Gamers with any passing interest in politics were likely counting down the days (or, perhaps, hours) before pundits and politicians alike cited violent video games as a motivating factor behind the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 dead, including 20 young children. Why? Because the killer, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, was known to play violent video games.
Having seen one of our favorite art forms defamed, pilloried and eviscerated for everything from childhood obesity to other instances of gun violence, notably the Columbine shootings in 1999, we at Flatiron Hot! News, along with our fellow gamers, have ample reason to suspect that the Sandy Hook shootings will provoke a similar allegations.
The arguments for a causal link between gaming and violence are few, and the arguments against one many. Still, this has not stopped a bipartisan group of high-profile figures including former Florida attorney Jack Thompson (since disbarred, discredited and exiled from television networks for harassment of legal officials), Bill O’Reilly, soon-to-retire Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and retiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from continuing to push the fallacious argument that one form of entertainment is uniquely capable of inciting violence in young people.
Despite such formidable backing, countless attempts to restrict the sale of games, culminating in a nationwide crusade after hackers discovered “sexually explicit” content (really, on about the level of naked Barbie and Ken dolls) hidden in the coding of Rockstar’s popular title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, have failed.
Federal and district courts have rejected attempts to censor and/or regulate games in a manner similar to pornography. In 2011, the Supreme Court, usually conservative on social issues, ruled against the banning or censorship of violent video games in a 7-2 decision on First Amendment grounds.
While it is true that many school shooters have indeed played violent video games, the same can be said for the vast majority of males under the age of 40. Blaming violent video games for school shootings because the shooters happened to play them is no more logical than blaming oxygen. Even after endless independent studies (oftentimes funded by taxpayer dollars) a causal link between violent video games and real-world violence has not been established. Some studies have shown that, on the contrary, playing violent video games in moderation can be a healthy way for adolescents to vent their aggressive impulses in a make-believe setting.
Alas, legal and scientific repudiations have not detered self-proclaimed culture warriors and political opportunists from blaming video games for gun violence and sexual deviancy. Video games are an easy target compared to, say, movies, because the vast majority of officeholders in the U.S. do not play or understand them (although this is clearly changing).
Hence, they have no stake in how they are regulated. Furthermore, it is more politically viable for politicians to scapegoat video games than to address the real causes of gun violence in America, which would require, among other things, clashing with the powerful NRA gun lobby.
That said, gamers fearing for the future of their favorite art form have some reason to be optimistic. Ever since the ambulance-chasing Jack Thompson and his ilk targeted video games starting roughly with the Columbine shootings and carrying over well into the next decade placed video games in their crosshairs, the game industry has cultivated a formidable lobbying apparatus that grows in influence every year. Attempts to restrict or censor games will likely be met with fierce resistance from such lobbyists and the constituents they represent.
Further repudiating the anti-game crusaders is the fact that the video game already employs self-regulation that goes far beyond other forms of entertainment, restricting the sale of adult material to minors.The Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) is responsible for assigning each video game a rating, which must be displayed prominently on its packaging, and is if anything far less permissive than the Motion Picture Association in flagging content. Meanwhile, game retailers like Gamestop offer unprecedented cooperation in enforcing these ratings. For example, employees can be fined or fired for selling M-rated games to minors.
Speaking from experience and observation, it is easier to acquire R-rated movies, to alcohol, to illegal drugs, to firearms than the latest installment in Halo, God of War, Grand Theft Auto, or any other franchises frequently blamed for shootings.
But the gun lobby has a vested interest in linking video games to school shootings in order reflect blame from its own promotion of violence. In his recent, widely-panned speech in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, gun advocate Wayne LaPierre did just that. The tragic irony of this allegation is that Nancy Lanza, an avid gun enthusiast, took her son Adam to shooting ranges on multiple occasions.
Certainly, learning to fire a real weapon is better training for a school shooting than doing so with a controller that bears little resemblance to an actual gun. And yet, LaPierre does not apply the same argument to gun shows and firing ranges as he does to art forms protected under the First Amendment.
But what would you expect from a representative of the most deadly terrorist organization in America? It is long past time that we address the real causes of gun violence in America and stop pinning all the blame on convenient scapegoats.