Earlier today I read something rather unsettling that came from Elisabeth Hasselbeck
during an airing of “Fox and Friends” on the Fox News network. It came following the recent shooting at a U.S. Navy
shipyard in Washington D.C., and while that's a tragedy by any standards, Hasselbeck's remarks certainly weren't a help. During the airing, Hasselbeck broached the idea of what amounts to a registry for gamers that would track time spent and automatically shut down play after a certain point.
More specifically, Hasselbeck was quoted as saying: “What about frequency testing? How often has this game been played? And I'm not one to say get in there and monitor everything, but if this is indeed a strong link to mass killings, then why aren't we looking at frequency of purchases per person and how often they're playing. Maybe they timeout after a certain hour.”
Hasselbeck brought this point up following the revelation that the alleged perpetrator of the U.S. Navy shipyard shootings, Aaron Alexis, was said to have “an obsession with video games.” A friend of Alexis' noted that Alexis' infatuation with games was so strong that he would “be playing these video games for so long that we'd have to give him dinner. We'd feed him while he continues to stay on them.”
Addressing Hasselbeck's points in order, meanwhile, notes something like this. First, “if this is indeed a strong link to mass killings” couldn't be much wronger than it is. Hasselbeck should surely be aware that there are millions of copies of these games sold annually, and very, very few mass shootings. Thus, trying to draw any kind of causal link between violent video games and mass shootings is about on par with trying to draw a causal link between drinking water and mass shootings. After all, surely Aaron Alexis had an “obsession” with drinking water, too—he likely did it every day—but this is no more the fault of the water than the games were.
Second, the level of intrusiveness involved with a violent video game
registry is the kind of Orwellian nightmare that would make even Napoleon sick to his stomach, and Napoleon was a pig that got a taste for whiskey, so you know he had to have a strong stomach.
But at its roots, Hasselbeck was likely right on one point, noting that some people with fragile mental states are more susceptible to a negative reaction from playing violent video games. To say that there isn't some kind of damage done is hard to get around. Yet at the same time, there are simply so many thousands of gamers out there who routinely enjoy violent video games and yet are no more likely to embark on shooting sprees than they are to fly around their living rooms by frantically flapping their arms. The anecdotal evidence is fairly pronounced; many mass shooters of recent history, from Harris and Klebold of Columbine infamy to Norwegian shooter Anders Breivik, have been enthusiasts of violent video games. But to suggest that this is the problem, rather than anything more than a contributing factor that goes along with unchecked mental illness or the like is like the old wives' tale of suggesting that one can catch a cold from going into the cold with wet hair, or the old theory that mice are generated spontaneously from rice grains buried under old rags. Thankfully, reason does prevail in the course of all this nonsense, and even the hosts admit there are plenty of gamers for whom killing actual people virtually never occurs--which admittedly shoots their own argument in the foot a few times, so to speak--but why even suggest it in the first place?
The issue here is not one of gun control, or games control, but rather of mental illness control. What needs to be done in response is to improve study of mental illness and access to treatments for same, not trying to take away or otherwise restrict access to things that are perfectly safe and innocuous in the hands of the mentally healthy. The symptoms must not be treated, but rather the underlying disease. The sooner we can take this approach, and the broader the reach of those who take it, the sooner we can prevent incidents like this and make the world safer for gamers, gun owners, and those who gamers and gun owners see on a daily basis.