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?