In the wake of every mass shooting since Columbine is a moment where someone places the blame on video games. Like clockwork, politicians and censorship groups such as the Parents Television Council decry the ruination of our country’s moral fiber and mental state because of interactive entertainment.
And it is all so exhausting.
Mere hours after the mass school shooting in Parkland Springs, Fla., that left 17 dead, Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin — a National Rifle Association-endorsed candidate and past NRA Political Victory Fund forum speaker — went back to that old chestnut. Talking on the Louisville-based radio show of Leland Conway on Feb. 15, Bevin said “guns are not the problem,” but that video games are. Games are “garbage, the same as pornography,” Bevin said.
The conservative governor went on, saying video games are “forced down our throats under the guise of protected speech,” and that gaming is directly responsible for the number of school shootings in the United States.
That’s a lot to unpack and break down and is, essentially, one man’s opinion. Far be it from me to deny someone a convenient deflection from our country’s problematic cultural obsession with firearms, but no amount of impassioned counter-arguments on my part will sway the mind-set of the governor or anyone like-minded.
Sure, I could spew myriad studies, such as one released on Jan. 16 of this year by the University of York in the United Kingdom, that show how zero links have been found between real-world violence and gaming.
Numerous news stories on the positive aspects of gaming are ripe for sharing, such as a 2015 story by NPR’s Deborah Amos on how young women in Saudi Arabia are finding new ways of expression and community-building through games and gaming conventions.
I could even tell a heart-warming anecdote about a college friend who found solace in the face of his brother’s unexpected death through the game Flower. None of these things will sway someone whose mind is made up when it comes to gaming. There is no middle-ground. All games are either mindless, but fun cultural contributions such as Pac-Man, or murder simulators that are warping our country’s fragile youth like Call of Duty.
These gaming stereotypes boil down to a fast-closing age gap, as the generation that first grew up with gaming moves into parenthood and beyond. According to an “essential facts study” released in 2017 by the Entertainment Software Association, the average gamer’s age is 35 and that women age 18 and older represent a greater portion of the game-playing population than boys younger than 18.
These statistics would have seemed improbable in the 1990s, but now show that Bob Dylan was correct when he famously sang that “for the times they are a-changin’.” Of course, another thing that never seems to change is the search for a political scapegoat, and it's hard to find one more effective than violence in games.
President Trump was unable to resist the siren song of blaming popular media, saying at a Feb. 22 meeting with lawmakers and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi that “I’m hearing more and more people seeing the level of violence in video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” The President also took aim at films: “The fact is that you are having movies come out, that are so violent, with the killing and everything else, maybe that’s another thing we need to discuss."
The President went on to suggest that a rating system needs to be in place, while both the Motion Picture Association of America and Entertainment Software Rating Board’s rating systems sigh from the corner, once more forgotten and ignored. Perhaps our President was so excited over the idea of arming teachers as a solution to gun violence that he forgot these rating systems have existed since 1968 and 1995, respectively.
Deflection from the real issues at hand is nothing new when it comes to mass shootings, but I still find it tiring. Continually, the hobby and entertainment medium I love is trotted out by scared politicians and lobbyist groups as nothing more than the equivalent of a Sears family photographer telling an unhappy toddler to “smile and look over here at the birdie.”
At least until the next time. And the time after that. And again. There’s a truth that politicians such as Bevin and our own President fail to see. Until our country takes an introspective look at the toxic masculinity that drives gun culture and the supposed shamefulness of mental health care, we’ll be back here again.
I'll also be back, defending this thing that has brought me so much peace, community, joy, and stillness of mind. Video games can play the scapegoat every time, but will never be the heart of the problem.
Final Fantasy XV: Royal Edition (PS4, Xbox One, PC) – March 6; Scribblenauts Showdown (Switch, PS4, Xbox One) – March 6; Attack on Titan 2 (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch) - March 20; Sea of Thieves (Xbox One, PC) – March 20; Detective Pikachu (3DS) – March 23; Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom (PS4, PC) – March 23; Far Cry 5 (PS4, Xbox One, PC) - March 27; MLB The Show 18 (PS4) – March 27.
Contact William Harrison at DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.
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