Video Games

Fighting Over Video Game Violence Shows Who Prefers Culture Wars Over Reality

Deflections, generational conflict, and misleading data abound.


Immediately after the deadly mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, Fox News anchors and talking heads started speculating that the shooter might have been motivated by violent video games. They had no reason to go running to this well. The shooter's manifesto on 8chan hadn't even been discovered yet.

That reaction was immediately followed by a cavalcade of coverage explaining that there is no scientific data or evidence that violent video games contribute to real world violence. Video gaming is an extremely popular hobby among a wide swath of adults, especially young men. In all likelihood, just about any American male (at least any under the age of 50) who goes on a shooting rampage is likely to have a lengthy history of gaming of some type. You might as well blame it on pizza consumption. The argument is basically, "This is a thing that these guys like. There's violence in some of these things. Ergo, this thing must have contributed to the violence."

Unfortunately, quickly reminding people that the data doesn't support any claim that video games cause violence didn't silence the nonsense. (There's even a mocking hashtag campaign.) In fact, President Donald Trump explicitly named violent video games (as he has before) as one of the culprits for the shooting, saying, "We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace." Here's the clip:

Over at The Atlantic, Ian Bogost observes that blaming video games, once a bipartisan political affair, now seems to have become a hallmark of the Republican party:

This framing has obvious political benefits. The National Rifle Association started pointing fingers at games after Sandy Hook, and it redoubled its efforts to use the medium to draw attention away from gun possession and gun control after Parkland. Video-game violence seems to have transformed from an issue of bipartisan and earnest cultural opprobrium—video games are gross and maybe harmful—to a sacrificial lamb slaughtered in the service of preserving gun rights.

That's produced a contrarian response from Democrats. After the barrage of video-game detractions wound through the airwaves, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, "Video games aren't causing mass shootings, white supremacy is." Outside the political sphere, others have noted that violent video games are sold worldwide, but that only the United States possesses the surplus of firearms that actually carry out gun violence.

Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden apparently still clings to a belief that video games are a problem, however, though he's stopping short of blaming them for murders. In an interview with CNN, Biden said, "It is not healthy to have these games teaching the kids the dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and just, you know, sort of blow their brains out."

Take note of the generational gap. Trump and Biden are both of an era that has no cultural connection to video games, and Trump and Fox News are reaching out to an older generation that is frequently suspicious of youth culture. It's easy to imagine the interest in blaming video games for violence fading in about a decade as we have fewer baby boomers among us.

Blaming video games for violence is a cynical, manipulative way for gun rights advocates, like Trump, to try to deflect attention to a scapegoat. It's not working. Trying to deflect gun control arguments to a different subject rather than face them head-on may perpetuate culture wars but won't reduce the heat on supporters of gun rights. Instead, we may still end up with a host of new laws that restrict freedoms without actually addressing mass shootings. Rather than figuring out solutions for mass shootings (if there are any feasible ones), blaming video games simply perpetuates the culture wars between the old and young and the left and the right, while short-circuiting anything meaningful.

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  1. Trump says

    We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

    Biden says

    It is not healthy to have these games teaching the kids the dispassionate notion that you can shoot somebody and just, you know, sort of blow their brains out.”

    Looks to me like they are saying the exact same thing. Yet, Shackford somehow claims

    Joe Biden apparently still clings to a belief that video games are a problem, however, though he’s stopping short of blaming them for murders.

    I think you can parse Biden’s and Trump’s words both to say they are implying just that. Regardless, whatever it is, they are both saying it. Yet, Biden gets a throat clearing pass because Orange Man Bad or something.

    1. I’d like to tell POS Biden that it is not healthy for a nation’s ethos or a nation’s karma for Govt. to sanction, promote, glorify & taxpayer-fund the violent ripping out of human beings from their mother’s womb so as to murder them & then sell the body parts! And now in some places, they will even let those human beings that survive this satanic attempt to snuff their lives out, die on a table waiting for medical help!

    2. I think it’s hilarious. During previous shootings by autistic white nerds, the issue over “video-game violence” was always covered in the sort of lukewarm manner which indicated that, while the media didn’t want to fully embrace it, they’d hedge their bets by not outright rejecting it, either.

      Trump comes out and includes violent video games as an influencer of mass shootings by autistic white nerds, and the media can’t move fast enough to screech, “NUH UH, THERE’S NOTHING ABOUT VIOLENT VIDEO GAMES THAT CAUSES MASS SHOOTINGS IT’S ONLY GUN AVAILABILITY!!”

      1. Sadly, progressive endorsements of limited government and the occasional rational conclusion are situational; when a progressive is in power again, all these positions will flip back again.

