My nickname is Lethe, I play games and I’m not a murderer.

I’d like to mention that last bit, in case you read newspapers, and decide to avoid me. 

I am extremely sick of the way several popular media are covering a number of crimes, committed by crazy teenagers. I say this as someone who works for ‘the media’, so I feel I have a right to speak here. 

Yesterday, a 17-year old boy in Germany went to his old school with a gun, and started shooting people. You can find the pure factual report on what happened here. Less facts, and a lot more speculation and random spectacular sewer journalism could be found in the media in my home country. Example: the national tv news reporter yesterday managed to find a classmate that said the murderer played violent video games, and immediately started using that as the core of his item. The short radio news item on the event went something like this: perpetrator was 17 years old, killed 15 people, played violent video games. In that order, and with almost no other information. 

The radio blurb later on in the day even started with: the perpetrator of the German school shooting played violent video games and carried a bb gun occasionally. Never mind what he did, never mind that he lived in a house in which fifteen (15!) guns were present. Let’s not look at his personality, let’s not check if he was teased, depressed, crazy. Let’s certainly not see if his girlfriend just left him. No, he played games, that must be it then. 

A headline in what is supposed to be a good paper went: “Perpetrator liked playing Counterstrike”. We’ve come to the point where it’s the default question. If some crazy guy does something terrible, journalists will go ‘Did he play any violent games?’. It’s the easy way out. 

Remember when we were blaming socialism? Movies? Avant garde theatre? Goethe? When people were playing metal records backwards, looking for subliminal messages? Here’s a whole new industry, an entertainment that a lot of people don’t understand. Something they have very little control over, and something they automatically fear, like they fear anything that’s new and that their kids like. 

What’s more, Germany has about the strictest laws on video games of any western country. Under its own laws, Counterstrike couldn’t even be played by someone of under 18. So who, exactly, are you going to blame here? What makes a crazy shooter tick? The very truth of the matter is: we don’t know. The moment we do know, we’ll be able to stop them in advance. But our society can’t handle ‘not knowing’. 

What’s interesting, is that something similar happened not too long ago, when another crazy teenager attacked a daycare center (story here). And I sat there, waiting for the ‘videogames are evil’ story. But it never came. Police didn’t find a single video game on the boy’s hard drive. Apparently, he managed to make the click to insane shooter all by himself, without Valve Entertainment telling him to.

Maybe that’s why media in my little country are jumping on the video game angle now. They’ve been denied it the last time. Now, finally, they can bring the ‘games are evil’ story. Last time they actually had to accept that the daycare center attack was the result of a huge flaw in Belgium’s social system (mistakes were made by several psychiatrists). This time, they can blame a dvd. 

And of course it’s easier to blame a big faceless industry for something terrible, rather than have our society look at where it went wrong. It’s also easier for the media to blame games than to accept that maybe every time a school shooting happens, they go in hype overdrive and show the next unstable kid who wants to go out with a bang exactly how much attention he’ll get.

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