April 20th, 1999
In the second semester, I took a job at a language lab. A few times a week, I spent a couple of hours at the lab while students came in to listen to the tape assigned in their language class. I went into the lab one afternoon when the lab manager was watching TV. She turned to me in a look of horror. She said someone barged into a high school and shot a bunch of students. I looked at the TV saw students running out of the school premises. On April 20th, 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Colorado, shot and killed twelve students and a teacher. It was the first mass school shooting in modern America, followed by many of their copycats.
The country started to question the accessibility to and availability of guns in the US, but people mostly blamed Marilyn Manson and violent videogames. The rest of the world mostly thought it ridiculous that Americans wanted to restrict arts and entertainment before guns. Virginia Tech shooting happened in 2007, and after Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, President Obama surprised the world by targeting the videogame industry.
I worked for two videogame publishers by 2012, and while I could not deny the effect of videogame contents on consumers, I didn’t distinguish its influence from that of other media, including movies, TV shows, books, or even daily news. Whichever the media, all tell stories. In them, there are “I” and “the others.” The story centers around “I,” who fights off obstacles to attain a goal. The goal is often something glorious and honorable, so whoever hinders “I”‘s way need to be removed. To achieve the purpose, “I” draw tools. If “I”‘s goal brings a desirable outcome, it is justifiable even if the tool is highly destructive. If, as a result of wielding the destructive tools, “the others” are harmed or killed, that is justice. “The others” deserved their fate.
Good stories, often in cinema and literature, do not dichotomize the sides in the story. Anyone can fall into a situation where two parties antagonize each other. There is a conflict of interests. There is the question of morality. And there are as many perspectives as the number of characters involved. Good stories require the audience to put on different shoes. Commercialized movies that need to fit into two hours do not give the audience the chance to think of the morality in the situation beyond the hero defeating the villain. Such a black and white way of seeing the world is ingrained in our daily story-telling.
Many videogame titles have a complex storyline and are excellent art that brings the player a delightful experience. People may argue that “videogames are worse than movies because kids can simulate shooting people.” But I still think what kids simulate is the story-telling, not the shooting itself.
When another high school shooting occurred in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, and killed 17 students and teachers and injured more, it was the surviving students who stood up. Very little progress was made during the 20 years since Columbine. Students marched in Washington DC to call for gun control legislation. One of the students who led the activism, Emma González, spoke at the demonstration. Her speech started with silence. She stood and surveyed the audience for 6 minutes and 20 seconds – the length took from the beginning to the end of the massacre. It was powerful and spoke more than words. She called BS on politicians, but it seemed to me they were calling BS on all the adults who had long distracted the country from the root of the issue.