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Video games and gun violence: A year after Sandy Hook

February 10, 2014 Article Start Page 1 of 7 Next

Following the horrific December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, the game industry sat down with the Vice President to talk about gun violence. A year later we ask: What's come of that meeting? Gamasutra's Mike Rose reports.

"Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds," said U.S. President Barack Obama back in January 2013. "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science."

As part of his proposals for a series of gun-control measures in the U.S. following the tragic December 2012 shooting at Newtown, the President said that $10 million in Congressional funding should be used to research the supposed relationship between new media -- including video games -- and gun violence.

This was one of the most significant moments in video game history, and a moment not to be taken lightly -- no president before had taken formal, political steps to study any purported link between violent video games and real-life violence. Though the administration did not condemn video games outright, examining video games on a world stage in the utterly tragic context of deceased children would potentially cement a negative perception of video games in the heads of millions of people.

As the world tried to make sense of such a senseless act, America's leaders called a meeting with the game industry, not to scapegoat video games, they said, rather to work together tos find a way to curb gun violence. But today, the people closest to the issue suggest both Obama's words and the game industry's meeting with Vice President Biden were simply an act to score points with the media and the voters, all the while leaving the video game industry in the lurch.

That old scapegoat

Let's start at the beginning. On December 14, 2012, the mass murder of both children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School left people around the world shocked, horrified, and angry.

As was widely reported for days and weeks to come, Adam Lanza was the individual responsible for the second deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States of America -- and as is the case with every tragic event, the news coverage quickly devolved from cataloguing every horrific detail, to finding some larger cause to blame for the ordeal.

The initial scrutiny fell on gun control, and there was light talk of banning sales of certain weapons and ammo magazines. Mental healthcare issues came to the surface. Yet very quickly the media turned its attention to violent video games.

Within hours of the tragedy, Fox News was pointing fingers at video games, along with the usual suspects like reality TV and Facebook. But this was just the beginning. 

"Adam Lanza was motivated by violent video games," said CBS News at the time. "Lanza was also likely acting out the fantasies of a video game as he killed 20 first graders and six adults at the school. For Lanza, the deaths apparently amounted to some kind of 'score.'" 

"Killer lived in windowless lair playing violent video games," shouted The Sun. "Lanza, 20, spent hours playing bloodthirsty computer games such as Call of Duty and obsessively studying weapons in the basement at mum Nancy's home." 

A similar headline from the New York Post: "Killer's basement his eerie lair of violent video games." And the Daily Mail asked, "Should Call of Duty be banned?" 

Similar headlines were a media mainstay from the weeks that followed Sandy Hook. The National Rifle Association was quick to follow suit -- in an effort to divert attention from the gun industry -- and numerous NRA officials made formal statements blaming violent video games for the mass shooting.

For people who play video games and follow the game industry, these accusations and scapegoating have sadly become the norm. Violent video games are regularly blamed for large-scale acts of violence, including the Virginia Tech mass shooting (where it was later proven that video games had absolutely nothing to do with the massacre). What was different this time around was that the White House decided that it had better say something.

On January 11, 2013, Vice President Joe Biden met with representatives of the video game industry, to discuss reducing gun-related violence in the country. Some game industry commentators, including Gamasutra's editor-in-chief Kris Graft, criticized the game industry's participation, calling it a hollow photo-op that would be seen as an admission of guilt.

Days later, President Barack Obama asked Congress to fund research into the link between violent video games and real-life violence. "Congress should fund research on the effects violent video games have on young minds," he said at the time. "We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science." 

Though video games once again were in an unwanted spotlight, perhaps there was a silver lining: The game industry could simply sit back and wait for this research to come back and -- maybe, hopefully -- show the world once and for all that there is no link between violence in video games and these real-life mass shootings.

And yet, it's been more than a year since the meeting with Biden, and more than a year since Obama called for $10 million to be set aside for research into whether new media, such as violent video games, influence root causes of gun violence. In that time, you probably haven't heard much about that research.

That's because it never actually happened, nor did any funding change hands. As discovered in my various talks with individuals and researchers close to discussions, any potential research efforts from Congress broke down fairly rapidly following the meeting with Biden, and hardly anything has been said since.

Instead, the White House gave itself a photo op to prove that it was listening to the mainstream media; The mainstream media showed the stranglehold it has over the government, regardless of whether it has fact-checked or not; And anti-video game campaigners now have quotes from the president to back up their theories that video games are to blame.

