Wednesday's tragic shooting spree at Montreal's Dawson College has prompted yet another media feeding frenzy over violent video games. Word that 25-year-old shooter Kimveer Gill played Super Columbine RPG, a non-commercial game design, was enough to push the video game angle into lead paragraphs in newspapers from London to Washington, D.C. to China. Hell, it even made the Drudge Report.
To be sure, the clearly unbalanced Gill was no stranger to games, especially first-person shooters. His blog on VampireFreaks.com names Half-Life 2, F.E.A.R. and Call of Duty 2 among his favorites. He also played some of the commonly-cited poster children for game violence, including Manhunt, Postal and the GTA series. Gill also played less controversial titles like Warcraft III, Need for Speed Underground and Command & Conquer Generals.
But Super Columbine RPG is the sound bite here, and it's no surprise that the media has jumped on that angle with both feet. Think about it -- a game based upon a horrendous school massacre being played by a lunatic who then commits his own deadly school shooting. If you're writing headlines, it's practically irresistible.
But step back from the hype for a moment and look at the Dawson tragedy from a societal perspective. Ask yourself, what could anyone have done about Kimveer Gill? Would restrictive video game legislation have helped?
Not a chance. Such laws aim to prevent teens and younger kids from buying violent games. Gill was 25 - a psychotic, sorry-ass excuse of a man, certainly, but legally an adult. Nothing less than an outright ban on violent games would have stopped him from playing Doom 3, Quake 4 and some of his other favorite shooters. And does anyone really advocate blocking grown-ups from the entertainment of their choice?
Would a better video game rating system have helped?
Again, no way. Canada uses the ESRB ratings, and, despite some flaws, it's a damned good system. But Gill was old enough to buy any game for which he could scrape the cash together. Besides, Super Columbine RPG -- the game attracting the media buzz -- is not a commercial product. It's not sold and it's not rated. By the way, don't mistake that for an endorsement of the Columbine game. I'm not a fan, although I don't dispute amateur designer Danny LeDonne's First Amendment right to create the game or the right of others to check it out.
Given the Dawson shooting's enormous publicity, however, mainstream media coverage isn't likely to distinguish between commercial and amateur games. The public, already harboring negative gamer stereotypes, will be quick to lump Super Columbine with video games generally. Can a dozen politicians toting new pieces of video game legislation be far behind? We saw this recently in Louisiana, where the racist online Flash game Border Patrol was exploited to help peddle a retail-oriented video game law to a clueless legislature.
Personally, I'd like to know whether Kimveer Gill ever received treatment for his obvious mental health issues. His blog shows him to be angry and filled with hate, severely depressed, suicidal and wanting to go out "in a hail of bullets." That's a bad stew of emotions for someone who also happens to own an assault rifle. Columbine killer Eric Harris had many of the same traits.
In fact, we're already hearing about Gill's weapon. In Canada's raging gun control debate, both sides, inexplicably, are claiming that the Dawson rampage somehow supports their position on assault weapons.
Politicians, they never change.
It's interesting to note that the last major school shooting in Canada happened in 1989. Since first-person shooters didn't come along until id Software released Wolfenstein 3-D in 1992, the earlier massacre was apparently sparked by Pong or maybe Carmen San Diego.
Or perhaps the guy was just insane, like Kimveer Gill.
Dennis McCauley is Editor of GamePolitics.com and writes about games for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Opinions expressed in The Political Game are his own. Reach him at dennis@GamePolitics.com.