In the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, a community organization in the nearby town of Southington is organizing a buyback program to collect video games, DVDs, and CDs deemed to be violent. According to gaming site Polygon, after the collection on January 12, the media will be “snapped, tossed into a town dumpster and likely later incinerated.” Organizers from the group SouthingtonSOS say that their goal is only to start a conversation between parents and children about virtual violence, and the burning is “just a possible outcome.”
For many others, however, the impending destruction recalls the past incineration of all kinds of creative works, from Beatles records to — of course — comic books, that some adults thought had a negative influence on youth. In reality, there is no proven link between gun violence and video games, but that has not stopped lawmakers and media commentators from trying to blame them for virtually every mass shooting by a young male since the Columbine massacre in 1999. Of course, this requires ignoring the fact that millions of people around the world, of all sexes and ages, play and enjoy a wide spectrum of video games that some would consider violent without embarking on real-world killing sprees.
The SouthingtonSOS buyback program (which is not sponsored by the town government, although it is providing the dumpster) and a similar scheme started by a 12-year-old in Newtown may be well-intentioned, but the familiar scapegoating of video games and other entertainment media is a facile and misguided solution to a complex problem — and destroying and burning material some find objectionable is never a solution to a problem. As always we at CBLDF are fully supportive of parents who familiarize themselves with their childrens’ entertainment choices, but if the goal of the SouthingtonSOS program were only to start a conversation, then there would be no need for the symbolic and sensationalistic destruction of materials. Instead, this seems to be an operation that makes participants feel like they can do something to possibly prevent future tragedies without addressing the more difficult root issues, such as gun control and the availability of mental health services.
Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.