Violence & Video Games and Yesterday’s News

28 Aug

Yes, I had to personally answer for this in my career and it wasn’t fun.

Many years back, I was a college professor for 9 years. Originally, I taught 5 years in Ohio. I was a computer science and design professor. One day, I was told by the president of the college that I was going to develop a program in game design. I have a very serious work ethic and I’m a very bright woman so I talked to, called and met with some very big experts in the field at that time. We actually ended up becoming friends.

Back then with Google, everyone saw the same home page for news. I remember the day when I opened Google and there was a story that my college program was opening the game design degree and program. We were on the front page of Google.

I became the chair person of a technology conference. My opening speaker was from Lucas Arts. Our other presenters, were very well known in game design. After working my tail off for years at learning all this I was awarded the Outstanding Educator Advancing Information Technology in Ohio.

And then when I left to do Hard Rock Park, they handed my program to a completely unqualified, non-disciplined professional who took everything I built and ruined it. I have such bad feelings about the school that I won’t even list it on my resume. Five years of seriously hard work went down the drain for nothing.

After Hard Rock Park, when the economy had collapsed everyone was going back to college,  I talked to a competing school about would they like to employ me. Without hesitation, they created a position. I would teach design courses, web development, computer science, software engineering and advise the Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Computer Science focus.

So again, we made plans to develop courses, offer a track and a degree in game design. In my Intro to Game Design class, I did what I had done before which was to choose to use the Unreal Engine. For those not familiar with game design – it’s a game engine that was developed years ago for Epic Games Unreal Tournament game and then went on to be used by many, many commercial games.

In Ohio, I offered multiple degree programs – one for design and web only, one for graphic design and one for game design. I did the same at the new school. And within a semester of teaching there my classes went completely full because of my reputation for being a good professor.

So I had a full class for Intro to Game Design. There’s a law called a FERPA law that says that you can not discriminate against students with disabilities. That law extends to students with mental illness issues. The law states that you can not talk to anyone about the student’s issue unless there is a signed consent form from the student. I had a signed consent form because the father had already come to see me with the form in hand. But I was prohibited from taking any kind of action until the student would do something that would cause his removal from the classroom. That’s the law and there was nothing I could do about it. I was also the department head for two campuses and I was well advised on the FERPA law.

I arrived at my office one morning to find a group of students waiting for me because he had sent threatening letters threatening to kill me and my students. He had sent the correspondence to one student to let him in on his “plan.” I immediately asked, “Where is he?”

Unfortunately, I was told that he was up in the classroom and most of the class was already seated. I ran up the stairs. And when I entered the classroom, they were in fact already seated and he was there with backpack. And I realized looking at the position of the exit doors and where he was sitting that I could not get the students safely out of the room. I also realized that perhaps he didn’t know that I knew. There was nothing in the letter to say that the plan would be executed on that day. So I made a decision that I had to make. I excused myself for moment telling the class, “I just got a call that I need to answer for a moment, I’ll be right back and then we’ll start class.”

I stepped outside and started the Threat Assessment Process and told them exactly what was going on and that I intended to teach the class in order to buy them enough time to get the professionals there. At the end of class, I would ask him to stay. That would give the other students time to leave the classroom and then when I walked out the door with the student, they could grab him. It was a huge gamble. But there wasn’t a good way to get these students out of the classroom. And I’m not saying that I would advocate handling every situation this way. My gut just told me that he has no idea that I know.

So that’s exactly what I did. I taught the class. I taught the class for most of the class by casually sitting on his table in case I needed to move to grab him. From his perspective, he thought that I was camping out to engage him more in the classroom discussion of the day – which I did. The students left at the end and when he and I walked out the door, the state police apprehended him. He was immediately evaluated and committed to a mental institution upon their findings.

And then I was called before the administration to personally answer for this. And here’s what the dean’s position was – that because there were weapons in the library of the Unreal Engine and there were weapons in all of Epic Game’s maps at that time that this had caused the problem and it was bad judgement on part to use the engine for game design.

This was ludicrous and I couldn’t believe I was hearing this out of the mouth of a person with a Ph.D. I made her completely aware that this kid had problems before he ever set foot in my classroom and I had a copy of a signed release from his father from the meeting we had.

To which her answer was, “Yes, but he was attracted to your kind of class for a reason and your class caused the problem.”

I could not believe I was hearing this because the logic was so poor. And she was adamant that we not use the engine again. She was eliminating all my plans for the new courses that used their development tools.

Of course the police investigated the whole incident. And what they found really bothered me. They found that this kid had been expelled from his public high school for calling in a bomb threat. But yet there was no system, no measures, no safeguards to keep this kid from entering a public university.

Upon hearing this, I did tell the university, “This kid had major issues, long before he ever heard about my game design class. Your logic does not hold up in the situation.”

So when yesterday’s events transpired in Jacksonville, of course it brings to mind my own personal experience and the whole, “Which came first the chicken or the egg?” debate.

I stay out of politics and I refrain from comments on public events. But this time I think I’m willing to say what I really think.

The problem is the access that we allow people to have to real weapons, not the games. When some people get angry, they can not hold their tempers and if they have access to a weapon, then they use it. If they have an undiagnosed mental issue, we don’t know about it until they’ve gone too far.

What we should really be questioning is the access to the real weapon. The use of real guns is what has become out of control in this country. Mental issues can be very difficult things to diagnose and too many people are given access to things that they shouldn’t be allowed access. And the only way to curb the problem is with some type of gun control.

When they wrote the constitution and the first amendment, people were not as aware or educated about mental illness. If they were, would they have made the same decision about a “right to bear arms?” In the days when the law was fashioned, there was a different need for the right to bear arms.

Times change and sometimes laws need to change with the times.

That’s what I really think.

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