Society problems

Blame all video games for the ills of society!

As an American born in the late Satanic Panic who attended high school during the Columbine shootings, I’ve spent pretty much my stupid life hearing that games are a huge driver of societal ills. I would say “video games”, but my mother 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 start a D&D game, let alone get invited to a theoretical sex cult. I wasn’t even cool enough for older kids to push me on drugs. Do you think people wearing hooded capes and wielding zigzag knives send me invitations? Because they are not.

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Unfortunately, as an American, I’ve also become accustomed to conveniently blaming the wrong things. It’s rooted in our national character. Guns don’t cause gun deaths, mental health does. But our mental health system is too expensive to fix, so it can’t be that either – it has to be rap music and video games. Because most of our politicians were born before the Germans surrendered in World War II, the discourse on violence in this country is mostly held by old men who would get shot out of a chair by rock ‘n’ roll .

Every shootout we have is fucking tragic. All. If you don’t live in the United States, it probably seems odd that our response to any shooting is to name another US city that’s had a shooting and say, “See? This is clearly not a problem in this country because it is a problem elsewhere in this country! Of course, that back seat sibling fight “she started it!” shit always points to a different culture – be it economic, sexual, cultural or racial. They did it. No weapons!

Trying to hit the tic-tac-toe in one fell swoop, 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 another 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% of the time.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably already thinking that blaming pop culture is stupid. Particularly accuse video games. And you probably know that shit ain’t new.

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

My whole thesis was on a book called The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Goethe, which you may recall was a Goethe writer. Works best if you say this pun out loud. Released in the late 1700s, Werther was a short novel about a young man who is in love with an engaged woman and kills himself when she says she just wants to be friends. Basic teen romantic drama.

And people lost their minds. 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 to read. The novels around this period were regularly monstrous volumes with the most boring fucking stories. Again, I have a graduate degree in this shit.

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

Almost done here.

While this book caused a stir, politicians, newspaper editors and clergy feared that this little novel would break the brains of young adults. Suicides at the time were attributed to Werther – whether the victim was a fan of the book or not. Former authority figures believed the novel changed the culture to teach boys that violence was the answer to their problems. Even though this book was published in a historical period when shameless violence really was the fucking solution for most countries.

Video games are obviously different from this book – although I guarantee that Werther himself would ask Lotte to name her five favorite video games if she said she played them. But the fault is the same. An evil of society rests entirely on something which has only a tangential relationship. If the mass shooter was playing video games, then there was clearly a problem, right?

But everyone plays video games now. Saying a man fired up at a school, grocery store, church, or concert (these last few years have been horribly busy in America) because he played video games is like saying he did because he watched Seinfeld or ate at McDonald’s.

Sure, games can generate toxic shit. Video game communities are regularly nightmarish worlds of terrible people, but games aren’t the cause. Toxic people who need an insular fan culture to feel comfortable spouting hate have always been around. I’m going to make a safe guess and say we’ve all seen The Crown. Prince Philip’s lunch club was only 4chan for rich dipshit. No more questions.

Yes, fan cultures are often evil and unwelcoming spaces. Usually when these fandoms surround a cartoon on good welcoming spaces. But even here, toxic people from all over the world are part of these fandoms. We’ve all heard the n-word in a foreign accent from a gamer who was angry at virtual heroes who were better than them at fighting virtual villains. It sucks all the way, but these 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 them.

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

It is ease of access, promotion of fear of “the other” and a country based on the rule of law. That’s what he always was. Shooters who resent Asian business owners for being Asian. Shooters who are mad at women for not giving them sex on a silver platter. Shooters who are angry with homosexuals because they believe they are against God. None of these lessons come from Halo.

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

Video games are not the problem. Dungeons & Dragons is not the problem. The songs about fucking aren’t the problem. Fatherlessness isn’t the problem (it turns out that many people throughout history have grown up without a father due to war and disease and hot waiters at their favorite restaurant). The problem is the weapons. The problem is access to weapons. The problem is that guns are considered a sacred good that quickly solves any problem. This is why people are dying in droves. It’s preventable and we simply refuse to do it.

Like a guy who keeps getting dumped and doesn’t understand why, this country wants to blame someone other than 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. Adopt reasonable gun reform? More universal and thorough background checks? We have been here literally hundreds of times. The cavalry is not just coming to save us from this horror; it turns the other way like the police did in Uvalde.

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

Next: Remembering Ray Liotta