We’re Blaming The Wrong Thing

Empty Game Shelf at Wal-Mart
Wal-Mart, despite claiming otherwise, has begun to empty violent games from store shelves along with promotional banners following the recent shootings. Source: @TylerMayCry/Twitter

Today, I wanted to write something more positive. I wanted to gush about how the Nintendo Switch is my all-time favorite console and how it has reinvigorated my love for video games.

Sadly, something tragic happens last week that has left impacts felt through the U.S., but also impacts this hobby. August 2019 has kicked off a slew of mass shootings with one even hitting close to home.

In the past few weeks there have been four notable cases in Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton, and Southaven (which is a few minutes away from Memphis).

Two of the incidents happened last weekend and two of four happened inside a Wal-Mart (more on that later).

These recent shootings have brought up gun violence yet again. Democrats have pushed for tougher gun laws but Republicans want to shift the blame to something else.

For as long as I have played them, video games have always been the scapegoat as harbingers of violence in youth. Titles like Mortal Kombat and DOOM were controversial for the blood, gore, and violent nature.

Concerned parents wanted this games to be banned and blamed them for creating deviants. Because of the controversial nature, the ESRB or Entertainment Software Ratings Board was created in 1994.

It was a ratings system similar to how movies are rated. E (previously K-A) meant that the title was suitable for all ages while the M rating is for mature audiences (usually anyone under 16-years-old could not buy a game without parents present). Labels would also include short details about the content like language, suggestive themes, or partial nudity.

The ESRB still exists and a similar system would be in place for televised content two years later with the TV Parental Guidelines. However, this still has deter blame directed towards video games whenever mass shootings occur.

One notable case I remember from my childhood was Columbine High School. The teen shooters were fans of DOOM and rumors even circulated that they even created a level based on their school. The stage was never found but those wanting games banned had fuel for their fire.

There have been many other cases but I could spend so much time writing about them. Let’s fast-forward to 2019!

After last week’s shootings, President Trump spoke out against the crimes. Rather than focusing on the actual causes, he drew attention to something unrelated.

He said:
We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy today for troubled youth to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence.

Other Republicans like Kevin McCarthy said that violent video games “dehumanize” others and will be a “problem” in the future. Trump has threatened further restrictions.

Some retailers like taken upon themselves to ban violent games. Wal-Mart has begun to remove nearly all their games from their shelves in a few stores.

IGN had asked the company if it is banning them and representatives has said that they haven’t directed stores to take any titles down but signage and ads were being ripped down.

At first, I found the initial rhetoric comical. It was expected and video games are almost always to be blamed whenever these tragedies occur. Despite the El Paso shooter writing in his manifesto wanting to kill immigrants for invading the country and using similar language as Trump, the focus went away from meaningful gun legislation and rampant white supremacy.

Now that stores like Wal-Mart are banning violent games, I wonder where this leads. Disney has also followed similar suit and cancelled a televised APEX Legends tournament, originally set to air on ABC and ESPN on Sunday.

Surely, stores like Best Buy and GameStop in addition to digital marketplaces like Amazon, PlayStation Store, and the Nintendo eShop will continue to offer these titles and probably financially benefit to lost sales at Wal-Mart. However, I fear this could lead to becoming more of a police state.

Above all, video games are definitely not to blame for the actions of these shooters.

Games vs. Guns
Source: Vox Media

Despite what Republicans and pro-gun lobby groups like the NRA want you to believe, there is no direct link to violent game causing people to gun down innocent people. If this was to be true, there would be more cases worldwide and would be entirely centered on the United States.

Countries like Japan, South Korea, Canada, and the United Kingdom gains millions of dollars from games sold, but have far fewer deaths from shootings. These places have laws in place that have stricter gun ownership rules. Compare that to the U.S., especially in the South, where laws are lax thanks to the second amendment and you can get your gun in the same day or with ease at a gun show.

Many countries around the world play the same games but America seems to be the only developed nation that has this specific problem.

Can games cause aggressive behavior. The APA seems to think so but are not quick to link video games to mass shootings.

On the contrary, games can have to certain benefits like improved cognitive skills, foster creativity and problem-solving techniques, and create positive feelings.

Speaking from my own personal experience, video games have calmed me down on days where I feel down and out. They are also a great way to stay connected with my friends back in Memphis and elsewhere, which help combat the loneliness I have felt most of my time here in Florida.

There are just great set-pieces and music that pull emotional tugs like in the scene in Final Fantasy IX where Zidane has learned of his heritage and tries to shrug off his friends as he stumbles and realizes what incredible friendship he has (the soundtrack does a great job honing the emotional impact).

There are these creative titles that have such beautiful stories and are truly works of art. Not once have I felt so negative about playing video game. I am confident many others feel the same way.

I am preaching to the choir here but there is something that must be made clear to politicians. Please stop blaming video games for every tragic event and look at the roots of the real issues that plague this nation.

Additional Fun Viewing & Reading


Why video games aren’t causing America’s gun problem, in one chart by Alvin Chang (Vox)

Guns and Games: The Relationship between Violent Video Games and Gun Crimes in America (Webster University)

Fact check: Are violent video games connected to mass shootings? by Ellie Kaufman (CNN)

Politicians Blame Video Games For Tragic Mass Shootings Again, & Nobody’s Buying It by YongYea (YouTube)

The NRA, Gun Violence, and Video Games by George Wiedman/Superbunnyhop (YouTube)

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