After Sandy Hook And Virginia Tech, I’m Done With Violent Video Games

After Sandy Hook And Virginia Tech, I’m Done With Violent Video Games

I think I am done. I have been an avid gamer since I received my first system — the then-just-released NES — when I was six. From the moment I picked up the light gun and downed my first duck, I was hooked.

For nearly 30 years I have squashed anthropomorphic mushrooms, cleaved zombies and eviscerated the avatars of faceless gamers from around the world. I have no interest in any of that now. Not after Friday.

I was in college during Columbine. I remember sitting in my dorm room watching kids, just a few years younger than me, running for their lives as police descended upon their high school. I remember thinking how nightmarish it must have been for all involved — then turning on my N64 for a round of GoldenEye with my hall-mates.

Unfortunately, less than 10 years later, I would witness that nightmare first hand here at Virginia Tech. I was a journalist for a local newspaper, and being familiar with the campus as a recent alum, I was sent to cover the reports of a shooting on campus. Little did I know what I was walking into.

The horror of the day’s events, as well as my personal connection with the campus, wrecked me emotionally.

I thought I was going in to report on a double homicide. Something along the lines of a domestic dispute. Truth be told, I wouldn’t have even covered it had our primary reporter not been sick.

As I drove into the north end of campus (purely by happenstance, because I knew I could sneak my car into a lot and not be ticketed), I began to count the number of ambulances speeding away from campus — I stopped when I hit double digits. That is when I knew something horrible had happened.

Once on campus the silence — broken only by sirens and a pre-recorded safety alerts shouting from outdoor speakers — was haunting. First responders carrying victims. Students looking shell-shocked. A police officer nearly drew a gun on me because I couldn’t get my press pass out in time and I was (apparently) somewhere I shouldn’t have been.

What I remember most was how God-awful cold and windy it was that day. Wind so bad it felt like it could cut through you.

The horror of the day’s events, as well as my personal connection with the campus, wrecked me emotionally. Before April 16, games were an escape for me. As someone with social anxiety disorder (nothing horrible, just requires a little Paxil and some fresh air), I have always felt more comfortable by myself, so video games have always been something I have turned to for better or worse.

But after the shooting, there was no escape for me. My feelings about what happened, what I saw, heard, had to report, would not leave me. They became a part of me. A part of my history.

I fell in love with this hobby from the moment I set foot on campus in 1997, and now that memory is scarred.

I don’t want to explain to my son why daddy is shooting the guys on the television. Why that’s OK, but when it happens in real life, people cry.

My final class, ever, at Tech was on 2nd floor of Norris Hall, where the massacre took place. Not to sound over dramatic, but it is like a better part of my teens and 20s died that day.

After that day, I went through a period, six months or so, where I hardly played anything. Slowly, my world returned to “normal,” and eventually I was able to again enjoy the release my favourite hobby provided.

Unfortunately, there is no going back now. Not this time. Everything’s different.

First of all, I’m 33, and the time I have to game has been drastically cut in recent years. Suddenly, the thought of staying up for some online exploits in Call of Duty falls a distant second to getting some much-needed sleep.

But second, and most importantly, is my almost-two-year-old son. The children killed in Newtown were only a few years older than him. 20 little kids, no different than my own, are gone. All because some very disturbed individual was doing his own, real life perversion of what we do online every day.

What those parents must have been feeling as they slowly realised their child would never be coming home paralyses me with sadness. To think that could have been my son…

I don’t want to explain to my son why daddy is shooting the guys on the television. Why that’s OK, but when it happens in real life, people cry.

I have never played a violent game in front of him, but he already sees and hears and imitates more than I could ever realise (including, to my chagrin, some of my saltier language), so I don’t want to have that conversation. Not yet.

Black Ops II has already been traded in. Assassin’s Creed III will follow. Sniper Elite 2, which I have been itching to play since picking it up on Black Friday, interests me no longer.

No longer does a game provide an entertaining release. Instead it simply opens old wounds.