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Luke Mildenhall-Ward
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It baffles me that America is still trying to find something to blame or some other alternative solution to gun violence. I sympathize with the researchers who have to face these questions again and again when the rest of the world has already provided the results. Video games don't cause massacres... people don't cause massacres... mental health problems don't cause massacres... it's giving people legal and easy access to high-powered guns that leads to massacres. Stop pussyfooting around and do something about it already America.

Troy Walker
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people don't cause massacres? so... it's robots and inanimate objects? mmmmmk.

people with mental health problems don't cause massacres? oh, you need to double check this list:

even "America" isn't on the top for the list of "Americas" rampage killing total list..., seriously though, see if you country is on that list.

James McMurtry
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LOL! You add in nations with active insurgencies and civil wars? Typical apples to oranges desperation. Try comparing to developed nations. Adjusting for population, the U.S. death rate by firearms -- which includes homicides, suicide and accidents -- was 10.2 per 100,000 people in 2009. The closest developed country was Finland, with a firearms death rate of 4.47 per 100,000 people in 2008, less than half that of the U.S. rate. In Canada, the rate was 2.5 per 100,000 people in 2009. In the United Kingdom, the 2011 rate was 0.25 per 100,000 people.

Other nations have gun crimes. The US failure to pass sane gun safety laws turns them into massacres. So OP had a valid point and you have only comparisons to war-torn nations.

Typical of those fooled by the murderer's lobby.

Dave Dundy
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It baffles me that someone not living in America can sit there and spout what should be done and who it should be done to, to solve "gun violence". Your argument is about as good as any moron out there trying to ban guns and it clearly shows you don't even understand the problem at hand. People cause shootings, people with mental health problems cause shootings, a gun does not cause a shooting to occur the person who is pulling the trigger does. A gun is as dangerous as the person who is holding it especially if they haven't been trained properly. You clearly know nothing about the culture over here, so go pussyfoot with your own countries problems, and we'll worry about our own. I'm gonna guess you're from the UK and you're on the bandwagon of banning kitchen knives as well because they are now the weapon of choice for criminals.

Tyler Martin
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Ah, the old "you're not American, so you can't possibly understand our culture and problems," argument.

Of course that argument is bull. Yes, people, particularly people of questionable mental health are the ones who cause massacres. No, most people who have mental health issues, and most people for that matter, don't cause massacres. Mass shootings themselves are relatively rare and account for a tiny fraction of gun deaths in your country. And your country has more gun deaths than any other country by at least one or two orders of magnitude.

Are you honestly going to sit there and claim that if guns became a bit more rare that some lives wouldn't be saved? Usually when people bring this up, some gun apologist will mention that most gun deaths are perpetrated with stolen guns, but you know what would be stolen a lot less frequently if they were much more rare? Guns.

The reality is that your countries lax gun laws, and the sheer number of guns running around out in the wild does contribute to the problem. If they were less available, fewer people would be killed by them. It really is that simple. Now I'm not saying that guns should be banned: they aren't in Canada and I don't think an outright banning is the best solution when there are plenty of legitimate reasons to own a gun that don't involve murder. But are decent background checks, mandatory training, and banning of carrying a gun in public that unreasonable? Hell, that some states will let any untrained person get a concealed carry license and walk around town ready to shoot some suspected criminal is more frightening than the actual criminals.

Joshua McDonald
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The reason why gun control arguments always go nowhere is that I've never seen a pro-gun control person who was even willing to address the fact that, statistically speaking, tightening gun control laws almost always leads to more gun violence while loosening them leads to the opposite.

There are tons of people explaining why, so I won't go over those same arguments, again. But if you want to support gun control, then tell me why this time will be different.

James McMurtry
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Joshua, prove it. Australia banned assault weapons and they had a big drop in mass killings.

Why do you believe the lies of the murderer lobby?

G Irish
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@Tyler Martin
You might want to use the gun death rate per capita, rather than outright number of gun deaths. The US is one of the most populous countries in the world so that is naturally going to skew a lot of statistics. When you use per capita statistics you'll see that Mexico has a gun murder rate that is almost 3 times that of the United States, even though Mexico's gun laws are much stricter.

