A Limp Outing for Video Game Blame in Sandy Hook Shootings

A fondness for a game about feudal China doesn't inspire a good media narrative


The "Do Something, Somebody!" responses to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings seem to have gelled firmly on new gun control regulations with a side trip into some nebulous mental health care reform.

Video game violence has also popped up, as it tends to do whenever any young man engages in a violent murder spree. Shooter Adam Lanza apparently played video games, because he is a young man in America. You would be hard-pressed to find a young man in America who does not engage in the recreational activity of video-gaming.

Video game muttering didn't seem to go as far this time, though there's still plenty of investigation to be done to allow the media to fret over every single detail that comes up about Lanza. A computer at Lanza's home had been apparently smashed apart, so it may take some time to find out what sort of madness he might have written that could explain his behavior.

There have been some comments, but it doesn't seem to have as much traction this time. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper weighed in on Sunday:

"There might well be some direct connection between people who have some mental instability and when they go over the edge—they transport themselves, they become part of one of those video games," Hickenlooper said on CNN's "State of the Union." "Perhaps that's why all these assault weapons are used."

At least he noted that it's the mental instability that causes them to "transport themselves" into the video game mentality instead of the other way around. That's an improvement in thinking that video games actually cause the break from reality.

And then there's some fact-free "Kids today" commentary from Ben Stein at The American Spectator:

In these games, the "player" just spends his whole day attempting to exercise and exorcize his loneliness and low self-esteem by shooting imaginary creatures and creating damage all day long.

At a certain point, just "killing" on the console blurs into doing it in real life. "Killing" is just what the kid does all his life. How much of a stretch is it for him to shoot into a movie theater or a political gathering or a kindergarten in "real life" if his life is so pitiful that he does not know what's real and what is not? If you are looking for a villain, try shoot 'em up games.

Stein's crankypants, factually unsupported assertions continue on to blaming the media for making killers "famous," which is a complaint I hear across the political spectrum that doesn't have any real psychological foundation that I can discern, yet persists.

You have to cross the sea to the British tabloids to get the real terrified "video games made him kill" stories. Gaming blog Kotaku notes that two British tabloids have laid the blame on Call of Duty (a first-person shooting game) and Dynasty Warriors, which is a game series that is set in … feudal China. And while it is a combat-heavy game, there are notably no assault weapons, of course. The game also, as much as a game can, seeks to recreate China's actual history as faithfully as possible, which sounds like the kind of game that might appeal to somebody who falls on the Asperger's portion of the autism spectrum (I've never actually played any of the games myself).

Aware of the possibility of game linkage, Max Fisher at The Washington Post looked at the numbers from ten countries that show there is no correlation between video game spending per capita and gun-related homicide. His chart, surprisingly, shows United States falling behind in video game consumption compared to Australia, England, Canada, France and South Korea. The top country for video game consumption was the Netherlands. But America kicked all their asses when it came to gun-related violence.

Fisher's chart actually showed that gun homicides went down in countries with high video game consumption. Clearly, the logical conclusion is that we must make video games mandatory.