Some "progressives" such as Judith Warner of Time magazine want everybody to shut up with their speculation around the Newtown massacre and the nature of the relationship of the shooter to everything from gun access to pharmaceuticals to violent video games.
But the comments let us know that readers aren't content to be told to shut up and keep asking lots and lots of good questions -- they want to make sure this doesn't happen again, they want to understand its dynamics. As one reader aptly asks, "Where is the journalism"?
And journalism may put the pieces together, and police forensics may trace the relationship from online life to real life but the real place these connections are being made now is in the human heart: even some very avid gamers are starting to say "enough".
I keep finding it odd that I'm seeing the digging and the delving every night on the British tabs and not even on the American tabs. NBC News has dug up some more details but nothing really pertinent.
I can't help feeling that if Anonymous were on this job, it would all be on Pastebin by now, and because it isn't, maybe Adam was in Anonymous. The NBC News piece is the very first piece to say that Lanza was "conservative" and had beliefs in the "free market" and such. But it's very flimsy evidence for making this statement.
Actually, usually in a person online of his type -- young, nerdy, computer-savvy, etc. -- the belief in the free market goes more with the libertarian viewpoints of the Ron Paul type -- that is really a different political profile than "conservatives" who might have religous beliefs. Anonymous can be revolutionary, anarcho-communist or it can be technolibertarian like Paul -- the two political movements are not that different online.
Michael Mayko has an article up at San Francisco Chronicle that seemed promising, but it was in fact a re-hash of what other "experts" have found. He simply found a different expert to say the same thing -- that maybe you can get destroyed hard-drived fixed:
Video games played, screen names used and credit cards billed to buy online gaming time are areas of interest to investigators trying to unravel the reasons behind Adam Lanza's rampage inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Electronic and forensics experts say information could be pulled from computers seized from Lanza's Newtown home, even if they were struck with a hammer, as some reports say.
"If he drilled holes into it, that would be a different story," said Mark Morton, a laboratory supervisor in the University of New Haven's electrical engineering department. "It depends on how much the federal government wants to spend. I believe if the federal government wants to recover data, it will get the data."
But he's not the guy doing the forensics -- we don't know who is. Maybe the FBI, maybe some university or corporate consultants in secret with the FBI. As a side note I'll say that getting your hard drive recovered can be a very frustrating and expensive process but also the quotes on the job can be wildly different and the diagnoses wildely different. I've had to go do this job twice -- once having a very savvy specialist who did professional forensic work saying a computer was beyond hope, and another time having one company say they could do it for $950 and another say they could do it for $2000. You sense that they try to get away with what they can. I ended up finding a student to do it for $750. It *is* a painstaking and thankless tack. I discovered from another computer professional that it's basically like taking a needle on an old-fashioned record player and trying to get it to follow a groove enough to play a record, despite having scratches on the album. Isn't it funny with all the fancy modern technology, that underneath is something that frustratingly simple.
Eventually, we'll hear more on this from police, if they talk, but journalists could be doing a lot more with this than they've been doing -- I think the problem is that mainstream journalists don't know where to look when studying the underground like Anonymous, and those journalists at the tech web sites or who specialize in hacker culture like Adrian Chen at Gawker want to make sure that their beloved hacker culture is never, ever associated with something like this -- so they don't probe too deeply. It's like the same problem we saw with probing the reasons for the failure of Orca -- there's a default disdain and affected lack of interest because it would cut close to the bone of the very bastion of nerd identity, the nihilist online culture itself.
But there are some very important signs of how this is cracking -- and it's interesting. Just as the right-wing has had to crumble somewhat in holding so hard and fast to its gun rights notions, and the NRA has been put on the run, so geekdom has had to loosen its grip on its massive denial that violent video games are related to real-life violence.
So the first big defection occurred on the Kotaku, the very popular gaming site. Astoundingly, a gamer and journalist said he was done with violent games -- they sickened him now after Newtown. What was even more extraordinary, this man, named Jeremy Norman, had reported on the Virginia Tech massacre, yet gone right back to violent gaming after that searing experience. Now it's different.
