Gun Violence and Video Games: Why This is Not the Debate We Should Be Having

An NRA executive blames video games for shootings. A Democratic senator blames the NRA. Gun companies use video games to market their product. And perhaps a national tragedy is lost in the debate.

First, there is Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA. In a recent press conference, LaPierre referred to video games as a “a dirty little truth the media try to conceal.” This is perhaps an unjust claim because media outlets such as Gamespot, IGN, 1UP, Joystiq, and G4TV are all built around the very concept of revealing every single, bloody, gory detail in video games.

LaPierre then referred to the industry as a “callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and sows violence against it’s own people through vicious violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse.” Grand Theft Auto and Bulletstorm both feature gun violence against fellow citizens, yes, but Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse are actually more reliant on melee attacks.

Also, the victims in Mortal Kombat are often inhuman beings from a magical world known as “The Netherrealm” and the story mode casts players in the role of Earth warriors defending humans. Therefore, if anything, these games are xenophobic, not promoting violence against one’s own. If it’s any consolation, however, there are plenty of games that promote violence exclusively against foreigners.

Lapierre then highlighted a specific game called Kindergarten Killers, arguing, “It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it and all of yours couldn’t or didn’t want anyone to know you had found it.” The game, a cheaply produced flash animation, was not affiliated with any professional game developer and the original website where it appeared is now defunct.  

Also, most major videogames dodge the issue of violence against children by either never creating them in the game world (such as Grand Theft Auto IV) or making it impossible to attack them (such as Fallout III).

Besides, it is somewhat unfair to label an entire population desirous of killing children simply because of a video game. Such scenes are personally bothersome to many gamers, as they have often demonstrated to the developers that make such games, but this is, at best, a double standard in gamers and does not necessarily betray a desire to kill.

There is also the response by Democratic California Senator Leland Yee. Having previously attempted to illegalize the sale of violent video games to children, Senator Lee responded to LaPierre’s claims by stating on his website that, “When our law was before the Supreme Court -- while several states, medical organizations, and child advocates submitted briefs in support of California’s efforts -- the NRA was completely silent."

It is perhaps unfair of the senator to blame LaPierre, because the NRA was, at that time, unassociated with video games. Also, in spite of LaPierre’s claims, the NRA is still unassociated from video games so such legislation truly isn’t their business.

Senator Yee also stated that the NRA, “rather than face reality and be part of the solution to the widespread proliferation of assault weapons in America,” was attempting to “pass the buck.” Regardless of what the NRA was trying to do, it’s noteworthy that Senator Yee referred to the excess of assault weapons in the nation as the problem that needs to be solved. Therefore, if the senator believes that is the issue, then video games don’t quite factor into gun sales, do they?

Actually, they do. Firearm manufacturers use videogames, both the official websites and the promotional events, to display the in-game weapons for sale. Since the whole point of a commercial is to show consumers the ideal or proper use for a product, it is quite terrifying that the official commercials for weapons are now video games.

Perhaps this proves both Senator Yee and LaPierre correct because videogames are now literally promoting rampant gun purchase and usage. It remains to be seen, however, whether either of them, particularly the NRA, will treat this as a negative or not.

Amidst all this, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller (D) has introduced a bill that would direct the National Academy of Sciences to examine whether violent video games cause children to act aggressively or otherwise hurt their well-being. The senator states on his website,Recent court decisions demonstrate that some people still do not get it. They believe that violent video games are no more dangerous to young minds than classic literature or Saturday morning cartoons. Parents, pediatricians, and psychologists know better.”

While it is perhaps disrespectful to so openly show dissent against a court decision, it will be interesting to see what the NAS finds.

Personally, I feel that it is strange to search for a connection between video games and gun violence. Australia and Japan, for example, have very low firearm homicides reported each year, and both have varying rules on video games. Whereas Australia does not even allow videogames with excessive violence, Japan often gets games that have to be censored in America (the blood in the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat II or the Neo Geo Metal Slug 4 was not green/white in Japan). Therefore, whatever both those countries are doing correctly to curb gun violence, the answer probably isn’t in video games.

Perhaps what’s most disheartening is that, amidst all these arguments, a national tragedy was lost in debating. May the families of the victims find peace and may no one suffer like this ever again.