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Don’t blame shooting on video games: expert

by Nicholas Di Giovanni September 18, 2018
Don’t blame shooting on video games: expert

Concordia Esports club says video game addiction is a big problem

On Aug. 26, David Katz walked into a restaurant in Jacksonville, FL, where a Madden NFL 19 tournament was taking place, and shot and killed three people, including himself.

Immediately after the incident, media outlets searched for the motive behind the shooting. USA Today reported that one of the victims killed, Eli Clayton, who went by the gamer name “Trueboy,” had beat Katz at the tournament earlier that day. CNN found documents about Katz’s parents’ divorce. They stated that the 24-year-old had mental health issues, and “was in treatment for psychiatric issues at least as early as the age of 12.”

Global News also suggested possible video game addiction that Katz could have had as a teenager. “Katz played video games obsessively as a young adolescent, often refusing to go to school or bathe,” the article stated.

Multiple media outlets were trying to blame the shooting on Katz’s obsession with video games and mental health issues. However, video game experts don’t blame either for the incident. Mia Consalvo is a professor in the communications department at Concordia, and the Canada Research Chair in Game Studies and Design. She said the vast majority of people with mental illnesses aren’t dangerous, and only a small minority are dangerous to other people.

It’s a common stereotype that people with mental illness will snap, lose control, or that they are a danger to others,” Consalvo said. “In terms of the shooting in Jacksonville, it seems more indicative of the mass shootings in the United States now in general, rather than something to do with a video game.”

In 2015, over 200 academics signed an open letter criticising a study in the American Psychology Association, linking video games and violent behaviour. Dr. Mark Coulson is an associate professor of psychology at Middlesex University in London, and signed the letter.

“I fully acknowledge that exposure to repeated violence may have short-term effects—you would be a fool to deny that—but the long-term consequences of crime and actual violent behaviour, there is just no evidence linking violent video games with that,” Coulson told the BBC in 2015.  

“If you play three hours of Call of Duty you might feel a little bit pumped, but you are not going to go out and mug someone.”

In fact, Consalvo has done research on people who play sports video games, such as Madden NFL, which was played during the Jacksonville shooting. She said sports video games actually produce positive feelings for the user.

“[People who play sports video games] had really strong and positive memories of playing games with members of their family, or friends. Sometimes those memories would go back years, and sometimes even decades for them,” Consalvo said about her findings. “It would have a really strong and positive influence in their life.”

The media also touched on Katz’s video game addiction as a possible reason for the shooting. The World Health Organization recognized “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition in June 2018, and the Concordia Esports Association (CESA) thinks it’s a major problem, especially for first-year university students.

“It’s more of a problem in secluded communities,” said co-president of CESA, Dimitri Kontogiannos. “What happens a lot is students come from abroad and first-year students live in residence. So it’s usually what they only do, they play by themselves.”

Consalvo disagrees, and believes there’s no agreed-upon definition for video game addiction just yet.

“There’s a lot of controversy, and there are a lot of arguments within the scientific community whether video game addiction is actually a thing,” Consalvo said. “Before anybody could even say if there is a problem and how widespread it is, they need to agree on a definition, and that still hasn’t been done yet.”

Guillaume Bélisle is the League of Legends team manager for CESA. This summer, he ran a video-game design camp for kids in the West Island. He said one time, while they were singing happy birthday to one of the campers, the birthday boy was playing Fortnite on his phone, and didn’t look up once.

“One thing I noticed is that the parents were not doing anything about it,” Bélisle said. “It’s not just that the kid is the victim. The parents give them whatever they want, and the kid takes whatever they want.”

Bélisle has also seen severe cases of video game addiction with students at Concordia. He said he had to cut a player from his team because he was playing video games for 16 to 18 hours a day and failing classes.

“He would literally show up to class with a laptop and play, then go home and play,” he said. “That was a very extreme case, and we tried helping him. But if he doesn’t want to help himself, there’s not much you can do about it.”

Kontogiannos, Bélisle, and Consalvo all agree that video games can be used as a social connection for some people. CESA organizes events for gamers to meet at a pub and play a game, have drinks, and socialize. “Socializing around a passion really breaks the player out of having the one focus of having the need to play,” Kontogiannos said. “Once you get isolated and in the mode to just play, it’s even bad for your mentality.”

Consalvo’s current research is about gamers who live stream their gameplay on Twitch. She said people do that because they enjoy the social aspect of video games, and interacting with their viewers.

“We seem to have this image of people who play video games as loners who are socially inept, and for the most part, I find people who just want to be social, and share that activity with other people,” she said.

As for the Jacksonville shooting, Katz’s motive remains under investigation, according to CNN.

Graphic by @spooky_soda

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