I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t want to disassociate myself, saying it’s just a game. I imagine that Cho disassociated himself from the horror he was committing just as we disassociate ourselves when we play “No Russian” on Call of Duty. Thankfully, most of us see the difference, but that doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable.

Please understand that I am not, in any way shape or form, saying that violent video games had anything to do with this or any other tragedy which has become all too familiar. I have long held the belief that adults should be able to choose their entertainment of choice, and that parents should be allowed to make informed decisions when buying games for their child. Information, not censorship, has always been my opinion.

My decision to give up violent gaming is based upon self-preservation. No longer does a game provide an entertaining release. Instead it simply opens old wounds.

When my son reaches his late teens, I pray that he is able to find simple entertainment in whatever the newest iteration there is of Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, and the like. Entertainment, and nothing more.

Jeremy Norman is a former newspaper editor currently working at his alma mater, Virginia Tech. Jeremy lives with his wife, son and two dogs in Virginia.


  • Just to reiterate, before anybody misinterprets the article:
    Please understand that I am not, in any way shape or form, saying that violent video games had anything to do with this or any other tragedy which has become all too familiar.

    • … I read that and yet I doubt it’s accuracy. This is all too close to a tirade on video gaming violence with multiple sections which feature implied links between video game violence and real violence as well as implications surrounding the idea of “acting out” what we play in videogames.

      Like, I fully understand where he is coming from especially considering his experience with the Virginia Tech disaster and I support his decision to reduce the amount of violent media his child is exposed to and yet… this article definitely has an undertone of “sick people play videogames and commit murders” even if it isn’t said outright and that simply isn’t a premise I can subscribe to.

      • I would also suggest “if we stop playing videogames… the demented serial killer wins”.

        I refuse to let the actions of a few nutjobs change the way I live my life. But that is a personal choice.

    • Nope. Jeremy contradicted himself when he wrote “All because some very disturbed individual was doing his own, real life perversion of what we do online every day.”
      What perversion was he referring to? Neither the authorities, nor Adam Lanza’s own family, have confirmed what his motives and state of mind were on that tragic day. To say anything about those motives at this stage of time is academic speculation at best – and irresponsible political pandering at the worst end of the scale.
      It was fine to say that “No longer does a game provide an entertaining release. Instead it simply opens old wounds.” as he was referring to his own personal opinion & reflection from the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. But to create a tenuous link between Adam’s motives to computer games was not appropriate.

  • Where do you draw the line when saying “violent video games”? In Super Mario Bros you stomp on goombas to kill them. Killing is an act of violence. Does this mean Super Mario Bros is a violent video game? What about games like DOOM and Halo where you’re only shooting aliens? Does the author see that differently to games like CoD and Battlefield where you’re shooting other people?
    Not trying to ridicule. I just don’t like the broad classification of games like that.

    • A lot of people only think of video games as being violent when there’s gore. You’re right, games like Mario are pretty violent, but because it’s all light hearted and there’s no blood it’s not considered violent by the majority of people.

      Personally, I think people are a bit backwards when it comes to that. Aren’t the games that are marketed at children and show violence as this fun happy thing with no consequences worse than the games marketed at adults that show violence as being gruesome and potentially deadly?

    • Games today rely heavily on killing as it has weight and consequence, gamers simply feel like they are not doing something important or saving the world if there is no one to kill… now that said, I know there are exceptions and they are good, but they are niche markets… Like heavy Rain or Metal Gear…

  • I respect the opinion expressed in this article, kudos. However, will you also be considering not watching violent movies, TV shows, and the 6pm news? If it’s due to the “simulation” of the medium being the problem, then I can understand that, and wish the author all the best. Who knows; if I witnessed something like that – perhaps I too might have decided to stop gaming.

  • I wonder though are you also going to stop watching violent movies? I only ask as for me personally games are not much different, it is just a form of entertainment media. I don’t feel the need to tell myself it is just a game just like I don’t sit there and need to say it is just a movie.
    Each to their own and your personal experiences do seem to have swayed you massively. I personally have never understood the seeing a game as more than it is, a game.
    Blows my mind really.