As for stricter gun laws, there are probably some that will help. But the reality is that gun laws have actually gotten more lax in the United States in the last 2 decades, and the violent crime rate, including gun murder, has been going down since the early nineties. If access to guns were driving gun crime, you'd expect gun crime to go up when gun laws are relaxed the way they have in the US in the last 20 years (assault weapons ban expired, more states allow concealed carry).

If anything the United States needs to deal with the failed drug war and all of the crime and violence it causes. Black market profits fuel the illegal gun market, competition over drug sales fuels violence, and jailing drug users breaks up families which leads to maladjusted youth. If the US decriminalized drugs and treated drug users there'd be a lot less crime in many categories. We tried alcohol prohibition with similar results, it's silly that we're doing almost the exact same thing with drugs.

Nathan Destler
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In the interest of making this less "American vs. non-American" this American is going to weigh in. First, let's look at what causes mass shootings. On a surface level, there are two key elements to any crime: motive and opportunity. Motive is murky here. Mental health is often an issue, but to some extent that's because we've defined anyone who'd do something like this as mentally ill. But it's highly questionable that guns make people want to kill other people. They aren't the One Ring, people. They're just objects. But what they do provide is opportunity. Or, to put it another way, capability. If you want to kill someone, you can do it with just about anything. A knife, a brick, a pillow, even your hands in a pinch. But guns make it a lot easier, so much so that killing a lot of people at once becomes a real possibility. It's important to note that this isn't really up for debate. The entire reason guns were invented was to be really good at killing things. To say that guns don't make killing easier is to deny the entire history of weapons development, which is just ludicrous on the face of it. So the event of someone attempting murder may well occur just as often with or without guns, but the actual number of completed murders is going to be much higher with guns. The total number of murders stopped by an armed citizen will also increase, but this will necessarily increase proportionately to the total number of completed murders, and as the percentage of murders stopped is not 100%, that means the total number of completed murders will increase. There are other confounding psychological issues based on the perpetrator's projected success rate, but by and large the evidence is that murderers don't generally think these things through enough for those effects to change the numbers in a substantial way.

So that all sounds pretty damning. Guns aren't inherently evil, but they do lead to more completed murders. Especially mass shootings (although, frankly, these are such a small proportion of the total murder rate that they shouldn't even be considered until we're able to reduce the overall murder rate quite dramatically). So why don't we just enact stronger gun control laws? Well, there's two reasons. The first is that a lot of Americans are really hostile to any attempt to take away their perceived power. This is not necessarily a good reason, as owning guns is drastically more dangerous to the owner and the owner's immediate family than to anyone else, but nonetheless it is a reason. There's a better argument, though. That argument goes that we shouldn't treat everyone like criminals just because a small subset of such people are criminals. Yes, some people with guns are murderers, but the vast majority are innocent people who don't deserve to be treated badly because of someone else's crime. This is the same logic behind opposition to racial profiling, and it's good logic (pity the folks who use it for race rarely see that it applies to guns and vice versa). Presumption of innocence and judgment on one's own merits are really important in this country (all the more so because we so often forget about them), and the idea that we can just treat anyone like they're a prospective criminal is seriously unacceptable. So, while I am ultimately in favor of certain forms of gun control, it's also important that we don't punish innocent people for the actions of a few criminals.

There's also that pesky 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms. Whether or not you agree with that particular amendment, things tend to get very bad very fast when you start throwing out pieces of the Constitution that you don't like.

Stefan Park
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Very well said. Here in New Zealand we have gun control, but it's not as strict as other countries. People can still own guns, provided they have obtained a license. Guns must be kept secured when not in use, typically in a gun case. There are also other laws around the use of Class B weapons (Pistols) and Class E weapons (Military Style Semi-Automatics), specifically around transport.

We do have the occasional shooting, but they are quite rare.. maybe a small handful a year, and most typically in rural areas. We had one unfortunate hunting accident a few years back where a hunter was shooting near a rest stop (yes, a very stupid thing to do), thought he spotted a dear or possum (I don't remember which), and ended up shooting a young woman.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, and these things are not the cause of any one isolated thing.

Taylor Gammon
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No part of the constitution can be dismantled without the rest shortly following suit.

Troy Walker
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.."Hell, that some states will let any untrained person get a concealed carry license and walk around town ready to shoot some suspected criminal is more frightening than the actual criminals. "

and what state might that be? Since the mid 70's, our gun control laws have increased in just the same "magnitude" and the result? more gun violence.

see the stat chart for just Washington D.C. here:

an increase of 73% in the murder rate from guns!

so no, more control and more bans will not help the issue.

