Last night, a few of us good friends and our wives and kids got together to watch a sporting event and drink beer and eat chicken wings. And, as we good friends are wont to do, we got to talking about things where our opinions were far clearer and better-developed than our understanding. Our strong opinions met and hugged in agreement over the suicidal stupidity of 2nd-Amendment activism. Cheers and chug-a-lug.
But when one of the more thoughtful of us (which really applies to any one of us except me) asked if we thought violent video games played a role in increased gun-violence, our unanimity party ground to a halt. The other thoughtful friend (not the asker, who is also thoughtful, in case you’re keeping score) shook his head hell no while I nodded like an oil derrick absofuckinglutely yes.
On the one hand, I accept the extreme unlikelihood that we’ll ever get direct proof of a causal link between violent video games and gun-violence. (If you think we might, please point me toward illumination, because I can’t even get past the impossibility of designing a revelatory study.) Has gun-violence increased as violent video games have become more common? Sure, of course, but so have life-expectancies and college graduation rates. The only way I can see to get past correlation is to approach the matter indirectly - IE, we have proof that even passive media consumption, such as viewing television ads, influences behavior, so it would be reasonable to believe that directly emulating a behavior via participatory media would influence real-world behavior at least as much. But, you know, that’s a pretty sloppy excuse for science. For one, there’s one hell of a chasm between being influenced to buy a Snickers and being influenced to kill a roomful of innocent people - never mind that video games, as a set, constitute one influence among many. Is it any more justifiable to blame gun-violence on violent video games than on the absence of prayer from classrooms, or, for that matter, on the dearth of handguns strapped to teachers’ belts?
Fortunately for us last night, our friendships don’t require constant agreement, even on thorny issues. How much more fortunate, though, that our wives and kids were exerting ambient peer pressure toward civility from the kitchen, that the beer kept flowing, and that there were no MAC-10’s under the couch cushions, at least I didn’t think there were.