The mainstream media, and the moral panic around violence in video games
Greenberg mentions moral panic there, which is obviously a major factor in this entire back-and-forth -- if not the main factor.
However you look at it, the mainstream media's obsession with painting violent video games in a bad light plays a massive role in both scaring the general public, and pushing governments to consider video games some kind of threat. Who cares that it's all based on conjecture, and past research has failed to find any link between violence in video games and real-life -- the media is very much in charge, and the White House's response last January proves this.
"The political process was driven in many ways by the media reports, and vice versa," reasons Ferguson. "I remember after the Biden meeting, and about a month later when the White House released its plan -- which all fell apart -- I think I was never so popular in my life. My phone was ringing off the hook. The two forces were feeding into each other, and I think some people took it as an opporuntity to promote their own agendas."
This large-scale feeding frenzy between the newspapers and the White House snowballed because, quite frankly, a large number of news organizations both big and small are happy to jump on any video game violence rumor and promote it to readers as if it were true.
"The question now is: Who, if anybody, is going to be left holding the bag?" continues Ferguson. "Now that we look back a year later, there seems to be this sense of 'Who is mainly responsible for not showing much leadership here?' I guess you can say, 'The news media do what they do.' Maybe they could have done a better job, but they go for headlines. So maybe it's the politicians, or the scholars, or should have stepped up more?"
"They will never willingly give up this moral panic, because they don't have a lot of moral panics left."
Andrew Przybylski is a Ph.D. researcher at the University of Oxford, who has published papers and articles on the supposed link between video games and real-life aggression. He notes that "there is a deep human need to know why people do bad things."
"Anomie makes people really uneasy," he adds. "In the face of tragedy people want to know why these things happen. For many in the press and society, games (outside of discussions around tragedies) are not a well understood thing."
At the heart of the matter, he believes that the negative reporting in the press comes down to four points: "Press willingness to speculate about motives of perpetrators before the facts come in; positive beliefs of pundits in a gaming-aggression link; willingness of these pundits to apply their belief before the facts come in; and an audience that would be receptive to this formulation."
"So unfamiliarity with games may contribute to games being brought into media reporting on tragedies at all four stages," he notes.
"There's this sense among the general public that violent media, and video games in particular, are somehow making things worse," Olson adds to Ferguson's thoughts. "I don't think most people realize that crime is down, and down dramatically in the U.S. since the mid 1990s. When I mention it to people, they say 'Wow, really?'"
Of course, that sort of news report wouldn't bring in the clicks, hence why the public is so ill-informed. That, says the IGDA's Greenberg, is why the meeting with Biden wasn't a loss at all -- because the press would have continued on its tirade against video games regardless.
"We'll get the moral panic from them when we pry it from their cold, dead hands, to paraphrase our friends in another industry," he notes. "They will never willingly give up this moral panic, because they don't have a lot of moral panics left. Video games are still widely available for that, so the media isn't going to want to give that up, because if it bleeds, it leads. Even if it's bleeding electronic pixels."
The Sandy Hook report
In November 2013, the Sandy Hook report was finally released, detailing what the authorities had discovered about Lanza and his motives for the shooting. It was a 44 page report, describing the event and what is believed to have been the cause of Lanza's rampage -- but you'll have to scroll a fair amount to find any mention of video games.
That's because, as discovered, Lanza didn't really have any out-of-the-ordinary desire for violent video games at all. Sure, he played them -- the likes of Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Grand Theft Auto were found in his basement -- but if anything, he actually had an obsession with a certain non-violent video game: Dance Dance Revolution.
"The shooter liked to play a game called Dance Dance Revolution, which is a music video game in which the player stands on a platform, watches a video screen and moves his feet," explains the report.
"The GPS found in the home and reportedly belonging to the shooter indicated that he regularly went to the area of a theater that had a commercial version of the DDR game in the lobby," it continues. "In 2011 and up until a month before December 14, 2012, the shooter went to the theater and played the game. He went most every Friday through Sunday and played the game for four to ten hours."
According to the report, Lanza also enjoyed Phantasy Star Online, Paper Mario, Luigi's Mansion, and Pikmin. Essentially, he enjoyed all the same types of games that millions of other young adults his age do.
Nowhere does the report suggest that video games were to blame for the shooting, just as was the case with the Virginia Tech massacre. Rather, the report noted that Lanza's mental health issues were "significant," and that these issues greatly affected how he interacted with others, and generally led his life.
"For all the talk of how he was obsessed with violent video games, and the investigation had a primary focus on video games, the report mentions video games for a page and a half out of 40-something pages," muses Ferguson. "He played both violent and non-violent games like any 20-year-old does, but what's interesting is that he spent most of his time playing non-violent video games."
"I think for people that were hoping the report would come round out and say video games were the big issue, it certainly didn't do that... It sure didn't substantiate all those rumors going on last Spring about what an obsessive violent gamer player he was. They actually found around 12 games -- you can find more than that in my closet!"
Olson notes that the report mainly focuses on the weapons that Lanza had access to, and his mental health. Games were barely mentioned because, as we've discovered, the White House didn't actually believe for one minute that video games were to blame.