A culture of scapegoating and responsibility-dodging

Surprising absolutely nobody, in the wake of Sandy Hook’s shooting, the American congress is swinging into rapid and decisive action… against video games. Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks sums it up nicely:

What’s more is, the narrative against video games appears to have been set well before there was any proof that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was a gamer. It was set, in fact, when reporters misreported the shooter as a Ryan Lanza, the name of Adam’s brother. People found a Ryan Lanza’s Facebook profile, though it might still have been an entirely unrelated Ryan; they noticed that he had Liked the page for Mass Effect, and Mass Effect became the first scapegoat for the shootings.

While Mass Effect has guns, it is a space opera RPG. Primarily, it is a long story told in heavy dialog, punctuated secondarily by morality decisions and rather straightforward tactical third-person shooting. It’s not a game series that makes terribly much sense to blame for a mass shooting — not with the consequences of every action so vividly displayed, and not with the very real sense of loss you are saddled with when you make a mistake and an ally dies permanently. It’s a ridiculous choice for a scapegoat.

And the flash mob that appeared to blame Mass Effect and Ryan Lanza for the shootings completely ignores the gun culture that exists in America and differentiates it from other countries that play the same video games — where America’s gun deaths per capita is 10.2/100,000, Japan’s is 0.07/100,000. See this chart for latest available numbers. And nobody can tell us that guns don’t exist in Japan, nor that Japanese folks play no video games. The difference is gun control. Even looking at intentional homicide for the same two countries reveals 4.2/100,000 in the US (in 2011) vs Japan’s 0.02. Presumably this intentional homicide is not entirely made up of guns, but it certainly puts the death rates into perspective. There is a culture difference between Japan and the US that does not indicate video games as the source of violence. And the same can be said of other countries in which video games are popular.

Thinking back at other moral panics that have been blamed for violence, teen degeneracy, promiscuity, or irreligiosity, though, video games are hardly the only scapegoat. It’s been comic books, movies, literature, and basically every other form of art. Which one seems to change with whichever is the most popular of the time. And it’s like an art version of the same technophobia that leads each new technology being blamed for vague and unspecified illnesses — power lines and wireless towers spring to mind immediately, but I’m sure there have been others.

With video games, as with previous scapegoats, the evidence says otherwise:

The myth that video games cause violent behavior is undermined by scientific research and common sense. According to FBI statistics, youth violence has declined in recent years as computer and video game popularity soared. We do not claim that the increased popularity of games caused the decline, but the evidence makes a mockery of the suggestion that video games cause violent behavior. Indeed, as the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared: “The state has not produced substantial evidence that … violent video games cause psychological or neurological harm to minors.”

So why are people so loath to talk about the real problem — the gun culture? Why are people so loath to actually implement sensible gun control, preferring instead to straw-man the problem as one of extremes, where either there are no guns or every person owns a dozen? Why have we not yet moved on from a position where the solutions that are offered are not evidence-based in the least, like the NRA’s suggestion to put armed guards in schools (reminder: there was one at Columbine, and he was at best a spoiler and certainly no panacea), to a position where we acknowledge there’s a problem and seek out the best evidence available?

A culture of scapegoating and responsibility-dodging

17 thoughts on “A culture of scapegoating and responsibility-dodging

  1. 1

    When I read the title of the post A culture of scapegoating and responsibility-dodging I thought, “finally, a thread about me!” But no, Thibeault was talking about Congress riding the anti-video game horse. What a disappointment. 🙁

    Seriously, this sort of thing often happens when there’s an atrocity. Someone sees a link, often a weak link, between the supposed culprit and some activity out of the middle-aged, upper-class spectrum of common hobbies of congresscritters. Then this activity becomes the subject of much discussion in Congress until the next crisis occurs. If no crisis occurs within a reasonable time, there’ll be a law or two passed to “save the youf of ‘Merica” from something or other.

  2. 2

    Mass Effect though? Seriously?

    (reminder: there was one at Columbine, and he died first)

    I don’t remember if this is true, but if there was and if I wanted to kill a bunch of kids at school it seems like the obvious thing to do would be to just kill the guard first. Then take his or her gun and use it to kill more people.

    So I guess that means we should have like 4 or 5 armed guards per school, just to be safe. Right? Or, like the NRA suggested, armed volunteers. Because that isn’t creepy at all.

  3. 4

    It goes beyond the gun culture. The US is a total culture of violence from the Federal Government on down that takes pleasure in inflicting itself on the entire world.

  4. 6

    Don’t hate to correct me — I’m duly corrected. I completely misremembered. Doesn’t change that the guard was, at best, a distraction to Harris.

    I’ve added a link which shows as much and will update the text in a moment.

  5. 8

    Penny Arcade put up their Monday comic strip early, and I think makes an interesting….point? Dunno if that’s the right word/distinction.
    Comic here.

    I found it an interesting way to look at it, at least.

  6. 9

    My only problem with this is that while it’s true that the percentage of video game players who perpetrate mass shootings is vanishingly small, the percentage of gun owners who perpetrate mass shootings is equally small.

    It’s disgusting and disheartening to see second amendment defenders like LaPierre throwing the first amendment under the bus, but neither should video game and movie apologists be throwing the second amendment under the bus. It’s appalling to hear La Pierre stigmatize gamers or the mentally ill as monsters, in order to protect the second amendment. But lets not go to far overboard stigmatizing law abiding gun owners, either.