    • To be fair, I don’t think he’s trying to imply that anybody should stop at all. His own experiences have lead him to find these games too unbearable because of his own personal memories that they evoke.

  • First and foremost, I understand the context of this article and where the author is coming from, but I found one statement a little disappointing:

    “I don’t want to explain to my son why daddy is shooting the guys on the television. Why that’s OK, but when it happens in real life, people cry.”

    In my opinion, these conversations form a key part of parenting – differentiating the difference between fiction and reality. Having these conversations, not in the sense of “it’s not real, so it’s OK”, but more “Games are not real, but give us opportunity to explore and discuss things that should never happen in real life, but unfortunately sometimes do”

    I’m happy to be proven wrong on this point, but I thought it a little strange that a parent would avoid explaining these differences with their child.

    • Okay before I start this…I mean no disrepect to the writer of this article…I really don’t mean any disrespect nor do i wish to tell the author how to do his job as a parent…but this did catch my eye in this article


      I don’t want to explain to my son why daddy is shooting the guys on the television. Why that’s OK, but when it happens in real life, people cry.”


      Isn’t that apart of the problem though? Aren’t you covering your head in the sand by doing that? What happens if your child (and god forbid this doesn’t happen to your child, I don’t wish this upon your child) goes through a severe patch of bullying in their formative years? Have you seen the documentary from this year called Bully??? There’s a kid in that documentary who is so severely bullied to the point where when asked “how he feels about it” he replied with a bone chilling answer of “I don’t feel anything about it anymore”…the fact that a child can answer with that sentiment frightens the hell out of me and makes me wonder “why the hell are the parents letting this happen to their child???”

      Again I mean no offence to you the writer and I only bring this up because it is a subject matter that is deeply personal in some way…but I would think that burying your head in the sand is not the right way to go about it…what happens when your child watches a television program or god forbid his first slasher or horror movie…isn’t that apart of the parenting experience? To differentiate what is real and what isn’t and why we don’t do these things in real life?

      I would imagine that burying your head and not explaining it to your child is not a correct solution either

      But I’m going to stop, again I mean no offence to the writer but I don’t know if I can agree with that sentiment at all

      • No parent wants to explain what horrible things are going on in the world because you want to protect them from everything. Like Bap says, just because he doesn’t want too doesn’t mean he won’t.

      • as a someone who was bullied alot over the last 2 years its not the parents fault alot of the time the school cant do anything unless the bully has done something illegal the person who bullied me threatened to stab me with a knife he never brought it to school and all he got was a 2 week in school suspension after he came back he got right back to bulling me so i fought him and he got another suspension he kept bulling me and i got numb to it

  • To each there own. Me and my kids love a bit of Double dragon after tea now days.

    Though I make games in my spare time, as a hobby type thing and it is hard to think of and make a game without violence that is also fun. Its just so much easier to program A shoots B, B hits C, C stops.

  • I hate to say it, but this sounds a hell of a lot like post-traumatic stress disorder – particularly when the author says violent games are opening up old wounds. I sometimes go off violent games myself, but its usually because they kind of gross me out, rather than some deeply personal experience.

    • Spot on. First thing I thought when I started reading was PTSD. The impact it is starting to have on the authors life i.e. giving up things they enjoy are classic signs of depression.

      Time to seek help.

      • He is specifically talking about one thing he used to enjoy, and that thing is a direct digital emulation of the horrific thing he endured

        • @Red Candle. Sometimes it is and sometimes it’s an expression of angst. Rather than keeping everything inside them it manifests elsewhere (like this article).

          @markd. A direct digital emulation of the horrific thing he endured would be an actual game emulating the scenario that played out at Virginia Tech. Think JFK Reloaded as the perfect example of a game that those who experienced the JFK assassination would likely be unable to participate in because of the memories it brought back.

  • Fair enough, although I’m not really sure why it took Sandy Hook to reach this point if you’d already been around to see the likes of Virginia Tech, Columbine, that guy shooting all those people in the cinema during The Dark Knight Rises, Anders Breivik killing 70-odd people in Norway last year or any number of other similarly horrendous mass shootings. If this kind of event is going to put you off violent games, it’s kind of sad that it took this many of them to finally reach that point.

