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Trump pulls a Jack Thompson, blames video games for shootings

US President Donald Trump

Content warning: Discussion of gun violence, sexual crimes, racism and other issues of systemic violence will appear in this article. Those sensitive to these topics might want to steer clear.

In another stunning display of ignorance from the same man who needed a “cheat sheet” to demonstrate basic empathy, Donald Trump is now blaming video games for violent behavior. Sorry Donny, but the evidence isn’t on your side.

“We have to look at the internet, because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds, and their minds are being formed, and we have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. And also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. And you go one further step and that’s the movies. You see these movies, and they’re so violent, a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved, but killing is involved, and maybe we need to put a rating system for that.”

This rhetoric is horrifying to me. Not just because it’s coming from a man who said the side filled with Nazi scum has “some good people”, but even more so because it’s so vague. Trump has turned his tough guy persona into a legitimate political tactic by stoking the fears of racists, bigots and the ignorant. Make no mistake about it, Trump wants to silence political dissent and opinions he doesn’t like. And that includes those critical of the state of the world.

And he’s doing all of that while perpetuating systemic violence, and not just in regards to gun violence. Other forms of violence are being utilized as tools by the manipulative to deceive the ignorant and the hateful.

For example, the infamous Kinan study that examined the propensity for false sexual assault claims itself claimed that the rate for false reports was more than 40%. However, this figure is highly disputed due to methodological flaws concerning bias and lack of control within the data gathering and analysis of that study. More rigorous meta-analysis, which included the problematic Kinan study, found the rate of false accusations to be much lower. Between 1% to 8% depending on the body of evidence being analyzed. [1] [2]

Now why do I bring this up in regards to Trump? Well, for one because his administration is dangerously anti-scientific, even to the point of banning certain words from official reports. And two, the commonplace nature of denials and rejections of false claims illustrates how easy it is to convince some people to believe a dangerous and destructive lie. Even when that lie actively makes it harder for victims to get justice, especially in a system where those victims almost never see a courtroom.

The constant attacks and dismissals against victims of violence demonstrate that systemic issues are too often ignored in favor of the opinion of the ignorant. In the case of gun violence as it relates to video games, Trump is pandering to that ignorance to rile up his support base for a media crackdown.

This is another continuation of the constant “fake news” narrative. Trump is normalizing propaganda and deception as the goto response to tragedy, and that’s a horrifying trend.

Now what does the evidence actually say about violence and video games?

The body of evidence is fairly clear on the subject. Media consumption, specifically video games, cannot be blamed exclusively for these types of violent behavior. At best, or worst, it’s a contributing factor.

These types of violence are a complex problem, and cannot be attributed to one single cause. However, a debate rages on about whether video games play a role in igniting behavioral aggression and violence among youth. The evidence on different types of violence will almost always either contradict or support a main point. And this is true with more than just mass shootings, sexual violence has the same problem.

After 30 years of research on the subject, media violence expert Bruce Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology, proposes that while violent video games alone don’t cause youth violence, exposure to video games can be a significant risk factor for violent behavior. His research has concluded that playing violent video games can have the following negative effects on kids:

  • increased aggressive thoughts
  • angry feelings
  • physiological arousal (heart rate, blood pressure, etc.)
  • aggressive behavior
  • decreased helping behavior
  • reduced feelings of empathy for others

In August 2013, a report published in Springer’s Journal of Youth and Adolescence came to the opposite conclusion about the impact of video games on violence. Not only did this research find no connection, but it suggests that video games may actually have a calming effect on kids with attention deficit disorders.

And it’s not just the evidence that clashes with the man who is out of his element, everyday people are calling him out.

“That’s just a really pathetic excuse on behalf of the president,” said Chris Grady, 19, a senior. “I grew up playing video games — you know, Call of Duty, all those kind of first-person shooter games — and I would never, ever dream of taking the lives of any of my peers. So it’s just, it’s pathetic.”

But there’s something more dangerous in his rhetoric, and that’s the inherent distraction away from systemic issues that calls like this entail. Blaming video games for systemic violence runs the risk of marginalizing victims of all kinds of violence. And Trump has no problem taking the authoritarian approach to dealing with what he’s convinced the problems are. Except for the fact that he is demonstrably ignorant about these issues.

He’s refusing to deal with social, political, or economic issues that actually contribute to crime. And instead of increasing funding to programs designed to help those at a higher risk of violence, he’s funding a tax cut for the wealthy. And while we’re on the subject of ill-fitting responses to gun violence let’s talk about a Rhode Island initiative by a certain Robert Nardolillo. This RI representative is proposing a 10% on all M-rated video games, in order to pay for mental health services.

Now on the surface that might seem reasonable, until you dig a bit deeper.

First, the vast majority of those suffering mental illnesses are non-violent. Stigmatizing and demonizing neuro-divergence could actually make it HARDER for people who need help to seek it. An entire subset of psychology is dedicated to the issues that can and do arise when people are shamed for who they are. Turning mental health into a boogeyman doesn’t help these people, you’re actively hurting them so YOU can feel better. And this is exactly what this kind of policy does, it’s indirectly associating violence and mental illness where no such association exists.

Second, Nardolillo was rated “A” in a 2016 endorsement by the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund: “Solidly pro-gun candidate. A candidate who has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office or a candidate with a demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.” In the wake of a 2015 mass murder in San Bernardino, CA, that left 14 dead and 22 seriously wounded, he spoke out against gun control, telling that new laws would only hurt “the average individual who wants to protect themselves and their family.”

Way to disclose conflicts of interest, Robert. How about some common sense controls on the sale of rifles instead of demonizing media.

Last week’s Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17 and wounded many others has reignited the debate around gun control with a new sense of urgency. And instead of doing the sensible thing and drafting legislation that at the very least standardizes the laws surrounding gun purchases and background checks, right-wing politicians would do anything to distract from the conversations that need to happen.

So, for the time being, I wouldn’t expect there to be widespread discussions about removing the NRA and its influence from politics, or about the toxic and reactionary nature of right-wing gun culture that seeks to downplay violence. And especially not about the consistently racist history of gun control and the justice system in America. No, more calls for authoritarian crackdowns are all we’re seemingly going to get.

So in closing, the state is doing what it always does. Using tragedy to justify the steady degradation of the rights and freedoms of the people. Instead of doing what it ostensibly should do, and protect those people from violence.

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