Since 1976, video games have been a point of controversy in society, especially in America. All of it centers around the moral panic that video games promote people, especially young men, to act out violently. Indeed, “video games cause violence” has become a maxim spoken by many, ranging from concerned suburban mothers to massive journalism publications. And while some studies have found that there is a small correlation towards playing violent video games and increasing aggression in pre-teens and teens, there is ultimately no truly hard evidence that video games cause people to become more violent over time. And while lots of think pieces have started to crop up on big publications, such as the Washington Post, about how video games shouldn’t be scapegoated, this notion still has not gone away at the expense of actually solving the problems that do cause violence.
One of the many reasons video games are the scapegoat for violence is because of the claims that people who play games, especially teenage boys, are unable to discern the games from reality. This is, however, quite ridiculous because even though some teenage boys do display reckless behaviors and aggression, it’s hard to point the finger at video games as the cause for this. The wider issue at play here, indeed, is not video games but patriarchy. Patriarchy warps men’s concepts of how they must behave and deal with their emotions. Because in American society we so often tell boys to “man up” and essentially bottle up how they feel, it’s no wonder that this can lead to frightening outbursts of violence. Men are being focused on here, primarily because they make up the slight majority of people who play video games.
A lack of comprehensive mental health treatment to everyone who needs it in the States is another reason to blame for mass acts of violence. Combined with the fact that even in 2023, men are still discouraged to express their emotions in healthy ways, the lack of substantial access to mental health treatment leads people down terrifying rabbit holes. While it definitely can be said that online spaces where video game players interact can lead people down alt-right pipelines, to be technical, it is the people in these communities more so than the video games themselves that are to blame here. When people suffer from mental illness, feelings of exclusion from society caused by a fear of not living up to patriarchal standards, and the potential egging on of people in online spaces, frightening consequences can result. But this is not the fault of video games themselves, but the fact that people can create these online spaces to spout hateful rhetoric, and lonely people flock there instead of being able to access care that can get them on a better path.
To add another layer to the video-game-scapegoat, a study at Villanova found that video games are “disproportionately blamed” as the cause of white men committing school shootings. This opens a whole host of issues with blaming video games for causing violence: the blaming of video games based on the racist ideology that people of color are inherently violent being the main one. The study also found that people who don’t play video games are much more likely to pin games as a reason for violence: a Satanic Panic mentality of fearing what one does not understand. With this study in mind, it becomes increasingly difficult to say that video games are the root of all violence because of these racist concepts embedded.
This isn’t to say that there isn’t toxicity and plenty of things to worry about within gaming spheres; indeed, parents would be wise to prevent their young children from playing violent games until they’re older as a matter of principle, and keep an eye on what their children get up to on the Internet, as even seemingly child-safe games like Roblox can be a haven for pedophiles. And of course, there is a huge issue with racism, homophobia, and scams within gaming spaces online. And yet, it is still the people who are using these games to create unsafe platforms, rather than the video games themselves.
However, despite all of these things which should be criticized and worked on, it should be outside the space of questioning if video games themselves are the cause of mass violence. To take attention off of the real underlying causes of violence and put it elsewhere is a major mistake that will never lead us towards any real change. The situations surrounding games and gaming culture should certainly be analyzed, but fingers should not be pointed towards games themselves as being the reason society is falling apart.