The first weekend of August there were two more mass shootings in the United States, making it 22 mass shootings so far in 2019 south of the border.
When commenting on them, U.S. President Donald Trump casually made a comment to the effect that violent video games somehow played a role in the shootings. He didn’t mention mental health issues, or the ease with which someone can acquire a military-style assault weapon in the States.
In 1954 a book called “Seduction of the Innocent” by writer Frederick Wertham, M.D. was published. It claimed that comic books, no matter the content, were to blame for children turning to depravity, violence and crime.
Wertham didn’t by any stretch of the imagination conduct a proper scientific examination of comic books printed by different companies, comparing their content book to book. He didn’t conduct a proper scientific study of children who read comic books, comparing the behaviour of such to children the same age and social class who didn’t read comic books.
Critics later accused Wertham of filling the book with his opinions about comic books (he didn’t like them) rather than proper scientific facts to back up his claim that comic books corrupted children and turned them into violent criminals. This was likely because no such scientific facts have ever surfaced regarding comic books.
Of course, politicians at the time “Seduction of the Innocent” was published grabbed the idea and ran with it, a great excuse to blame pop culture for society’s problems rather than looking at what social conditions, such as poverty, domestic violence and addictions, might be causing children to become delinquents.
In her 2012 study, author Carol L. Tilley noted Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised, and fabricated evidence” in support of the contentions expressed in “Seduction of the Innocent” and “He generally did not adhere to standards worthy of scientific research, instead using questionable evidence for his argument that comics were a cultural failure.”
Video games face the same discrimination. Virtually since video games were invited politicians have been trying to blame them for society’s ills, yet no study has ever found ever a causal link between video games, even violent ones, and actual violence.
The Entertainment Software Association, which self-censors and classifies games, pointed out last week that the same violent video games are sold all over the world, including Canada and the United States, but no country in the western world seems to have the same mass shooting problem the States has.
The Associated Press quoted Benjamin Burroughs, professor of emerging media at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, this week as saying, “There are no longitudinal studies that show a link between violence and video games. Certainly, there is no linkage to gun violence.”
Trump’s comments on violent video games shouldn’t surprise anyone, though. They’re typical political misdirection.
It’s not unusual for politicians to find a scapegoat to blame, rather than looking at themselves and thinking, “I have the authority and opportunity to do something about this issue. But I don’t really want negative publicity, or anger any of my financial donors in the firearms industry, so better to blame someone else.”
There is much to be concerned about in American society, but video games shouldn’t be at the top of the president’s list.
Stu Salkeld is editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.