Don’t blame El Paso on videogames

As videogames have exploded in popularity, crime has actually gone down.

Aaron Gonzalez

Donald Trump has blamed last weekend’s two horrific mass shootings – in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio – on videogames. According to Trump, ‘Gruesome and grizzly videogames that are now commonplace’ contribute to the ‘glorification of violence in our society’.

Trump was not alone in condemning the apparent influence of videogames. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy said violent videogames drive violence because they ‘dehumanise individuals’. Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick has called for federal action to be taken against the videogame industry. ‘I see a videogame industry that teaches young people to kill’, he said. For Patrick, the El Paso killer was living out a ‘super-soldier fantasy on Call of Duty… This was maybe a videogame to this evil demon.’

Politicians and the media have long sought to pin the blame for horrific acts of violence on popular entertainment. After the Columbine shooting in 1999, Bill Clinton ordered an inquiry into the advertising of ‘violent entertainment’. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney blamed ‘pornography and violence’ in music, films, TV and videogames for the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, called the videogame industry a ‘corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people’.

None of this holds water. Dan Patrick rightly points out that ‘the videogame industry is bigger than the movie and music industry combined’. Indeed, according to a 2018 survey by Nielsen, two-thirds of Americans over the age of 13 are considered ‘gamers’. This alone should give the critics of videogames pause for thought. Surely it shows that the vast majority of gamers are harmless to society, rather than being killers-in-waiting. Mass shootings, in contrast, are rare, even if they are difficult to quantify and define. The Washington Post counts 165 instances of a lone gunman killing four or more people since 1966. Clearly, it is impossible to find any meaningful correlation between these rare, horrific acts of violence and the videogames enjoyed by millions.

Looking at criminality more broadly, according to the New York Times, as the popularity of videogames has gone up, juvenile delinquency has gone down. Between 1994 and 2010, the number of violent crimes among young offenders fell by more than half, to 224 crimes per 100,000 people. Sales of videogames, on the other hand, have more than doubled since 1996. Correlation is not causation, but if there is any correlation between gaming and criminality, it is the reverse of what Trump and others are arguing.

The causes of mass shootings are clearly multi-faceted. Singular explanations are always inadequate. There might be legitimate questions about ‘the glorification of violence’ and criminality in some videogames – games, like any artform, and should never be beyond criticism. Censorship or regulation, however, would be an unwarranted, kneejerk response. The vast majority of adults are perfectly capable of separating reality from fantasy and playing videogames without causing harm to anyone else.

Aaron Gonzalez is a spiked intern and a student at University of the Arts London.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Neil John

12th August 2019 at 12:08 pm

I think there’s a quite cogent argument a lot of this can be laid at feminism’s door. Most of the young men involved in killings, be it ‘gang’ related or mass attacks no matter what their skin colour appear to come from fatherless homes, and with the continual degrading of men and boys are often outsiders even within their home feminist controlled communities. As has been seen within the University sector, anyone attempting to set up a ‘mens’ self help group is blocked at every turn by the feminists and their male accomplices, so finding unbiased help is all but impossible.
A number have also been subjected to continual bullying leading to a ‘revenge’ motive angle as well, all of which potentially indicates a mental health breakdown issue is likely to play a part.
How many have been further desensitised by using video games to avoid the shite reality of their daily lives is a moot point, but with the thankfully relatively tiny number becoming ‘real-world’ killers compared with the huge numbers playing on-line and off-line games causality is all but impossible to prove.

Hana Jinks

10th August 2019 at 12:59 am

So if he’s an intern, are they saying that they get a few free stories out of him?

eli Bastenbury

8th August 2019 at 3:37 pm

It was once thought that role playing games would inspire devil worship, it was a real fear in the early 1980s.

Linda Payne

8th August 2019 at 1:42 pm

And don’t blame mental illness either

James Hillier

8th August 2019 at 2:17 pm

I agree, it’s wrong to say “mental illness” in this context and leave it at that. Without evidence, it’s wrong to say it at all. But isn’t there a case for asking pertinent questions about the role mental illness or, if you prefer, neuro-atypicity might play in these cases?

For instance, if could say with reasonable confidence that a high percentage of mass shooters had anti-social personality disorder or a related condition, that could help with prevention and inform gun-control measures.

Hana Jinks

8th August 2019 at 2:59 pm

It’s not mental to be fighting back against diversity-communism, Jim. And a large number of these shootings seem to be people frustrated at what nazi’s so many people are, and so they come back and shoot rheir school or workplace up. Not saying l advocate it, but the mentals can’t be the one’s checking if we’re mental.

James Hillier

8th August 2019 at 11:36 am

Blaming video games for mass shootings but ignoring the ease with which disturbed young men can access guns, and the resulting huge discrepancy between the rates of mass shootings in the US and other markets which are just as saturated with video games, is beyond parody.

It’s the guns, guys. It’s not CoD. It’s the real guns that these kids can pick up with little or no checks from stores or often just take from the closet at home.

Hana Jinks

8th August 2019 at 3:05 pm

The guns are the only way that diversity-communism will be averted, Jim.

Danny Rees

8th August 2019 at 1:52 am

A few years ago when feminist culture critics linked video games to sexism and violent misogyny Conservatives launched a campaign which included abuse and threats of violence.

The ironic thing is many of them would have been Trump supporters so how many of them will shout at Trump with the same fervour as they did feminists for blaming video games for societies ills?

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