Every Country Has Violent Video Games, Mass Shootings Are ‘Uniquely American’
Following the recent series of mass shootings in the US, Donald Trump proved himself, once again, to have all the accuracy and sensitivity of a blunderbuss.
Last Saturday (August 3), at least 20 people were killed and 27 others injured at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, when a gunman opened fire on shoppers. Hours later, in Dayton, Ohio, a shooter killed nine people and wounded a further 24.
What’s the reason for the gun violence in the US? Could it be the incessant love of weaponry across the country? Or, maybe, it has something to do with the vast accessibility of not only guns, but automatic firearms? Well, not according to the President. He blames, wait for it, video games.
Watch Trump outline his thoughts below:
Speaking at the White House, the POTUS said:
We must stop the glorification of violence in our society. This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace. It is too easy now for troubled youths to surround themselves with a culture that celebrates violence. We must stop or substantially reduce this and it has to begin immediately.
While Congressional Republicans resist a ban on assault weapons and a gun control bill requiring universal background checks, Trump isn’t the only one to look at video games as a cause of violence. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also chimed in on the debate.
As reported by CNN, McCarthy said:
But the idea of these video games that dehumanize individuals to have a game of shooting individuals and others – I’ve always felt that is a problem for future generations and others. We’ve watched from studies shown before of what it does to individuals. When you look at these photos of how it took place, you can see the actions within video games and others.
Here’s the problem with the video game argument: they are played across virtually every continent in the world (maybe not Antarctica). Yet, mass shooting statistics – hell, any kind of gun violence statistics whatsoever – in countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand pale in comparison to the US.
New Zealand was rocked by a mass shooting in Christchurch earlier this year, in which 49 people were killed in a horrific assault on a mosque. The country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, took immediate action – semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons are now officially banned across the country.
With the exception of this attack though, the rates of gun violence per capita compared to the US are shocking. A tweet showing mass shooting statistics across the world went viral on August 3, showing how stark the difference is.
Have a look at the tweet below:
The number of mass shootings in the US in 2019 alone is now up to 255 (in accordance with the Gun Violence Archive definition as ‘when four or more people, not including the shooter, are shot or killed’). A quick search of news outlet websites, such as The Guardian, for gun crime, shows the difference immediately.
Canada has had a number of shootings: four people were killed in British Columbia in April; four people were injured in an incident in Toronto in June; and recently, five were injured at a nightclub. If you multiply along with the population (of 37 million) in order to fairly match the US, it’s still low.
So, where does the argument for video games accentuating one’s violent tendencies come from? It’s a simple thought-process: games capitalise on the fantasy of violence in varying ways.
Call of Duty and Battlefield offer realistic (in some cases) simulations of war. Mortal Kombat is a gloriously gory fighting game that is built on the foundation of killing your opponent in the most horrible way possible, such as tearing out their spine. Then, of course, there’s Rockstar’s legacy of offerings: Bully, Manhunt, Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto, the latter of which has attracted criticism for decades for glamourising crime and violence.
Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption publisher Take-Two Interactive had something to say about Trump’s comments.
As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, CEO Strauss Zelnick said:
Entertainment is consumed worldwide. It’s the same worldwide. Gun violence is uniquely American and we need to address the real issues.
The Entertainment Software Association also issued a statement in response to the POTUS’ comments:
More than 165 million Americans enjoy video games, and billions of people play video games worldwide. Yet other societies, where video games are played as avidly, do not contend with the tragic levels of violence that occur in the US. Video games contribute to society, from new medical therapies and advancements, educational tools, business innovation, and more.
You can also look beyond English-speaking countries, to nations such as Japan, which boast effectively zero instances of gun violence. Yet, it is considered one of the most gaming-friendly countries in the world – something doesn’t add up.
Studies have been carried out to examine the correlation between video games and real-life violence. As reported by Kotaku, an experiment involving French university students showed them to have more aggressive thoughts after playing violent video games.
But that’s the problem; numerous studies have been carried out in an effort to conclude whether games increase aggression in players, but violence is another kettle of fish.
Brad Bushman, a researcher on the effects of video games, told Kotaku:
We can’t give our participants knives and guns and see what they do with them. It’s not ethical to do that. But we can use ethical measures in which they can harm another person physically or otherwise and those measures consistently show that violent game players are more aggressive than non-violent game players.
Are they more likely to stab someone? I dunno. Are they more likely to shoot somebody? I don’t know. Are they more likely to rape someone? Beats me. Those are very rare events and we can’t study them ethically, so I don’t know what the link is between playing violent video games and violent criminal behavior. But we know that there is a link between playing violent video games and more common forms of aggressive behavior—such as getting in fights.
Chris Ferguson, another researcher, discredits the studies which claim to find a link. He says that ‘there are over 100 studies at this point that in some way or another tap into video game violence and aggression… most of them are horrible’. He alleges that many studies are built on the bias of the researcher, who uses the results to justify their hypothesis.
Ferguson told Kotaku:
The concern is that researchers that have a particular belief system are just picking outcomes—in good faith, nobody’s saying that they’re doing it on purpose or lying—that best fit their hypotheses. And of course that’s a big problem.
In 2011, the US Supreme Court struck down a case aiming to make selling violent games to kids a crime. The Court determined that ‘most of the [violent game] studies suffer from significant, admitted flaws in methodology.’
One could argue that the tendency of politicians, particularly Republicans who are aligned with the National Rifle Association, to blame arbitrary things like video games, or even mental health on mass shootings is a result of the ‘culprit mentality’.
Iowa State professor Doug Gentile explains:
Once we have a horrible tragedy like this, it really distorts the way we think about the issue… we have what I call a culprit mentality. ‘What’s the cause of this?’ Well, it’s never the cause. There’s never one reason for anything like this. There’s never one reason. Humans are complex.
The reality is the culture in America is to blame.
Lax gun laws which allow for the sale of automatic weapons and the President’s continuously strong rhetoric are likely to inspire the easily-persuaded.
Former congressman Beto O’Rourke took aim at Trump, saying ‘you don’t get mass shootings like these, you don’t torch mosques, or put kids in cages until you have a president who is giving people permission to do that and that is exactly what is happening in the United States of America today’.
Instances like this, when Donald Trump laughed at the idea of shooting a migrant at the border, inhibit cautioned discussions on gun control:
Trump blaming video games and mental health for mass shootings misses the point. It’s a cowardly tactic to avoid conversations around gun control, and the real root of the problem: the unwavering loyalty to the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. From the outside it seems so simple: if you want to curb gun violence, take away the guns.
Oh wait, it is that simple.
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