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.


Comments

    Fine personal decision, but really.. did we need an article about it? Grandstanding much?

    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.
    Me?
    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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