James McMurtry
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What state would that be? Start with Red State South Carolina.

"...South Carolina now allows concealed-weapons-permit holders to carry guns into bars. You also know that the Legislature watered down the training requirements when it passed the guns-in-bars provision"

Read more here:

This is a radical concept for those who believe everything from the murderer lobby, but try facts.

Kaze Kai
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You need to stop talking because your understanding of American culture is shockingly limited. If you actually knew anything about our founding, you'd know that the second amendment entitles us to the right to bear arms and the kind of gun control you're supporting would directly violate our constitution and we have enough problems with the government finding ways to do that already.

I'm gonna assume you're either from Europe or Canada in which case I'll just say Canada's medical system is a mess compared to ours because even though it's free, it creates a bottleneck where barely anyone can get treatment they need in a timely fashion and y'all just come down here for it anyway and in the UK you can be arrested and tried as a felon if you look at certain types of pornography that isn't depicting real characters, not to mention everyone in the UK is mandated to plant microchips into their pets despite scientific evidence that microchips can cause animals a certain level of pain and don't even get me started on how badly Germany censors their media, especially their video games compared to America so there should be enough stupid shit for you people on your high horses to worry about in your own back yards instead of meddling in our business like you know better when you really don't.

Amir Barak
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@Kaze Kai
You know, for a person that has just accused another of making assumptions about your culture you sure seem to make a lot of assumptions about other cultures... Just sayin'

James McMurtry
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Taylor, who is dismantling the constitution? Gun safety laws are perfectly constitutional. Do you, like the NRA, support felons and the insane buying guns without background checks?

Codrut Nedelcu
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Media should be banned from mentioning the attacker's name. It is just a guess, but these individuals with severe mental health problems are looking for a way to "man up" or "do something worth mentioning".

Playing Dance Dance Central for hours? Graphic violence against teachers? It sounds to me like the guy wanted a little bit of stardom and was very unhappy with his condition (which in turn was reflected against others). He saw a massacre as a way to leave a mark, knowing he will be promoted all over the place.

G Irish
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I agree on the point that the media coverage is probably influencing the trend of shootings. More than one criminal psychologist has said that by giving mass shooters fame it encourages others with suicidal and murderous thoughts.

Unfortunately I don't think there's any way to stop the media feeding frenzy in these cases, short of the big players adopting some sort of gentleman's agreement not to publish pictures and the name of the shooter. Even then, with so much ratings value I can't imagine the media behaving themselves.

However I don't think censoring the media is the answer. Censoring the media because some peopple will take something the wrong way is the road to hell.

Sam Stephens
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I think people tend to suspect video games as a cause of violence over other forms of media because of their interactive nature. The assumption here is that people play games like Call of Duty to act vicariously as a killer or to fulfill violent fantasies. Although there are certainly a few people who enjoy video games for these reasons, most probably play these games because they are fast paced, cinematic, and challenging. It is, perhaps, the depiction of violence that is more of an issue, not the interactivity. So video games are really no more harmful than movies or music.

Michael Joseph
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Culturally boys playing "soldier/warrior" is accepted. And people are quick to defend this ancient tradition.

But playing soldier I think does shape attitudes. The whole "makes people violent" argument is a red herring that just wont seem to go away. I think it serves the purpose of redirecting the conversation from the real problems which has to do with the types of culture (values, philosophy, politics, etc) such games can spread.

Sam Stephens
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"But playing soldier I think does shape attitudes."

Perhaps, but as I said, I don't think most people enjoy games like Call of Duty just because they get to play soldier.

"I think it serves the purpose of redirecting the conversation from the real problems which has to do with the types of culture (values, philosophy, politics, etc) such games can spread."

I would not say that blaming video games for violence is an attempt to redirect the focus off of real problems. It's just that it can be very easy to see games as the cause of the problem without an understanding of how they work or how they are played.

Joshua Darlington
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Adding more ethical choices and considerations to shooters could make them more engaging.

Debate and conversation about fantasy violence leads to conversation about the culture of violence and could be useful to society at large.

