These violent delights have violent ends – Trump’s scapegoating of video games is nothing new
John Tabbernor // Community Relations Manager
In the wake of this most recent mass shooting tragedy in Parkland, Florida, the same tired arguments are being trotted out to lay the blame at the feet of popular media. It used to be comic books and rock music. Then it was rap and video games. Apparently, we all have short memories. US President Donald Trump, in his meandering discussions of what he “feels” led to this tragedy, shone the spotlight on violent games and media once again. “We have to do something about maybe [sic] what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it, and also, video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on [sic] video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts.” Trump’s oversimplification of the effects of violent media have sparked a debate that has long since been settled.
Any link between playing violent video games and acting out real world violence has consistently been disproven. This, however, does not stop the scapegoating of the medium in hopes to avoid difficult conversations about access to weapons, gun control and toxic masculinity. Of course, the blame must lie in Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Let us ignore the fact that video games, as popular entertainment, are enjoyed by millions of players around the world, and yet the United States is home to 31 per cent of mass shooters globally. Implying that there is a causal effect between playing violent video games and acting out real world violence is naive at best. We should, however, be open to discussions of the violence in games and the harmful practices that exist adjacent to the medium.
“Swatting” has become synonymous with video game communities. The practice of making fraudulent calls to the police in the hopes of sending an armed response to an unwitting victim has become part of our lexicon. Often carried out against progressive critics, popular YouTubers, or live-streamers, the threat of swatting reached its only tragic conclusion this past December when Wichita police killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch. This real-world act of violence exists in parallel to gaming and ignoring its repercussions or any discussion of how to curb and mitigate its impact, is nothing short of negligence. In the same vein, the GamerGate hate-mob which rose to prominence in 2014, was a manifestation of the toxicity that exists within gaming. Though touted as a movement seeking “ethical” and “objective” coverage of video games, it was in fact an organized harassment campaign against women and marginalized peoples within the industry. These more nefarious facets of games and their communities are only one side of this discussion. It’s important not to forget that many video games, by their nature, romanticize and sell war and violence.
The US military is notorious for turning to Hollywood to clean up its image. In exchange for access to equipment and personnel, there is often a demand for final script and use approval. This ensures that any depiction is positive and uncritical. This is especially true in science fiction games, where stand-ins for the US and NATO forces are confronted with the simple good versus evil narrative of the genre. It is hard to have remorse when killing the villain du jour, whether that is aliens, Nazis or zombies. This belies any messy narrative of imperialism and allows the player to easily “other” the bundle of pixels falling dead onscreen. Fiction can be a powerful tool to influence our actions and attitudes. This is made painfully clear when examining the gaming industry’s close relationship with weapons manufacturers.
Much in the same way that car companies license their vehicles to racing games, so too do weapons manufacturers license guns to popular shooters. Real-life weapons lend an authenticity that a facsimile never could. Simon Parkin reported on these deals in Eurogamer’s “Shooters: How Video Games Fund Arms Manufacturers.” He quotes Ralph Vaugn of Barrett Firearms Manufacturing as saying, “…video games expose our brand to a young audience who are considered possible future owners.” The takeaway here is that a portion of every dollar spent on triple-A shooter video games flows into the pockets of small arms manufacturers, either directly through licensing payments, or indirectly through advertising.
Though a direct connection between games and violence may not exist, the media we consume can shape our understanding of reality. We as an audience are obviously not passive, but saying that games have no effect is also ignorant. The portrayals we see depicted in game worlds, given enough time, can easily influence the way we think and feel day to day. Our fetishization of violence in media is disconcerting and worthy of spirited debate. However, Trump and pro-gun pundits in the US, much like other fear mongers who came before them, are still barking up the wrong tree. Video games have already had their moral panic. It’s time we talk about America’s unwillingness to join the modern world and enact sensible gun regulations.