I walked into our "TV room" the day of the killings in Connecticut to find some teenage boys playing video games with a shooter blasting away at the bloodied enemy.
"Hey, I've never been somebody who believes there's really a connection between video games and stuff that happens in real life, but just for today," I said, "let's turn that thing off."
My words didn't stem from any deep reflection. Impacted by the murder of so many little kids, I just suddenly felt that even pretend shootings were somehow disrespectful.
"As a parent you have the right to say, 'This game offends me and doesn't fit the morals of our family,' and that is all right," said Chris Ferguson, a former assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater who is now chairman of the Department of Psychology and Communication at Texas A&M International University. But, he added, the question of "moral content" is an entirely different one than whether violent video games cause an actual propensity to violence - a topic everyone is debating in the aftermath of Newtown, Conn.
The other day, Vice President Joe Biden went so far as to meet with both victims' organizations and representatives of the video game industry, which is enormous. Ninety percent of young men in America play video games at least occasionally, according to Ferguson.
No, there is no evidence that pretend violence turned any of them into real killers, according to a study the professor published in 2008.
He and other researchers asked over 100 undergraduates in Wisconsin and Texas to participate. Each student was tested for pre-existing aggressiveness and then given 45 minutes to play one of two video games: "Medal of Honor," which is pretty violent, or "Myst III," which is not. Under the impression the study was examining reaction time, they were then told to compete against an opponent ostensibly sitting at a different computer in another room. They were also informed that, if they prevailed, they could set the level and duration of noise blasted at their opponent as punishment. The noise was used to measure aggression.
Those who played "Medal of Honor" were no more aggressive than those who played "Myst III." Video game violence does not cause violent behavior, the study called "Violent Video Games and Aggression" concluded. Although, based on a second study that involved Florida residents, the researchers found that it might - in the case of some individuals predisposed to violence because of innate personality factors or exposure to violence in their family - act as a "stylistic catalyst."
A killer "may model violent behaviors" in a video game, in other words, but had that video game never existed the violence would still occur in another form.
Ferguson, in an interview, mentioned James Holmes, the guy who stands accused of the Aurora, Colo., theater shootings.
"Had Batman never existed, would he have shot up something (else)?" Ferguson said. "Probably." But he probably wouldn't have dyed his hair orange, the way The Joker does.
I asked Ferguson about my need for a reprieve from video violence the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. It was a human reaction based on the desire to "do something," but in the end merely an emotional one, he said. Violence is actually down in the video game-age, he noted.
Then he suggested that if I ever decide to really restrict the game-playing in my house, I ought to play myself first. It would give me more credibility.
I get that. But I think I'll pass for now. I know that what happens in the pretend world doesn't have an impact on what happens in the real one. But I'm still hoping that what has tragically happened in the real one might at least occasionally change what happens in the fake one.