Are video games to blame for school shootings?
The gun is never the solution.
At least not in the video game, "I Expect You To Die."
The virtual reality game from Pittsburgh-based Schell Games may sound like a violent game, but it's not, said CEO Jesse Schell.
It's a James Bond-esque, escape room, puzzle-solving game where players find themselves trapped in deadly situations and have to figure a way out.
Sometimes, guns appear in the game as potential solutions.
But, spoiler alert:
"They are not the solution to your problem," Schell said of guns in the game. "And if you use them, they will end up creating more problems for you."
Blame is again being directed at violent video games in the aftermath of another school shooting. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick last week said that violence in video games have desensitized children to violence in the real world. Patrick was speaking just days after a teenager killed 10, eight students and two teachers, at a high school in Santa Fe, Texas.
It's a popular refrain in the chorus of mass shootings. Blame violent video games, movies and music.
President Donald Trump invited gaming executives and critics to the White House after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. The president opened the meeting with a montage of scenes from video games.
"This is violent, isn't it?" Trump asked.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, blamed video games — and the media and President Obama's budget — for violence in 2012. And in 1982, then U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said during a speech at University of Pittsburgh's Western Psychiatric Institute that video games, like the popular Missile Command, could be to blame for violence.
"Everything is zap the enemy," Koop said, according to reports from the time. "There's nothing constructive in the game."
The American Psychological Association in 2015 stated that violent video games are linked to aggression but that there wasn't enough evidence to suggest violence in video games causes criminal behavior. Roger Klein, a psychology professor at University of Pittsburgh's School of Education, said violence in video games is a complicated issue. He includes a section on violence in video games each year in his media psychology course.
Klein said discussion has shifted from whether all violent video games cause violent behavior to how the games contribute and effect the behavior of individuals. People's biological make up, their upbringing, their need for attention and their exposure to video games could all determine the reaction to violence in video games and whether someone commits acts of violence in the real world, Klein said.
"Unfortunately, I do leave my students with a pessimistic conclusion. I'm not sure this is a solvable problem," Klein said. "We don't know how to predict it. We don't know how to prevent it. We don't even know how much exposure is bad."
Klein said his students are typically split 50/50. Half of them see violence in video games as a serious issue. The other half thinks it is overblown.
Schell teaches at Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center and said he finds that most of his students haven't given much thought to violence in video games.
"It is so normalized in our culture, that most of them haven't even thought that it could have effects," Schell said. "Right now, our culture — television movies and games — largely sends the message that running around and shooting people with assault rifles is normal, healthy behavior."
Schell said that needs to change. He doesn't see a connection solely between violent video games and mass shootings. If violent video games produced violent people, then rampant school shootings should be problems in countries like Japan, South Korea, Australia and others that play the same video games. But Schell's company doesn't glorify gun violence in its games.
"Traditional media already does enough to glorify that," Schell said. "I'd rather be part of the solution and not the problem."
The company helped Disney and Lucasfilms create lightsaber battles for Star Wars: Jedi Challenges, but Schell doesn't worry too much about sword fighting.
Games like the massively popular Fortnite do worry Schell. Parents may think the game is OK for their kids because it's cartoon-like.
"But at the same time, everyone is running around shooting people with assault rifles," Schell said. "When you make it cartoony like that, it makes me very uncomfortable."
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.