It seems like it has been years since video games have been blamed for violence and tragedies. Since the 90s, video games had been under fire for causing youth violence. This swelling of outrage became a tumult after Columbine and continued to rise each time a major shooting involving a youth happened after that. Laws had been passed trying to ban the sale of violent games to minors in several states and each of those laws had been struck down by the courts, ending with the US Supreme Court ruling that video games are protected speech and can’t be regulated in such a manner.
There were plenty of good things to come from all this commotion though. The ESRB rating system was a direct result of this outrage and has been used effectively for years by console manufacturers to give parents control over what games their children can play. It resulted in video game retailers denying the sale of M rated games to minors nearly 90% of the time, even while movie theaters and movie retailers retained a terrible track record for R rated movies.
After the Supreme Court weighed in on the issue, it had seemed that things were pretty settled. Only the very fringes of policy wonks would blame games after a tragedy since then. That is until the Parkland, Florida shooting. It isn’t clear what made this particular tragedy different from those that came before it, but it sparked an outcry of blame against violent movies and games. Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin blames violence in movies and games for school shootings. Kentucky suffered its own school shooting in January. In Rhode Island, State Representative Nardolillo plans to introduce a bill to tax M rated games an additional 10% to fund mental health programs in schools. Even President Donald Trump called out violence in games and movies calling for a “rating system for that.”
Not to be left out of the headlines, even Oklahoma’s congressmen are weighing in and blaming games for this violence. NewsOK is reporting that Representatives Mullin and Russell have both put the blame on video games for the recent tragedies.
According to Rep Russell, who as News OK reports owns a gun manufacturer, Hollywood and video games hold responsibility for these tragedies.
In a newsletter to constituents a day after the Florida high school shooting, he wrote that “while it is important to discuss the implements and devices used to carry out these heinous acts, we cannot get to a solution simply by going after the tools.”
“It means Hollywood not getting a pass to condemn such acts while perpetuating such behavior on the screen. It means our video gaming industry admitting that they may have a role in altering mental abhorrence to violence and the harming of innocents,” Russell wrote. “It means our educators being willing to admit that resistance to our Judeo-Christian ethic in teaching respect and morality in the classroom has created untethered generations who struggle to identify what is right and wrong.”
Rep Mullin had something very similar to say.
“I walked upstairs not too long ago. My two boys were playing ‘Call of Duty’ with my brother-in-law and I looked at it for about three minutes and my palms were sweaty. I was seeing things that I’ve seen in real life and I thought the graphics are so real that that can’t be good. I made them turn it off and they’ve never gotten to play it since,” said Mullin, whose sons will be 14 and 13 years old, respectively, this year.
“We’re desensitizing our kids to violence,” he added. “Hollywood elites always want to call on gun control, gun control, gun control (but) are okay with making millions and billions off exposing our kids and this generation to violence and glorifying it.”
I will applaud Rep Mullin for being actively engaged in what games his sons play. If he feels that games like Call of Duty are not the games his kids should be playing, that is great. I feel the same way about my kids. If that was his recommendation that parents should take an active role and monitor their children’s media consumption, I would have no complaints here. Yet, that doesn’t appear at all to be what he is calling for.
It is unclear at this time what these two congressmen want done, but both seem to be following the lead of President Trump in deflecting after calls for greater gun control measures to be passed. There are many things that could be done to prevent or mitigate future shootings like what happened in Parkland, but trying to place the blame at the feet of the games industry and Hollywood is not going to help. We spent two decades in that debate, trying to revive it now is not going to help matters.
Tragedies of all sorts result in many people calling for solutions. These calls are nearly always a mixed bag of useless, unrelated, and kneejerk responses. But some calls would actually help. It really isn’t my place to say which proposals are the right one, but sometimes it is absolutely clear which ones will do nothing, and attacking games and movies in the wake of a tragedy is pretty clearly useless.