  • I’ve never been a big “guts and gore” player.. and games with poor taste make me not want to play them etc..

    Of course there are many people with many different sensibiltiies in the world and some events in life are life changing. Clearly the author has had a life changing event in the witnessing (3rd hand) of this real-world event and that’s just fine.. nothing wrong with that..

    Kotaku is not a personal blog though.. nor is this “Jeremy Norman” guy particularly famous or something that warrants an article about his personal feelings. If he was some industry giant, or celeb.. or whatever.. fine.. but this article just comes across as a personal blog entry on a website I don’t subscribe to.

    • Kotaku is a video game news and culture website. This article is very relevant to a current event which has been associated with video game culture and community. This is the sort of article I would prefer to read on Kotaku as opposed to reposts from Reddit etc.

  • “COD, COD, COD, Ass Creed, COD, COD , COD ,COD”

    Maybe you should play good games? I’d wanna quit if I played nothing but shit too.

  • I can see where your coming from, from your personal experience with mass murder and also being a father. I think if it makes you feel more comfortable as a parent and a human then cool, it’s not as if there aren’t a thousand excellent non-violent games out there. Just don’t expect your child to grow up in cotton wool, he will be slaying virtual opponents before he reads his first novel I dare say.

  • interesting article.

    as a maker of violent video games. I feel some responsibility to acknowledge that media plays a part. my colleagues vehemently deny any connection. I feel that combative red vs blue.attitude is why nothing is ever solved.

    • It’s good to feel a social responsibility, and understand that this is not a simple, one or the other relationship. I think the difficulty comes from people who – whenever they are touched by tragedy – need a cause. Something or someone to take the blame, and be answerable for an event that is otherwise unfathomable. So any admission of a role – even a non-causal one – opens you up to being held responsible. As a result, it’s safer to deny any connection in a complex and horrific event. It’s much easier to lie about yourself, than respond to lies about you.

  • I’m of the same opinion as a couple of others above me. I get this article is for a games website but is here also stopping enjoying other violent media.

    Watching Rambo is easily as violent as any game, and watching dexter has more gore than a regular game, So where is the line?

    Violence is part of human nature clearly and you can’t deny these base parts of the whole. So why isn’t it ok to enjoy a bit of animated or simulated violence every now and then?

  • Fair enough – that seems like a not unreasonable decision, considering what you’ve experienced. Not sure why you’d feel compelled to write and submit an article on your decision for a gaming news site, though. There must be a message or a purpose you’re trying to convey to other gamers, but I’m sorry, I don’t understand what it is.

  • An understandable response, I suppose. I guess in part it’s because even if there is no actual causal link between games and this kind of violence, ultimately it can be hard to have people talking about it over and over and over.

  • i think it depends on the personal experience of the individual playing. Games like COD are mindless entertainment for the majority, but I know people who know family/friends who are in the military at the moment, and the games hit a little too close to home. GTA 4 for me is a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously (as its more taking the piss out of high budget hollywood movies anyway) but i can see how such a game can bother people who have been in situations witnessing murder, drive by shootings, horrific traffic collisions etc.
    If you don’t feel comfortable with something, it’s the individuals choice to turn away.
    I personally think games cross the line when you start decapitating and cutting off enemy limbs (MG Rising, Killer Instinct etc.)

  • In my opinion, articles like this are important as they (might) make us all stop and consider what it is we’re doing in this beloved hobby of ours. No I’m not going to trade in Black Ops 2, or Assassin’s Creed 3, but it’s worth taking a few moments to put things into perspective. What I don’t understand, is why the Americans don’t just ban guns already. 20 little kids getting shot is not ok. The freedom argument doesn’t stand when all this bad sh!t keeps happening over and over. Then again, maybe I’m just an ignorant Australian 🙂

    • see this is what i dont agree on, this articles which again are designed for us to ‘stop and think’ as you mentioned, but thats the entire point of the articles that keep on being published on here from one shot authors who want you to think “Its more than a game” and make you think that maybe that the people who went on a murdering rampage thought “maybe this just a game” and to preach how he doesnt want to disassociate himself anymore.
      Games are a source of entertainment and articles like this written in a knee jerk reaction is their idea of doing something than rather perhaps advocating gun control instead its “i dont wanna play violent video games anymore because i wanna be a good dad…so my kids cant play any games either”

      For every article thats designed to make you “stop and think” You have to take the articles with a grain of salt because really its just an author trying to validate his reasons for doing X.

