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Mass shootings: Don’t blame the games; blame the culture 

Despite the reinvigorated rhetoric of current scapegoating, video games are not training grounds for preparing a mass shooting. They’re not manuals for gun buying, ownership, and operation.

Video games don’t cause mass shootings. They don’t create mass shooters.
Video games don’t cause mass shootings. They don’t create mass shooters.
Photo by Rohit Choudhari on Unsplash

If you’ve lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, you’ve probably shopped at Cielo Vista Mall or at least driven by it on your way into El Paso; if you’ve lived in Dayton, Ohio, you’ve likely shared a meal or drinks with friends in the Oregon District. I’ve done those things.

That’s why two of the most recent mass shootings particularly hit home.

I’ve also done something else: played video games, including first-person shooters. And I’m not a mass shooter. In fact, I’m a researcher and teacher of video games. I’m an educator who is expected to, and without hesitation would, protect your child if and when a mass shooter attacks our classroom.

But I don’t need an advanced degree to make this statement:

Video games don’t cause mass shootings. They don’t create mass shooters.

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Despite the reinvigorated rhetoric of current scapegoating, video games are not training grounds for preparing a mass shooting. They’re not tactical guides for plotting attack routes. They’re not manuals for gun buying, ownership, and operation.

Games reflect our society

Like other forms of media, games are a reflection of our society and culture writ large. It’s our society and culture that support violent misogynistic, homophobic, and racist behavior from its community members — specifically some of its white male players.

Jen England
Jen England
Since the early 2000s, when consoles like Xbox and Playstation added voice chat features, players of color have faced a “racist and toxic” gaming environment. Similar concerns have been raised in game streaming services such as Twitch, with some streamers being sued for posting racist and misogynistic videos. The rise of Gamergate in 2014 further revealed the capacity for hatred and violence in (largely) white male gamers but was couched under the guise of ethics in gaming journalism. When Zoë Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, and Brianna Wu blew the whistle on the underbelly of the movement, they faced death and rape threats. These threats were explicitly clear and made publicly. Yet little was done to structurally combat this behavior.

If that seems eerily familiar, it should. Right before the shooter opened fire near Cielo Vista, he published his manifesto founded on his learned racist and xenophobic beliefs. According to former classmates, the Dayton shooter had kept a “‘hit list’ of those he wanted to kill and a ‘rape list’ of girls he wanted to sexually assault.”

Vile values

Misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy are on the rise in America. Our country is fixated on guns and wringing its hands over banning assault weapons. This is what leads to mass shootings. The vile values upheld by some people, gamers and non-gamers alike — including some of our own elected government officials — breed mass shooters, not video games.

Until we take threats of violence seriously by treating them proactively not reactively, and until we regulate access to guns, especially assault weapons, mass shootings will continue. We must stop scapegoating video games and instead do the work of dismantling the societal, cultural, and institutional structures that support mass shooters’ behaviors.

Jen England, Ph.D., lived and worked in Dayton, Ohio, and near El Paso, Texas, before moving to the Twin Cities. She is an assistant professor of English at Hamline University. Her research examines rhetorics and cultures within digital spaces, including video games, most recently surrounding representations of mental health and illness.

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