You can read the Daily Mail’s article HERE, which I suggest you do before reading this:
As the title of this piece so subtly suggests, this is a direct response to the Daily Mail’s recent article regarding the notorious Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza. In the report Lanza’s tragic killing spree is linked to video games in several different ways, some of which I have a problem with, because the evidence isn’t presented well, and conclusions are leapt to without consideration of other explanations.
Let’s be clear about this: this isn’t an article determined to defend games to the very end, but nor is it supporting the ideas put forth by the Daily Mail’s report. I’m going to go through the article and respond to it bit by bit, as fairly as I feel I can be. I’m also going to assume that you’re already familiar with what transpired at Sandy Hook, as I honestly have no desire to write it out here.
The first thing the article reports, by way of an anonymous law enforcement veteran, is also the most disturbing to me: a 7ft long, 4ft wide spreadsheet detailing various other killing sprees. According to the Daily Mail’s source this spreadsheet details the names of the killers, the weapons they used and the body count they produced. The anonymous source stated, “It sounded like a doctoral thesis, that was the quality of the research,” According to the report, 500 names were on the sheet. It’s a terrifying document, no question about that.
The anonymous law enforcement agent found out about this spreadsheet at the International Association of Police Chiefs and Colonels mid-year meeting, which was held last week. He said:
“They don’t believe this was just a spreadsheet. They believe it was a score sheet,” he continued. “This was the work of a video gamer, and that it was his intent to put his own name at the very top of that list. They believe that he picked an elementary school because he felt it was a point of least resistance, where he could rack up the greatest number of kills. That’s what (the Connecticut police) believe.”
This conclusion that the spreadsheet was actually a score sheet is one I have trouble with. Another thing I have a small problem with is the use of the phrase, “this was the work of a videogamer”. It’s not that I find the phrase insulting, it’s that I feel it’s bound to instill a fear of gamers like myself into people for no real reason. Gaming has done so much to become an accepted medium over the years, and so it’s always a shame to see it get used in this fashion. But I digress slightly – let me return to my point of contention: this being a scoresheet.
Could it be a scoresheet? Conceivably yes. Without more details on what it looked like or how it was drawn up, it’s hard to tell. However, I do feel the leap from simple spreadsheet to scoresheet is a strange one. What were the indications that this was a scoresheet? Where there “points” allocated per kill? Were the killers ranked in order of bodycount? Unless there was such clear evidence, to me this spreadsheet was the work of someone who was simply horrifyingly obsessed with killing and killers, not the work of a gamer making a scoresheet that he was determined to be at the top of. Like anybody highly interested or even obsessed with a subject, he researched it thoroughly and compiled detailed information on it. For example I have a love for the TV series Firefly, and as a result I’ve done some pretty heavy research on the show. In the same way, albeit with a truly terrifying subject matter, Lanza studied his chosen passion, and created a spreadsheet detailing his findings.
The law enforcement veteran continues:
“They believe that (Lanza) believed that it was the way to pick up the easiest points. It’s why he didn’t want to be killed by law enforcement. In the code of a gamer, even a deranged gamer like this little bastard, if somebody else kills you, they get your points. They believe that’s why he killed himself.”
It’s equally likely that Lanza picked an elementary school because it would likely be the place of least resistance for someone hellbent on committing mass murder, not because he thought it was the easiest place to score points. However, that theory does of course tie in with their believe that the spreadsheet is actually a scoresheet. I concede that if it was indeed a scoresheet, then this was possibly Lanza’s train of thought, though it still seems unlikely to me.
“In the code of a gamer, even a deranged gamer like this little bastard, if somebody else kills you, they get your points. They believe that’s why he killed himself.” This sentence indicates that the veteran speaking has no knowledge of gaming, nor of gamers in general. This is no slight on the man himself, but it’s still important. As a gamer of nigh on 18-years, I’ve never known of any gamer’s code, other than in purely joking terms. Nor has there ever been any notion that if somebody kills you they get your points. However, there have been several game modes in the past where one of the rules is that whoever kills you in-game gets your points, though I honestly can’t think of any off of the top of my head, as they’re pretty rare. Perhaps a reader can help me out here. To follow the train of thought, though, there is Sticks and Stones game mode in Call of Duty where killing someone with a thrown Tomahawk resets their points to zero. It doesn’t match the agent’s assertion absolutely, but in the interests of being fair it should be mentioned. This would tie in with the popular theory that Lanza was an obsessed Call of Duty player, however the only evidence that has appeared which suggests Lanza played Call of Duty at all comes from a plumber, who claims that Lanza played the game for hours on end. How would a plumber know that, I wonder? To be able to assert that Lanza had an obsession with the game, the person making the assertion would have had to been around Lanza a lot. Being in the house for the day and seeing him play for a few hours can not justifiably be used to claim he was obsessed. Perhaps he was simply having a lazy day playing games. As someone who reviews games, I spend a lot of time playing games, but that doesn’t equal being obsessed by them – I’m still capable of making the conscious decision that enough is enough and turn them off and go do other things. In fact, because I play so many games I always make sure to take regular breaks and indulge in other things.