      After the last few articles on “diablo 3 ruined my marriage” and “i dont advertise” that im a gamer from oneshot authors. I wonder if this place just will throw in any article that has the word ‘game’ in it.

      • Yes. I agree with you, because clearly anyone who disagrees with you should not say anything. Also, sorry to hear that your “pro gaming website” isn’t going the way you wanted it to. Maybe you should make your own.

      • Yeah I fully get where you’re coming from, and I respect your opinion, but this article did make me actually think. If Kotaku don’t publish similar ‘game’ articles every day, I’m happy for something like this from time to time. If it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, I don’t have to read it.

  • Complete Nonsense! And ties in well with the new wave of sensationalism started by FOX News. Well done. Right on queue. Like clockwork, really. An agenda disguised as an story – nothing more. And nothing new.

  • Sorry you’ve had so many rude responses, Jeremy. I’ve had the occasional phase like this where virtual murder absent consequence is distressing. You can get back into it if you decide to – I have. Although I’ve developed a permanent distaste for “meat grinder” games like CoD.

      • wow. so inflammatory.

        Can you say something which is a real opinion without just railing on other posters, the author, kotaku as a whole or anything you come into contact with?

        Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut up.

        • Youre right. Sometimes the best thing ANYBODY can do is Shut up.

          However the author here has written an article with an intention to get you stop and think while advocating that the idea of playing violent video games because his son is interested in them and he doesnt want to have a discussion with him about what video games are and how they arent reality so instead he wants to put his head in the sand and ignore. Kotaku has published this article because this website recently posts anything without reading some of these articles that are actually NEGATIVE to games and gamers alike and some of the posters here will go “here here, im above playing some types of video games because they dont show off the consequences of taking a human life” When Nintendo hasnt addressed this in decades with mario jumping on goombas since some of you were still in your parents underwear, but because you put a human face on its all “Think of the childrens”.

          Maybe these posts are ‘inflammatory’ as you suggest. But really im just calling attention to alot of the hypocrisy, elitism of some video games and some horrible article selections from THIS website over the last few months and while i only signed up to this site recently, ive been on here quite a while and ive NEVER noticed these articles before.
          If i wanted to be preached to about the psychological aspect of video gaming from scared people, i would turn on fox news or whatever the Australian equivalent is.

          • Or you could… you know… read the first paragraph and then skip to the next article.

            Who is cracking the whip on you to read these things?

          • Do I engage or ignore?

            Having a vocabulary isn’t what makes someone pretentious. For example, criticizing a news site because you think the articles they post reflect negatively on a group you identify with is a fair definition of pretentious.

            If you don’t like the articles, don’t read them. If you don’t like the site, don’t visit it. It’s not customized to your tastes. If you disagree with someone, express it using something other than insults and including the occasional punctuation mark.

  • Hopefully the author can spend some of his new found spare time on lobbying his government on the banning of sale and ownership of assault weapons. That would do far more to make America a better place for his children than keeping them away from video games while young.

  • All I can say is that every person reacts to extreme happenings in a different way. Once I was out one night with some friends and some drunk guy started talking to me when all of a sudden another drunk guy king-hit him from behind. A drunken fight ensued between the two guys (fortunately they didn’t involve us) that ended with the sickening sound of one guy repeatedly bashing the other guy’s blooded head against the footpath even as nearby police broke up the fight. Over time things went back to normal.

    For the longest time I had trouble watching any TV show or movie that had fist fighting without feeling truly disturbed. But I could play Street Fighter without a problem.

