Gamers play video games during the Gamescom 2014 fair in Cologne on Aug. 13, 2014.
Photo by Ina Fassbender/Reuters

Why blaming gun violence on video games doesn’t make sense


Just two days after the massacre at a Florida high school, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) called for an important new public restriction. “We need to have an honest conversation as to what should and should not be allowed in the United States as it relates to the things being put in the hands of our young people,” Bevin told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Was he referring to guns? No, when the Republican governor mentioned “things being put in the hands of our young people,” he was talking about video games.

Donald Trump is apparently thinking along similar lines.

The president also proposed regulating the content children consume in video games, movies and on the Internet because, he said, the “level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts” and “bad things” are happening to their minds.

“We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it,” Trump said, adding that some movies are “so violent” but don’t feature sex so they’re often available for children to see and he wondered if some type of rating system might be necessary to address the issue.

Of course, there’s already a ratings system in place for video games and movies, though it’s entirely possible the president doesn’t know that.

Regardless, if this line of argument sounds familiar, there’s a good reason for that. 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.”

That was certainly an odd thing to hear on national television, but it was part of a larger pattern: for much of the right, it’s better to focus on pixelated guns than actual guns.

Reality, however, keeps getting in the way. Video gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in other countries, with young people playing many of the same titles, but we don’t see comparable gun violence in those countries. Similarly, blaming films and television might make more sense if we didn’t export our entertainment to countries that, again, don’t have the kind of mass shootings that are alarmingly frequent here.

Even the debate about mental health tends to overlook the fact that there’s nothing unique about the United States and mental illness.

We are, however, the only modern Western democracy that makes tools of mass violence readily available to its citizens. To overlook this fact and zero in on video games is a mistake.