    3. Yeah, both sides are idiots on this claim and its one of the things that a younger generation will change. When they were younger, I assume their parents thought music and movies were causing all of the problems.

      I’d argue games are more of an outlet for rage rather than a cause. Rather you kill zombies in Call of Duty (only reason to play those games now, let’s be honest) than some dipshit who annoys you.

  2. Deflections, generational conflict, and misleading data abound.

    Congrats, Shack: you’ve just encapsulated the entirety of American political discourse.

    1. Nailed it.

    2. Add profound arrogance and you have Hihn.

  3. Pretty much all the prohibitionists prefer culture war over reality.

    Just because Trump is your president doesn’t mean we have to make everything about him.

  4. I, for one, refrain from playing violent video games.

    Until Borderlands 3 comes out in September!!!

    1. Of all the nonsense I’ve heard here that’s the worst. There’s no way BL3 is going to be worth waiting for. Even leaving aside Eddings’ departure, there’s the drastic drop in quality of BLTPS that doesn’t bode well for the next installment.

      1. That’s the worst you’ve heard? Do you read your own comments?

        1. I really haven’t heard anything. I like to avoid the hype. I’m going purely on my own experience on the series.

  5. “Video games aren’t causing mass shootings, white supremacy is.”

    The Bilderburgers aren’t causing these shootings, the Illuminati are!

    1. builder-burgers you say? maybe the conspiracy goes deeper than we thought

      1. Wheels within wheels, man!

  6. I’ve had some fun today reading all the death threats and doxxing by the liberal elite and democrat politicians on twitter. I’ll hold my breathe waiting for Reason to condemn their beltway friends threatening and promoting violence. Just kidding, I’m sure you’ll find a way to blame Trump.

    How many other republican politicians need to get lung surgery or bullets removed before Reason grows a backbone?

    1. You talking about Joaquin Castro? That exceptional piece of shit has some sand calling someone else a racist, considering he’s literally the son of a Chicano ethnonationalist.

  7. You *do* realize, of course, that gun control is *also* a culture-war issue?

    Remember the narrative – God, Guns and Gays? All to distract the working class from the need for socialism?

  8. >>>speculating that the shooter might have been motivated

    does the why matter?

  9. omg, this is retarded. this whole news cycle is retarded.

  10. Twitch THOTS are certainly driving people crazy.

  11. I toyed around with developing a WW2 game on Ramree Island (Thailand) where they had to retreat from the Americans by goiing thru salt-water crocodile infested swamps.
    My previous game was Russians vs. Germans vs. Wolves in Lithuania, based on the historical event where starving wolves raided German and Russian trenches for a greazy meal.

    1. Stick to more historically accurate fare: The Nazi’s being defeated by Antifa Forces carrying a rainbow flag.

  12. If only Reason would get as defensive at people accusing all Republicans of being white supremacists and all NRA members of wanting to kill the brown people.

    But a knowing nod to the right people that you know better about video games gets you a pat on the back. Calling out a slander on the not so kool kidz is toxic.

  13. So “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” (which I agree with) has now become “guns don’t kill people, video games kill people.” Ugh.

  14. Blaming video gamesadvocacy of enforcing immigration law for violence is a cynical, manipulative way for gun rights advocates, like Trumpopen borders advocates, like Reason and the Democrats, to try to deflect attention to a scapegoat


  15. While video games probably may not have a direct cause, it certainly has an indirect cahse by isolating the gamer from reality making him/her a loner. One of the shooters was a loner. Did that cause a mental issue? Who knows.

    1. Not necessarily true. I’ve spent a lot of time playing video games. Often as part of a community (guild). Playing in groups is great. Three of us from the guild met in NYC one weekend. It was great to put faces with the names and hang out in real life.

      We often find ways to blame things in order to make sense of something because we don’t accept that the person made an actual choice to act. I strongly believe in personal responsibility. It’s no one, or nothings fault other than you when you do something stupid. You had a choice not to do it. Blaming anything else is just an updated version of the devil made me do it.

  16. Interesting how boomers will blame video games and culture for violence, but they won’t blame their own culture regarding proliferation of firearms and gun culture in general. You can’t make one argument and not the other without being a hypocrite. If anything, it’s worse to believe in gun ownership and oppose violence in culture than it is to support violence in culture and not gun ownership, since cultural violence is simulated and guns are real.

    At least the grabbers are consistent in their hatred of anything gun related.

    1. “”You can’t make one argument and not the other without being a hypocrite. “‘

      Seems no one cares about being hypocrite these days. If you try to point out their hypocrisy they claim whataboutism.

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