James McMurtry
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You make good points

Taylor Gammon
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Lets keep politics out of GAMA as much as possible. There are plenty of venues for it, and while I agree this article is 100% on point and relevant to the topic of games, I dont think this is the place. I come here for great game industry news and job listings, there are countless news blogs, websites etc but only one Gamasutra :)

James McMurtry
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You may try to avoid politics, but politics will find you. This is a very important article, I think.

Lee Thompson
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I think a lot of this stems from denial.

If you look at human history, it is one of violence. There were murders, wars, and worse, centuries, even millennia before guns, television, movies, and video games.

Please note, I'm not saying these violent events are a good thing. I'm just saying, clearly, none of these modern forms of entertainment are the cause. Now if violent crime did not exist before the 20th century; or 15-16th century (guns); you'd have something.

I think Michael Jospeph touches on something too, our history has generations of training males (in particular) for hunting and combat. And that continues, with some families, to this day.

If anything, I suspect, some of these games actually *lower* the likelyhood of real world violence. Maybe that's why these studies never actually get the funding...

Ian Richard
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I agree with you. Society tends to look for scapegoats to avoid their own guilt... even if that means ignoring the real problems.

- Our society is a "Us vs. Them" mentality in nearly all aspects
- Nearly all of the mass shootings stemmed from people with untreated mental issues.
- They are glorified by the media and become household names while real heroes are forgotten after their 15 minutes.
- Every part of our entertainment lifestyle revolves around violence and "gritty realism"... movies, TV, books.... ALL OF IT.
****, Superman snapped a guys neck and people claim society hasn't changed?

I fully support more research into the effect of video games (And all other media) on players, but I want REAL research and not a political game.

Daap Lok
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"If anything, I suspect, some of these games actually lower the likelihood of real world violence. Maybe that's why these studies never actually get the funding..."

Lee makes an inconveniently true point! None of the games that "lower the likelihood of real world violence" are politically relevant to politicians being political. And what about the games that stimulate constructiveness and empathy instead of destructiveness and antipathy? I hope you expand on your thought Lee!

Paul Brosnan
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I understand what he is trying to say, but the IGDA's Daniel Greenburg comes off as really naive when he is talking about the cooperation with the White House in this article.

James McMurtry
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What are you talking about, Paul Brosnan? What was wrong with cooperation with the White House? That meeting was great for the industry.

Katy Smith
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This makes me sad. I believe there are so many variables when it comes to violence, it bothers me that the promised 10 million dollars went nowhere. It was all just a political stunt that validated the critical eye being focused on "violent media". Some research would at least eliminate media as a factor (at best), but without doing anything, it's just more of the same old same old...

Alexander Jhin
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In the sentence: "banning sales of certain weapons and ammo clips" I think the author meant "magazine" not "clip." The general rule of thumb: Don't ever use the word "clip" (unless you're talking about antique weapons.)

More technically: A clip simply holds bullets together until they're loaded into something (the firearm or even a magazine.) A clip is just a tool like a hammer. The confusion arose when certain unusual firearms accepted the entire clip along with the bullets (which was odd, like shipping a nailed board with the hammer still attached.)

I know, this doesn't matter much, but it helps to speak technically correctly so people don't disrespect opinions because of incorrect usage of terms. (It would be like calling a gaming PC a "console." It doesn't really make much of a difference in most cases and people understand what you mean, but it slightly lowers one's standing with people in the know.)

James McMurtry
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Sorry, Alexander, but Webster would beg to disagree.

Clip: "a magazine from which ammunition is fed into the chamber of a firearm"

It really doesn't matter how much the gun subculture would like to create a false distinction here to criticize everyone who doesn't eat sleep and breathe firearms, but clip has long been a suitable synonym for "magazine".

The NRA murderer lobby used to agree, back before they became nuts.
“CLIP: A device for holding a group of cartridges. Semantic wars have been fought over the word, with some insisting it is not a synonym for “detachable magazine.” For 80 years, however, it has been so used by manufacturers and the military. There is no argument that it can also mean a separate device for holding and transferring a group of cartridges to a fixed or detachable magazine or as a device inserted with cartridges into the mechanism of a firearm becoming, in effect, part of that mechanism.”

The NRA flushed a century of a definition down the memory hole and you fell for it.

Try getting your facts right.

