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Video games and gun violence: A year after Sandy Hook
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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.

Article Start Page 1 of 7 Next

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