No Cause For Murder
While we're mostly preoccupied with either supporting or refuting claims that video games create real-life violence, the underlying fear is rarely addressed by either the gaming media or politicians. The argument that games cause terrible acts of homicide implies that movies, music, or even other people can have the same power over anyone. Because "anyone" includes the person making the argument, they lash out at the most obvious examples of this in an attempt to project it outside themselves. Getting mired in the minutia of cause and effect keeps us in a constant cycle of fear and blame. It's an utter waste of time.
If playing video games or watching violent movies makes Billy a killer, then perhaps stopping your channel flipping to catch some young coeds dancing on the beach makes you a pervert. Maybe it starts there. The sight of those young women needles into your mind and turns you to the internet. Adult websites drive you further down the rabbit hole, until you're skulking in parks and stalking underage girls online. If you staunchly believe that media alone can flip that switch from normal to insane, you're halfway there already.
We can take it even further. If a woman is startled by the noise of a car accident a block away and has a heart attack, did it cause her to die? If we debate that this is true and ignore the fact that she overate and smoked for forty years prior to that moment, we'll never get anywhere.
How about a homeless man asking for change, does he "cause" you to duck your head and shuffle by, making you to feel like a less than caring person? Of course not. His asking has nothing to do with your reaction. What arises in your mind and drives your actions begins and ends with you. To point the finger and say that a desperate man caused you to feel like a jerk is no different than a teenager pointing at a game and saying it caused him to steal cars.
Life can't be framed up like a game of billiards. There is no easy "eight ball, corner pocket" shot to be made when trying to draw a line between cause and action. If we could exact the same control over the world that we think we have over a game of pool, we might take a seed into our basement, stare at it really hard and grow a flower in the cement. Instead, the best anyone can do is create conditions that support an outcome. We can't force a seed into flowering, but we can plant it in good soil, make sure it gets lots of sun and pour a little water on it once in a while. Whether or not it grows isn't up to us.
The reason science and psychiatry will never pin down the "cause" of killing is because there is no single force on this earth that has that power. There is always a choice. While it seems like sometimes the whole world is pushing a kid toward a deadly decision, no one can pull the trigger for him.
A parent who abuses his children exerts a definite influence over the direction of their lives, but he cannot make them into monsters. That experience may create a world view that fosters mistrust, anger or violence in kind. But it can also influence a different path, a desire to be caring and forgiving in light of what happened growing up and seeing where violence leads. Every child in that situation will come out differently; there is no ultimate cause and effect inherent to an abusive upbringing. There are probable outcomes we can glean based on prior occurrences, but not every kid is guaranteed to repeat the sins of the father.
Believing that we can cause someone to be good or bad, or that we can simply cut out offending materials and make a problem go away is so fundamentally wrong that no lasting good will ever come of it. To think otherwise is to make ourselves out to be small gods, bending reality to our will -- like butterflies, convinced of their role as hurricane engines.
Lasting, positive change will only come when we stop reaching for causes and start creating conditions that will support kids and teenagers who need it. We can't make anyone put the pin back in the grenade, but by supporting active, caring people who want to help, we might be able to influence some of those fateful decisions before it gets that far.