For nearly 30 years I have squashed anthropomorphic mushrooms, cleaved zombies, and eviscerated the avatars of faceless gamers from around the world. I have no interest in any of that now. Not after Friday.
I was in college during Columbine. I remember sitting in my dorm room watching kids, just a few years younger than me, running for their lives as police descended upon their high school. I remember thinking how nightmarish it must have been for all involved—then turning on my N64 for a round of GoldenEye with my hall-mates.
I just don't want to do it anymore. I don't want to disassociate myself, saying it's just a game. I imagine that Cho disassociated himself from the horror he was committing just as we disassociate ourselves when we play "No Russian" on Call of Duty. Thankfully, most of us see the difference, but that doesn't make it any less uncomfortable.
Just one guy isn't a revolution by any stretch, and he was pummeled on the comments for his defection, but then came this, a call for a one-day cease-fire -- a moratorium on violent games on the 7th day after the murders:
Last week, the popular video game blog GamerFitNation called for a one-day “cease-fire” in an impassioned video that spread though Twitter with the hashtag #OSCeaseFire. Founder Antwand Pearman was not trying to vilify video games any more than they had been already, instead, he told Mashable that he was seeking “a unified form of peace” in the wake of the tragedy.
If Mashable breaks the silence on this, along with the libertarian techs at WSJ, then you know the subject is getting broken open.
Then there was the consumer angle -- the tech press exists primarily to sell the tech -- the gadgets, the games. It isn't critical of tech itself, ever, except if one form of tech decides to gang up on another, say, Facebook and Instagram on Twitter or vice versa.
But CNN dutifully reported that ordinary people buying the tech -- the games -- were having some qualms.
But after the Newtown shootings, which claimed the lives of 20 children and seven adults -- including Lanza's mother -- some shoppers are weighing whether it's appropriate to give certain video games to children or young teens this holiday season.
CNN reached out to iReporters and commenters on the site for their thoughts on the issue.
"I have two boys, age 9, that want 'Call of Duty,' " said a CNN commenter using the screen name goldeneagle78, referring to the popular military-shooter game series. "They will NOT be getting it, or any other game that is rated above their age level."
Reader Crysty Harper of Maricopa, Arizona, said she understands that millions play games with no ill effect, but that "for the mentally unstable, these fantasy scenarios are fueling the violence, and being re-enacted in real life."
CNN had to go to its "crowd-sourcing" page called "i-reports" to break out of the omerta or denial around the nexus between video game violence and real violence, but ordinary people -- especially parents -- especially moms -- had no trouble pronouncing their gut feeling on this.
Just like all the people who flocked to the "Mass Effect" fan page on Facebook and poured out their anguish about a warrior game being played by someone they thought was the killed -- who was mistakenly identified by police (not "the media") as Ryan Lanza, in fact the brother of the killer. (And notice we have ZERO journalism on him, the reason his ID was found on his brother, and so on. Maybe someone is working on this, but we can't see it.)
If you read the standard catechism on video game violence, you will realize that mainly, the few academic studies on the subject -- there just aren't enough, in fact -- tend to find no culprits, or are inconclusive, and these get endlessly re-tweeted by angry and exasperated gamerz fearing that someone will take away their pleasures. Nothing like anarchic hedonists clutching a topic to keep literally gunshy journalists away from it -- they fear being politically incorrect, getting flash-mobbed, or worst of all, getting hacked and harassed by the Anonymous mob.
There's a curious fault line again across the left and right on this topic of whether there is a connection. The left doesn't want to see a connection to video games because then free speech might be impacted -- and the role of the state and the role of guns which they'd like to control would not be the focus.
The right speaks of the "folly" of making this connection, like National Review, because of free speech concerns as well, and also because making any sort of institution or corporation or business to blame for anything would remove individual responsibility or imply that more state control of business is needed.
