An article from the Times Online (h/t Voodoo Extreme) has (yawn) suggested a link between a school shooting in Winnenden, Germany and a violent videogame. According to the Times, Tim Kretschmer killed 15 people before turning his gun on himself only hours after playing Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2. And while the article never goes so far as to actually blame the game, it does spend 500 words discussing the various similarities between the FPS and Tim’s acts. Apparently Tim hijacked a car, wore camouflage, and used a 9mm Beretta. Far Cry 2 has those elements in it, so, the Times argues, the two are probably linked.
There are a lot of responses to something like this. 1) There are a lot of weapons to use in Far Cry 2. If the game is to blame, why didn’t Kretschmer use an assault rifle? 2) Tim happened to have been playing videogames hours before the shooting, but he had probably seen an action movie in the past few days, seen news reports of shootings, and any number of other violent incidents in media. Why highlight the games? 3) If Far Cry 2 is partly responsible, why aren’t more of the 2.9 million people who bought the game going on shooting sprees? At best, the game and this tragedy are correlated, and as we all should know by now, one cannot make causal inferences from correlations.
The article makes other connections as well. Tim had pornography on his computer. His father spoiled him and let him drive his vintage Porche. He grew up in a house with lots of guns. All of these details, along with his own horrible actions, work to make Kretschmer into a social deviant–one who never fit in–because that is the only way people seem to be able to understand such abhorring actions. Unfortunately they are all ineffective. There are probably millions of gamers who have (gasp!) looked at porn before. Probably thousands of those have rich fathers. Not all of them became shooters, and implying anything different is scapegoating and nothing else.
Look, what happened is horrible, but Tim was probably a relatively normal, quiet kid who was lonely, depressed, and troubled. He also didn’t have a mom. He wasn’t some insane monster from birth with red eyes and drool running down his chin who incessantly played first-person shooters. He was a human being who was pushed to an extreme.
More importantly, blaming mundane and common influences in his life is not merely fruitless. It is harmful to our understanding of what might have driven these individuals to commit such acts, which is crucial to our stopping attacks like this one from happening in the future.