Several horrible killings took place over the last weekend in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, with at least 29 people dead in their wake. But in the search for recourse and ways to prevent further tragedy, it seems we're launching into the same discussion we've always had. And it's around video games.
In a statement today, President Donald Trump blamed, among other things, video games for the violence. "We must stop the glorification of violence in our society," Trump says. "This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace."
This echoes talking points from fellow Republicans like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who cited video games as a factor for gun violence in a Fox News interview, as well as Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.
The urge to blame video games echoes back two decades to the Columbine shootings, when two classmates who killed 12 students and a teacher were found to have created Doom levels in their spare time. (It was debunked that these levels resembled their school or schoolmates). At the time, then-Senator Jeff Sessions testified in front of the Senate, saying "they are able to hook into the internet and play video games that are extraordinarily violent, that cause the blood pressure to rise and the adrenaline level to go up."
Games have often been a subject of discussion following episodes of mass violence, including Heath High School, Sandy Hook, and Parkland. There's even the example of the Jacksonville shooting during a Madden tournament. Whether found inside manifestos or among the shooter's possessions after the incident, video games provide an easy out: they're violent, and so was this.
Trump even held a meeting last year with members of the video game industry, where those in attendance viewed a sizzle reel of violent moments from games like Call of Duty, Dead by Daylight, Fallout, and Wolfenstein. The Washington Post later spoke to members who attended the meeting, and reports suggest that during the meeting calls for greater regulation on the video game industry were "strong."
Studies have been published, from the United States Secret Service and Department of Education, New York Times, Brock University, Oxford University, and more, analyzing the effect of violent video games. Though studies have argued both that violent video games do and do not cause violence, a Supreme Court ruling cited that decades of scientific studies have failed to prove any such link. Often, there are many other common denominators just as or more present than video games, including the perpetrator's social life and personal beliefs.
Some have spoken up in defense of games. In a statement to USG, the International Game Developers Association sent their condolences to those affected by the events in Dayton and El Paso while also refuting claims by President Trump.
"Society has endured too many senseless acts of violence and horrific mass shootings," their statement says. "Blaming video games distracts from the broader issues at hand. There is an overwhelming amount of research that finds there is no evidence linking video games to violence. Video games do not cause violence, and we support efforts to discontinue this misguided information."
Others, like esports lawyer Bryce Blum, who pointed out the sale of video games is global but the gun violence epidemic is not. Democractic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also tweeted her rebuttal to McCarthy's statement, saying "video games aren't causing mass shootings, white supremacy is."
But this discussion is ultimately serving to distract from the actual issue at hand. Gun violence and mass shootings are abhorrently prevalent in American society, and video games simply provide an adequate political smokescreen to shift the topic of discussion. When the argument goes from "how do we stop the violence" to "should we ban violent video games," it keeps us from ever sussing out the solution.
Video games as a common denominator is becoming less effective due to the growing number of people who play them. These aren't cartridges you have to seek out, but popular media that is played and enjoyed almost everywhere. The global prevalence of games like Fortnite is enough to show that video games are not some discernible outlier, any more than reading books or watching Netflix. Yet video games still carry the weight of paranoia; Night Trap and Mortal Kombat still somehow inspire the same boogeyman visage. That's enough to get an audience already disinterested in games to become worried.
Ultimately, this is the same rodeo we've been through a dozen times, and all it serves to do is pull the lens from actual discussion. But as long as gun violence persists and certain lobbies desire to keep the focus off themselves, video games can still make an appealing scapegoat.