    When I was 12 I watched my father squirt blood from a neck artery over our bathroom before he was taken to hospital where he died the next day. I still have trouble looking at blood, when I donate blood I cannot even glance at the tube. I have a lot of trouble watching violent movies and shaving injuries really freak me out. But for some reason I love games like Gear of War and Mortal Kombat.

    My point is, please respect the author. When we experience real life traumatic situations they can have a dramatic affect on our ability to enjoy particular media. Sometimes the effects can be temporary and sometimes they can be permanent.

  • I was playing something violent the other day; Halo or Borderlands. Something… and all I could think was, “Did this seriously contribute to 20 little boys and girls and their teachers having their lives cut short?”

    Gamers tend to shrug off any “studies” that say our hobby is involved in horrible acts of violence, but there may be some truth to it. Some poor bastard might just crack and it’ll tip him over the edge.

    Your reaction is perfectly normal to have. You have kids, you’ve reported on this kind of thing before and it hit pretty close to home with the Tech shooting. I only ask that you don’t blame games and remember that they can be a comfort in a time when we need it.

  • Not wanting to talk to your kids and ensure they know the difference between fantasy and reality is in essence sticking your head in the sand and pretending that videogames aren’t at least a part of most children’s entertainment.

  • I personally think it’s interesting, and somewhat unnerving, that a large portion of society finds gratification in the simulation of killing people. What it doesn’t simulate is death, which is about loss, games are about gain – and one gains from killing. I mean is this what we’re striving for, if war didn’t exist would we still want to simulate it? And is there any chance of war being a thing of the past with such heavy concentration of it in the gaming / entertainment world, seriously these are the big questions. If we think that some of these games DON’T have any effect on our society at large, then we are fools imho. I operate in much the same way as the author, and commend him on the article, well done.

  • Whilst I still stand against any push to ban violent video games I do agree that violent videogames should not be in the hands of children.

    We have a rating system for a reason, it allows parents to decide what it suitable for their kids to play whilst at the same time allows adult gamers the freedom to play whatever they want in a mature setting.

    I wanna first off praise the 3 major console makers for introducing the parental lock system on their console which is just what adult gamers who have kids need, but what we really need is ID restricted purchases where if you purchase a game rated M in the US, MA in Australia, or Pegi 18 in Europe the customer has to show photo ID to prove they are of legal age.

    Sure if you don’t like violent videogame … don’t buy violent videogames

    Also this would also help curve the extensive amount of 12 year olds on COD shouting homophobic insults down their headsets

  • The outcry over video games started [this time] when the shooter wasn’t correctly identified. His BROTHER’S Facebook account showed he liked shoot-em-up video games. A lot of misplaced enthusiastic bashing of videogames ensued.
    I recently had some nasty food poisoning. Lately, I’ve found I can’t watch cooking shows. If my 3yo niece were to inncently copy her mother, and offer me tea (or dinner) consisting of mud, how should I react?
    Probably the same way my father did when I played shoot-up games as a kid: join in, and accept that it was a game. Not poison my playing with his recollections of reality in the Armed Services.

  • Psycho’s have been slaying the masses for centuries so I truly doubt that media should be a main target towards the violence in schools. Not saying that it may not be a part (very minimal if anything) of whats going on but its just that it’s always happened. Some will then blame it on gun control, drugs, etc. In conclusion when it all boils down to it people are just frigin’ crazy and your article was partially invalid. And like someone said earlier in the comments, “Dont let the door hit you on the way out”. If your gonna put straight blame on something like that then I wouldn’t wanna play with you anyways. 😉

  • I don’t agree with the author. I think that the issue isn’t actually games, media or guns.
    I think that the problem is that America’s mental health system isn’t very good. I think that because nobody is picking up on these issues before the people reach breaking point, these events occur. The games aren’t making the people do these things, the illness is. They’re just using media, family and other outside influences to choose how they do it.
    Even if you banned all the violent video games, these events would still occur.
    Considering what I’ve seen of the history of mental health in America, I’m not surprised this still happens.

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