By now it's likely that you've heard the unfortunate news about Monday's mass murder at the Washington Navy Yard. You've probably seen images of the man responsible, Aaron Alexis, and collected bits and pieces of information as it was made available. You may know that 13 people, including the gunman, have died. Maybe you've also learned that several people were injured as well, and watched their names scroll by on your television as the political pundits of the evening emotionlessly expressed their "heartfelt" sympathy and outrage. Perhaps you've also been told that Alexis was an avid, almost obsessive player of violent video games, which may have caused him to commit this mass murder.
It is an undeniable fact that Alexis is a killer, guilty of murdering 12 innocent people and injuring several others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it would be an insult to them to say anything otherwise. To suggest, however, that a video game or other form of entertainment is ultimately responsible for his heinous act is also an insult, both to innocent Americans and as an irresponsible denial of the ramifications of our overzealous gun culture.
Video games, music, films, and indeed most forms of media have been the target of censorship for probably as long as these methods of sharing stories have existed. Looking back over the lifetime of most millennials, you'll see the introduction of restrictions upon music with explicit lyrics and content ratings for television shows and video games. If you go back to the first half of the 20th century, rating systems for films as well.
Many of these were created with the goal of preventing content deemed unsatisfactory from influencing the attitudes, opinions, and behaviors of American society. For example, the parental advisory label which can be found on many albums today is a reaction to content from artists such as Prince and Ice-T, which often featured vivid depictions of violence and sexuality. At the time, leaders of the movement in favor of these labels, such as Tipper Gore, argued that exposure to such media would cause a moral crisis among American youth.
While this could be true, the fact of the matter is that worldwide, most millenials, having grown up steeped in technology, have found ample opportunity to listen to whatever music they want, play whatever games they like, and indeed consume whatever media they choose despite the restrictions placed upon them. What is dramatically different in America, compared to other countries, is the level of real world violence that occurs around them.
Take Japan for example. In 2012, at least five of the top 30 best-selling video games were from franchises known for their violent themes and depictions of explicit behavior. Resident Evil 6 was the fifth most popular game that year. However, there are nearly 200 times more murders with firearms in America than Japan. In 2002, there were 47, compared to 9,369 in America. The overall crime rate is significantly lower as well. The same goes for Great Britain. In fact, there are nearly 670 times more murders with firearms in America than Britain. If Japanese and British citizens, and indeed people from any other country for the most part consume the same types of media as Americans, yet live with significantly lower murder rates, then the problem isn't the entertainment, but clearly the culture of violence, or lack thereof.
In five years of living in Japan, I noticed that more people were genuinely concerned when a local convenience store was robbed at knifepoint than at home in the Bronx when a shooting occurred in front of the local bodega. There was a desire to ensure that everyone involved was alright, and it was entirely unthinkable that something of this nature could ever happen. This is because from a young age, Japanese people are taught to respect each other and to resolve their issues through working together. More importantly, guns are outright illegal, and the concept of achieving your goals at the expense of another person's safety or well-being is not accepted.
In fact, in America, it is the ease with which we accept real life violence and the eagerness to hurt others in order to secure our own prosperity that is in large part responsible for situations like that at the Washington Navy Yard. America is an incredible country and our free spirit is a large part of what made America what it is today, but without change, it will crumble apart from the inside out. Moving forward, Americans must stop blaming films and video games for the violent incidents that time and again hit the nation at its core, and learn to embrace the best practices of our global neighbors.