So, could Lanza have killed himself because of the belief that allowing policemen to shoot him would “reset” his body count to zero? It’s possible, yes. Various reports suggest Lanza had mental issues, and so it’s conceivable that in his own mind that sort of logic made absolute sense, but then that’s not the fault of the game, or those that made the game. They cannot be held responsible for how someone with mental health issues may react to their game and what it portrays. The more likely theory, to me, is that Lanza killed himself because he simply wanted to end it on his own terms, rather than face jail or death at the hands of an officer. The evidence that he committed suicide to save his points, and the evidence that he was even killing for points, is flimsy at best, holding little water when examined from a logical viewpoint.
Did Lanza play Call of Duty? Who knows. So far the only evidence comes from a plumber. If he did, then he shared a hobby with millions of others around the world, all of whom don’t appear to have gone on a murderous rampage as a result of their preferred entertainment source. Could he have been replicating what he saw in Call of Duty? Again, it’s a possibility that cannot, and should not, be ruled out. Yet again though the evidence is so flimsy that it certainly shouldn’t be viewed definitive conclusion when there are many other variables, scenarios and possibilities. Lanza could have been influenced by any number of games, films, books, or people. And ultimately there’s no scientific proof to back up the conclusion that a game caused Lanza to kill so many people. The more likely scenario is that any games he did played were simply one factor amidst many. Again, though, I’m getting ahead of myself and making observations and comments that should be saved for the end of this piece. Let’s get back to the Daily Mail’s article.
The next assertion made:
“It really was like he was lost in one of his own sick games. That’s what we heard. That he learned something from his game that you learn in (police) school, about how if you’re moving from room to room — the way he was in that school — you have to reload before you get to the next room. Maybe he has a 30-round magazine clip, and he’s only used half of it. But he’s willing to dump 15 rounds and have a new clip before he arrives in the next room.”
“They believe he learned the principles of this — the tactical reload — from his game. Reload before you’re completely out. Keep going. When the strap broke on his first weapon (the AR-15), he went to his handgun at the end. Classic police training. Or something you learn playing kill games.”
Like most gamers out there I’ve played a lot of first-person-shooters, and can indeed attest to the fact that I reload my virtual weapon in between every firefight, and will sometimes swap to a sidearm or other weapon if I run out of ammo in my primary during a fight . However, I don’t remember ever learning this tactic from a videogame. Off the top of my head I can’t honestly remember any game ever teaching me to reload between firefights, though I’m sure a few of the tips during loading screens mentioned it over the years and I’ve just not paid it much attention. Again, perhaps a reader can help me out here – do you recall a game ever actively teaching you this tactic? I do recall a few also mentioning that swapping to my sidearm was faster than reloading, thus being a useful tactic when I run out of ammo in my main weapon in the middle of a battle. Again, though, I didn’t actually learn this tactic from a game.
So, how did I learn these tactics? Well, because they’re common sense. You don’t need any degree of military or police training to figure out that it’s a good idea to reload before entering the next firefight. You want the maximum amount of ammunition available so you can be as effective as possible, because reloading takes time and leaves you vulnerable. Likewise swapping to a pistol when you run out of ammunition simply makes sense, because it’s far faster than reloading.
Then we must also consider the many, many movies which show soldiers, action heroes, baddies etc. reloading their weapons when moving from room to room, or swapping to another weapon when they run of out ammo. These could have also given Lanza the tactic.
There’s also another possible source of Lanza’s knowledge, other than simply being intelligent, which he was widely reported to be, that needs to be looked at: his possible fascination with the military. According to a reporter his room was covered in posters that showed various guns and military hardware. Again, we can assume that if he was interested in the military then he probably researched it, learning all about it. A quick search on basic military tactics will reveal such information as reloading between fights and swapping to side-arms. These are basic tactics, tought to the military, law enforcement etc. They’re hardly advanced tactics tought only to the SAS and videogamers.
Could Lanza have learned to reload often from videogames? Yes, it’s possible. Again, this shouldn’t be ruled out. At the same time there’s numerous other ways, aside from common sense, that he could have learned such things. There’s only circumstantial evidence to suggest that Lanza learned these tactics from a videogame. The argument most make is that if he did indeed spend many hours playing shooters, then that would point to him having learned his tactics from them. This doesn’t make all that much sense to me, though I can see how to some people this argument would make logical sense.