And their concerns are legitimate, because that's exactly where the "progressive" left takes this -- right to hobbling capitalism and corporations as we see from the tweet of David Axelrod, former advisor to President Obama
In NFL post-game: an ad for shoot 'em up video game. All for curbing weapons of war. But shouldn't we also quit marketing murder as a game?
Who is "we"? The socialist committee of comrades that will decide what private companies can sell or not sell, when there isn't a demonstrably widespread link for RL and virtual violence? "We" who want to curb big sports corporations and their advertisers more because marketing bothers us than simulated murder?
It's precisely because usually on both sides, the call for restrictions is about some other issue ("let's hate capitalism and corporations" or "let's hate the religious right and their guns and get their guns away from them to reduce their power" or "let's hate Obama who is a socialist trying to take our guns away from us") that the demand for "scientific proof" becomes very great.
The reality is, there are studies that show violent games desensitize to violence, and then it isn't hard to posit that in the right set of circumstances, someone who has autism, other mental illness conditions, access to guns to make good on his angry impulses, anti-psychotic drugs that in fact might cause him to be more impulsive or violent could then commit a school massacre. In fact, that's exactly what seems to happen, and yet there are a thousand voices parsing each strand of this knot and saying that the formula for it all coming together is so complex that it can never be reproduced in the laboratory of science and therefore we should cease pulling at this or that strand.
It's not that people won't give up their rights so that little children would not be murdered; it's that they don't really believe that it would help or be necessary or valid.
Yet we do know these things are all related by the simple moral process that has at long last begun to move -- it is related when people say "Hold, enough!"
It is related when suddenly, the shock and the nausea of seeing 6-year-olds gunned down en masse -- kids who were going to make gingerbread houses with their moms and dads that afternoon -- pierces the veil and people feel they can't do it anymore.
The moral connection becomes visible even when the scientific connection remained elusive.
Indeed, the scientific connection may remain elusive forever. There many never be any widely accepted peer-reviewed double-blind, replicated study that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that every time you give someone a drug and let them play video games and then have a gun cabinet nearby, they will perform a school shooting.
God knows, as we know from The New Yorker expose, the US military tried to replicate situations just as varied and bizarre to try to figure out how LSD and other drugs might be used in combat, or how soldiers, if they were exposed to chemical warfare, might behave to extricate themselves from combat situations.
Yet finally, when TechCrunch's most cynical and snarky Gregory Ferenstein even is willing to raise the topic -- but plea in the same breath for no censorship -- you realize we might be turning a corner.
While every other gamer and tech forum is busy linking to everything denying the connection, he writes:
I also cannot deny that the most compelling evidence shows that violent video games do cause violence. In the most comprehensive review of evidence (massive meta-analysis) to date [PDF], Iowa State Professor Craig A. Anderson and his colleagues found that their “results suggest that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behaviors and decrease empathic feelings and prosocial behaviors.”
Naturally we know all the angry gamers are reaching to say no, sales of games increased and violent crime decreased.
I fear...This moment when we were turning a corner as a society may have been quashed. We'll see. There were some big admissions here when TechCrunch -- TechCrunch! -- could open the topic critically, and when Kotaku could print a defector's tale (Kotaku!).
But then when the NRA stumbled out with its claim that violent video games were the problem -- to get people distracted again from their clinging to guns -- we were back to square one on the moral problem, because nobody wants to be associated with the NRA. In fact, Kotaku and similar sites are now filled with rage-hate screeching posts about how outrageous the NRA is -- and like an instant flash triggered from an agent of influence operation, the meme went around all the Twitter influencers that even as the people were being shot in Pennsylvania, the NRA was holding a press conference saying that assault weapons weren't the problem. Kotaku posted that "even" a big critic of violent video games bashed the NRA for being exploitative of this issue.
Bit by bit, however, the debate is changing. You can't get away with continuing to say that car accidents are worse than gun deaths -- the statistics are coming to meet.
And the role of violent video games is going to get looked at lots, lots more than it ever did before, and it will be harder to cover up, because in the place of morality in the individual soul where this counts, some people are beginning to say "no".