Earlier this month, I spoke to a group of teenagers and the conversation inevitably turned to video games. Among their favorites were Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4. While the rules and strategies vary, the objective is the same: Choose your weapon, pursue your target, and shoot to kill.
At my Laundromat, to pass the time you can play several games, including Dark Silhouette, in which you sit in a chair, aim a rifle equipped with a scope (called a SilentScope) and shoot people on the screen. (Beneath the screen, it reads "Seeing Is Believing.") The more people dead, the higher the score. I've seen kids play it who were so young they had to stand on the chair to reach the gun.
Violent video games didn't kill UNC Student Body President Eve Carson or Duke University engineering student Abhijit Mahato. Kids have played war and pretended to shoot one another since there were sticks and rocks. But here is the difference between the comparatively benign era of BB guns and cap pistols and now: Today, violence is not the exception, it's the rule. It dominates our conscious and our subconscious, bombarding us on TV and online, seducing us in advertising and music. It peppers the rhetoric of our government leaders. It underpins our view of the world.
Memorials for Carson, shot to death March 5 on a Chapel Hill street, and Mahato, murdered Jan. 18 in his Durham apartment, are being held a week apart, their lives linked by one teenage suspect accused of killing them both. During the moments of silence, as we ask why two innocent people were randomly murdered, we must look at our own fascination with violence. We indulge ourselves in it, in the name of catharsis. We brush it off as innocuous entertainment. We swear it doesn't change us, but it does.
We send men and women to war, as we did five years ago today, and expect them to return untouched. We raise children under the specter of domestic violence and expect them to behave differently than we do. We cordon people into poverty and expect them to suppress their desperation and powerlessness.
Trying to understand violence and its many motivations in no way exonerates the person or people who killed Carson and Mahato. Yet it's easy to put the responsibility for defusing violence solely on the judicial system, social services and schools, while ignoring our individual and collective roles in participating in it, either explicitly or implicitly.
We have to acknowledge the existence of violence; we can't always shield ourselves from it. But this week, as we remember Carson and Mahato, we should also remember it can be the exception, not the rule.