It seems like it has been years since video games have been blamed for violence and tragedies. Since the 90s, video games had been under fire for causing youth violence. This swelling of outrage became a tumult after Columbine and continued to rise each time a major shooting involving a youth happened after that. Laws had been passed trying to ban the sale of violent games to minors and each of those laws had been struck down by the courts, ending with the US Supreme Court ruling that video games are protected speech and can’t be regulated in such a manner.
There were plenty of good things to come from all this commotion though. The ESRB rating system was a direct result of this outrage and has been used effectively for years by console manufacturers to give parents control over what games their children can play. It resulted in video game retailers denying the sale of M rated games to minors nearly 90% of the time, even while movie theaters and movie retailers retained a terrible track record for R rated movies.
After the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue, it had seemed that things were pretty settled. Only the very fringes of would blame games after a tragedy since then. That is until the Parkland, Florida shooting. It isn’t clear what made this particular tragedy different from those that came before it, but it sparked an outcry of blame against violent movies and games. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin blames violence in movies and games for school shootings. Kentucky suffered its own school shooting in January. In Rhode Island, Representative Nardolillo plans to introduce a bill to tax M rated games an additional 10% to fund mental health programs in schools. Even President Donald Trump called out violence in games and movies calling for a “rating system for that.” Finally, NewsOK is reporting that Representatives Mullin and Russell have both put the blame on video games for the recent tragedies. There is a lot to unpack in this but let’s give it a try.
Governor Bevin, who as pointed out earlier has dealt with a school shooting in his state recently, just outright says that guns are not the problem, video games are.
Guns are not the problem; we have a cultural problem in America.
There are video games that, yes, are listed for mature audiences, but kids play them and everybody knows it, and there’s nothing to prevent the child from playing them. They celebrate the slaughtering of people. There are games that literally replicate and give people the ability to score points for doing the very same thing that these students are doing inside of schools, where you get extra points for finishing someone off who’s lying there begging for their life.
These are quote-unquote video games, and they’re forced down our throats under the guise of protected speech. It’s garbage. It’s the same as pornography. They have desensitized people to the value of human life, to the dignity of women, to the dignity of human decency.
He goes on to talk about how video game developers and movie producers need to reflect on the need for their products and the depictions of violence within.
The fact that he wants to excuse guns completely from blame should be a huge red flag. While I am not a supporter of many of the gun control proposals out there, to say that they hold no blame in these tragedies is flat out denial. But then to make claims that Hollywood and video games are the reason for the cultural breakdown of society and that games are “forced down our throats” is laughable. There is no science to back up these claims. The science has been examined and found to be extremely lacking.
But then we have the massive mis-characterization of games as they are today. There are no points in games. There are no games that recreate the experiences of school shootings. There are no games on the market today that allow you to finish “someone off who’s lying there begging for their life”. These are simply false statements about what games are available. Perhaps he is equating the very edges of the indie scene with the console gaming industry, but that isn’t an accurate depiction of the games industry.
Next up we have Donal Trump playing the blame game as well.
I’m hearing more and more people seeing the level of violence in video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts
And then you go the further step, and that’s the movies.
You see these movies, and they’re so violent a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved, and maybe we need to put a rating system for that.
His statement is basically the same as Bevin’s, but with one extremely laughable addition. The fact that Trump calls for a rating system for games and movies. Perhaps he is completely unaware that movies have been rated since the 60s and video games have been rated since the 90s. Perhaps he isn’t ware that these ratings list the exact nature of the content of the medium the resulted in the designated rating. Who knows? But what is clear is that Trump is deflecting from the gun debate to attack a completely unrelated industry.
Next up we have Rhode Island’s State Rep. Nardolillo calling for a tax on M rated games to pay for mental health programs in schools.
Representative Robert Nardolillo III (R-Dist. 28, Coventry) will introduce legislation to increase mental health and counseling resources in schools by implementing a tax on video games rated “M” or higher.
“There is evidence that children exposed to violent video games at a young age tend to act more aggressively than those who are not,” stated Rep. Nardolillo. “This bill would give schools the additional resources needed to help students deal with that aggression in a positive way.”
Rep Nardolillo goes on to admit that states can’t outright ban games so instead they should apply a 10% sin tax to M rated games, increasing their cost by $6 in most cases. I am not sure if Rep Nardolillo is aware that his state is rather small and most people within its borders can simply drive 15 to 30 minutes to cross the border and buy a video game without this tax. That is beside the point that if these proposed programs are effective, there are much easier ways to raise the funds to pay for them. The proposed programs certainly sound good and are something that we should be investing in. The only problem is relying on a sin tax to pay for them. Sin taxes are historically ineffective at raising revenue and reducing consumption of the taxed product.
Next up Representative Steve Russell, who as News OK reports owns a gun manufacturer, Hollywood and video games hold responsibility for these tragedies.
In a newsletter to constituents a day after the Florida high school shooting, he wrote that “while it is important to discuss the implements and devices used to carry out these heinous acts, we cannot get to a solution simply by going after the tools.”
“It means Hollywood not getting a pass to condemn such acts while perpetuating such behavior on the screen. It means our video gaming industry admitting that they may have a role in altering mental abhorrence to violence and the harming of innocents,” Russell wrote. “It means our educators being willing to admit that resistance to our Judeo-Christian ethic in teaching respect and morality in the classroom has created untethered generations who struggle to identify what is right and wrong.”
Representative Markwayne Mullin had something very similar to say.
“I walked upstairs not too long ago. My two boys were playing ‘Call of Duty’ with my brother-in-law and I looked at it for about three minutes and my palms were sweaty. I was seeing things that I’ve seen in real life and I thought the graphics are so real that that can’t be good. I made them turn it off and they’ve never gotten to play it since,” said Mullin, whose sons will be 14 and 13 years old, respectively, this year.
“We’re desensitizing our kids to violence,” he added. “Hollywood elites always want to call on gun control, gun control, gun control (but) are okay with making millions and billions off exposing our kids and this generation to violence and glorifying it.”
I will applaud Rep Mullin for being actively engaged in what games his sons play. If he feels that games like Call of Duty are not the games his kids should be playing, that is great. I feel the same way about my kids. If that was his recommendation that parents should take an active role and monitor their children’s media consumption, I would have no complaints here. Yet, that doesn’t appear at all to be what he is calling for.
Aside for Rep Nardolillo, it is unclear what any of these people want done. What is clear is that they are all deflecting after calls for greater gun control measures to be passed. There are many things that could be done to prevent or mitigate future shootings like what happened in Parkland, but trying to place the blame at the feet of the games industry and Hollywood is not going to help. We spent two decades in that debate, trying to revive it now is not going to help matters.
Tragedies of all sorts result in many people calling for solutions. These calls are nearly always a mixed bag of useless, unrelated, and kneejerk responses. But some calls would actually help. It really isn’t my place to say which proposals are the right one, but sometimes it is absolutely clear which ones will do nothing, and attacking games and movies in the wake of a tragedy is pretty clearly useless.