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Video Games: A Popular Scapegoat for American Violence
For more than 20 years now, politicians have found a scapegoat to blame for all of the violence, mass shootings, and school shootings that have been happening in the United States, and that scapegoat is video games.
Video games, like any form of entertainment, range from the most friendly of games to the darkest and goriest of games. Because of these violent video games, this industry seems like an easy target to pin blame on for the terrible tragedies that frequent American schools and other venues.
Since the Heath High School tragedy in 1997, neglecting the root of the problem and shifting blame to video games has, unfortunately, become the norm. In the cases of both Heath High School and Columbine, for example, the attackers were constantly ridiculed, bullied, and beat up for simply being, but this is not the narrative that is often talked about. For Michael Carneal (Heath High School), Eric Harris (Columbine), and Dylan Klebold (Columbine), the main point of conversation became their extracurricular activity: playing video games.
This narrative continues to this day, despite the enormous amount of research done by scientists and psychologists around the world that disprove any connection between playing violent video games and actual violence.
The obvious problem here is that there needs to be a scapegoat because many politicians are unable to actually point out the real problems due to lobbyist influence and peer pressure.
But this needs to stop. The world is more aware than ever that video games are not the problem, so it is time to move away from the scapegoat and focus on reality.
Why Blame Video Games?
Many of these violent scenarios and deadly shootings are carried out by young men, and a false stereotype that continues to this day is that video gaming is the hobby of boys and young men.
Since the 1970s, video game culture has grown tremendously and is evolving faster than anyone could have ever imagined. Today, the video game industry is worth well over $100 billion, and that revenue does not seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Culturally, it is important to note, boys and young men have been at the frontlines for a lot of nerd culture over the years. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, especially, nerd culture truly revolved around these young males, and they fed the industry in its early years.
When both the Heath High School and Columbine shootings happened in 1997 and 1999, respectively, two key factors were noted immediately. One was that the perpetrators were all male, and the other was that they all enjoyed video games.
Since video game culture was still in its toddler phase at this point, many people did not understand the entertainment medium and simply put two and two together, especially politicians and news networks. This began the process of blaming video games for such behavior and activity.
Studies Show There Is No Correlation
Since the tragedies of the 1990s, there have been a lot of people out there trying to prove there is some connection between playing violent video games and violent behavior, but for every one of these studies, the results were negative.
In a 2004 report from the Secret Service and the Department of Education, researchers found that very few of the attackers linked to 37 incidents of school violence were actually interested in violent things like horror books, video games, or personal writings.
In 2017, German researchers set out to prove a hypothesis that people who play video games have reduced empathy when compared to those who do not play video games. Using some brain-mapping technology, they found that playing video games does not negatively affect empathy.
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In early 2019, UK scientists tested the link between playing violent video games and violent behavior. They surveyed and tested over 1,000 participants, all aged 14 and 15 years old, and their results found that there is absolutely no connection between playing these types of games and violent behavior.
Another study in the UK this year sought to find connections between priming effects and behavior only to find that video game concepts do not "prime" players into behaving in a particular manner and that increasing the realism of violent video games does not lead to an increase in player aggression.
Over the past 20 years, the results have been the same over and over again. There is no link between playing video games and increased violent behavior, so why are we continuing this dialog as if it is still a possibility?
High Gun Violence Is Unique to the US
Another alarming reality about these massive acts of violence is that they are quite unique to the United States of America.
If we are to look at video game revenue by country and compare that to violent gun deaths, we can easily see in the graphic above that no other country on earth compares to America. South Korea and China lead the world in video game consumption, and yet, we see astronomically lower numbers than that of the United States when it comes to violent gun deaths.
In Japan, the country considered to be the great pioneer in video games, we see a country that has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, and gun-related deaths per year can be counted on one hand.
How do we link video games and violent behavior when no other country on earth follows the same path of violence as the United States?
If video games, even violent ones, were the problem, then South Korea, China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, and Japan would all be suffering the same way, but the reality is that they are not experiencing these regular mass shootings.
The reality is that this problem is American. There are 120.5 guns per 100 residents in the United States, which makes it the world leader by an insane margin. On top of that, 4% of the population owns 43% of the guns. There is a certain love for firearms that sets it aside as the gun-toting, skeet shooting, animal killing Wild West of the world stage, so it is no wonder that these very guns that are idolized by most of the country would be used by certain individuals for their evil endeavors.
Let's Have a Serious Discussion
It is a dark period in American history, and I think it is absolutely time for all of us to have a serious talk about what is happening in the country right now.
Instead of constantly pointing the finger at video games, let us move forward in real discussions about real issues. Around the world, there are positive examples of countries displaying vulnerability, reflection, and change that have led to powerful transformations.
America, we must do the same thing. We need to talk about mental illness. We need to sit down and discuss gun laws. We need to address white nationalism as a serious problem and threat. And we need to acknowledge that domestic terrorism is real, and our culture is to blame for its breeding. President John F. Kennedy once challenged us by saying;
"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."
Video games are not the problem, and it would be wise of us to move far away from ever having this discussion again. We must be real with ourselves and see the darkness that exists within. Let us stop shifting blame away from ourselves so we can look into the mirror and see that the problem lies within us.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2019 Jason Reid Capp