Since I started this column a few years ago, I’ve written a few pieces defending video games when society wants to blame them for the latest mass shooting, which is basically every time one occurs.
I’m disappointed that now, after the Parkland, Florida, shooting that claimed 17 lives, I still have to say this, but here goes: There has never been a scientific study that links video games to real-world violent crime. The truth is, games don’t cause shootings, and it’s frankly pathetic that leaders point to games as a scapegoat when a lunatic goes on a rampage.
The fact that games don’t cause violence didn’t stop President Donald Trump from announcing he would meet with video game executives this week to explore the relationship between games and violent crime. I’m sorry, Mr. Trump, but these meetings, if they even happen, are going to be a waste of everyone’s time.
I can’t blame the president too much, though, considering his ignorance on the subject (or maybe I can precisely because of his ignorance). Trump has been saying for years that violent video games create “monsters,” and he even went so far as to say violence in video games needs to be regulated through a rating system. Apparently, he doesn’t know a video game rating system has existed for decades through the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
But the people I’m happy to blame for this repetitive, false narrative are the gaming journalists who have for years purported the same nonsense as Trump and who immediately changed their tunes when it was evident Trump agreed with them. Their hypocrisy is even more disappointing than having to repeat ad infinitum the fact that video games don’t cause violence in the first place.
For the better part of a decade, gaming website Polygon has published several articles that at least give the impression violent games can be a factor in crimes, if not outright directly link them. Instead of defending the industry they supposedly love from unverified claims, Polygon’s writers were fine with correlating video game and real-world violence.
In 2013, Brian Crecente wrote an article titled, “Curing the country of gun violence requires research into video games too.” In it, he wrote, “Video games have become so deeply ingrained in modern society that ignoring their impact would be akin to ignoring the effects of movies, of music or of the daily news on society. And all of those forms of media play an important role in any complete, holistic approach to solving the problem of American gun violence.”
Three years later, Crecente wrote another article titled, “Guns, games and violence: The real questions you should be asking.” He wrote, “Does playing a video game steeped in a cycle of kill-die-kill have an impact on players? Almost certainly. Arguing that an overwhelmingly violent game doesn’t impact its users is akin to arguing that any game with a singular drive or message can’t inspire or evoke change.”
However, after Trump said during a discussion at the White House that he’s “hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts,” Crecente pulled a 180. He tweeted, “Dear @realDonaldTrump, here’s two experts explaining why video games don’t cause violence,” and linked to an article on Rolling Stone, the website he now works for.
It’s a complete reversal of opinion, but Crecente isn’t the only one.
Last month, Ben Kuchera wrote a Polygon piece titled, “I can’t believe we’re still blaming video games in 2018.” Kuchera apparently can’t believe his own website, which for years has published several pieces correlating video games and violence. If you want to get rid of this negative stigma where games are blamed for societal ills, maybe start with your own publication.
Anita Sarkeesian is a culture critic who for years has linked video games to sexism, misogyny, racism and violence. She believes “games have a huge impact on our society because the media plays a role in helping to shape our attitudes,” she has said.
I wrote a piece back in 2015 when, during a trailer premiere for “Doom,” Sarkeesian tweeted, “Only a few minutes into the Bethesda press conference and it’s wall to wall glorification of grotesque violence I can barely watch. It’s really troubling (and depressing) that the audience is enthusiastically cheering for bodies being ripped apart. This level of violence shouldn’t be considered normal.”
Sarkeesian is another critic who changed her tune as soon as it appeared she might actually agree with Trump. After it was reported Trump would meet with video game executives as part of the ongoing debate over school safety, Sarkeesian tweeted, “Lol wut?? Who, may I ask, are these mysterious industry executives whose games will never be taken seriously again?”
I don’t know, Ms. Sarkeesian. Maybe the same executives who already aren’t taken seriously because they consulted you after you erroneously linked video games to misogyny. Maybe those ones.
If you believe video games cause violence, you’re wrong—but you’re welcome to your opinion. But at least have the integrity to stick by it when someone you abhor agrees with you.
As for me, I’m getting sick of having to defend games when tragedy befalls our nation. Unfortunately, I don’t think this decades-old tradition of blaming games for violence will ever go away.