Alexander Jhin
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There is still much debate about the usage of the word "clip" versus "magazine." But I stand by my point for the following reasons:
1) The author changed the word from magazine to clip.
2) The author was referring to legal bans on certain magazine sizes. Every state law uses the word "magazine" NOT "clip." Even in defining magazines, the word "clip" never appears as a synonym (while belt, drum, etc. are all offered.) See:
3) Like many gun issues, many people (including gun owners) disagree with the NRA, including the NRA's definition of "magazine" versus "clip." Thankfully, the NRA is not the arbiter of all things gun related.
4) SAAMI, the organization tasked with standardizing firearm technical specifications draws a distinction between clips and magazines. See:
5) Merriam Webster offers two separate definitions: either a device for charging OR a magazine.

To the final point, language changes over time: a "magazine" was originally a building designed to hold ammunition. But obviously, it doesn't mean that exclusively anymore. For now, clip and magazine's definitions are entwining: but they still aren't fully accepted (especially in the legal context and as the NRA even acknowledges.)

Those are the facts: There is still debate over the correct usage. In the face of that debate, I'd argue for following the legal language, since that was the context being discussed.

James McMurtry
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No, there is no debate.

There is no factual "debate about the usage of the word "clip" versus "magazine.""

You are simply wrong.

Clip and magazine have been synonyms for the better part of 100 years.

Websters tells us that clip = magazine.

The NRA tells us that clip = magazine, until very recently, when they decided to fool their gullible minions.

I provided you with PROOF from the NRA website, which the NRA has flushed down the memory hole after they began this lie about clip and magazine. Why did the NRA censor their own site?

1) Who cares if the author changed his usage? Who cared if he was lied to or bullied or tricked or decided it was not worth trying to talk to people who place god-like faith in the murderer lobby? How does that make your persnickety "correction" a fact when your claim is false?

2) I see you provide no evidence for yet another claim. Again. who cares? Even if every law says "magazine" and never says "clip", how does that make your persnickety "correction" a fact when your claim is false?

3) Who cares if gun owners disagree with the murderer lobby over semantics? How does that make your persnickety "correction" a fact when your claim is false?

4) If SAMMI decided that the new name for "fully automatic firearms" will now only be called "My Little Pony", does that mean that everyone is wrong for also referring to them as "fully automatic firearms"? Since SAMMI does not control the last 80 years of reality, how does that make your persnickety "correction" a fact when your claim is false?

5) So what? Clip and magazine are still synonymous. Therefore, your claim fails.

Of course language changes over time. And the murderer lobby is trying to change it in a way that allows poorly educated gun fetishists to think they are smarter than experienced journalists and statesmen. But intelligent people who can read a dictionary will still laugh at your attempts to flush perfectly good words down the memory hole.

You'd argue for the "legal language"? LOL. This is not a legal brief. This is journalism, where synonyms are still "legal."

The author was right either way, you are wrong. Either way.

Alexander Jhin
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Deleted my own comment as it's drifted too far from the original article. Sorry Mike Rose! Good article, valuable topic, nice overview.

James, I will address one point that's related to the industry somewhat: Gun fetishism. While I'm a gun control advocate, I am also, somewhat ironically, a gun fetishist as well. And I admit a lot of that comes as much from enjoying target shooting as it does from playing video games like Call of Duty. We blamed Hollywood for fetishizing cigarettes and pushed to have fewer stars smoke on screen. Should we do the same for video games/movies/songs in relationship to guns?

Now, I'll put away childish things.

Jarod Smiley
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We need the Minority Report....

Ian Richard
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Heck no. If people were to judge me for the thoughts that go through my head... I'd be doomed on so many levels.

If I don't actually commit a crime, I've done nothing wrong.

Tim Kofoed
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I feel this is a relevant Ted Talk: "...The media has to decide if they are going to inflame or inform..."

John Trauger
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The overriding point of the article is contained in this excerpt.

"But today, the people closest to the issue suggest both Obama's words and the game industry's meeting with Vice President Biden were simply an act to score points with the media and the voters, all the while leaving the video game industry in the lurch."

We were used.

For the sake of our own integrity, the meeting had to take place, but we were talking to people who weren't listening.

E Zachary Knight
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Based on my reading of this article, I come to the following conclusion. Reliance on the government and government funding for the go ahead on any kind of research is a pointless, fruitless and frustrating affair. I don't know why the games industry doesn't put money into some blind trusts to be used in research. It would be far better than this mess.

Michael Joseph
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I don't know who I trust least, industry (as in sectors of the economy that are lead by a few dominant corporations) or government. They're two halves of the same coin.

