build a support system that focuses on children's overall health.

I am a person who plays violent video games and I own a gun. I can also tell you with certainty that I will never harm a human being who isn't kicking in my front door. Video games are a constant source of wonder and amazement in my life, and I hope that politicians and the media can do some honest soul-searching and admit that going after my passion is not the solution to violence in America. In fact, it's likely quite the opposite.

Aaron Sampson on Google+

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