You may have thought (hoped?) book/media burning was a thing of the past, but this Saturday, a town some 30 miles from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of a horrific elementary-school shooting last month, will hold a violent video games drive. Organizers will collect violent video games, throw them in a dumpster, and then destroy them, probably by incineration.
Created by SouthingtonSOS, a group of representatives from various organizations around the town of Southington, including the Chamber of Commerce, the board of education, the fire department, and local officials, the Violent Video Games Return Program is a response to the Newtown shooting. “What happened in our community, very similar to communities across the world, is everyone wanted to do something for Newtown,” Southington School superintendent Joe Erardi told Polygon. So the SOS group “convened and we looked at how do we continue to pray and support Newtown and how do we do something perhaps meaningful for Newtown and our own community.”
How a drive to collect and burn video games is a way to do something meaningful for Newtown — or any community, for that matter — remains unclear. Erardi said the goal of the program is mainly to encourage parents to have in-depth conversations with their children about violent video games. (Violent movies and music will be accepted, too!) And a press release from the group states explicitly:
The group’s action is not intended to be construed as statement declaring that violent video games were the cause of the shocking violence in Newtown on December 14th.
But I’m not sure there’s any other way to construe it. The press release goes on to say:
there is ample evidence that violent video games, along with violent media of all kinds, including TV and Movies portraying story after story showing a continuous stream of violence and killing, has contributed to increasing aggressiveness, fear, anxiety and is desensitizing our children to acts of violence including bullying.
I don’t know where SouthingtonSOS is getting its evidence, but Polygon has a nice follow-up piece about video games expert Christopher J. Ferguson, who wrote to the group to tell them that their efforts are well-intentioned but misplaced, and that there’s little to no real evidence that violent media have led to an increase in adolescent aggression. “It’s classic moral panic,” he told Polygon. “Whenever we have a traumatic event like this historically, going all of the way back to the Greeks, people tend to blame the media. It makes us feel like we know what happened and that we can fix it. It’s very easy to get society to focus on the media as a bogeyman.”
Which is precisely why Southington is collecting violent video games, movies, and music, rather than, oh, I don’t know, guns. Because if you really want to react meaningfully in the wake of Newtown, it would make a whole lot more sense to ask people to surrender their guns — which aren’t just violent on screen but are actually harmful — and to collect and incinerate them. (The Violent Video Games Return Program is offering vouchers for donated media, like $25 at a local water park; the Violent Guns Return Program could offer its own vouchers, like $25 toward a visit with a local psychologist.) Instead, people are repeating history by taking the easy way out, collecting controversial media and destroying them, while avoiding the real work of trying to push political conversations about gun control and mental healthcare to the fore.
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