Recently America has had four mass shootings all in the timeframe of one week. I want you to let that sink in. Four mass shootings in one week. Whenever something like this happens, it reignites the heated gun control argument which has been plaguing American politics ever since the Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. And some politicians have found a new villain to blame for these acts of atrocity – video games.
While this argument only resurfaced recently, it has been stated ever since video games themselves. The first time worries about games inducing violent behavior in those who played them began when Mortal Kombat was released. In terms of gameplay, it wasn’t different from older fighting games like Street Fighter and Tekken, but the game marketed itself on its intense graphic violence. A magazine cover advertising the game showed two of the game characters popping out of the arcade machine and thrashing the players, with the tagline ‘So real it hurts!’. The older generation was shocked by the game, and paranoia over the violence desensitizing kids was so strong it led to Congress passing laws that required manufacturers to inform parents of any ‘sensitive material’ which was included, creating the ESRB. The paranoia grew stronger with the rise of the first-person-shooter genre which spawned games like Call of Duty and Battlefield, where you play as a soldier shooting down enemies. And now these video games are being blamed for indoctrinating violent behavior in those who play them, which could lead to them committing violent acts.
So now that we’ve got the history out of the way, allow me to explain why this argument is a load of garbage. To start, let me take you on an imaginary trip to Japan, which only has a fifth of the US’s GDP, but spends half as much money on video games. Clearly, Japan is much more video-game centric than the US. So by the logic that video games lead to violence, Japan should have even more violence than the US, correct? Wrong. America has over 200 times the number of gun deaths that Japan does. If video games truly were the cause of violence, then gun death would be proportional to video game sales, but clearly, that is not true.
Society has a pattern of creating scapegoats to blame for their problems. Before video games, it was hip-hop. Before that, it was metal. Before that, it was Dungeons & Dragons, and before that, it was the hippies, and before that, it was the television, and before that, it was the radio, and way before that, it was books. Yes, when books first came around, scholars said that the ability to write would lead to people’s brains weakening. Quite simply, people are afraid of things that they can’t understand. The boomer generation doesn’t understand D&D or heavy metal, so they call them Satanist. They don’t understand hip-hop, so they blame it for gang activity. And they don’t understand video games, so they blame it for violence.
But when this scapegoat is brought up in news or politics, it’s because of more than misunderstanding and irrational fear. Think about who is preaching this argument. Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, all hardline Republicans. The reason they blame video games is that they can’t admit the truth. They blame mental health, they blame the education system, they even go so far to blame ‘a lack of thoughts and prayers’ because they can’t admit the truth. The US has the most relaxed gun laws of any rich country, and the most guns. That’s why they have four mass shootings in one week. That’s why massacres like that have become normalized.
Video games are not the problem.