Florida Highway patrolmen block the entrance to the Main Street Bridge near the scene of a mass shooting at Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018.
A 24-year-old gamer gunned down two people on August 26. After he did not win a tournament. He then turned the weapon on himself.
Its an old debate – is playing video games dangerous – does it short circuit something in your brain? Throws you into a tizzy until real and imagined are crushed in a way that its difficult to tell them apart?
The Florida shooter, a 24-year-old named David Katz from Baltimore, is easy to cage into a box of crazy and say hes the odd one out. But is he really?
Playing games involves repeated actions that spark connections related to memory and learning. In other words, its a lesson on desensitisation – a technique used prolifically by psychologists to help people overcome a phobia; and by commanding officers in various war camps to instill fear.
By seeing or experiencing something over and over again, a person becomes emotionally distant from a certain action.
In the case of gaming – especially violent games – that could mean a loss of empathy when you see blood or panic in real life.
Dr Mrabet Jihene, clinical psychologist at Dubai-based Life Psychological Counselling Centre, explains why games are so addictive. They stimulate the premotor and parietal cortex area in the brain – sensory movements in games that require real-time action – and the prefrontal lobe, which controls decision-making. Also stimulated is the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex that controls cognition and running.
Its basically hijacking these areas of thought – and in turn training you to focus on the physical action rather than consider emotional implications.
“Even if a player fails in a game, the reward centre, which is the dopamine centre, is still stimulated – its correlated with deliberation time in beating risk taking. So they [gamers who are addicted] will continue to take risks. It will be very easy taking the decision to take a risk, because the centre of the stimulation will be stimulated all the time.” This risk-taking behaviour breeches real-reel life boundaries,” she explains.
So someone is addicted to gaming, does this really mean violent outbursts? Well thats like asking if a child whose favourite toy has been taken away will rebel for being cut-off. Addiction and violence are the two jagged edges of the same razor blade – the availability of guns in the US only provides a tool of expression.
Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation coined the term gaming disorder to identify a pattern that is “characterised by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences”. And a 2014 University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston study pointed towards a predisposition to depression if a child plays video games for more than two hours a day.
“Sometimes it will help reinforce isolation,” says Dr Jihene. Thats besides the eye strain and weight gain; “it can provoke obesity because the child/teenager will spend hours and hours doing nothing but playing”. Besides, “it will also provoke problem to adapt to the reality when the child will come back from game to reality.”
UK-based publication Mirror quotes a YouTube clip at a 2017 event, where Katz was described as someone who liked to “keep to himself”.
“You are not going to see much emotion from him," a commentator remarks. "David Katz keeps to himself. Hes a man of business. Hes not here for the experience, hes not here to make friends.
Katz is no child; he was a 24-year-old who was in a Madden NFL 19 national (football) tournament; he should have known better. But as a professional gamer did his passion for a game also create a killer?