Another problem arises from the fact that reports don’t suggest Lanza used either of his handguns for anything other than committing suicide. In January of this year the Connecticut Police Force issued a statement on this matter:
“The shooter used the Bushmaster .223 to murder 20 children and six adults inside the school; he used a handgun to take his own life inside the school. No other weapons were used in this crime. This case remains under investigation.
Lt. J. Paul Vance”
The Daily Mail article suggests that Lanza swapped to his pistol to continue killing, but that contradicts what the Connecticut force had to say on the matter. However, new evidence may have come to light since then. Also, the source in the article states he swapped to his pistol when the strap on his rifle broke, which seems strange. Surely he would have only swapped to a pistol when he had either run out of ammo for his rifle, lost the rifle or quickly needed to open fire when his rifle needed to be reloaded.
Thus ends the Daily Mail’s article. And so before I conclude my own, let me make a few things clear: I have absolutely no problem with the Daily Mail running their article. They simply reported on a story, which is what they should be doing, though I would have liked them to present more evidence and examine other angles, because as it stands the article almost comes off like it’s blaming videogames for everything that happened at Sandy Hook. Nor do I have a problem with the law enforcement officer that acted as the Mail’s source: he was simply commenting on what he heard at this conference. It’s clear he believes game’s where indeed the source of the problem from the way he speaks. It’s a shame that he feels that way, but ultimately he comes across as someone that’s just trying to find a way to deal with what occurred.
“Then I called my wife,” he said, “and told her about it, and started to cry about Newtown all over again.”
Now, though, I would like to move to my own conclusions, keeping in mind that I am, of course, no expert on this subject.
The question essentially comes down to this: did videogames have anything to do with Adam Lanza’s killing spree? Yes, I believe they very well could have. This might come as a small shock considering my various arguments throughout this piece, but just hold on a second. I believe that videogames may have been one factor amidst many in the complex story of Adam Lanza. I do not believe that they are the source or reason for what he did. To draw that conclusion is illogical, and insulting to anyone with an iota of intelligence. At the same time, to dismiss games entirely would make me as bad as the sensationalist journalists I hate so much.
From what we know, there was always something a little off about Adam Lanza. There have been various reports suggesting he had Autism or some other form of mental…impairment, illnesses or whatever term you wish to use for it. The fact that he was anti-social and struggled to deal with the world in itself isn’t a reason to declare him weird and abnormal – these days there are many people who find it hard to deal with the trials and tribulations of the world with live in -, yet it certainly is one of many things that paint a portrait of someone with serious problems that was slowly but surely heading down a dark path.
Videogames may have influenced Lanza in one form or another. They may have given him his tactics, for one thing, though that is very questionable. But to declare them the sole reason for his actions simply doesn’t make sense. Could Call of Duty have tought him to reload when moving between rooms? Maybe. And maybe a film tought him, or a book, or Google. Or maybe he was just intelligent. If Lanza had mental problems in one form or another, violent videogames may have acted as a sadistic entertainment for him. That is not the fault of videogames. Violent films may have been the same. That is not the fault of films. Books may have also been a part of this. That is not the fault of books. Nor is the fault of those who make them.
Should his mother have seen this coming? She tought him about guns, kept them in the house, and looked after him. That’s a hard argument. Love can make people blind to what’s there. More reports suggest she often worried about her sons well-being, and so we can’t help but wonder what may have been different if she did something about it. Ultimately, could any mental problem Lanza had been the cause? That’s another hard argument. Ultimately everybody must take responsibility for their own actions, but does a mental condition of any type negate that? That’s an argument for someone far more intelligent than I, as it’s a debate that could be argued from many, many different viewpoints.
I believe that video games were but one thread in a complex tapestry. There’s rarely a simple answer to anything, and in the case of Adam Lanza it seems we’ll never know what he was thinking, or why he did what he did. To blame videogames for his actions is a knee-jerk reaction from people simply looking for some explanation to this horrific event. Long have games been used as a scapegoat, and it looks to continue. Some people genuinely believe they’re a problem – politicians use that for their own ends 0 and journalists love to use for sensationalist headlines that they know will attract attention.
There are a lot of “ifs” in the case of Adam Lanza. Videogames could have indeed been involved in the Sandy Hook shooting in some way. But then, so could many, many other things. They probably all were, in one way or another. Our entire lives and every action we take is influenced by everything we see, hear and read. Thus I believe that no single thing caused Adam Lanza to kill those people, and certainly not videogames.
To the officer in the Daily Mail’s article, I wish you the very best. I hope you find peace. To those who died at Sandy Hook, what could I possibly say that hasn’t already? And to those that have suffered because of Adam Lanza, I hope you also find peace one day.
Finally, I hope I have gotten my points across clearly, and above all, fairly.