A couple of months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) argued on MSNBC, “I think video games is [sic] a bigger problem than guns, because video games affect people.” It was an odd thing for anyone, least of all a sitting senator, to say on national television.
But the line of thinking nevertheless seems to come up frequently in the aftermath of mass shootings, and this week is no different – Aaron Alexis, the apparent gunman at this week’s Navy Yard slayings, was reportedly a fan of violent video games.
Ryan Grim and Christina Wilkie report that it’s a detail drawing attention on Capitol Hill.
Military contractor Aaron Alexis’s mother and those who knew him well have spoken freely of his interest in gaming, and his friends have speculated that it adversely affected his state of mind. Foreign press, led by British newspapers, have focused on what they’ve called his “addiction” to violent video games. Here at home, The Drudge Report has bannered the connection repeatedly.
The step between an issue showing up on The Drudge Report and its discussion in Congress is often coverage on Fox News, and the network has obliged, regularly bringing up a connection between video games and violence.
A House Republican leadership aide told HuffPost that a hearing on the topic is likely to come soon, a significant escalation of the debate. “Between stories on the news and on Drudge and what they are hearing from their constituents, there are an increasing number of members who want to examine the link between the violence in video games and violence in real life,” the aide said.
As we discussed in February, I’ll gladly concede that societal violence is an extremely complex, multi-faceted problem, and there are cultural factors to consider.
But for lawmakers to focus on the availability of virtual guns instead of actual guns seems misguided.
To reiterate our last discussion on the topic, even if we put aside the irony of the underlying point – blaming simulated, pixelated guns is fine; blaming real guns is not – these arguments aren’t new. Plenty of officials have been arguing for years that violent games desensitize players and contributes to a larger corrosive effect on the culture.
The problem, however, is that the evidence to bolster the arguments is thin. It’s only natural for society to look for satisfying explanations after senseless violence, but social science research does not support claims that gaming and gun violence are connected.
What’s more, the United States is not the only country with young people who play a lot of video games, but it is the only country with high rates of gun violence.
Gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, England, Japan, and Canada – where players enjoy many of the same games sold in the U.S. – and yet, none of these countries sees the all-too-common deadly shootings we do.
And why not? Sociologists can speak to the differences in depths I cannot, but I suspect it has something to do with access to firearms. It may seem tautological, but let’s state it for the record anyway: societies with fewer guns have less gun violence, whether they’re playing “Halo” or not.