E Zachary Knight
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That i why I suggest the money go into a blind trust. So that the recipients of the funds do not know who donated and the donators don't know who the recipients are.

Will Hendrickson
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Sounds like a better idea to me!

We could also look at existing research in the field of psychology. We know that early on in development, children mimic what they see. And later, we know that situation changes to a certain extent.

There are also anger management groups that use violent video games as therapy, successfully!

So to look at this as some sort of duality where games either help or hurt people is just naive to the extreme.

Of course the real issue here is public opinion, which needs more attention from developers to improve the overall public disposition towards games. Let's release more games with positive appeal, and be more clear about the games we make based on their content and what we know about the science itself.

Kaze Kai
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When I was in middle school, I watched Dragon Tales and Clifford every day, I loved Hamtaro and all the video games I played were rated E and usually pretty bright and sunny. I still wanted to shoot up my school because of dealing with bullying and harassment and none of the teachers did anything unless I fought back in which case the blame fell on me, so I don't buy the whole "Video games brainwash people into killing" because the issue is usually more basic than that; you're going to inevitably run into these situations when you cram a bunch of kids together in schools and there aren't enough teachers to monitor them. Kids are mean, and when their nasty behavior reaches an emotionally disturbed kid that's going to trigger some very violent behavior and the best way to prevent school shootings is for teachers to pay more attention instead of making passing glances over their magazines while waiting for their chances at tenure to mature.

As for why I never killed anyone in middle school: Because when I went home, I immersed myself in the fantastical, ideal settings games. Suck it media.

Will Hendrickson
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I suppose if you are a lousy parent and you let your 7 year old play the new Mortal Kombat then give them a wakizashi, they might try to swing it at something. And, that can be said for any media.

However, Mortal Kombat is not for 7 year old children, it's for 18+ and any parent who lets their child anywhere near such media is clearly irresponsible. Violent games are for *adults* who have a mature mind. And, if someone has feelings of violence or rage, it is much better if they have a nice violent video game in which to vent their emotions, instead of bottling them up and releasing them in the real world.

The key word here is "responsible" and if we can't expect parents to be so, we have a much bigger problem than violent media!

What we really need is to take a look at the way we raise our children. It ultimately falls on the parent to take responsibility, because they are responsible for forming the foundation of learning that occurs in the early years of life.

Science tells us that positive attitudes towards life and other people are formed very early, and primarily based on the relationship between child, parent, and siblings. Any situation at all that denies or corrupts this development is already known to have terrible consequences in the futures of the children affected, and those around them.

As game developers, it is our responsibility to target our games appropriately, and make sure that parents know when an appropriate age is for our games. I also believe we should seriously consider making more educational games, and games with a positive outlook, for kids as well as adults.

Instead of being angry at the public for being ignorant, taking measures to help parents feel more informed will go a very long way.

People are naturally afraid of what they don't know or understand. So, be as transparent as possible and explain somewhere in your website or supporting media what steps you take to empower parents to censor their children's media intake.

Also, offering non-violent or educational games as an alternative could go even further to alleviating the issue.

Mark Velthuis
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I agree on the fact that parents need to take responsibility.

However I completely disagree on what makes a parent responsible. A responsible parent lets their child play what they think is right for the child at the moment they find acceptable. A "magic by law decided age" doesn't mean anything. I've seen 15 year olds that are more mature than 25 year olds. I bet the main reason this 18+ rating exists is because from that age, the people will be responsible for themselves instead of being protected by law due to being underage. I also believe that the main reason these ratings exist is because of lazy parents that don't want to spend too much time (or none at all) figuring out what's best for their kids.

Will Hendrickson
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Thanks for the great reply!

Let me clarify: reading an ESRB rating does not make a parent responsible or irresponsible (I may have worded that in an unclear way)

It's not necessarily what makes a parent responsible that's important, we know responsibility when we see it. Intuitively.

The important bit is the *presence* of responsibility.

I agree that age ratings are flimsy at best. They are a useful first step.

As developers, let's put information out there about our games, especially when they contain material that might affect impressionable people negatively. Customers and parents especially will love this!

Andy Mason
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I let my 8 year old play call of duty. He isn't violent. He knows its a game and isn't violent after playing. However I do make him mute it when playing online. Listening to kids younger than him cursing like a sailor is definitely the loose cannons who probably doesn't even know what their kid is playing nor talking that way to others.

