Part of any politician’s DNA is to seek public favor. It’s just who they are. Of course, tragedies are triggers that always send politicians careening into hyper speed to protect themselves and get on the side of public favor, often to the point of absurdity. If recent history is any guide, it won’t be long before the media and some politicians begin to assert that Los Angeles Airport killer Paul Ciancia and Garden State Plaza shooter/suicide victim Richard Shoop, played video games. It has become a reflexive response from the press when incidents of violence like these two recent events occur. The implication is that somehow video games played a part, or are responsible for the violence. It is a false nexus that is perpetuated by repeated assertions. As the old saying goes, “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes truth.”
When Adam Lanza committed the unspeakable acts of violence at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, the press was full of accounts of Mr. Lanza’s “addiction,” as they called it to video games like “Call of Duty.” From the British press to the Huffington Post, there were hundreds of stories focusing on the speculation that Lanza was a gamer. Less attention was paid to the factual reality that Lanza had a history of mental illness.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) blamed Lanza’s actions on “the violence in the entertainment culture — particularly, with the extraordinary realism to video games, movies now, et cetera.” Lieberman asserted as if fact that seeing violence, even computer simulated violence causes “vulnerable young men to be more violent.” There is no scientific evidence to prove this connection. But if a politician claims it, it must be true.
Former White House adviser David Axelrod tweeted, “But shouldn’t we also quit marketing murder as a game?” Even Donald Trump weighed in, tweeting, “Video game violence & glorification must be stopped — it is creating monsters!”
The facts clearly show otherwise. As video games grew to become part of our culture, violence in the United States plummeted. If video games created monsters, the opposite would be true.
Not only do the facts contradict these politicians’ conclusions, their perpetuation of myths are are actually harming attempts at understanding the recent violent episodes.
Josephine Anstey, a professor and chair of the Department of Media Study at the University of Buffalo, has pointed out that no cause and effect relationship has been established by the cognitive and clinical psychology communities. She argues that claims such as those made in the wake of Newtown are contributing to a false understanding of these violent events.
“When dubious inferences of cause and effect are presented by law enforcement and not questioned by the press, it invites the public to jump to unwarranted conclusions,” says Anstey. “There is a complex relationship between society, individual behavior and media,” she says. “If it was simple, if, for instance, children’s behavior was provoked only by games, books and TV, we would have no problem raising them. We’d just give them moral stories about picking up their rooms and sharing with their friends and we’d be done.”
Blaming video games for the violence of individuals is no different than blaming guns for the violence. Restricting the First Amendment, or the Second Amendment, is clearly not the solution to the problem. Recognizing that individuals that commit these horrific acts have something else in common — the need for mental health treatment — is a better solution.