  7. 10

    A new decade, a new fiction, a new scapegoat. People used to say “dungeons and dragons leads to sucide and murder!” Then it was heavy metal – remember the idiot parent who sued Judas Priest (after her son’s suicide) and lost? Now it’s violent video games. As with the first two, all the research and scientific studies say the same thing, it’s not the entertainment that causes the problem. And as with the first two, we see knee jerk reactions by jerks on their knees praying and braying, claiming to have the “solution” while avoiding the source of the problem.

    I’ve never subscribed to the belief that every problem has one cause and one solution. Yes, the ridiculous number of guns in the US is a big source of the problem, no doubt about that. The US absolutely does need gun control, those who kill with guns likely wouldn’t without them. But there are plenty of other countries with large numbers of privately owned guns (e.g. Canada, Sweden, etc.) and don’t have the number of violent incidents the US does.

    There are plenty of countries that don’t have a lot of guns but do have a large number of violent incidents, murders and assaults. In countries with a macho culture, the “winner” in an argument is often the one willing to use the most violence. Comparing the three links below, countries with a lot of guns tend to have low rates of physical violence and murders, while countries with few guns have more. It’s not a strong correlation, but a lot of the numbers match.




    The US is one of the few with both excess guns and a confrontational culture. In some countries the guns per hundred may be low, but certain members of the country have a lot of guns and use them in confrontations (e.g. Israeli squatters, the so-called “settlers”). There are many macho cultures where physical confrontation is or has become the norm, where idiots strut like roosters to prove they are tough, fighting if necessary. One could spend a week on youtube watching road rage videos from Russia alone, and there are plenty of other countries do it too (i.e. South and Central American countries).

    What’s really interesting is comparing mainland European countries like Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland. Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership, yet amongst the lowest rates of murder and assault. Aren’t the Swiss known for resolving conflict by discussion and not violence? The same applies to the other countries listed – the lack of desire for confrontation keeps the murder and assault rates comparatively low.


  8. 11

    Jason, interesting and much needed presentation on video games. From my vantage point people have not been shy about discussing America’s gun culture or gun control, but then I feel like that has been a scapegoat of a different color as well. There are plenty of folks who live and participate in this so-called “gun culture” who are not violent. Examining the evidence is tough in this case because gun control legislation to date has proved ineffective. At least that’s what I’ve observed. For example, I live and work in two cities that have strict gun control laws but are among the most violent and dangerous in the US. I think the problem is much more complex than many are willing to admit and that comparisons with other countires is of limited utility. We’re going to have to get past our obsession with finding a single or convenient scapegoat to demonize, and policy makers may have to develop solutions that acknowledge the breadth of the problem instead of looking for magic bullets and crowd pleasing soundbytes.

  9. 12

    I’ve having this very problem in a discussion of the issue with a friend. And I’ve come to realize something: guns are holy. They are sacred and we must don’t profane them by discussing them.

    It’s the only thing that makes sense. Fertilizer bombs get used and we make it harder to get the ingredients. Crash some airplanes into skyscrapers and make it difficult for everyone to travel. Hell, I can’t even get good cold medicine because of meth makers. But shoot people and we are not allowed to talk about the guns. The gun is good.

    The US government can violate the 1st, 4th, and 5th, and 6th Amendments all they want, but even consider looking at the 2nd in a different light? Sacrilige! Ignore that milita part too, it’s not important.

    The more I think about this and talk about it, the more angry I get. And the more powerless I feel.

  10. 13

    “So why are people so loath to talk about the real problem — the gun culture? Why are people so loath to actually implement sensible gun control, preferring instead to straw-man the problem as one of extremes, where either there are no guns or every person owns a dozen?”

    Hell if I know, though I suspect it’s because, for quite a while now, there has been a highly selective reading of the 2A that conveniently omits the first part of the Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.”

    As for myself, I would rather like to see a gun-free country — I know, I know, but a fur can dream! In lieu of going 100% gun-free, I’ll happily take sensible gun-control policies.

    Oddly enough, this pacifist does rather enjoy some violent games… so long as violence isn’t the entire point of the game. When it’s part of the story (and totally fake), I can deal with it. It’s the RL violence that I have a problem with.

  11. 14

    You can see it in their defences too. One Facebook connection pulled out a video of some guy shooting off his AK-47 and said “but he’s a responsible gun owner. Why shouldn’t he have an assault rifle. I inquired why anyone should be wandering around with military ordnance, and suddenly it’s “LIBERTY!!!! RIGHTS!!!! otherwise we’re just like SOMALIA! or NORTH KOREA!” Or the dipshits over at The Citadel (I’m too lazy to link to them, I’m sure that some googling will turn them up.). A heavily-armed, fortified intentional community, whose sole planned industry is gunmaking, and which includes on the plans a “Firearms Museum and Reflecting Pool.”

  12. 15

    Someone on facebook made the comment that the murder rate in the USA is lower than in London because all our crime was through knives…

    I had to point out that our rates are calculated per million rather than 100,000… London has the highest murder rate in Albion with a whopping 16 murders per million per year. It is high…

    New York (a similarly sized city) has 4.2 per 100,000 (or 42 per million). Washington has nearly 200 per million if we compared capitals.

    America needs to learn that guns are sold on the perverted notion that you will one day become a hero when you use said gun to stop a crime… They sell the notion that the pull of the trigger is a simple one and that the person you shoot deserves it.

    I don’t think any other country sells guns on that premise.

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