The media, gun crime and gun games

A recent report revealed that in just the first six weeks of 2014, there have been 13 recorded school shootings in the US. What’s more, there have been 44 shootings in total since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December 2012, where 28 lost their lives.That averages out at just over three school shootings per month in that 14 month timeframe. The number and scale of these attacks is so shocking that it’s hard to ignore. Now that the topic is back in the public spotlight, it’s as good a time as any to ask: why is it that these attacks are so frequent, and why is it that these tragedies happen? Who is responsible for these crimes, and what can be done to prevent them?

The report, commissioned by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, also includes a list of the reported school shootings since December 2012. I’m not one for tables and data, but there’s a noticeable quirk in the timings of these shootings: that they often occur within close proximity of each other, often within a few days of one other. Digging back further in time, I found this list on stoptheshootings.org, chronicling school shootings since 1992, which shows a similar kind of trend. Now, I’m definitely not the first person to notice this phenomenon, and I’m definitely not the first person to write about this subject, but it is interesting enough to me to want to write my first blog post about it.

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Five shootings in 15 days

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Three shootings in three days

I’ve only picked out two examples for the sake of brevity, but this is very noticeable in both of the tables. What’s going on here?

When a school shooting occurs, the media descends. Frenzied reports of the incident ensue, outlining the basic details of the incident before going into insane amounts of obsessive detail about the killer, his life, his family, his influences and what made him shoot. Coverage can go on for days on end. And something that often comes up in these reports is the influence of video games – violent video games – and the impact that they had on the perpetrator’s mental health and state of mind. More often than not, the media spins an image of the assailant addicted to a violent video game, which directly led him/her to commit an attack. This area of thought is nothing new: the link between violent video games and violent crime has been a long studied and debated topic. But for the media to report on these stories in this way is a gross misjudgement, not only for encouraging more of these attacks but for misrepresenting video games themselves.

gun crime

The media has always been quick to pin the blame on video games – the UK press is particularly guilty of this. Shown above is one example, The Sun’s coverage of the Newton shooting: a double page spread going into detail about the killer, highlighting his Call of Duty: Black Ops obsession.

Reports like The Sun’s are not just incredibly distasteful, but they also arguably perpetuate the problem. An article in Psychology Today suggested that the media is actually an accomplice in school shootings, and makes a much stronger case that any report on the influence of video games can. By amplifying the violence and glorifying the killer, the media is unintentionally causing a spike in similar crimes. By turning them into a cultural icon – an antihero – they are pandering to the inherent ‘need to be famous’ likeminded individuals and increasing the likelihood of them committing the same crime. For them to achieve the same notoriety, they must follow by example. The article points to a series of killings, all in a very small timeframe, where Stephen King’s Rage was cited as inspiration by the killers. Of course, the media has every right to report on news, and stories like these sell papers. But they must exercise caution here. By thrusting these criminals into the public’s eye, they are arguably encouraging more of the same.

So what role do video games play in all of this? To date, no study has ever found a link between violent video games and gun crime. Evidence shows that the US has an absurdly disproportionate amount of gun crime in relation to video game consumption compared to other countries in the world. The Netherlands and South Korea; the top two video game consuming countries per capita have incredibly low amounts of gun related murders. In fact, South Korea has none, whilst being a country where video gaming is a national sport. So why does the media focus so intently on the issue? Why does it blame video games for school shootings?

Video gaming is massive; it’s an industry thats reported to top $100bn in the near future. Grand Theft Auto V was the fastest selling piece of entertainment ever, making $800m in 24 hours. And that there lies the problem: video games are now as much a form of entertainment as watching TV or reading the paper. They are all vying for your attention, your time and for your money. So maybe it’s the case that the media sees video games as a usurper to its throne, and perhaps this is why video games are linked to these murders. At some level, there is a struggle for power.

But regardless of video games’ role in all of this, the media does need to learn to report on these crimes more tastefully. They should stop glorifying the killer, and rather focus on the facts of the story as briefly and as factually as possible. They should not focus on plastering the killer’s face on our screens, but respectfully focus on the effects these crimes have on the families and communities involved. Sadly, our appetite for sensationalism makes this difficult, but in doing so, we may see a decline in these crimes. The media has always had and will always have great power, and with this power, they can influence people for good or evil. And in the words of Voltaire/Uncle Ben, ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’.

Further Reading:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/richard-gizbert/school-shootings-its-time-the-media-admit-they-are-a-big-part-of-the-problem_b_2315134.html

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/media/2012/07/how-media-shouldnt-cover-mass-murder?quicktabs_most_read=0

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3 thoughts on “The media, gun crime and gun games

  1. Good read Mike,

    I would argue that gun crime might have some links with video gaming, but the act of gaming itself isn’t the cause of shootouts. In the case of America you have two things in abundance; Guns and nutters. Throw in a few other catalysts and you’ve got yourself regular shootings. It’s plausible that violent video games could be one of those catalysts… It sure as hell shouldn’t be used as a scapegoat though, as it so often is in the media.

    I think what can often be overlooked by the media is that each case is clearly a very complex psychological disturbance, all with their own weird motives. Trying to link them all together with video games or any other influence is stupid. The only common factor in these incidents: guns. Hurray for the 2nd Amendment!

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    • Thanks dude! I’d agree, access to firearms has a huge part to play in this; I just didn’t want to get into that this time as it’s a whole other wormhole! Maybe something to write about in the future though. Thanks for reading, I appreciate it!

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  2. Interesting read Mike.

    It’s definitely absurd to find an analogy between the experience of killing avatars online and that of murdering an actual person; if they were at all similar the millions of non-homicidal people playing online fps’s would be plagued with guilt, walking around in a state of constant shock.

    To find a causal link between the two is worse than absurd, it’s a lazy abnegation of social responsibility. People aren’t made sociopathic – having no empathetic understanding of the consequences of taking someone else’s life – because they played COD that one time. But it does make for more straightforward copy.

    Americans. Who’d ‘ave em.

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