Since Adam Lanza’s December 12 attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, video games and their putative connection to violent behavior have been much discussed in the media and by government officials. Now a new profile of Lanza and his mother Nancy from the Hartford Courant reports that police are investigating whether Lanza “might have been emulating the shooting range or a video-game scenario” when he carried out the Sandy Hook attack.
Police reportedly found thousands of dollars worth of video games in Lanza’s home, but they have yet to identify any of the games specifically. Further, authorities have disclosed that Lanza and his mother spent a considerable amount of time on shooting ranges. The activity was something they did to bond, but many now question Nancy Lanza’s decision to let her son use firearms.
As authorities learn more about Lanza, a history of mental health issues has come to light, including evidence of significant social disorders that adversely affected Lanza’s ability to connect with other people. Lanza may well have been influenced by the fantasy world of video games — much like Mark David Chapman was obsessed with The Catcher in the Rye when he killed John Lennon, or John Hinckley, Jr. was acting out a scene from Taxi Driver when he made an attempt on President Reagan’s life. However, what all three shooters have in common is a difficulty distinguishing fantasy from reality. Meanwhile, millions of other people read the same books, watch the same movies, and play the same video games with no adverse effects on their mental health or inclination to emulate fictional violence in real life.
This news is likely to generate more irresponsible and unsubstantiated speculation about the link between video games and violence and further calls for the censorship of video games. The Courant article quotes Richard Novia, former Newtown schools security chief and adviser for the Tech Club, of which Lanza was a member, on the subject of target practice at shooting ranges: “For healthy people, this is a perfectly fun activity.” The same is true of video games, and Adam Lanza’s illness should not reflect on gamers or game creators — attacking and censoring video games does not fix the problem.
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Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.