Lance McKee
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Sorry, I realize now that I should keep my thoughts to myself.

Beth Winegarner
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Very well done article, and very necessary. You make many of the same points I've made over the years, particularly in my new book, "The Columbine Effect: How five teen pastimes got caught in the crossfire and why teens are taking them back." (

We really need to look elsewhere to understand why these shootings continue to happen, but you're right that the media has so few moral panics left and is going to keep clinging to this one for all it's worth. And yet I think about how the media also quickly turned its back on any hint that vaccines cause autism after the original studies were debunked. If we could demonstrably debunk the negative video-game studies, the media would have much less plausibility to stand on.

Will Hendrickson
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Shootings continue to occur because of the terrible environment that children grow up in. Because of the stresses of modern society, many parents become either emotionally detached, neglectful, or even abusive. We know that children learn to mimic the actions of their parents early in life, so if the parent is violent (even verbally) the child is prone to become violent later in life as well.

These shootings will not stop until life becomes less stressful for parents, and thus children, ad we as a society take responsibility for the way we treat each other through structural abuse and hardship.

Until that time, shootings will continue to occur and Nancy Grace will continue to witch-hunt.

Beth Winegarner
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Will, I think you're headed in the right direction, except for the fact that we've been having school shootings/bombings for something like 100 years. A handful are detailed on Wikipedia:

Jonathan Murphy
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Countries like Canada take us with open arms, rather than threatening us. Way to piss away billions of dollars in potential revenue, alienate the younger generation, and accomplish nothing when dealing with real problems. One day, and I assure you we'll see it. One day the fan will break from all the crap that's flung at it.

James McMurtry
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What a great article. Very well researched. This is a service to the game industry. Who says game journalism is an oxymoron? Thanks, Gamasutra.

Andy Mason
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I drew a picture that says enough. If you ever saw this, then I would support video games being the reason for violence vs a lame excuse.

Gary Riccio
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Thanks to Mike and heads up about a relevant TED Conversation running from Feb 13 to March 13, 2014

Thank you to Mike Rose for such cogent reporting and some thought-provoking investigative journalism! He shows us that this conversation, that shouldn't slip into the shadows, is about more than the seeds of violence or about videogames in particular. It is about an honest look at the new places in which people are congregating, why, and what happens in them. The problems (and opportunities) we find there are likely to be as old as recorded history and, if so, they will be much more interesting and varied than the occasional witch hunts.

One of the many quotes that are instructive for this continuing public discussion is "It's now about moving past that, into studying it on a much more phenomenological basis -- more of a motivational basis," he tells me. "What is it about video games that attracts people? Why do they play them? What do they get out of it? How is the user a much more important part of that process?" (quoting Ferguson).

I also think a key is to become less dependent on additional "funding" for research and to find other ways to influence research programs that are likely to be funded even without additional funding and, more generally to leverage a wider body of research in the human sciences. Citizen journalism (participatory journalism) can be an instrument for doing this, and it can be particularly effective in addressing Ferguson's important questions. A different kind of blogging can help us here.

See e.g.,

This is a TED Conversation I started on Feb 13th to address issues such as those raised in the quote from Ferguson above. Instead of focusing on violence in this conversation, I wanted to understand the community context for gamers within which relationships and interpersonal behavior are visible and have meaning, why gamers play online games. I suspect that understanding the reality and potential of such online communities can be part of the solution to identifying and helping people who are troubled and potentially violent for reasons that have nothing to do with the games they play.

See also other science bloggers (e.g., Paige Brown) who seem to be creating new forms of citizen science:

Perttu Saarela
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All these posts, and no one mentions the link between psychotropic drugs and violent behavior.

Guns don't kill people, banning guns doesn't stop people from killing other people, videogames don't make people kill other people and I think the whole argument is arbitrary without looking deeper into the societal problems and why normal kids are being prescribed mind altering medication with side effects such as:

Homicidal ideation
Psychosis etc.

Just do a search on the profits the drug companies make on psychotropic drugs prescribed by "psychiatrists" (who are not doctors but theorists) who are funded by the drug companies.

Here's a list of: 31 School shooters/school related violence committed by those under the influence of psychiatric drugs.

I know this great article by Mike Rose is about videogames and violence but I had to bring up the above as it somehow seems to have slipped through the fingers of many.