I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone claimed that “the video games made him do it,” referring to the young man who killed 26 people in a horrific burst of senseless violence in Newtown, CT. For a brief moment, there was a focus on gun control and mental health, but it’s so much easier to blame the media and entertainment industry than to regulate guns or provide better mental health services.
So here we go again, targeting one of the time-honored scapegoats for all that’s wrong with society. Over the years, we’ve tried to blame – and ban – dime novels, comic books, rap music, TV, movies, and video games, although there has never been any good evidence connecting any of them to violence. As with earlier forms of entertainment, the vast majority of people who play video games don’t engage in real violence. However, we do know that even the most benign things (cheerleading magazines, the Bible) can trigger violent outbursts in some people.
As H.L Mencken famously said, “There is always an easy solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.” Trying to explain what happened in Connecticut by pointing to video games is easy; unfortunately, it won’t do much to stem violence or treat mental illness.
Gabe Rottman of the ACLU Legislative Office in Washington, DC wrote a thoughtful commentary about this issue as well. It can be read here.