Let’s All Blame Video Games For Society’s Ills!

As an American born at the end of the Satanic Panic who attended high school during the Columbine shooting, I’ve spent pretty much my entire stupid life hearing that games were a huge driver of society’s ills. I’d say ‘video games’ but my mom seemed to believe that if I played Dungeons & Dragons, I would become a Satan worshipper.

Which is weird because, one, I’m not that cool, and two, I barely had enough friends to get a D&D game going, let alone be invited to a theoretical sex cult. I wasn’t even cool enough for older kids to push drugs on me. You think people wearing hooded cloaks and carrying zig-zaggy knives are sending me invites? Cuz they ain’t.

Unfortunately, as an American, I’ve also become used to terrible shit being conveniently blamed on the wrong things. It’s baked into our national character. Guns don’t cause gun deaths, mental health does. But our mental healthcare system is too expensive to fix, so it can’t be that either – it’s gotta be the rap music and video games. Because most of our politicians were born before the Germans surrendered in World War 2, the discourse around violence in this country is mostly done by old men who would get shot out of an easy chair by rock ’n’ roll.

Every shooting we have is fucking tragic. All of them. If you don’t live in the US, it probably seems weird that our response to any shooting is to name another American city that had a shooting and go, “See? It’s clearly not a problem in this country because it is a problem elsewhere in this country!” Of course, this sibling-road-trip back-seat-fighting “she started it!” shit always points to a different culture – whether that be economic, sexual, cultural, or racial. They did it. Not guns!

Trying to hit tic-tac-toe all at once, conservatives in my country tried to blame the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, on a Leftist trans illegal immigrant. Mostly because someone online found photos of a different trans person who looked nothing like the fucking shooter. Why? Because guns are seen as a moral good, while not falling into traditional roles is seen as a moral evil. And a lot of people in my country would rather make others live in fear than accept a world that only makes them the main character 95 percent of the time.

If you’re reading this, you probably already think blaming pop culture is stupid. Especially blaming video games. And you probably know this shit is nothing new.

Stick with me on this next paragraph, because it’s going to open with a sentence that sounds boring as fuck.

My entire grad thesis was about a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, who you might remember being a Goethe writer. Works better if you say that pun out loud. Released in the late 1700s, Werther was a short novel about a young man who’s in love with an engaged woman and kills himself when she says she just wants to be friends. Basic teen romance drama.

And people lost their goddamn minds over it. It became an international sensation – largely because it was short, which made it cheap and easy to translate, which made it cheap and easy to sell, which made it cheap and easy to buy and read. Novels around this period were regularly monstrous volumes with the most boring fucking stories. Again, I have a grad degree in this shit.

Werther became such a sensation that fans began writing fan-fiction and fan-poems and publishing them in newspapers. Yes, there was fan-fiction in the late 1700s and early 1800s. As this was before merchandising deals, tailors and haberdashers sold clothes meant to make men look like Werther. Lotte, the woman who rejected Werther, was often written in fan-fiction as regretting her decision because, you know, it’s always the woman’s fault.

Almost done here.

As this book became a sensation, politicians and newspaper editors and the clergy fretted that this little novel was breaking young adults’ brains. Suicides at the time were attributed to Werther – whether the victim was a fan of the book or not. Old authority figures believed the novel was changing the culture to teach boys that violence was the answer to their problems. Even though this book was released in a historical period in which unabashed violence was very fucking much the answer for most countries.

Video games are obviously different from that book – although I fucking guarantee you Werther himself would demand Lotte name her five favorite video games if she said she played them. But the blame is the same. An ill of society put entirely on something only tangentially related. If the mass shooter played video games, then clearly there was an issue there, right?

But everyone fucking plays video games now. Saying a man shot up a school or a grocery store or a church or a concert (it’s been a horrifically busy few years in America) because he played video games is like saying he did it because he watched Seinfeld or ate at McDonald’s.

Of course, games can spawn toxic shit. Video game communities are regularly nightmare worlds of terrible people, but the games aren’t causing that. Toxic people who need an insular fan culture to feel comfortable with spewing hate have always existed. I’m gonna make a safe assumption and say we’ve all seen The Crown. Prince Philip’s lunch club was just 4chan for rich dipshits. No more questions.

Yes, fan cultures are often bad, unwelcoming spaces. Usually when those fandoms surround a cartoon about good, welcoming spaces. But even here, toxic people from around the world are in these fandoms. We’ve all heard the n-word in a foreign accent from a player who was mad at virtual heroes who were better than them at fighting virtual bad guys. It’s all shit all the way down, but those countries don’t shoot children every chance they get. They may have other flaws – many, many other flaws – but gun violence seems to be less of one.

Depending on where you live in America, it’s extraordinarily easy to get a weapon that fires deadly bullets. The shooter in Uvalde walked into a store right after his birthday and walked out with an AR-15. Conservatives may say that people who want to harm people will do so no matter what’s banned, but this logic could be extended to any law in all of human history. Yes, murders will still happen if there are anti-murder laws. The point is to make it less easy and appealing.

It’s the ease of access, promotion of fear of the ‘other’, and a country based on might making right. That’s what it’s always been. Shooters who are mad at Asian business owners for the fact they’re Asian. Shooters who are mad at women because they don’t give them sex on a silver platter. Shooters who are mad at gay people because they believe they’re against God. None of these lessons come from Halo.

Unfortunately, this probably won’t change. It’s a fatalism that itself is harmful. But living here, it’s hard to feel anything but resigned. I live in a country in which I regularly say, in relief, “Thank God I don’t have children.” Because being a parent or child in this country right now sounds like a fucking rollercoaster of hate and sorrow.

Video games are not the problem. Dungeons & Dragons is not the problem. Songs about fucking are not the problem. Fatherlessness is not the problem (it turns out a lot of people throughout history grew up without a dad due to war and disease and hot servers at their favorite restaurant). The problem is the guns. The problem is the access to guns. The problem is the casting of guns as a sacred good that solves any problem fast. This is why people are dying in droves. It’s preventable and we just refuse to do it.

Like a guy who keeps getting dumped and can’t figure out why, this country wants to blame anyone else but itself and the world it specifically created. I want to end with a call to action, but it’s hard to know what to say. Pass reasonable gun reform? More universal and thorough background checks? We’ve been here literally hundreds of times. The cavalry isn’t just not coming to save us from this horror; it’s running the other way like the police did in Uvalde.

Also, too many doors aren’t the problem either, you fucking idiots.

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