After the tragedy of the Sandy Hook shooting, the American National Rifle Association held a press release. In it, they placed blame for the shooting on pretty much everything but guns themselves, in an effort to shift the national conversation away from gun control. The NRA’s main target was popular culture, with video games taking the brunt of the blame — the organization singled out several specific games, such as Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse, claiming that they “sow violence against [their] own people.”
Despite the NRA’s belligerent inability to admit that guns are dangerous, coupled with their bizarre use of 20-year-old games as examples, they almost have a point. Although it should go without saying that gun control and mental health reforms are far more important issues for the United States to address, casually dismissing the problem that is the fetishization of gun violence in popular culture and in video games in particular would be unwise.
More than any other medium, violence plays an overwhelmingly large role in most big-budget video games. Triple-A games that have the player interact with their world in a non-violent way aren’t nearly as publicized, and a massive portion of the games that do use violence feature firearms. Gun-focused games have flooded the market, and while there is no way that they train people to be killers like the NRA thinks they do, they help to normalize the notion of using firearms to solve conflicts and desensitize us to to the omnipresence of guns in our culture.
Even members of the video game industry have started to become critical of these trends — games such as Hotline Miami and Spec Ops: The Line serve as harsh indictments of video game gun violence and more games that emphasize non-violent gameplay are starting to gain wider popularity among publishers.
Of course, this problem is miles away from being the be-all and end-all source of gun crime that the NRA makes it out to be, but there is no way that this swath of gun violence in video games is completely benign. Something as ubiquitous as this is going to have an effect on our culture and, to an extent, the culture we live in shapes who we are and how we behave.
There is no clear solution to this problem, and there certainly isn’t a fix that is as simple as passing a law or enacting some sort of ban. This issue is nested deeply within Western culture, and it will take a lot of work to reach a more measured balance between violent and non-violent games. However, we shouldn’t let this lack of a convenient solution stop us from being able to recognize that a problem exists at all, and it definitely shouldn’t stop us from thinking critically about the media we consume. The game industry may not be the bogeyman the NRA thinks it is, but it is far from being infallible.